A Metrorail 20-year plan.

A lot of people have gotten in the game of designing personal opinions on the expansion of Metrorail. Greater Greater Washington’s Fantasy map is probably the best, so much so as to actually be used by WMATA, but I thought I’d try my hand at it too. The long-needed Blue Line split in particular merits attention, so here’s my suggestion for that bit. 


More explanation after the break…

This design aims to reshape the city by moving more density outside of the current downtown, using the relocated Blue Line and the circular Brown Line as anchors. The density at the center of the city will always lend itself to rushes and crushes, but with a ring of density at the boundaries of the Federal City, the region can absorb more commerce without more lifeless business districts. DC has many beautiful areas downtown, but they often are sterile and, well, Federal. It has also developed some nice social centers, such as Adams Morgan and Near Southeast. They are a bit yuppie for my liking, but they are a start to creating a real downtown – one for the people who live in DC, and not only those work there. These areas that have become hot will remain so, I suspect, because they have good mixes of commercial and residential development, storefronts, good density, and are close to transit.

Adding more transit, in a fashion that creates a ring of urban density around the city is the next step, because it would refocus development and reduce the pressure to add more K Street Boxes in a choked, monolithic downtown. With reduced zoning that reduces the complicated use segregation and instead offers juicy carrots in the form of tax incentives, I believe the developers can be led to produce a pattern of good transit oriented design. In particular, creating places where one can walk to work and to shop is ideal, but that is just that, ideal. People will be forced to move from one place to another and a set time for as long as I can see. 

Counter-commuting will always be possible for reducing crushes, but what would be better from a long-term planning perspective is exo-commuting: commuting in multiple directions, outside of the center of the city. It is for this reason, that the scheme I propose makes circular commuting easy, and attempts to take some load off of the downtown transfer stations. Look at this more accurate map and you’ll see what the general idea of the route is. 

A geographically accurate map. Look how far out the Silver Line goes.
A geographically accurate map. White dots indicate new or improved stations.
A closer view of the route, emphasizing the improved southern sector.

To that end, this plan does not run the new Blue Line down M street and back into its current configuration. Instead, it runs the Blue Line north, through Adams Morgan, Shaw, Gallaudet, and Trinidad to create a new corridor mostly on Florida Avenue. The development of the K Street and H Street streetcar corridors makes the usually suggested cross-town route redundant. Heavy rail, which is expensive and operates most efficiently with distant stations, should be used more to create neighborhood centers, nodes for street-level transit systems to intersect. The placement of the stations here seeks to create places for the most growth, preserving the beautiful rowhouse neighborhoods in Capitol Hill, in particular. Turning south, the line would cross under the Orange and Silver lines, with a parallel stop at the Armory and East Mall, which I’ll call the City Mall. 

The second part of the project has the blue line cross the Anacostia and proceed to Ft. Dupont, Twining, a new transfer station at St. Elizabeth’s/Bellvue, Glassmanor, Oxon Hill, and terminate the National Harbor development. The Orange line would serve the blue line stops out to Largo, and Silver would serve Orange line stops to New Carrollton creating a one-seat transfer from air to rail. The southern section of the New Blue follows the Brown line proposal down to the Beltway, although it does not cross the Potomac.

Additionally, a set of tracks would branch off after City Mall/Armory and head west, using the Green and Yellow Line tracks, before reuniting with the Blue Line at Arlington Cemetery. This new service would serve as a social and tourist route, as well as relieving congestion in the central stations by allowing earlier transfers. I suspect that it would run with relatively few cars, because it would not serve much of a unique use. On the other hand, its prime location for popular neighborhoods means that it could run later into the night, much as some cities run trams on a different schedule at night, to reduce drunk driving without forcing patrons to take cabs. The line adds three new stops: Jefferson Memorial (presumably in concert with a new residential quarter there), Barney Circle, and Maritime Plaza. 

Tying all of these stations together would be Metrotram. Almost every streetcar line I include here here has been suggested in some way, either as heavy rail, streetcar, or BRT. These lines are meant as secondary routes, connecting other density to heavy and regional rail sites, in some cases zig-zagging across subways. Lines include:

  • The so-called Purple Line, from Bethesda via UMD and Riverdale to New Carrollton in the high-build LRT option.
  • Purple Line south from Eisenhower Valley, through Oxon Hill across the Wilson Bridge to Branch Avenue.
  • The Corridor Cities Transitway, in the ACT configuration.
  • A route on Lee Highway, proposed in 2001 for a Silver Line express. 
  • The Columbia Pike streetcar, as proposed.
  • The Georgia Aveune line, as proposed, but going down into Southwest, M street, and South Capitol Street past the Nationals Stadium into Anacostia. 
  • The K street/H street/Benning road line, starting at Georgetown University, and going to the Minnesota Avenue station. 
  • The Anacostia streetcar from Minnesota Avenue, past Anacostia, to Bolling AFB, and connecting to the new Blue Line at the end.
  • A line from Tenleytown through Adams Morgan to Georgia Avenue and one through Bloomingdale and a branch to Washington Hospital Center, the National Shrine, Brookland and eventually Rhode Island Avenue. 
  • A line from the Woodridge terminus of Rhode Island Avenue down through Gallaudet, Lincoln Park, and over the 11th street bridges. The line would continue past Twining on Pennsylvania Ave. 
  • A section past Union Station and the US Capitol, connecting to the above line. 

Additionally, other stations have been added to this plan, two at Potomac Yards, one at Eisenhower Valley, one at Ft. Belvoir, one at Oklahoma Avenue, and one at River Terrace, most of which I am borrowing from Greater Greater Washington or the NCPC’s schemes.

There are also some stylistic and graphic decisions made. In particular, stations that are transfers are considered single stations in the diagram, even if the lines do not share a single platform structure. I found that little connectors simply cluttered the map too much, and detracted from the minimalist design. So City Mall/Armory, V St/U St, Rosslyn, and Farragut West/Farragut North are single dots. The circular line is brown for obvious reasons. The streetcar lines on this map do not include all stops, because they are not all at the same scale as this map. All stations would probably be included on another tram-specific map. I have also shortened station names, and eliminated transfer stations at splits, since that always seemed unnecessary. 

This was a fun exercise, but a time-consuming one. Perhaps I will add some of my other thoughts on the matter later, but not for another few months at least. One thing is that I hope that WMATA plans for new lines all at once, as they have in Russia (sometimes). Currently, there are stations like Sportivnaya in St. Petersburg, with second platforms that will not see service for 20 years at the earliest, but were built to avoid the ungodly transfer tunnels that have grown around other stations. As DC commuters have not yet suffered from those, they might not understand how great it is to have the cross-shaped open transfer stations we have in DC.

Always places to improve. I would love comments, though.

22 thoughts on “A Metrorail 20-year plan.

  1. Tsar,

    This is very innovative. I think having the Blue line mirror the Red line somewhat might expansion of the Purple line in the south over the Wilson Bridge to connect the two ends of that line. Great work!

  2. I love this map a lot. The Circle Line/Brown Line I think is absolutely brilliant. There area couple changes I’d make to the tram lines, though. I think a connection from Tenley to Georgetown down Wisconsin Ave. would be great, especially since you have it going down to Mass already. As Dave said, too, completing the tram line around the periphery of the map (at least as much as is feasible) would improve things as well.

    Other than that, it looks like there are a couple points where the diagram and the map don’t match up. One is the tram line from Woodley to U Street, which the map seems to show going down 18th, past the new AdMo station and on to U, but the diagram shows the tram staying north of the Adams Morgan station. Another is the tram lines going east of downtown: the diagram has the lines going through Judiciary, but the map shows them splitting just west of Union Station.

    Again, great, great map. I’d love to see what other people think about your Brown & Blue lines.

  3. I have a lot of respect for everybody who makes a mock-up map for Metro. It encourages us all to do some creative and critical thinking about the future of our transit system, which hopefully informs us as citizens. And I’m sure it takes a lot of thought and effort. So, thanks.

    My biggest criticism is about running Brown to Arlington Cemetery. Arlington Cemetery is one of the least-used stations, and there’s no potential for development there–it’s a cemetery. There’s literally only one reason to go to the station. Honestly, if I was designing Metro today, I wouldn’t run a station there — I’d just run a shuttle from Rosslyn and Pentagon. I’m not sure the train even stops at night when the cemetery’s closed. And it’s a long ride. So there’s no need for additional service to the station, there’s no potential for future development, and it’s a big timesink to run the train way out there. Plus, from the way the map is drawn, are you saying Brown wouldn’t even stop at Pentagon? That makes it even more useless. (Maybe the alignment through Jefferson would be significantly shorter than the current alignment through Pentagon? But that would mean laying a bunch of new tracks to run useless service.)

    I like London’s Circle Line, but I don’t think this proposal makes sense. There’s only two stops on this Brown Line that aren’t served by another line. If Barney Circle and Maritime Plaza need Metro stations, maybe Blue should be routed that way instead; otherwise, run streetcar or light rail service.

    I will say, though, (without much familiarity and without looking at any data), that the idea of running Blue farther away from downtown than other New Blue proposals is interesting. It may well be that the other New Blues are well-served by a streetcar, since there’s already a lot of development, and if we’re going to invest in digging heavy rail tunnels we should do it in areas that can grow, both to spread growth to new areas and to alleviate congestion.

  4. Interesting choice for the location of the New Blue line. I have a couple of concerns about it – one being that by taking Florida Ave, you move the transfer with the Red Line away from Union Station and put it one stop up. Being that Union Station is already one of the busiest in the system and deals with all of the commuter rail connections (not to mention is a significant source of Metro travel from US into Downtown), I’m not sure this is the best alignment from an operational perspective. I understand the idea of avoiding redundancy with the proposed H Street streetcar, but I’d rather shift the streetcar up Florida and have Metro under H.

    From a construction standpoint, I think there would be some real challenges in building a new platform on U street – and running new tracks under the existing ones – which you’d have to do – sharing would mean an operational nightmare with so many switches between lines so frequently. The Rosslyn switch is bad enough during rush hour.

    I also like the idea of a circle line, but I think you’d have to add a platform at the Pentagon to justify going into VA – otherwise it would just be for Rosslyn. You’d need to build new track there anyway. The circle line would also have the same kind of operational and switching issues if it’s sharing the tracks with the pre-existing lines, so that’s something to consider.

  5. I love the concept, my main problem is that the map doesn’t seem to do anything to address congestion. Added lines and more stations means more people. What’s really needed is capacity expansion on the Red and Orange lines, either additional tracks for express service (and occasional breakdowns). I also like the idea of totally splitting the Silver line from Orange and making it go on its own right of way directly into the city, perhaps taking the route of your new expanded Blue line? I just think that the capacity issues on that section of Orange track between East Falls Church and downtown will be horrendous.

  6. Having a second line at Union Station is definitely one of the main operational benefits of a new downtown trunk line, as that station is alarmingly busy, and as a major transfer point to commuter and intercity rail it should really have more than one line.

  7. This is really interesting. My one question… why no extension of the Green line to BWI Airport? While Dulles is on most people’s minds, I’ve never even been there. I fly Southwest out of BWI to get around the country and I’ve always flown out of BWI to Europe as well. It seems like if we are going to dig up half of downtown, we may as well add at least a light rail extension direct to BWI.

  8. Thank you all for commenting. I recognize that the lack of a station at Union Station is a problem. I think this is the only serious flaw in the proposal, but one that is generally outweighed by the other benefits. But one at a time:

    The AMT: Just looking at the hills in georgetown, I would think that the grade is too steep. On the other hand, what might work even better is continuing the route up Glover-Archibald park, which was originally planned to have a parkway through it.

    Gavin: A line is not useful because of its number of independent stops, it is useful because of the connections it makes. Consider how useful the Yellow Line is, in spite of the fact that it only serves two unique stations. The brown line takes advantage of the shape of the Florida Avenue Line, adds a few stations, and justifies wyes at every line that GGW has suggested just for service flexibility.

    I agree that the Pentagon issue is a problem. Running the train on mostly existing tracks would make it difficult to squeeze a platform near the current station. I may go back and revise this because it is a big deal that you can’t switch before Rossyln at night. Perhaps a Pentagon North Station? Pentagon Vehicle Inspection Plaza?

    Alex: As I mentioned above, not connecting to Union station is a problem. Nonetheless, the opportunities the line would offer in terms of new development and taking transfer stress off of the central stations. One obvious, though costly solution would be to add a small commuter rail station at Florida Avenue, much as Back Bay does in Boston, Harlem-125th St. in New York, or State Street in New Haven. Amtrak would not stop there, rather, at the location where trains have to slow considerably to enter the rail yard, MARC trains of some lines could offload some passengers.

    Additionally, there is a mistake in the diagram; Union station is served by two Streetcar routes.

    I may not have been clear in the map above, but the new station is on V street, not U street, parallel to the existing one, connected by a concourse. Other switching issues are problematic, perhaps, but I think the system can handle them well enough. The Green and Yellow Lines have considerable capacity remaining. Nonetheless, I have thought about putting the Brown Line further down, crossing from Bellvue to Crystal City, for example. It just seemed impractical, if operationally better.

    Adam and Howard: There are clearly many more improvement. I just wanted to look at this particular idea I had for a start. I think that express tracks, except for a Lee Highway-Florida Avenue Silver Line are just unfeasable, and that adding more lines makes more sense. The trick will be planning for it, so the city grows to meet Metro, as it did during the first wave of construction.

    I have other ideas too, BWI is one good destination, as are added rail options in Virginia. I wanted to limit this exercise to things already proposed and to the lines directly affected by splitting the blue line. As I mentioned, some other day. This takes a lot of research, fiddling, and designing to do well!

  9. Excellent Map. Kudos.

    1. As GGW and Beyonddc have noted, that arlington cemetery station is essential, if useless for residents, because it provides incentives for tourists to use the transit system (and not cars). This mock up with the brown line servicing that station could mean that a) tourists can easily use the brown line to get to most places of commercial interest for them; and b) the blue line does not have to stop there during rush hour. I say keep the brown line as is.

    2. I would also love to see the green line extended to BWI, but it is already serviced pretty well by Amtrak/Marc. I think that if we had to choose one extension project, and assuming the purple line rail option gets built, it would be to better service NE and the NW gap b/t Tenleytown and Shaw.

    3. Finally, I would like to see the purple line extended (a la GGW) to hit Largo Town Center and Branch Avenue. Alternatively, I would like it to hit Suitland, which needs better residential TOD, but has a good business TOD (Suitland Federal Center is linked right to the station). This might encourage Southern/Eastern Marylanders who work at either AFB or Suitland to take rail instead of the beltway or etc.

    Overall, great job!

  10. I love it personally — living near U St. this would give me a quick ride to Capitol Hill on one side and Adams Morgan, Dupont, or Georgetown on the other, a true transit fantasy. But is it right for the city? I’m skeptical.

  11. Great map. A few comments and questions:

    The Jefferson Memorial stop has the same purpose as the Arlington Cemetery one. No one lives there and hardly anyone works there (Parks Commish, etc), but it will keep tourists from driving and who knows – maybe one of those parking lots could be developed. (Have you ever been to the George Mason memorial?)

    What’s the deal with renaming the Cleveland Park stop with the Zoo? Is that so when tourists get off, they can walk downhill instead of up? If so, shouldn’t you call both Cleveland Park and Woodley “Zoo Stops” so people can walk down hill both ways?

    And with the Zoo, is there any way to extend the blue and brown line north after AdMo, to actually hit the Zoo and then East to Columbia Heights and then down to LeDroit Park? That way we can actually have a stop at the Zoo – how novel, huh?

    Finally – wasn’t the original plan for the Blue Line to hit Thomas Circle? I like this plan much better, but I wonder if Metro had any reasoning behind their original plan. (If it even was Metro who proposed that.)

    Only other thing I would do (in a dream world) is cut the Yellow line off at Columbia Heights and move it up 16th Street and then reconnect it with the red at Silver Spring. More people use the Red Line for work and it would be a quick way to get downtown. Plus it would give Crestwood, Brightwood and Walter Reed stops. Obviously, money for new tracks is not here, but hey, it’s a dream.

    All in all though – Great job! At least people are talking!


  12. Thanks for having real geography, this is the first map I’ve seen with that. What did you use to make the map I’ve been trying to find some software that makes maps or something similar to subways easily but can’t

    I think the Blue line should go as you have it to Trinidad/H Street, meet with the orange and silver at River Terrace go to Benning Road and then continue up Benning Rd and along either Alabama Ave or Southern Ave continuing to Bellvue and continue with your plan that way you could lessen the amount of people that catch the W4 & U8 to Benning Road, Minesota Ave and Green Line stations

  13. Considering Gavin’s comment, could one have a pocket track built south of the Pentagon station or Pentagon city and use that as the connection between the existing blue and yellow line tracks?

  14. I’m a little confused by the “Shipley Terrace” and “Congress Heights” stations. Did you rename these stops to better fit the geography of Southeast? If so, shouldn’t the new Congress Heights stop be called “Bellvue”?

  15. Other than that one question, my only issues are that the various Tysons stations deserve better names and that a VA-7/Leesburg Pike line might have been considered, as well as extending the Green line to Andrews AFB (and maybe Clinton).

    But this is an impressive paradigm shift!

  16. I didn’t try to make an all-out fantasy map. This is just a few years of growth, but many billions of dollars. I have a larger map used for planning, and that is the basis of this design. I may publish it later, like on the 1 year anniversary.

    Originally, I had the Silver Line running on Leesburg Pike into Georgetown and down M street. However, I wanted to be frugal, and the benefits weren’t as clear to me.

    The names in Ward 8 were changed based on some complaints I had heard years back.

  17. I question the value of extending another heavy rail line into outer SE. What is the heavy rail transit potential of places like Twining, Fort Dupont, etc? Outer SE is already developed at low to moderate densities – bungalows, ranch houses and low-rise garden apartments with surface parking lots and landscaping. That level of development can’t support enough ridership to justify heavy rail.

    At the same time outer SE doesn’t have much vacant land which could be redeveloped cheaply, or the superheated property values which would be necessary to pay for demolition and redevelopment at higher densities. Settled neighborhoods like Twining would probably oppose redevelopment, and might succeed in stopping it even if it were economically feasible.

    We have plenty of under-used Metro stops already on the eastern side of the region – what’s the point of adding more? We’re ready for a Brown Line now, but a Blue Line to SE can wait.

    I like the circular Brown Line, with a “North Pentagon Station” added. The Brown line stops are all, with the possible exception of Barney Circle, excellent service stops that either have good densities, pedestrian networks and bus access already, or have vacant land and are rapidly redeveloping at higher densities. Georgetown, West End, and Adams-Morgan have needed stops for a long time. The Brown line will also ease looming Metro capacity problems in the Center and the Rosslyn Tunnel, and add some redundancy and re-routing options in case of failure on one of the lines.

  18. I have been working with one of the original designers of the first 103 miles of DC Metro – Ed Tennyson (1962-63).

    I have a more aggressive overall plan – with the same virtues as yours, and more.

    We expect almost triple the urban rail passenger-miles and double the passenger count – while reducing the operating subsidy. Overall mobility is improved substantially, all without more oil.

    Best Hopes,

    Alan drake

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