Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Georgetown never blocked Metro stop

Conventional wisdom says that the Washington DC Metro was supposed to go to Georgetown (after all, it barely misses it between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom), but NIMBY residents in the 1970s blocked the station, fearing that the subway would bring inner-city (i.e. black and Hispanic) people out from poor neighborhoods to commit robberies. The anticipated crime spike around transit lines never did occur in other neighborhoods and cities, and now the people of Georgetown regret their earlier opposition.

I've heard that story from DC residents and seen it written online many times. But it's not true. Wikipedia points us to Zachary Schrag's book The Great Society Subway, which debunks the myth:

In fact, although Georgetown residents did oppose a transit station, their attitude was essentially irrelevant, for a Georgetown station was never seriously considered. While it would have been possible to build a subway line to Georgetown, it would have been difficult. (Page 155)
According to the book, two major obstacles prevented a Georgetown station. First, the corner of Wisconsin and M, which would have been the sensible location for a station, is so close to the river that a station in a river-crossing tunnel would have been too deep at that point, and highway planners had no interest in a bridge. In addition, routing the Metro to Georgetown would force tunneling under private property, which is much more complicated, both for the engineering challenges of underpinning buildings and for the legal issues.

In addition, the Metro was primarily designed as a suburban commuting resource, "connecting suburban parking lots, bus nodes, and clusters of apartment buildings with dense collections of office buildings in downtown Washington and Arlington." Georgetown was neither especially dense nor a major office center, and therefore wasn't a prime candidate for a station. (This probably explains why Adams Morgan has no station either, the misleadingly named Woodley Park-Zoo-Adams Morgan station not actually being very close to Adams Morgan).

Schrag continues:

Still, the Georgetown legend has a kernel of truth. Residents of many neighborhoods did protest planned Metro stations, and WMATA was forced to respond, even cancelling one station. [DA: I wonder which one?] But the residential protests lacked the clear-cut class and racial connotations of the Georgetown story, for the protests were common to black neighborhoods and white, to poor neighborhoods as well as rich ones. (Page 156)
Many suburban communities did fear people from the inner-city as the legend suggests; Schrag quotes Idamae Garrott, a WMATA leader from Montgomery County, Maryland, who responded to her constituents' fears: "A lot of people . . . think that rapers and muggers will be able to get on the subway for very little money, rape and mug me, and get on the subway and go back. I can't guarantee it won't happen, although it's always puzzled me why more criminals don't come out here now in cars." (Page 156)

Suburban racial fear wasn't confined to Washington, DC. Metro Atlanta's Gwinnett and Clayton counties opted out of MARTA at least partly for racial reasons (PDF - scroll to page 18). I've often heard that the same fears about crime stopped Boston's Red Line from extending beyond Alewife, at Cambridge's western border, into Arlington and beyond to Lexington and Concord. I haven't yet found any more definitive information to prove or disprove this. According to vanshnookeraggen, similar fears led many towns around Route 128, such as Reading and Needham to prefer commuter rail over extending T rapid transit lines to their towns.

Ultimately, it's clear that while Georgetown didn't get the chance to oppose a Metro stop (because they weren't getting one in the first place), they would have tried and perhaps succeeded in blocking one had WMATA included a stop in the initial plans. Many other towns in similar situations did, and succeeded, which is why so many around DC believe Georgetown did the same. It's only geographic luck and excessively suburban-centric thinking by the WMATA designers that save them from having made such a short-sighted decision.

Meanwhile, I have to read this book (and note to stupid publishers scared of putting book content online: I wouldn't have bought this book had I not been able to see some of its interesting content on the Web).

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

Comments

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The first reason he gives (too deep) is totally wrong. Rosslyn is just as deep, and perhaps deeper, since I think Wilson Blvd at that point is higher than M Street is. I don't know about the second one (crossing under private property), but the Metro is mostly sunk into bedrock, so I'm not sure to what extent that is a real issue.

The only technical issue I can think of is that the subway would have had to make a tighter turn to make it onto M Street and it probably would have added a mile to the route.

I can think of many other places on the system that weren't central office or dense residential neighborhoods that got a stop in the original buildout of the 1970s and 1980s, largely the SE side of Capitol Hill, Minnesota Ave, and Brookland.

Does it talk about how Fairfax county opposed sending the Metro into its area, which is why the blue line runs along the Amtrak tracks through Alexandria instead of down 395, or why the Orange line stops at Vienna?

Side note: the Adams-Morgan stop wasn't named that until about 1995, when they tagged on a bunch of extra names to the stops to encourage people to take Metro.

by mfs on Jun 20, 2007 10:37 pm • linkreport

Dear WMATA,

I hate you, I hate you, I hate you, you suck, I hate you. Thanks for nothing for this morning's commute. I hate you.

Love,

All your morning commuters on July 18, 2007

by J on Jul 18, 2007 1:11 pm • linkreport

The residents north and west of RFK Stadium blocked the Oklahoma Avenue metro stop. It's sad, since it's now just a giant empty lot with the metro rising above it. It would be VERY cheap to add a stop there, though! These same residents, 30 years later, are now whining about a potential H Street-Benning Road trolley. At one recent neighborhood meeting a friend of mine heard someone say, "No one asked US if we want a trolley!" I'm glad they didn't ask.

by Tom Aloisi on May 23, 2008 11:10 am • linkreport

The Woodley Park Zoo station is misleading as hell its close to neither the Zoo or Adams Morgan and its not really that damn close to the actually neighborhood of Woodley Park which the station is not in the neighborhood is up the street about 3 1/2 blocks

Clevland Park is probably about a 1/12 of a mile closer to the entrance of the zoo.

Tom,

there really isnt a need for a station on Oklahoma Ave. the distance between Minnesota ave and stadium is not that far, what purpose would a station serve there accept for when there are games at RFK. The smart thing would have been having the orange line just go straight up benning road and then straight up either H St, Florida Ave or Bladenburg Rd from the get go each of those streets recieves awhole lot of metro bus traffic making aline go up one of those streets would have gained them more riders and had the blue line go the current route. Even if they did put one there how much would that really benefit residents, after walking through what would have been a metro parking lot probably infront of the station like at Landover then getting to the actually station most of the residents around there are old and elderly do you think they would walk to the station in the first place i dont see any of the residents walking to the station the only way i see people going to the station is if buses were to stop at it anyway most would have just caught a X1,2,3 or D6 to another station plus its not that far from stadium armory or minnesota ave with no development around there what would be the purpose 95% of there riders from the station would be students from Spingarn and when school is out ridership at the station would drop big time.

Most of the traffic in that area is going toward florida ave, bladensburg rd and H street or toward 295 or Benning RD and Minnesota Ave not downtown. The best spot over in that general area for a station would have probably have been at Hechinger Mall or somwhere around as seeing how many people catch buses from over there all times throughout the day.

What i really like to see is a lightrail just replace the x1, x2 and x3 routes all together in the entirety. but that damn sure aint gonna happen

That construction on Benning road is just hell, why are they doing all that damn construction from infront of Spingarn to Hechingger Mall at one damn time who bright ass idea was that why not have done one side at a time or did just a few blocks at a time then adding up the buses having to stop in the middle of the street because the bus stops are block and that holds up traffic even more plus people cant park infront of their houses apartments or businesses I just hope this was all worth it considering DC Governments history of stuff.

Dear Metro

Next time your thinking about building a line look at the area build the stations on busy main streets, or where you get alot of traffic on your buses. Stop building lines that travel beside CSX, Amtrak lines and routes and also take alot at the subways in Europe and Asia they are better.

Heres my map of how i think metro should have been

My DC metro map

by kk on May 23, 2008 5:36 pm • linkreport

Another reason from Schrag's book about why the Metro does not to go actual Adams Morgan: the tunnel already had to be deep to go under Rock Creek Park, and the route to AM would have been even deeper. (I don't remember the details beyond that. I have got to finish that book!)

IMO, the worst part about the Woodley Park station's long name isn't the AM part--it IS the closest station to AM, so it's not untrue at least. It's that it contains "Zoo". The zoo is UPHILL from Woodley Park and DOWNHILL from Cleveland Park, which more than makes up for the 0.1 mile farther itis from the Cleveland Park station. By the time they drag their kids uphill to the zoo in the DC summer heat, their morning is already miserable and they haven't even seen the pandas yet.

DC residents should care because happier tourists make happier commutes for us. :)

by techne on May 28, 2008 10:32 am • linkreport



IMHO it's insane to name the Woodley Park station for Adams-Morgan!

The Columbia Heights station is much closer and would be a far more appropriate site for that name.

Bruce

by Bruce on Jul 7, 2008 3:28 pm • linkreport

Frankly, Woodley isn't particularly far from the zoo, nor from Adams-Morgan. Some people just can't stand walking 10-15 minutes.

That said, why aren't we discussing new lines in DC; the Silver and Purple Line are fine, but how about a line originating in upper georgetown, crossing at P and continuing across the city (or lower georgetown, shifting to L once across rock creek, and then onwards), as well as a Nebraska - Military - Missouri line?

A cut-and-cover station in Georgetown that isn't trying to continue across the river (expansion, were it to occur, would presumptively be into Maryland) wouldn't be nearly the challenge posed by a river crossing.

by RS on Jun 9, 2009 1:57 pm • linkreport

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