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TO OCT. 27

Whether you’re a walker, a driver, or a devotee of the 42 bus line, the way you choose to get around determines what kind of Washington you’ll see. But, a new exhibition at the National Building Museum argues, the mode of transport that you choose will also help shape the nature of your ‘burg, and has molded the very possibility of the modern city itself, in all its variability and vastness. “On Track: Transit and the American City” divides modern life in the metropolis into three distinct eras: the expanding city, when walking and horsepower gave way to public transit and electric railcars; the suburban city, which arose as private autos gained the upper hand and sprawl began; and the regional city in which we now live, linked by a multimodal network of trains, buses, and ugly highway interchanges. But don’t visit the exhibition just because you’re on a Brookings Institution anti-sprawl task force. William Louis Sontag Jr.’s luminous oil painting of a New York City street scene, complete with the old elevated rail lines (The Bowery at Night), is worth a close look even for those not terribly given to worries about HOV lanes or light-rail speed. And preservationists who proudly point to the Cleveland Park minimall as the first strip mall in our area will find fodder for their claims in a ’20s Library of Congress photograph of the remarkably unchanged Park and Shop Stores (pictured). The exhibition is on view from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday, Saturday, and Monday to Thursday; and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday to Sunday, Oct. 27, at the National Building Museum, 401 F St. NW. Free. (202) 272-2448. (Garance Franke-Ruta)