Metro Of The Future: Beyond Silver & Purple
Given that it's taking decades to extend Metro rail to Dulles Airport or to connect the two limbs of the Red Line, it hardly seems prudent to predict that the region's transit system might expand even more ambitiously in the coming years.
But Daniel Malouff, an urban planner for the city of Fairfax who runs an inventive blog looking at the future of the Washington region, has come up with a sprawling vision for Metro's future that includes a tight web of new light rail and streetcar lines that would finally relieve many suburbanites of the exasperated plaint, "But Metro doesn't go where I'm going."
Malouff's map of the future assumes that the cost--in dollars and political strife--of building a lot more heavy rail is probably prohibitive. Certainly the battle over rail to Dulles has proven that. So he gets more nimble, adding a few infill Metro stations, but mainly expanding through streetcars that would run on dedicated lanes along existing major thoroughfares. He reaches out to second-tier suburbs with a much-expanded set of MARC and VRE lines, though he doesn't call those commuter lines by their current names because he believes it's essential that the lines be merged, even if they are run by different states.
And he sidesteps the huge battle within the transit world over whether to build streetcars or what's called Bus Rapid Transit, which is a fancy term for plain old bus lines, sometimes with a dedicated lane. Dress it up however you like, it's still a big fat nauseating bus. Malouff embraces buses along existing routes, but sticks with light rail or streetcars for most new routes.
There are, of course, other visions for Washington's transit future. At Greater Greater Washington, David Alpert offers an extension of the existing Metro system that consists largely of local spurs that would make it much easier to feed commuter traffic from residential neighborhoods onto the main Metro lines. (Here's his map showing what Metro has in mind for eventual expansions.)
More officially, the Metropolitan Council of Governments has a number of expansions in mind, including streetcars here and there.
But the council's plan gives away its lack of vision (or, more charitably, its adherence to the very limiting factor known as "reality") in its title: The Financially-Constrained Long-Term Transportation Plan.
The blogger-dreamers think bigger. Hey, it's not our money. Well, ok, it is, but still: If you don't think big, we can't even imagine a way out of a future of sitting in traffic for four or five hours a day.
Back in the real world, it's worth pointing out that not all of the Washington area suffers from gridlock. In fact, there are still good chunks of the close-in area where density remains relatively light and traffic is much less of a daily discomfort. Basically, the area east of the District is much more lightly populated than the area to the west. And blogger Rob Goodspeed has helpfully collected a list of Metro's most underperforming stations--that is, the ones we use the least--as a guide to where the next wave of development ought to be directed.
As you might expect, a majority of the 10 least-used stations are in Prince George's County. Here's the bottom 10: Morgan Boulevard, Cheverly, Deanwood, Arlington Cemetery, Eisenhower Ave., Capitol Heights, Forest Glen, Congress Heights, Landover, Waterfront.
By comparison, nine of the top 10 most used stations are in the District, with Pentagon City being the only exception. But the next 10 most-used stations are the key to understanding how Metro, and the whole area, can and should grow. On that list, you'll find Rosslyn, Silver Spring, Crystal City, Ballston, and Bethesda, places that have embraced density and vertical growth and as a result have morphed into exciting and busy urban nodes.
Much of what Malouff and Alpert have proposed will likely never be built, but just as Metro began as a few jottings on a paper napkin, these early web versions of our future may end up being the spark we need to choose something other than inertia.
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