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.