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Link: DC without Metro a capital parking lot

by Benjamin Kabak

In 1976, the first stations along the WMATA’s Red Line opened, and with it, came a new era of development and mobility for the Nation’s Capital. Today, Metro is expanding outward toward Dulles Airport, and talk of a purple line that would ring around the district, connecting Silver Spring, Bethesda and beyond, bubbles up now and again. But what would happen to the area of there was no mass transit network?

As it argues for better funding, that’s the question one WMATA transportation analyst has tried to answer. As Emily Badger at The Atlantic Cities blog writes, a Capital without its subway system is a strange place indeed. Instead of a centralized downtown area, the region would be choked with traffic, thus leading to more localized economic development. “We looked at that and realized we were watching the economy splinter,” Justin Anthos, the author of the study said. “All of a sudden, we weren’t watching a regional economy function where workers could find jobs in the whole region.”

As 200,000 per day take the Metro into D.C., Antos’ research found that to maintain such commuting levels would require 15 new lanes of freeways and 166 blocks of five-story parking garages. The absurdity of it all, he says, is the point of the investigation. “Part of the study was to put in context the choices that our region faces in the future, which are that we can either continue to protect and expand our transit investment, or we can basically just keep it static, or even let it degrade,” he said. “You can’t just say ‘we chose not to expand.’ There’s some other alternative that you would be forced to live in. And we have to take a gander at what that alternative would be, so we can make informed decisions.” It is a lesson our fair city and its politicians should take to heart as well.

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JB December 14, 2011 - 3:21 pm

I would like to see how many lanes of highways and parking garages NYC would need to function if there were no mass transit system. Chances are Manhattan would just be one large highway…

Lawrence Velázquez December 14, 2011 - 4:38 pm

Michael Frumin did a similar rough analysis in 2009:


Joshua December 14, 2011 - 3:40 pm

The most recent post at the Old Urbanist blog gives some indication of what DC may look like without the Metro: that is, much more like downtown Houston.

The Cobalt Devil December 14, 2011 - 3:48 pm

Now if we could get a map of DC or NY to see what they’d look like without hipsters hunched over their iPhones, that’d be awesome!

John-2 December 14, 2011 - 4:49 pm

Washington’s problem is compounded as it is by the fact that the road and rail systems are designed on a hub-spoke system, where everyone is assumed to be going downtown, which hasn’t been the case for roughly 35 years now. The lack of crossings other than the Beltway makes D.C. one of my three least favorite places to drive (Houston and L.A. being the other two), but in some cases mass transit is still a non-viable option.

The Purple Line will take a little pressure off the cross-routing through Montgomery and western Prince George’s County, and hopefully when the Dulles extension is completed some of the pressure be relieved on the Montgomery-Fairfax county traffic (and a Farragut North/Farragut West transfer point would also make the Metro slightly more attractive for that routing).

Benjamin Kabak December 14, 2011 - 4:51 pm

The WMATA has in fact opened such a transfer. It’s a free out-of-system transfer between the two Farraguts. Took long enough.

Brian December 14, 2011 - 4:51 pm

Does anybody know if it is true that the 4 train alone gets more ridership than the entire DC metro?

Farro December 14, 2011 - 6:58 pm

It’s the Lexington Avenue subway line as a whole that does.

The Cobalt Devil December 14, 2011 - 9:45 pm

Probably the entire Lex Ave Line, which is an unfair comparison considering the population differences between NY and DC.


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