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Metro locks out an entire College Park neighborhood

Metro's aggressive rebuilding program sometimes means riders must use bus shuttles to travel to and from closed stations. But when Metro closes Greenbelt station, the work blocks access to the shuttles from an entire neighborhood.


Left: Walking path from Hollywood to Greenbelt on normal days. Right: When the station is closed. Maps by the author.

Greenbelt Metro station sits on the boundary between the cities of Greenbelt and College Park. On the Greenbelt side there's a bus loop and a massive parking lot. But few people live within a reasonable walk. On the College Park side is Hollywood, a neighborhood of single-family homes straddling Rhode Island Avenue. A pedestrian tunnel beneath the tracks links the two.

Right now, Metro is building a test track for new railcars between College Park and Greenbelt. This means construction most weekends, and sometimes Metro closes Greenbelt station for the work. So far in 2014, Greenbelt has been closed on 3 weekends. It will likely close again before the year is out.

As usual when Metro closes stations for weekend work, they provide bus shuttles to the nearest Green Line station that's open.

But there's a problem: When Metro closes Greenbelt station due to work, they lock the station gates. The pedestrian tunnel linking Hollywood is behind these gates. So when the station is closed, the tunnel closes too.

This means people who live in Hollywood can't even walk through the station to get to the shuttle buses substituting for trains. They also can't access regular buses going to places like New Carrollton, the University of Maryland, or Wheaton.

When Greenbelt station is closed, what's usually an easy 4 minute walk through the station becomes a daunting and impractical 1 hour 9 minute walk of 3.5 miles.

College Park station is different

College Park station, the next one down the Green Line, has a similar design, except for one crucial difference: the pedestrian tunnel under the tracks at College Park emerges outside the station gates, and so then tunnel can remain open even when the station is closed.

Greenbelt's tunnel isn't so lucky.


Tunnel at College Park. Photo by the author.

Can Greenbelt change?

Is there any way for WMATA to make sure riders who live in Hollywood still have reasonable access to buses, even when the station is closed? Ideally the agency could leave the station gates open at Greenbelt, and just block off the faregates with a barricade.

That might mean Metro has to have one more staff person at the station on work days, but locking out most of the people who live within walking distance of the station isn't a good option.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Planning Department. His views are his own and do not represent the opinion of his employer. 

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Solution:

1. Run shuttle buses to Hollywood neighborhood that could stop at Rhode Island Ave./Lackawana and/or other spots in Hollywood.

2. Rebuild Lackawanna tunnel so it's open 24/7 & add pedestrian/bike tunnels at Edgewood, Huron, etc. Done before or during FBI construction.

by Dave G on Aug 8, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

Also, why didn't Metro take advantage of the test track construction to also rebuild the Lackawanna St. tunnel for 24/7 use as I suggested?

by Dave G on Aug 8, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

The College Park Station has a second, non station tunnel under the WMATA tracks, because it was constructed to allow east-west bike/pedestrian traffic during metro construction. After construction CSX, with its adjacent tracks, wanted the tunnel closed. CSX even cancelled plans to improve the College Park MARC station to show its unhappiness with the City refusing to close the second tunnel, which is open 24/7, and not dependant upon Metro hours.

WMATA said it would keep its tunnel open additional hours, but only if the City paid for a metro employee to be present . So full time access would become fairly costly for someone to provide.

by Bob C on Aug 8, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

Anyone know what the situation is at other stations like this?
Deanwood (I think it is open 24/7)
Brookland-CUA (don't remember)
Twinbrook ?
Rockville ?

I don't exactly remember the layout at Greenbelt but it seems like you could use gates similar to College Park in the picture shown in the article.

by MLD on Aug 8, 2014 1:11 pm • linkreport

The College Park Station has a second, non station tunnel under the WMATA tracks, because it was constructed to allow east-west bike/pedestrian traffic during metro construction. After construction CSX, with its adjacent tracks, wanted the tunnel closed. CSX even cancelled plans to improve the College Park MARC station to show its unhappiness with the City refusing to close the second tunnel, which is open 24/7, and not dependant upon Metro hours.
WMATA said it would keep its tunnel open additional hours, but only if the City paid for a metro employee to be present . So full time access would become fairly costly for someone to provide.

Thank god that second tunnel is there. It and a few others are some of the only ways to get to and fro around college park. Why would they want to close them all?

by Richard on Aug 8, 2014 1:17 pm • linkreport

if that tunnel at greenbelt is close, the smart money would be on walking all the way to college park station.

How would MARC operate if Greenbelt station is closed?

by Richard on Aug 8, 2014 1:20 pm • linkreport

Brookland has bridges over the station so the problem isn't as significant. Additionally, the tunnel can be left open while still closing access to the faregates.

by Rob P on Aug 8, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

Re: Second pedestrian crossing in College Park

I could be mistaken, but does this second crossing under the Metro trakcs involve crossing the CSX tracks on foot? The Metro tracks are elevated in that area, but there is a pedestrian crossing over the low-platformed CSX/MARC tracks. I could imagine that CSX would want to minimize foot traffic during times when passenger trains normally are not stopping.

by jms on Aug 8, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

This is one thing I've wondered about WRT the pedestrian bridges at the new Silver line stations. The Tysons Corner station near my office had everything gated off until it opened, so I assume that they close the gates to the entire station at night as well--which would close off the pedestrian walkway that actually allows people to cross the 8 lane road without getting killed.

I'm sure there aren't tons of late-night pedestrians in Tysons right now, but surely the plan is for there to be more, right?

by Gray on Aug 8, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

I lived on Cherry Hill Road during the construction of the Greenbelt station. As I recall WMATA operates the 82 83 buses along Rhode Island Avenue, one can transfer to buses that run along Greenbelt Road to get to the Greenbelt station or take 83 bus that services the Collage Park station.

by Sand Box John on Aug 8, 2014 2:05 pm • linkreport

The 83 in fact stops at the College Park station. While that won't cover everybody, certainly a better option than transferring around to Greenbelt just to take the shuttle to the CP station.

by Distantantennas on Aug 8, 2014 2:17 pm • linkreport

@Gray - I think the walkways will close at night when the stations close because there are no security gates inside the stations separating free areas from paid areas (i.e. areas past the faregates). But I'll have to look at photos of each station to be sure. This is likely something that could be remedied by installing gates inside the stations, but that likely would have aesthetic concerns.

by JDC on Aug 8, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@Gray

I was thinking the same thing with the Silver Line stations. I believe they completely close the pedestrian walkways late at night after metro closes. It’s annoying at the Tyson’s Corner stop, but you’ve at least got a crosswalk over 123 that could be used if needed (it helps that car traffic late at night is a lot lighter too). At Greensboro though, I don’t think it’s even possible to cross 7 after the pedestrian bridge closes. At least not without having to walk a good distance out of the way to find a crosswalk.

by Jason on Aug 8, 2014 2:35 pm • linkreport

@ Gray

I was wondering the same thing. What happens with stations that have buses serving two entrances that are only connected or accessible via the Metro Station.

The top one would be West Falls Church (north entrance thought it probably has little use now due to silver line)it is directly connected to the Dulles toll Road there is no way to even walk if you had to.

These stations have two entrances only connected via Metro Station or serve more than just Metrorail such as Marc, VRE, Amtrak, Metrobus, Ride On, Fairfax Connector, etc.

Twinbrook, Rockville, Tysons Corner, Franconia Springfield ( If VRE ever runs on weekends), Vienna, West Falls Church, Whiele-Reston East, Southern Ave (you could walk around the station), Huntington

Many of the buses run until atleast 1 or sometimes 2 am after Metrorail is closed on a weekday; so how do people transfer between buses when the station is closed unless the gates would be left open.

Or was that not thought of ?

Why not have all buses serve the same entrance or have all reroute to the same entrance after 10pm or something like buses that are rerouted at different times around UMD & NIH

@ Sandbox John

What about a Sunday when the only bus running is a 81 and as of now the 83 and 86 not 82.

by kk on Aug 8, 2014 2:40 pm • linkreport

And New Carrolton but I think its open 24/7 not 100% sure

by kk on Aug 8, 2014 2:42 pm • linkreport

At Brookland station, both entrances from the street are straight across from each other and the gates are off to the side, right in front of the turnstiles and the manager's booth, so you can pass straight through when the gates are closed.

by Fran on Aug 8, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

i can notify the people who run the shutdowns at greenbelt and see if there is anything they can do about it.

Thank you for bringing it to our attention.

by person on Aug 8, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

I could be mistaken, but does this second crossing under the Metro trakcs involve crossing the CSX tracks on foot? The Metro tracks are elevated in that area, but there is a pedestrian crossing over the low-platformed CSX/MARC tracks. I could imagine that CSX would want to minimize foot traffic during times when passenger trains normally are not stopping.

And New Carrolton but I think its open 24/7 not 100% sure

That part of New Carrolton station(the tunnel) is outside the lockdown for the metro station. Also the amtrak station there uses the tunnel, and the Amtrak station never closes.
Yes the other crossing does require you to cross the CSX tracks. But if you want to get to the northbound side of the MARC station there you either have to take that underpass or cross the tracks anyway.

by Richard on Aug 8, 2014 3:20 pm • linkreport

The second College Park tunnel comes out on the east at grade at the CSX stop, perhaps 200 feet south of the Metro tunnel. The Metro tunnel comes out to steps and an escalator up to grade. While the CSX stop requires passengers to walk across the tracks, CSX objects to others trespassing onto its property.

by Bob C on Aug 8, 2014 3:21 pm • linkreport

I was at the Greenbelt station a few weekends ago when one of the closures was in effect. The tunnel through the metro station connecting Hollywood to the metro/parking lot was NOT closed. Most of the security gates were closed, but one was open. I used the tunnel to go from east to west with no problem. I think I did see a metro employee near the fare gates.

by John on Aug 8, 2014 11:08 pm • linkreport

When the tunnel is closed, we can't access the whole north College Park neighborhood and stores from the Greenbelt side. It's not just Metro users, it's just people who want to get across to the other side. These Metro shutdowns are a not just an inconvenience to Metro users, it blocks access to whole neighborhoods. And, there is no signage anywhere that you can't get through -- you have to go all the way in before you learn that the gate is closed and access is denied.

by Greenbelt on Aug 10, 2014 1:09 am • linkreport

Its absurd to defend corporations closing off walkways - deciding that whoever walks is an undesirable or literally from the wrong side of the tracks.
Whoever - stop closing the walkways!! Doing that's probably not even legal.

by asffa on Aug 10, 2014 6:59 am • linkreport

Interesting finding, Matt. I was concerned about the closing of the station the first weekend it happened since I cut through there a lot, but everything was wide open at Greenbelt. I guess misinformed people may have changed things since the first weekend. *sigh* WMATA. You did bring up a good point--what about after metro closes? I never gave that any thought. It's too bad these days just keeping the tunnel open "invites pedestrians onto your property" is seen as too risky. It's better they have to walk 2 miles out of their way and cross 6-lane roads, I guess.

by Robert Smith on Aug 10, 2014 8:01 am • linkreport

Robert Smith - I'm glad things are opened again

by asffa on Aug 10, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

This is something that should be taken into consideration if and when the FBI comes to Greenbelt, and even if the FBI doesn't (but I'm expecting they will). As part of that site development, plan for and build the best connectivity possible between Hollywood in College Park to the west and Greenbelt to the east. This doesn't necessarily have to mean roads for motor traffic, but it should at least mean 24-hour access by non-motorized routes at spots such as Lackawanna St., Edgewood Rd., Huron St. and maybe even Branchville Rd.

by Dave G on Aug 11, 2014 9:04 am • linkreport

@Dave G and others interested in neighborhood connectivity for the Greenbelt metro station - when the sector plan (long-range development plan) for this area was developed a year or two ago, the planners were proposing a ped/bike bridge connecting Hollywood to the new development(s) by the metro station. I don't know if they had a specific location in mind but I think the idea was to create a crossing further south from the metro station, since there is already a crossing at the metro station (available most of the time, as this article notes). Anyway, some residents of Hollywood objected to the plans for building the bridge, and I think it has been removed from the plans. I think this would be a big mistake. (here is a link to the sector plan. I don't have time to delve into details. I think there was an article in the Gazette about the local opposition to the bridge)

by John on Aug 11, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

@John

Wouldn't it be much cheaper to figure out a way to retrofit the tunnel so that the tunnel could remain open when the station is closed?

by MLD on Aug 11, 2014 11:44 am • linkreport

A pedestrian bridge(s) would be an unnecessary visual intrusion(s) on the area if tunnels can instead be built under the railroad tracks. If you are still proposing a bridge. Obviously this will all have to be reworked if the FBI comes to Greenbelt, in which case I foresee many FBI employees moving into the area, increasing the need to be able to walk or bike from Hollywood to the FBI (what bicycle facilities would the FBI offer for employees and visitors)?

by Dave G on Aug 11, 2014 11:46 am • linkreport

I am not proposing anything; just trying to let people know about what transpired in recent years with regard to the planning process.

I think a tunnel probably would be better than a bridge, because since the tracks are already elevated, a tunnel could be close to at-grade. A bridge might require a design similar to the one just north of Lake Artemesia, which has multiple switchbacks on the approach in order for the bridge to clear the tracks. But if I recall correctly from what I read a year or two ago, it was a bridge that the NCPPC proposed, not a tunnel.

I think a crossing (bridge or tunnel) in a second location does make sense. There will be many new residents in the "south core" development (the townhomes currently under construction closer to Greenbelt Rd), and connectivity between that neighborhood and the Hollywood area makes sense. A crossing at Huron St would be almost 1/2 mile from the existing tunnel at the metro station, so it would add connectivity rather than being redundant.

by John on Aug 11, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

A tunnel for the scond crossing in the Huron Street area has been explored, but rejected because the area is too prone to flood. The south core developer had agreed to provide a pedestrian bridge crossing as part of the extensive south core development, but the then County Councilman, blocked it against the desire of the City of College Park.

by Bob C on Aug 11, 2014 3:51 pm • linkreport

Wonder how much of all this is people worrying pedestrians from the city will bring crime to their neighborhoods.

by asffa on Aug 11, 2014 6:34 pm • linkreport

It may just be outsiders parking there that they don't want. Meanwhile several metrorail stations on PG have zero pedestrian crossings to neighborhoods on the wrong side of the tracks or a highway.

by JimT on Aug 11, 2014 7:18 pm • linkreport

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