Housing Complex

A Pipe Dream for the Tube

The District's giddiness at having survived Sandy still buzzing through my head, I can't help but dream a bit. A nerdy, transit-related dream, of course.

Let's start with a little history*. Way back when the Metro itself was still a dream, Congress passed, and President Lyndon Johnson signed, a bill to authorize a 25-mile rapid transit system in D.C. (and just barely stretching into Maryland and Virginia). It was a modest plan, to be sure: The Red line stopped at Van Ness on its western branch; downtown was served by a single line running along G Street; the Virginia-bound trains only went as far as Pentagon City; and the Mid-City line (later the Green and Yellow lines) wasn't even on the map yet.

But the plan did feature something the Metro of today lacks: the Columbia Heights spur. Take a look at the map below.

The proposed spur was an offshoot of what's now the Red Line, splitting off at the Connecticut and Florida station (near Dupont Circle) and stopping at four stations of its own: Columbia and Belmont; Columbia and 16th; Park Road and 14th (now the Columbia Heights Civic Plaza) ; and the terminus, New Hampshire and Georgia (now the Georgia Avenue-Petworth station on the Yellow/Green line).

In order to clear up funds to create a second downtown trunk line that would alleviate station traffic along the red line and provide access to the Southwest offices buildings, the planners decided to remove the Columbia Heights spur. (After all, well-heeled federal workers on the now Blue/Orange line would pay enough in fares to cover the line's costs, while the Columbia Heights spur was never expected to be profitable.)

But what if we could bring it back?

Now, I realize that WMATA's got its hands full with the Silver and Purple lines, and no one's talking about a new line in the District, and the Circulator's doing an OK job of filling that need. But let a man dream a bit. Here's what my plan would look like.

The southbound Yellow line would continue to run through Georgia Avenue-Petworth and Columbia Heights. But then it would split off and run along the spur line, down Columbia Road. It'd stop at Columbia and 18th in Adams Morgan (where there's plenty of room for one station exit, and possibly two) and then continue to Dupont Circle, where it'd join the red line track, run down to Gallery Place-Chinatown, and rejoin the green line on its current route toward Huntington.

This would only require one additional station and a mile and a half of track to be built (no mean feat, I know, but hey, we've got a huge surplus right now!), and the benefits would be substantial. Adams Morgan**—which may have its name on the Woodley Park station, but c'mon, who are we kidding?—would finally be served by Metro. Crosstown travel in Northwest would be greatly eased. (Goodbye, jammed-past-capacity 42 bus.) And residents of the Mt. Pleasant-Columbia Heights-Petworth corridor, the fastest-growing part of town in the past decade, would have easy, transfer-free rail access to all the offices around Farragut Square and Metro Center.

WMATA might have to run slightly more frequent Green Line service (although I suspect a good chunk of current Green Line riders would be more than happy to have a more westerly downtown route), but could make up for it by reducing daytime Red Line service, since the Yellow Line would serve the most trafficked daytime portion of the line, between Dupont Circle and Gallery Place-Chinatown.

Now, I know, I know, there are many parts of the District that aren't served by Metro at all, and if the city really did have the funding for an expansion, it'd be wiser to invest in increasing accessibility to certain areas of Northeast and Southeast. But seeing this nixed line in the original plans does make a transit lover's heart skip a beat at thoughts of what might have been—and what, one can dream, might still someday be.

*Courtesy, as is the map from a 1967 congressional hearing, of Zachary Schrag's excellent history of the Metro, The Great Society Subway.

**And yes, I'm biased here, given that Washington City Paper's offices are in Adams Morgan.

Update Nov. 2: Schrag emails to note that the National Capital Planning Commission actually considered a red line stop between Dupont Circle and Woodley Park back in 1967, but it was nixed because of the need to tunnel under Rock Creek Park rather than traveling over it by a bridge, as earlier planned.

  • Dave

    I endorse! And while we're at it, instead of having yellow line terminate at Fort Totten, why not run it from Georgia Ave-Petworth directly to Silver Spring, with two or three new stops on Georgia Ave along the way? That would be transformative for Ward 4.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/ Bossi

    For what it's worth, here's my own zany ideas- dubbed DC 2100: http://www.flickr.com/photos/thisisbossi/5386981166/

    Instead of running a stub from Dupont to Columbia Heights- I instead put a line up to 18/U which continues through U Street and on down Florida Ave. Ultimately connects the western portions of Upper NW, U St, Florida, and on through Ft Davis to Forestville.

  • Steve D

    Obviously, it's all a big dream, but a train that joins the red line tracks at Dupont is going to just become a red line train for the rest of the route, because there's no way that I know of for a train to take a right turn onto the green/yellow line tracks at Chinatown. Not without digging up some buildings like the Verizon Center or Portrait Gallery. :)

    But this certainly gets the need for crosstown service.

  • pat b

    if we are going to play SimCity 2010, i'd propose a Light Rail going from Cleveland park across to 18th, down to U, and then down Florida to pick up the Benning Rd Light Rail and continue across to Minnesota Ave. It'd be a nice niagonal, run down some major boulevards and it'd be cheap to build.

  • http://www.blackandredunited.com The AMT

    Metro wants to decouple lines wherever possible, splitting the Yellow Line off of the Green Line in its entirety. I really doubt they'd do anything to pair up the Red Line, which would necessarily reduce service everywhere beyond the point where the two tracks come together (Dupont, here).

    WMATA's (and IMO the entire region's) top priority needs to be to build a separated Blue Line (Rosslyn-Georgetown-M Street-Mt. Vernon-Union Station-H Street-Benning) to add capacity downtown. Once downtown capacity is reached, the entire system is effectively at capacity, so adding more in the center of the city will increase the value for the entire Metro network.

    A second priority, I think, should be decoupling the Yellow and Green Lines by building a new Yellow Line. Starting at the Potomac, have it go east to stations near Waterfront and Navy Yard before turning north past Capitol South toward Union Station. If we want to continue the line north up North Capitol Street and (after the Hospital Center) Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring, even better.

    The Columbia Heights spur, while nice, doesn't rate as a priority. In any event, it would probably be best served by a Dupont-Adams Morgan-Columbia Heights-Petworth (or Brookland) streetcar route.

  • Alf

    "If we are going to play SimCity 2010, i'd propose a Light Rail going from Cleveland park across to 18th, down to U, and then down Florida to pick up the Benning Rd Light Rail and continue across to Minnesota Ave. It'd be a nice niagonal, run down some major boulevards and it'd be cheap to build."

    But how would you get it across the Park? Uh, oh -- don't say it -- Klingle Road?!?

  • http://thegreatermarin.wordpress.com OctaviusIII

    I like it.

    My ideas: Separated Blue Line, anyone?

    Also Metro along Columbia Pike; an integrated Rapid Bus and BRT system for the suburbs; separated bus lanes on 16th, Connecticut/Columbia Road, H, I, K, 7th and U/Florida; through-running VRE and MARC and using them as express metro service with cross-platform connections...

    Yeah, I think that's it.

  • http://leftforledroit.com Left for LeDroit

    I realize that WMATA's got its hands full with the Silver and Purple lines

    The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA) is leading the design and construction of the Silver Line. It will be handed over to WMATA when it's complete. WMATA is, however, buying and testing new railcars for the line. I'd hardly say its hands are full at this point.

    The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) is responsible for the planning of the Purple Line. Again, WMATA is not the lead agency in that project either.

  • Erik

    A simple and (relatively) inexpensive option would be to link the green/yellow line at U Street to the red line at woodley park, adding a badly needed stop in Adams Morgan. Instead of going to Fort Totten, the Yellow line could branch off at U Street and continue to, say, Friendship Heights... Would only need a couple of miles of new tunnel.

  • lewandorkski

    You can't do branching like that because you halve the capacity further on the existing line.

  • DC Guy

    How about a streetcar system that replicates the 100+ miles that existed in the 1950's. It would cover much of what has already been discussed here.

  • D

    Love this idea. If it were to happen, there's plenty of room for another stop at Columbia and Connecticut if the city removes the poorly designed left turn from Conn Ave. to California St. A station at 18th and Columbia would be most important but the second station would serve a ton of residents and tourists.

  • http://alexblock.net Alex B.

    Yeah - branching lines divides service, and therefore lessens the possible frequency and thus capacity.

    Metro's future planning is all about un branching lines where possible (e.g. the idea of separating the orange/blue lines with an M St subway, or the various concepts for separating the green/yellow lines).

    That's not to say this isn't a worthy transit corridor - I think it is, as it was an old streetcar route and remains a busy bus line (42 and 43). Perhaps the idealistic vision for the future would have this as streetcar. If you want to get fancier, I would consider a hybrid streetcar/lrt/subway like SF's Muni and Muni Metro - have some key streetcar corridors in tunnels.

  • http://westnorth.com Payton

    A crosstown line is identified among the city's streetcar plans, roughly paralleling the H bus route from Brookland through Columbia Heights to Tenleytown.

    The Columbia Heights spur idea was also nixed in favor of the Mid-City subway, a decision which has worked wonders for both the Heights and many adjacent neighborhoods.

    Most of the fantasy transit maps that I've seen focus on existing rowhouse neighborhoods, which I think is a mistake. New transit construction shouldn't just respond to today's needs, but more importantly tomorrow's -- and with an eye towards transit-supportive densities. Any new subway line should be supported with appropriate densities, which are in the mid/high-rise range. Given existing historic districts and the fact that core office growth is shifting eastward, I can't foresee a lot of new demand arising in this particular corridor.

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