Weighing in the Olympics Games’ Favor: D.C. Can’t Get Its Transit System Together Without Them
Yesterday, I listed five reasons to be wary of D.C.'s bid to host the 2024 Olympics. Today, I'll follow up with one reason to be supportive. In a word: transit.
The Metro is overtaxed, unreliable, and doesn't reach many parts of town. The streetcar is taking forever to get off the ground—and that's just the first line. The Olympics could be the catalyst we need to fix this stuff.
After all, there's a track record for Olympics-spurred transit development. The last host of the summer games, London, expanded and upgraded three of its city rail lines. Athens, which hosted in 2004, opened a new three-line tram system and expanded its subway.
It's fairly pathetic that we might need some games to come to town if we want a modern transit system. But it's clear we're not building it on our own. The Metro was built in the first place because the federal government suddenly got very generous with funding. That's not likely to happen again anytime soon. The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority's strategic plan for the next decade-plus focuses on bringing the existing system up to par, with more eight-car trains and enhanced communication, rather than adding new routes. Looking forward to 2040, the plan states, it might make sense to think about splitting the Orange and Blue lines or the Green and Yellow ones downtown. The Olympics could make that happen much faster.
But there's reason to be skeptical. The Olympics would be a regional event, covering far more ground than just D.C. As reader AnotherHillGuy points out, we'd probably be more likely to see improved rail connections between D.C. and Baltimore or D.C. and Annapolis (or, God forbid, Baltimore and Annapolis) than new rail stations in wards 7 and 8, where the Metro's reach is limited. Likewise, we might not actually get better connections through downtown (like an M Street or a 10th Street line), where the system is most overburdened, since few if any Olympic events would be located there. So the upgrades could end up benefiting suburban commuters more than D.C. residents.
Still, we'd take what upgrades we could get. Expanded heavy rail and a completed streetcar network in our lifetimes is better than a lot of us have been expecting. It's an indictment of our priorities as a society that it could take a sporting event to make that happen, but it's still a significant factor to put in the "pro" column when weighing whether the 2024 games make sense for the District.
Screenshot from dc2024.com