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Ask your Metro funding questions tonight at our live Q&A

Metro is staring down ever-more-serious long and short-term funding challenges. Tonight at 6 pm, regional officials and experts will tackle these challenges, including the prospect of dedicated funding, at a livestreamed forum we're cosponsoring.

Once the event starts, the player above will livestream it. After it's over, we'll swap out the livestream player for a recording when it's available.

The two-hour discussion will kick off with remarks from WMATA Board Chair (and DC Councilmember) Jack Evans and a response from Rob Puentes, the President of the Eno Center for Transportation and fellow at the Brookings Institution. Then, Maryland state delegate Marc Korman (D-16), Kate Mattice of the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (the Virginia signatory to the WMATA compact), Emeka Moneme of Federal City Council, and Stewart Schwartz of the Coalition for Smarter Growth will join them for a panel discussion and one hour of audience Q&A.

The forum is happening at Georgetown University's Urban and Regional Planning program, hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth and several partner groups including GGWash. Uwe Brandes, Executive Director of Georgetown's planning program will moderate.

If you have questions during or before the event, you can tweet them to using the hashtag #WMATAchat. During the Q&A portion of the program, we'll pose as many of them as possible.


Prince George's County leaders join the chorus to keep late-night rail service

The WMATA Board of Directors is considering a proposal to permanently end late-night rail service. Many elected officials from Montgomery County have spoken up to oppose the cuts, as has the public. Now, Prince George's leaders are doing the same.

Photo by James Jackson on Flickr.

Metro staff is proposing that cuts to late-night rail service, which are currently in effect as part of SafeTrack, become permanent so that there's more time for much-needed system maintenence. As of now, if this plan moves forward, Metro customers would have to turn to paltry bus service for public transportation late at night.

WMATA staff has asked the Board to make one of these sets of hours of operation official. Image from WMATA.

Many Greater Greater Washington contributors have called the idea terrible from the start, describing how it'd leave Metro with the most limited hours of any major transit system in the US and saying Metro has provided far too little evidence for why such a drastic move is actually necessary.

Last month, 40 Maryland elected officials, mostly from Montgomery County, sent a letter to WMATA General Manager Paul Wiedefeld saying they, too, think this is a bad idea (though Montgomery County Council Transportation Committee chair Roger Berliner and County Executive Ike Leggett were notably absent from the letter). But when September's letter went out, there was a key contingent missing from the group of signatures: most leaders from Prince George's County, including the whole county council, were never given the opportunity to sign on—or not.

As an elected official in Prince George's, I volunteered to help set the record straight. Over 50 elected leaders, including seven members of the state legislature and three county council members from Prince George's County, have joined me to send a letter (which you can read in full here) to hammer home the following points:

  • No proposal put before the public has explained why permanently closing every line of the Metrorail system during the pre-SafeTrack late-night hours is necessary on a continuing basis.
  • The economic future of our region depends on achieving a jobs-housing balance through transit-oriented development, including in mixed urban-suburban jurisdictions like Prince George's County. A transit system that supports live-work-play hours, not just white-collar work hours, is an essential foundation and a social justice issue.
  • We ask that the WMATA Board provide a more transparent study of the equity and ridership impacts of this proposed change as well as consider alternatives to improve maintenance before making a decision.
I thank my council colleague Jesse Christopherson and County Councilmember Deni Taveras for their invaluable help in circulating this letter for consideration. Every county council member, along with County Executive Rushern Baker, had the chance to sign on. As in Montgomery County, I'm struck by how many local leaders do not seem to realize the significance of what is at stake for Metrorail.

The overwhelming response from many local municipal leaders, who are closest to the people who will be most impacted by this proposal, and many of whom are personally, professionally, and politically invested in Metrorail speaks volumes. But it is clear to me that we will all need to engage more as advocates to help our county and state decision makers understand what WMATA needs, and how vital WMATA is to our communities.

So...what's next?

Before the board makes any decision, WMATA staff will analyze whether the proposed service change would violate the civil rights of minorities and low-income people (this is called a Title 6 analysis). I spoke to Malcolm Augustine, Prince George's County alternate representative to the WMATA Board, who asserted "that analysis and the a part of the information that goes into any kind of position that the board will eventually take."

Augustine also emphasized that SafeTrack alone is not sufficient to clear a maintenance backlog that took decades to accumulate, and that more track access at night means more continuous hours for maintenance.

Maintenence doesn't have to mean permanent closures

Will suspending late-night service for some length of time create enough of a window for WMATA to clear the maintenance backlog? Will the board consider weekend closures on a line-by-line basis? There are very basic questions still to be answered before this proposed change in service can be thoughtfully considered. I hope the WMATA Board will ask these questions, and not just react to the proposal that is in front of them.

We all understand the imperative to improve safety and reliability in the system. Otherwise, the downward spiral ridership is in will only accelerate. However, to pose a strict dichotomy between safety and service is a false and harmful framing.

WMATA needs to transparently document all the achievements and outcomes related to improved maintenance and reliability beyond increased track access, especially the corrective action items still pending from last year's FTA review, many of which concern WMATA's troubled Rail-Operations Control Center. The bottom line is that transit is far and away the safest mode of transportation, and reducing access to the safest mode in the name of safety cannot be a permanent solution.

Permanent is not reasonable. So the question for WMATA is, what about one year? 18 months? With measurable conditions that the board can revisit on a specified timeframe? SafeTrack has enjoyed wide support because of its transparency and widespread understanding of it's necessity, but also because so many share the goal of seeing Metrorail be a safe, reliable, world-class transit system. Let's be specific and transparent about a plan to get there.


Think you know Metro? It's whichWMATA week 93

It's time for the ninety-third installment of our weekly "whichWMATA" series! Below are photos of 5 stations in the Washington Metro system. Can you identify each from its picture?

Image 1

Image 2

Image 3

Image 4

Image 5

We'll hide the comments so the early birds don't spoil the fun.

Please have your answers submitted by noon on Thursday. Good luck!

Information about contest rules, submission guidelines, and a leaderboard is available at


We know where most of DC's population lives. Does Metro run through those places?

The maps below show where DC's most densely-populated pockets are, as well as where its Metro stops are. It turns out they aren't always the same places, or in other words, DC isn't building enough around transit.

Highest density census tracts comprising 50% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay. Map by John Ricco, overlay by Peter Dovak.

Back in July, John Ricco created a pair of maps showing that 50% of DC's residents live on 20% of the land, and a quarter of the population lives on just 7% of the land. Peter Dovak, another Greater Greater Washington contributor, did me the favor of overlaying John's maps onto the Metro system.

Looking at the map above, which shows where 50% of the population lives, there are some obvious areas of overlap between density and Metrorail access, including the Green/Yellow corridor through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Petworth. The southern area of Capitol Hill also has multiple Metro stops and is relatively dense.

But what stands out are the dense places that aren't near Metro. The northern end of Capitol Hill, including the H Street corridor and Carver Langston, as well as the areas to the west around Glover Park, a few tracts to the north near Brightwood, and two larger areas east and west of the Green Line in Ward 8, near Congress Heights and Fort Stanton Park.

All of these places show that DC's growth isn't being concentrated around its transit (its transit isn't being extended to serve dense areas either, but that's harder to do).

Of course, Metro is far from the only way to get around. Residents of high density, Metro-inaccessible neighborhoods rely on buses and other modes to get where they need to go; specific to northern Capitol Hill, for example, there's also the DC Streetcar). Also, some areas next to Metro stops are low density due to zoning that restricts density or land nobody can build on, like federal land, rivers, and parks.

Still, it's useful to look at where DC's high-density neighborhoods and its high-density transit modes don't overlap, and to understand why.

25% of DC's population lives close to metro... mostly

Really, the S-shaped routing of the Green Line is the only part of Metro in DC that runs through a super dense area for multiple stops.

Looking at the map that shows 25% of the District's population, the Green/Yellow corridor helps make up the 7% of land where people live. But so does Glover Park, Carver Langston, and a tract in Anacostia Washington Highlands near the Maryland border—and these places are a long way from a Metro stop.

Highest density census tracts comprising 25% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay.

There are historical reasons for why things are this way

According to Zachary Schrag in The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Metro wasn't meant to be an urban subway; it was always meant to be a regional rail system. It explicitly bypassed the relatively few people in DC's high-density areas, in favor of speeding up rides for the greater number of through-commuters. Apparently, DC had little say in that decision, which is evident in the map.

On the other hand, the citywide streetcar plan was meant to bring rail access to many more DC residents—partly because, well, it was to be built by DC's government, for DC's residents, which Metro was not.

The first version of this post said that a tract was in Anacostia, but it's actually in Washington Highlands.


Here's what the public told the WMATA Board about the idea to permanently cut late-night Metro service

On Thursday, WMATA held a nine and a half-hour public hearing about its proposals to cut late-night Metro service. Lots of people turned out to say they depend on Metro, while others stressed an array of options to consider before moving forward with late-night cuts.

Metro staff is proposing that cuts to late-night rail service, which are currently in effect as part of SafeTrack, become permanent so that there's more time for much-needed system maintenence.

While it still hasn't made a clear argument as to why these cuts are necessary, at least not publicly, Metro staff has moved forward by presenting the WMATA Board of Directors with four different options for shorter hours. The WMATA compact stipulates that before the board can make any of them official, it has to hold public hearings like yesterday's.

WMATA staff has asked the Board to make one of these sets of hours of operation official. There are Image from WMATA.

A quick rundown of how these hearings work: anyone who wants to testify signs up to do so, and when it's their turn, they get to address the board directly for three minutes (elected officials get five). Yesterday, board members mostly listened, withholding comment except to thank whoever had spoken once they finished.

Regarding testimony to the Board, Justin Lini, who recently explained why closing Metro stations in Wards 7 and 8 would (that's a separate-but-related matter), said that most of the people who showed up to speak were regular riders from DC, Maryland, and Virginia.

"There were also a number of ANC reps from Wards 2, 4, and 7," he said, "as well as DC Councilmembers and a councilmember from Capitol Heights, MD. There were some disability activists there as well, and and African American activists. The local service union had a large contingent too."

Nicole Cacozza, another GGWash contributor, added that when she got to WMATA's headquarters, a group with signs was outside to protest the cuts.

Photo by Nicole Cacozza.

According to Justin and Nicole, nobody who showed up at the hearings was there to support cutting service. People cited all kinds of arguments for why Metro needs to go back to the drawing board and come up with better options, from saying it would damage to the city's reputation and economic growth and that it would do disproportionate harm to low-income communities to asking why Metro couldn't do a better job with the maintenence time it already has.

Nicole said a lot of people spoke about how much they rely on Metro, and how not having service late at night would be devastating:

One man came to testify on behalf of his former coworkers in the service industry who worked long shifts and needed Metro to get home.

A woman from WMATA's accessibility committee spoke about just not being able to travel on weekends if Metro cut its morning service, because she cannot get around without public transportation.

One woman who immigrated to Maryland as a child said that she used Metro to travel to Virginia after school in order to spend time with other people from her home country, and she currently knows people who use it to attend GED classes after work.

One person brought up that there have already been reports of workers sleeping in their offices because they could not get home.

Similar stories stood out to Justin:
Some spoke about how cuts will make it harder for them to get to work. Others talked about not being able to go out in DC anymore. One person got very emotional over the Nats game last week and talked about how she didn't make it home until 4 am due to lack of metrorail service.

We also had some people who were concerned about increasing drunk driving, and the environmental impact of putting more cars on our roads.

Personal accounts like these illustrate why Metro has to find a way forward that doesn't include cutting late-night service, and it's important that Board members hear them. But there was also plenty of comment regarding the technical and logistical problems Metro is up against, and how to fix them.

Justin said that DC Councilmenber Elissa Silverman pushed WMATA to develop better metrics to measure its performance, and also for the agency to do more to put out information on particular incidents or plans, like it did last year when there was a fire at Stadium-Armory that curbed service for 13 weeks.

A number of comments also suggested looking to other systems for examples of how to do massive repairs while not making such drastic service cuts. "References were made to the PATH system in New Jersey, in that its a two track system which runs 24 hours," Justin said. "Another model raised was SEPTA night owl service, which runs busses overnight parallel to rail routes."

People also said WMATA should consider doing maintenence SafeTrack-style, closing segments of lines for longer periods of time (or even entire lines if absolutely necessary) but not the entire system. Patrick Kennedy, a GGWash contributor and ANC commissioner, said this in his testimony:

Rather than taking a meat cleaver to the hours of the system across 110 miles of track, I'd encourage the Board to consider a more surgical policy of prioritizing limited service reductions—single-tracks, early shutdowns, etc.—in discrete locations where maintenance tasks are to be performed. This would require additional effort for planning purposes in order to inform customers and manage impacts on revenue service, but it would carry a significant dividend for riders over a complete service reduction as proposed.
Another common refrain: if Metro does go forward with permanent late-night rail closures, it's got to provide the bus service needed to bridge the gap—and right now, the proposal on the table doesn't come close.


WMATA is considering scrapping the Metroway BRT

Ridership on Metroway, the BRT route that runs from Braddock Road to Pentagon City, has been climbing since the service started in 2014. Yet WMATA is still considering shutting it down to save money. That'd negate years of planning and construction and sour public opinion on transit.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

In 2014, WMATA introduced a bus rapid transit (BRT) service called Metroway, whose MW1 line runs between Braddock Road in Alexandria and Crystal City in Arlington. As our region's only BRT, Metroway runs in its own lane parallel to Route 1; its ability to skip traffic makes it a reliable transportation option.

Metroway ridership has been growing since it first opened. WMATA's 9S bus, which it replaced, had a daily ridership of 1,091 in its final year running. But by June 2015, Metroway ridership was at about 1,400 people per day, and as ridership grew, Metroway expanded it's service to the Pentagon City Metro station.

Image from the City of Alexandria.

At the heart of the MW1 route (which remains Metroway's only line) is Potomac Yard, a former 295-acre rail yard, which used to be on EPA's list of hazardous sites but has been growing into a great example of transit-oriented development (TOD) over the past decade. As large apartment buildings in Potomac Yard have gone up, so has the number of people riding Metroway.

In 2016, Metroway saw a roughly 50% increase in ridership over the same months in 2015. In June of 2016, the average daily ridership topped 2,000 for the first time.

Metroway is quite cheap compared to other WMATA concerns

Last week, WMATA released several radical ideas to close the gap between its operating budget and allocated funds for Fiscal Year 2018.Included in a collection of ideas to save $10 million on bus service was eliminating 20 bus routes that WMATA has to subsidize because fares don't cover costs. In Metroway's case, WMATA pays $3.5 million extra per year to run the service, which is nearly three times the amount of money the 20 routes averaged together.

To put that in perspective, WMATA projects a budget gap of $275 million for FY 2018, and that number is likely to grow in the future. While we typically talk about rail in terms of decades and in magnitudes of billions of dollars, BRT offers options for smaller areas at a fraction of the cost-- a $3.5 million compared to hundreds of millions, for example-- and time.

For instance, the Silver Line was part of the original Metro planning during the 1960s, and the construction cost for Phase II alone is $3 billion. The Potomac Yard Metro Station also has roots dating back to the original Metro planning, was in various forms of development beginning in the early 90's, and will be complete in 2020 at an estimated cost of $268 million.

On the other hand, the time between the completing the conceptual design for the Metroway BRT Route and the grand opening was only 41 months at a cost of only $42 million for construction.

Beyond that, Metroway is just getting started. Why cut it off now?

Metroway has a growing ridership, as it serves an area that's growing. In fact, it has far more riders than the other 19 bus lines proposed for elimination, with the average ridership among the others being less than 500 riders per day. Only one other route, Oxon Hill-Fort Washington, has more than 1,000 riders per day.

Also, recent numbers Metro used to evaluate Metroway for its recent budget report were distorted: During SafeTrack surges 3 and 4 in July, anyone transferring from Metro was allowed to ride Metroway for free, which pushed ridership from being over 2,000 paying customers per day down to around 1,300. The next month, though, ridership was back over 2,000.

If Metroway stays around, ridership will grow and Metro will come closer and closer to breaking even on Metroway. With the next wave of development starting to kick off in the north end of Potomac Yard and Oakville Triangle, even more potential riders will have a chance to use the service..

That brings up another point: Metroway has come on board to serve the TOD of Potomac Yard. Eliminating the line would add more congestion to the Route 1 corridor, defeating the purpose of TOD. It could also drive up automobile ownership among residents who relied on the system.

Also, WMATA has already invested in the infrastructure needed to run BRT, and while it was far cheaper than a rail project, it's still a lot to simply throw away. The years of planning and construction are in place, which represent a cost 12 times greater than the annual subsidy, which should decrease as development continues. Shutting down these lanes would be another black eye for WMATA.

Finally, residents' opinion of BRT matters, as other jurisdictions begin to develop their own systems. Montgomery County is planning a 14 mile stretch along Route 29 that is part of a larger 80 mile system. Eliminating this line would sour the public opinion and possibly derail other local jurisdictions from developing their own.

As WMATA continues to face ridership declines from what it calls "poor service quality and high profile disruptions and safety incidents" that plague the rest of their system, it would be foolish to cut this growing asset.


Metro is proposing service cuts, again. Will riders ever see the benefits?

Metro has fallen and it can't get up. That's the reality facing riders, agency staff, local officials, and the WMATA Board of Directors. In yet another slap at riders, Metro is proposing service cuts to allow for the the work time necessary to fix the system. But will it make a difference?

Photo by Matt' Johnson on Flickr.

For the better part of a decade, Metro riders have faced deteriorating service, both in quality and quantity. Even bright spots, like the Silver Line opening, have been bittersweet, with the cannibalization of railcars for the new service leading to maintenance problems and train shortages across the system.

In the wake of the deadly 2009 crash at Fort Totten, WMATA started taking steps to bring the system back into a state of good repair.

The agency was up front with riders: repairs would take time, and they would be painful. The needed work would delay trains and detour riders. But it couldn't be helped. The only alternative was to let Metro fall apart at the seams.

Metro first asked customers to sacrifice reliable and frequent weekend service. Then the agency cut into weeknight service, increasing wait times and delaying trains. Midday service was slashed next, to give more time on the tracks.

More recently, the agency even began asking riders to sacrifice during peak hours, with round-the-clock SafeTrack work in particularly troublesome areas for weeks at a time. Late night service has been cut altogether for now, and even special event service has been nixed.

Yet after seven years, riders aren't seeing benefits. Trains still break down with unreasonable frequency. Emergency track repairs have become commonplace. Crowded trains and stations are par for the course, not because ridership is skyrocketing—in fact, it's falling—but because trains are infrequent and oft-delayed.

Metro said in 2009, and many times since, "bear with us. There will be some pain, but things will get better." But things aren't getting better. Riders aren't seeing service quality increase. There seems to be little to no benefit for the sacrifice riders have had to make, even after seven years.

And now, Metro is coming to riders again. If the agency doesn't get more time to work on the tracks, it says, the system will deteriorate. The only way for things to get better is to face another painful cut. This time, a permanent cut to late night service, extending the 12-month suspension necessitated by SafeTrack.

But this is an insult to riders. Not least of all because we have seen no evidence from WMATA to date that these cuts are the ones that will actually do the trick, or even what else beyond this it would take to do the trick.

I sadly expect that one year hence, the WMATA Board will come to riders again and ask for yet another service cut. It's a pattern that has become all too familiar after three quarters of a decade of the same.

I had a conversation recently where a person with transit experience correctly pointed out that cutting late night service is the least painful cut Metro could make. And that is true. I'd much rather lose service at 2:00 in the morning than 2:00 in the afternoon.

The issue is larger than that, though. This isn't the first cut Metro has made. Inside of rush hour, service quality and reliability is declining. Outside of rush hour, the frequent single-tracking and long waits are driving even the most dedicated of customers away.

This cut may be fairly innocuous as far as transit cuts go, but it's the thousandth cut for a Metro that is bleeding to death on the floor of the emergency room waiting room.

Today, the Metro Board is asking riders to weigh in on the proposed cuts to late night service. But I have no faith that accepting yet another cut is what it will take to get Metro back on its feet. Metro needs to stop the hemorrhaging of riders. The agency needs band-aids to stop the gushing, self-inflicted wounds it already has, not yet another stab wound.

Unfortunately, Metro has a track record here, and it doesn't bode well for the patient. Or those riders who rely on the region's transit system.


Here's why it'd be wrong to shut down Metro east of the Anacostia River

Last week, WMATA reported that one way to close its budget gap could be to close 20 Metro stations outside of rush hour, including seven that serve DC communities that are east of the Anacostia River. Moving forward with this idea would make it far harder for children to get to schools and for adults to access social and political life in the District. It could be a major civil rights violation, too.

Under WMATA's new proposal, stations with red dots could only get service during rush hour. Image from WMATA.

DC is split up geographically into eight wards, each of which has a representative on the DC Council. The Stadium Armory, Minnesota Avenue, Deanwood, Benning Road, and Capitol Heights stations are all in Ward 7, and Congress Heights is in Ward 8; these two wards are most certainly DC's most underserved.

DC's eight wards. Image from the DC Office of Planning.

There are, of course, 13 others on the list of stations that see low ridership and that Metro could consider closing outside of rush hour, from White Flint to Tysons-- but they aren't nearly as concentrated.

A lot of students use these Metro stations to get to and from school

According to research conducted by the DC Promise Neighborhood Initiative, an organization committed to improving education in Ward 7, 64% of children in Kenilworth-Parkside (which the Deanwood and Minnesota Avenue Metro stations serve) travel outside of their neighborhood to attend school, and many rely on Metro to get there.

Altogether, around half of Ward 7's parents send their children to schools outside of their neighborhood. The disruption also impacts students west of the Anacostia, as DC Charter School Board notes that more than 1,100 students travel to charters in Ward 7. While schools generally begin and end during rush hours, students would not necessarily be able to rely on Metro to get home from after school activities if WMATA's idea moves forward.

These Metro stations also have a big impact on access to jobs

Neighborhoods east of the river are predominantly residential, lacking large concentrations of commercial or government that make them destinations for morning commuters. This means that parents, like their children, travel outside their ward to jobs, often during off peak hours.

Due to Ward 7's geography, crosstown bus service is limited to just a handful of lines lines that are already amongst the busiest in DC. Some would lose their jobs or be forced to move if Metro stopped running outside of rush hour.

This map shows the number of jobs in different areas of the District. The bigger the orange circle, the more jobs are in the area. Clearly, people who live east of the Anacostia need to travel west to get to work. Map from OpenDataDC.

These closures would hurt future development and render existing bus service less useful

Ward 7 is primed to grow rapidly in the next few years. Ward 7 has transit-oriented developments proposed at all its Metro stops, like on Reservation 13 and at RFK, which are next to Stadium Armory, Parkside (Minnesota Ave), Kenilworth Courts Revitalization (Deanwood Metro), SOME (Benning Road Metro), and Capitol Gateway (Capitol Heights Metro).

These developments' success depends on their proximity to metrorail stations. Cutting off service would dramatically change the calculus of development in Ward 7, and communities seeing the first green shoots of growth would instantly see them snuffed out. Tens of thousands of homeowners would see their home values decline, and DC would lose millions in tax revenue.

Also, bus routes in these areas are East of the River bus routes are designed to feed into the Metro stations. A plan that would close stations without a significant upgrades to crosstown lines and within-ward service would further compound the transportation problems facing the community.

Why is ridership so low in Ward 7?

There is, of course, the fact that these stations are among the 20 Metro stations that get the lowest ridership. I'm not disputing that. But if we look at why that's the case, it's clear that closing these stations for most of the day is only going to exacerbate social and economic problems.

Ward 7 residents have borne the brunt of WMATA's service disruptions since 2009. The ward's stations are consistently among the most likely to be closed due to weekend track work. Between 2012 and 2013, Orange line stations in Ward 7 were disrupted 19 weekends. This level of disruption continued into 2015, when stations were disrupted for 17 weekends.

Graphic by Peter Dovak.

The impacts of WMATA's work strategies on ridership have been predictable. In 2008, Minnesota Avenue on the Orange line had an average weekday passenger boarding count of 3,552, but by 2015 this number had declined to 2,387 (a 32% decline). This despite the construction of hundreds of new homes in the surrounding area. Benning Road station on the Blue Line declined from 3,382 in 2008 to 2,823 in 2015, or a decline of 16%.

Service to areas east of the Anacostia suffered further disruptions in September 2015, when a transformer exploded near Stadium Armory, and when an insulator exploded at Capitol South in May 2016. Both helped trigger Safe Track, along with a two-week suspension of Metro service to Ward 7 in late June. This work featured extensive reconstruction of the tracks near Stadium Armory, despite years of closures on this very section of track.

Closing these stations wouldn't just be harmful. It could be illegal.

Again, these seven stations aren't the only ones on the list. But the fact that they make up virtually all the Metro stations in a place where the vast majority of residents are black is enough to bring up an important legal question.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act says policies should not have an outsized effect on people from a protected class, such as race or gender, where alternatives could achieve the same objectives. The Federal Transit Administration regularly asks transit agencies to do an analysis of the impact of service cuts to make sure they don't disproportionately affect low income and minority riders, and in this case, it's not unreasonable to think they would.

Just take a look at this map, which shows DC's racial makeup and density, and look again at which area is faced with taking on a large percentage of the proposed closures:

A map illustrating racial makeup and density in Washington DC. Each dot represents 25 people. Red dots represent white people, blue are black people, green are Asian, orange are Hispanic, yellow are "other." Image from Wikimedia Commons.

Metro can't close all these stations. It'd create a two-tiered transportation system in which 140,000 DC residents are cut off from heart of DC's economic, political and social life.


Marriott is moving its headquarters to downtown Bethesda so it can be in a denser place that's closer to transit

Marriott International, a major local employer and national hotelier, is making an "in-town" move, relocating its headquarters from North Bethesda to downtown Bethesda. That sends an important message: walkable urban places and proximity to transit, specifically Metro but also the coming Purple Line, are economically crucial.

Photo by José Carlos Cortizo Pérez on Flickr.

Marriott International announced in March of 2015 that it would not be renewing the lease on its current Fernwood Road headquarters, inside the I-270 spur at the Beltway. According to Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson, it was "essential that we be accessible to Metro."

Today, Marriott International announced that it's moving to downtown Bethesda.

"It'll be great to have a more convenient option for public transportation," said a current Marriott employee who asked to remain anonymous. "Proximity to restaurants and shops is a great plus as well. Now we're next door to a mall, but it's good to have different options."

Younger workers want travel and lifestyle options, and Marriott's relocation is about competing for this workforce talent. It's worth noting that Marriott competitor Choice Hotels (think Comfort Inn) is also headquartered in Montgomery County, in an office building across the street from Rockville Metro.

Marriott International's current headquarters in a North Bethesda office park. Image from Google Maps.

Back when Marriott announced its coming move, Maryland, DC, and Virginia instantly went into battle mode over the $17 billion corporation, which the Washington Business Journal called "the hottest corporate relocation prospect currently in the market" because of its 2,000+ employees and its need for hundreds of thousands of square feet of premium office space.

With sequestration and base closures tightening the office market, developers were ready to fight for a big client. Regional elected leaders vowed to compete as well (though more voices are speaking up for regional cooperation, instead of a race to the bottom).

Marriott isn't the first company to want a move like this

In looking to relocate near Metro, the hotel giant is in step with a bigger trend. Suburban office parks all over our region are losing tenants to walkable urban places. Prior to Marriott's announcement, the company's current neighborhood office market in North Bethesda already had a vacancy rate of 19%.

The Marriott relocation will happen when the company's current lease ends in 2022. If that date sounds familiar, it's because it's the year Purple Line service is planned to begin! That powerful vibration you just felt is the synergy between economic development, land use, and transportation aligning in downtown Bethesda.

The exact site is still a mystery. The planned redevelopment of the Apex Building to make way for the Purple Line station only includes about half of the office space square footage that Marriott is looking for—and Marriott also wants to build a 200+ room hotel. We'll have to stay tuned for exactly where Marriott will go and how they'll find all that space in an already-dense urban place.

Virginia and Prince George's County probably never had a chance, given that Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson lives in Somerset—and CEO commute distance is a noted predictor of firm location. In that regard, today is not the big win for greater regional cooperation and jobs/housing balance that some hoped for.


Without more information, riders shouldn't accept Metro late night cuts

In July, Metro proposed ending late-night service permanently to allow more time for maintenance beyond what it's getting during SafeTrack. To really weigh whether this is the best option, the public needs much more information than what Metro has made available to date.

Photo by Aimee Custis.

When SafeTrack started, Metro moved from closing at 3 am on weekends to closing at midnight every day, giving workers around eight extra hours for repairs each week. In late July, General Manager Paul Wiedefeld said that Metro needed to permanently end its late-night service to give Metro more track time to do maintenance and repairs.

Metro is using an online survey to get public feedback on four proposals for different service cut configurations, and on Thursday it's hosting a marathon public hearing to get more input. It's also possible to submit free-form written comments though October 25 at 5 pm.

After that, the WMATA Board will vote on whether to approve one of the four proposals.

The public must have more information

To date, WMATA hasn't publicly shared its reasons for why it sees cutting late night service as the best way to do necessary maintenence. Or how much it will help. Or what will be accomplished with the additional work time.

Any more late-night closures should only happen after WMATA provides more information and accountability through concrete deliverables. Many advocates we've talked to have asked: instead of shutting down the whole system, couldn't Metro just follow a SafeTrack-like approach of shutting down late-night service in segments of the system? If not, why not?

Chicago, New York City, and New Jersey have all done temporary closures on isolated parts of their systems, which we know is far more efficient than continually doing track work for periods of only a few hours at night.

The mobility Metro provides is an essential service. Cuts cannot be taken lightly.

The sacrifices that Metro riders have been asked to make over the last seven years are not easy cuts to stomach. Less than a decade ago, Metro was a reliable system that was the foundation for building the region we know today.

The mass transit system's ability to quickly and efficiently deliver commuters to their downtown jobs, take residents to retail, entertainment, civic spaces, and take tourists to museums made it possible to build the sorts of neighborhoods and places that people are flocking to.

The transit villages of the Rosslyn-Ballston Corridor, the resurgence of Columbia Heights, the robust feeder bus ridership throughout the region; these are all things that would be impossible without Metro. Here, unlike in many parts of the country, transit is something nearly everyone uses at least some of the time. That transit culture was built over decades.

And much of Metro's ridership has been driven by people who are willing to live a car-lite or car-free lifestyle because they know that Metro will get them around not just for their work trip, but for most of the trips they need.

Metro service has been being dismantled since 2009, and it's imperiling the region we've built over decades. Metro is increasingly unreliable even during rush hour, and seems to be on the brink of ceasing to exist in the evenings and on weekends. Passengers face waits that can stretch to 25 or 30 minutes. And when the train does finally show up, it can be so overcrowded that it leaves customers on the platform to wait another half hour.

Asking riders to sacrifice their ability to travel on weekends can be acceptable, even to the car-free, for a short term. But as Metro's overhaul stretches toward a decade of inconvenience, many are rethinking that choice. And as car ownership increases, it makes it more difficult to build the types of places, like Clarendon, that we want more of. Even when it gets better, many of the households that have purchased a car in the intervening years will be unlikely to return to Metro.

Continuing late-night cuts could make sense temporarily, but not permanently

We learned in May that the way WMATA scheduled track work wasn't working, as there wasn't enough time to set up for maintenance, go through safety protocols to prepare the site, etc. and get its immense backlog of maintenance work done. The Federal Transit Administration and others did indeed recommend more track time for maintenance crews.

The cuts WMATA is proposing would give it more limited operating hours than any large US rail transit system, and at lower evening frequencies. Metro should learn from how other major US rail systems perform inspections and routine maintenance without shutting down the entire system. Clearly, other systems have figured this out. Why hasn't WMATA?

In other words, once the maintenance backlog is cleared, it's too much to ask the region to give up late-night service. Lots of people depend on late-night Metro service, and not because it's how they get home after a night on the down; Metro is the only option for many third shift workers and people with families.

Also, Metro needs to show it's using the track time it already has

Metro's core mission is to provide mobility to riders. Metro should exhaust every reasonable way to take care of its maintenance crisis without impacting service. And we need to know that it has done so.

When and only when Metro is making the most of what it has can it reasonably ask for more maintenance hours. People want to know that the sacrifice of late-night service will actually be put to good use.

Particularly in the wake of a May 6 incident where track workers couldn't use over half of their allotted 5-hour access block, what is going to be any different if workers get an additional eight hours of late-night track access per week?

What does that look like in terms of feedback to the WMATA Board? Before it approves late-night cuts, it should require proof that staff is actually at work on tracks at least 80% of the track time already available.

If extending late-night cuts is truly necessary, certain strings should be attached

Transit is critical to our region. It would be catastrophic to have WMATA fail. Our colleagues at the Coalition for Smarter Growth are proposing that if the WMATA Board is serious about turning the system around and doing what's best for the region, it could allow a 12 month extension of Metro closing at midnight. But they also say the Board should only approve a one-year extension if and only if that extension comes with the following conditions:

  • 12 month limit on late-night cuts
  • Hard, measurable maintenance goals for what to accomplish in that time. If targets aren't met, the late-night service cuts cannot be renewed for another 12 months
  • Quarterly reporting on track time used for maintenance. If they don't use at least 80% of available track time, service cuts cannot be renewed
  • Publicly-stated projection for when Metro service will be back to 2007 levels (or another target level of service)
  • Night owl bus service must be provided at no more than 20 minute headways on weekends to provide alternative mobility for late-night riders
Even if you don't agree with this list of the strings that should come with late-night cuts, you should speak up and say whatever you do think to the WMATA Board.

The Coalition for Smarter Growth has put together an editable email to the WMATA Board. You can send an email with their tool here.

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