Housing Complex

Green Line Study: Good Timing for the Purple Line

Rolling out the green carpet. (RCLCO)

The Capitol Riverfront Business Improvement District hit the wires this morning with a study they'd commissioned on the economic impact of Metro's Green Line (or at least the line's midsection; it omitted the underperforming stations east of the Anacostia and in Prince George's County). Despite its restricted scope—and dubious premise of the Green Line being less respected than its Red and Orange siblings, which I've only seen among the Tea Party set—the study showed impressive return on the region's investment: During the 2000s, for example, the area within a quarter mile of the stations studied captured 32 percent of the entire growth of 18-24-year-olds in the District.

It's easy to forget the pain the Green Line's construction caused, though. From the Metro geek bible, The Great Society Subway:

When WMATA finally broke ground on the Green line, in August 1985, residents learned that the only thing worse than lack of construction was construction itself. With bedrock too deep below the surface to employ rock tunneling, WMATA engineers specified the same cut-and-cover construction that had proved so disruptive downtown and on Capitol Hill...Virginia Ali, whose Chili Bowl restaurant had served U Street since 1958, had endured riots and illicit drug markets, but subway construction was worse. With U Street itself blocked off, customers had to find their way through alleys. If construction workers hit a gas line, diners would have to evacuate, and frequently Ali found her restaurant's floor inches deep in dirty water that ran off the wooden planks that served as U Street's decking. A block-long stretch of 7th Street turned into a twenty-foot-deep garbage pit; residents fretted that children might climb through the shoddy fences and fall in. By the eve of completion, a neighborhood resident mourned, "after five years of construction, the name of the game right now is survival."

Now, taking out 31 homes and 43 businesses is a different question entirely—that's what Montgomery County is saying will have to happen for the Purple Line to be built from New Carrollton to Bethesda. Losing your home is a lot worse than putting up with open pits for a few years. But the worse bad news, from the public at large's perspective, is how long it could take to get all of those property owners to move. Eminent domain is a nasty business, as a new documentary about a Brooklyn megadevelopment details, and litigation could hold the process up for years.

Through what's likely to be another long slog for the Purple Line, folks should keep in mind the lessons of the Green: Well-managed growth made possible by Metro stations can work wonders in the long term. Those houses that go will replaced by a whole lot more in the future.

  • http://blogs.forbes.com/stephensmith Stephen Smith

    The Atlantic Yards saga involved a ton of complexities (first and foremost being that the land was transfered to private developers, not a public subway company) that make your comparison a bit strained. As the CAHSR takings in the Central Valley demonstrate, the Purple Line battle is likely to be fought in the legislative realm, not the courts.

    Actually, 31 homes and 43 businesses seems pretty minor given the scope of the project.

  • http://thebrightwoodian.blogspot.com/ The Brightwoodian

    Note that it omits Fort Totten as well.

  • Lydia DePillis

    @Stephen Smith

    Fair point on the difference between taking for public vs. private entities; those in the way of the Purple Line won't have as much legal ground to stand on. And I'm sure there are better comparisons with the construction of other Metro lines. But still, I expect it won't be an easy process, and I think it's helpful to keep in mind how hard it is to build all this stuff.

  • Thayer-D

    The purple line's success or failure will be a bell weather of how this whole region will evolve. We already have the worst traffic in the country, and it won't be getting better. Every city that has continued to prosper economically has done so on the back's of a good and dependable (not buses) public transit system. They should be building light rail throughout the city and region, but clearly one has to do these things sensitivley. Hopefully we can move forward for the interest of the greater good, but any change will bring some heartache.

  • http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com Richard Layman

    The interesting thing about the study, which I still have to read, is that it doesn't include Fort Totten. Yet the Fort Totten area is an example, after a long time, of land use intensification associated with the Metro, of something closer to what Arlington did. The garden apartment complexes are being converted to denser buildings as part of at least two projects, the one that JBG bought into and the Cafritz project. And the new apartments were built ("new" = about 2006-2007?).

    I do believe, although it likely won't be for a couple decades, that the garden apartments along Fort Totten Drive could be intensified similarly, as proximity to the Metro becomes even more valuable, and as that area gets amenities (supermarkets etc. will come with the other developments mentioned above).

    It would not be unlikely for other areas in that greater area to be intensified similarly, again over a long time frame.

    And once it happens successfully at Fort Totten, it will happen at West Hyattsville, eventually, although I probably will be very old or dead...

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