While it is now little more than a glimmer in transit nerds’ eyes, the likelihood of a Georgetown metro station getting built is larger than you may realize. On the right is a map that appeared in the Washington Post in 2001. It described long term plans that WMATA was considering for the expansion of the Metrorail system. Those plans called for a splitting of the Orange and Blue lines. The new Blue line would split off from the Orange line at Rosslyn and travel parallel to the Orange line through downtown, finally meeting up with it again at Stadium-Armory. In building this separate Blue line, WMATA would have the chance to remedy the mistake it made decades ago and finally build a Georgetown station. In an act of enormous cart-before-the-horseing, GM wonders: where exactly would this station go anyway? But before we get to that, we need to go back to the 1960’s first.
The first thing to address if you’re going to start talking about the history of Metro and Georgetown is the old canard about why Georgetown doesn’t have a station in the first place. The story goes that in the 1960’s a bunch of rich Georgetowners didn’t want hordes of minorities coming into their neighborhood on the Metro so they successfully petitioned WMATA to nix any plans for a stop. This telling of this story chugs along year-after-year because it fits in with the negative stereotype of a Georgetown resident: rich, racist, and well-connected. Unfortunately for the storytellers, it’s fiction.
George Mason professor Zachary Schrag tracked down the true story of why there’s no Georgetown stop. In his definitive history of the building of the Metro “The Great Society Subway“, Schrag writes that while there was some opposition to the building of metro stop in Georgetown from the residents, the engineers never seriously considered building one there. The grade from the Potomac up to M St. was too steep. Moreover, plenty of neighborhoods across the city were not too excited about a metro stop coming into their neighborhood, but it wasn’t out of racism or xenophobia. It was out of a fear of the disruption to business that construction would bring. Indeed many stores in areas like U St. and Clarendon were knocked out of business due to Metro construction.
Remedying a Mistake
So that’s why we don’t have a Georgetown station, but was that our only shot? WMATA doesn’t think so. In 2001 WMATA recognized that it could not indefinitely send both the Orange and the Blue lines through the same tunnel between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom. A new crossing would be required to handle the increase in traffic expected over the next couple decades (particularly with the addition of the Silver Line to Dulles and Loundon County). In building a new Blue line parralel and north of the Orange line, we would be afforded an opportunity to finally build a Georgetown station. The Post wrote back in 2001:
The suggested 22-mile leg, which is being called the new Blue Line, could include room for 11 new stations. Among them would be a stop in Georgetown — at M Street NW and Wisconsin Avenue — where the idea of a Metro station was shunned a generation ago but is now welcomed as a tonic for parking and traffic problems.
[It doesn’t help in stopping the urban legend when even the Washington Post keeps repeating it].
What happened to those plans you ask? Money. The new line would cost $6.3 billion to build and WMATA was already running a $5.2 billion shortfall. So the plans simply faded away. That is until last year.
Last August WMATA staff gave a proposal to the WMATA Board of Directors addressing the long term structural needs of the system. In those plans was a revived proposal of a split Blue line, including a Georgetown stop. David Alpert at GGW has written extensively about this.
But where exactly would that stop specifically be? In 2001 WMATA suggested M and Wisconsin, and frankly that seems like the most likely possibility. But where would it even fit? GM thought it over and can think of a couple possible locations from Metro exits. They are:
Next To PNC Bank:
Right now this is parking lot. There seems like there would be adequate room to build an escalator exit here. While no location around here would be without serious complications, this one seems the least complicated.
Next to the Canal
The modern canopy is unlikely under any situation, by GM threw it in here just for consideration. As for the space itself, there seems to be a decent amount of room for an escalator here, but there may be a lot of complications trying to build so close to the canal.
A Bump Out
This plan would take out some of the parking spots and perhaps a lane on Wisconsin just south of M. in GM’s opinion, this would probably be a decent trade-off. There is never a ton of traffic coming up Wisconsin from K, and it is hoped that with a Metro there’d be a significant drop in driving anyway.
These are just brainstorms. But it does seem that nobody has thought too hard about the location question more specifically than just “M and Wisconsin”. What do you think? Where would you put the entrances? Anywhere else you’d put the station? Maybe down closer to Key Bridge? How about the other direction towards downtown?
20 responses to “Where Would a Metro Stop Go Anyway?”
If a metro station in Georgetown is ever built, the next step would be to build a light rail line up Wisconsin Avenue to Tenley. This would connect the Blue Line with stations further up the Red Line without having to go all the way to Metro Center. This would also hopefully reduce congestion on Wisconsin Avenue and encourage denser development near the stations. I wrote a paper last year for a course at George Mason looking at this possibility.
Additionally, if a metro station in Georgetown was built, the Whitehurst Freeway wouldn’t be as necessary. Perhaps with the passengers accomodated on metro instead, this elevated freeway could be removed, giving new vitality to K Street.
All of those ideas sound great, but the issue of the grade from the Potomac to M Street is still too great. So the more realistic place would be somewhere like Q Street and Wisconsin (in one of those gas stations) or up Wisconsin to the Safeway (maybe the parking lot of the old Japanese restaurant). Yeah, it won’t be as convenient as right at M and Wisconsin, but it’ll still be better than Foggy Bottom and Dupont.
Why would there be opposition from residents if building a metro station in Georgetown was never considered?
You should write a piece on the future of Georgetown and where you think the neighborhood will be in 10/20/30 years. Will M St and/or Wisconsin evolve to an eventual Rodeo Drive/5th Ave/Newbury St full of uber-lux retail and restaurants with house prices like Greenwich? Or will the continuing gentrification of other parts of DC take away from the progress and Georgetown and it will become just another neighborhood with some older charm. Does it all depend on the infrstructure and transportation solutions developed during this time as we cannot sustain additional car traffic/parking demands, etc? Do the stereotypes of the neighborhood hurt or help us down the road? Curious your take – sorry for the fragmented questions.
Shipsa01: Good point. I’m not sure whether there have been any advancements since the 60’s the would address that issue. Maybe it would just have to be really deep?
Bob: The idea of a Georgetown station was floated around, but the engineers determined that it wasn’t possible. So while the proposals might have met some opposition, there was no causal connection between the opposition and the decision not to build.
Gtowner: Great idea. I’ll have to start thinking about that. It would be quite a hard thing to predict (particularly when so many people in Georgetown don’t want anything to change). But I could take a shot…
There is a history of Metro having very “deep” stations; i.e. Forrest Glen (deepest) and Wheaton (longest escalators in the Western Hemisphere). But from what I’ve heard once before, I think Georgetown’s would even have to be deeper unless moved to upper Georgetown / Burleith area.
Personally I’d be thrilled if they built it in upper Georgetown since I might actually use it (my walk to Dupont is only slightly longer than my walk to M and Wisconsin), but since the plan, roughly, is to bring it down underneath M St. through downtown, it couldn’t go very far north of that through Georgetown.
Maybe the answer is to not bring it across the Potomac in a tunnel? Maybe it could use the Key Bridge and then dive into a tunnel underneath M? Just a thought.
RE: the whitehurst freeway.
I would LOVE to see DC officials study some sort of High-Line type plan for the Whitehurst freeway in the event a separate blue line is constructed:
I think a similar plan for DC could do a lot to make Georgetown an even more unique place!
There don’t necessarily have to be escalators. There could be an elevator-only option like Forest Glen, or even the Clark Street Station in Brooklyn.
A bank of six high-speed elevators, three each on opposite sides of the street might do the trick. Perhaps there could be 12 elevators, with six at each end of the platform.
One set of six might even come directly into the Georgetown Park mall. I’d suppose the owners would gladly trade an internal-mall storefront for the added foot traffic the elevators would bring.
If the tunnel went deep under the Potomac to the west of the Key Bridge and turned east around the bridge, it’d have half a mile to rise a bit toward the surface for a station near M and Wisconsin.
JTS: That’s in interesting idea re: the High Line. I doubt, however, that it could happen here. If they were to close the Whitehurst to traffic, it would certainly be torn down and replaced with a ramp down from the Key Bridge to Water/K St., which itself would be transformed into a large boulevard. I look forward to the completed High Line myself (although I was always skeptical about the plans to put in bars there. I think they should keep it as a park).
Joey: Good idea about the elevators. I thought about that, but I didn’t realize that we have stations that are elevator-only. I wasn’t sure they allowed it (what do they do if they lose power?).
After thinking about it some more, I think another viable location could be the intersection of Penn and M. It’s a little ways down from M and Wisconsin, but still close enough to the main drag to be attractive.
To me, the most logical M & Wisconsin location is inside the shopping mall. Several stations have their entrances sheltered by or attached to private buildings (e.g., Farragut North & West, Metro Center, Pentagon City, etc.). Yes, it would mean negotiating with a private land-owner, which in the 1960s/70s WMATA was loath to do. Nowadays, though, I would bet that many shopping mall owners would absolutely jump at the chance to generate such a huge influx of shoppers, even when the lengthy construction process is taken into account.
They should put the station at the parking lot off Prospect & Wisconsin, right across the street from the Peacock Cafe. Aside from not disrupting the beauty of the neighborhood, and taking valuable M Street property, it’s the perfect distance from Upper/Lower G-town.
I don’t think they should build it too far north, as you can then go to Dupont. Nor east, because of Foggy Bottom. And at the base of the Key Bridge is essentially useless. Rosslyn is right there.
What might be the fastest and cheapest solution, as well as keeping Georgetown “special,” would be to convert the Georgetown Metro Connection buses to heritage streetcars, and just have them continue their link between Rosslyn and Dupont.
Excellent write-up, as always GM. I’d love to see a greater variety of stops between the Orange and Blue lines, especially in the city limits, but the Washington Post’s map suggestion looks like a decade’s worth of work.
@Ben, I don’t see how a Metro station would negate Whitehurst Freeway.
@ Bailey – you make a great point about bringing more Metro lines and stops within the city. It’s something those new Congressmen in NOVA just don’t seem to get. By extending the Orange, Blue and Yellow lines further West and South, it’s only going to add to the already “crunched” commutes and promote more backwards development. Here are two “fantasy” maps from Washington, DC Urban Planning blogs that show more intra-city lines / stops. Georgetown is included on both, fyi.
How about the big beautiful bank on M and Wisconsin? It used to be a Riggs Bank building with the Golden Dome. It could be an old style station, almost like a Train Station of yore?
Bad idea? No need for a canopy and no ugly defacing of the Georgetown M St. facade?
And it’s smack in the middle of the busiest part of Gtown, easy access and might ease the horrible M St/Wisconsin congestion…
I have always been a proponent of splitting the blue and orange lines in the District. An additional crosstown line is critical to the continued success of the system. Once the Silver line opens there will be additional strain at Rosslyn that can barely handle the current train traffic at that chokehold. I also support a north-south connector between Tenleytown and Rosslyn. This will facilitate easier commutes between upper DC/Montgomery county and VA as well as create smart growth along Wisconsin Ave.
If terrain poses a problem on M St. then move the station further north on Wisconsin with a southern entrance close to M St. behind the bank building on the corner of Wisconsin/M St. Another entrance could be at O St. Have the line turn under P St. to Rock Creek, turn southeast under the creek to run along M St. with a station at West End and continue east. Another line originating in VA will split from the Georgetown station to run north along Wisconsin Ave. to join up with the red line. In fact, why not have the silver line run from VA through Georgetown, up Wisconsin and along the the red line to Grosvenor? Do we really need the silver line to share the orange line route to stadium/armory?
As far as a potential location for a Georgetown metro station entrance, I like Stefan Sittig’s idea. A good visual model for that would be the entrance for Metro Center almost within that bank building at the corner of F & 12th (a few blocks away from the Portrait Gallery and the Verizon Center).
Here’s a larger problem that tangentially affects the possibility of a Georgtown station.
Think about all the commuters that travel between MD and VA north of DC. Currently their only option is to cross the American Legion bridge. Traffic across the bridge is worse every year, but people still do it. Why don’t they use the metro? Because changing trains at Metro Center is worse than sitting their cars. If there was a direct line from the I-270 biotech corridor to the I-66/Tysons corporate parks, people would use it.
I’m one of those people, and I can tell you – my company offers a free shuttle from East Falls Church, so it would be easy for me to get to work from the metro. Once the Tysons Corner metro stop opens up it will be even easier, but I still won’t use metro because I don’t want to have to change at Metro Center.
I think that eventually WMATA will realize that commuters don’t want to change trains to get to/from work. Once that happens, it could become politically popular to create a line that connects Tenley Town to Rosslyn with a stop in Georgtown.
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