Every so often, I run into someone who tells me how awful Metro is, and as a daily Red Line commuter I can sympathize. How many times have I hopped onto the train that runs behind my building in Silver Spring, expecting a 20-minute ride to work downtown, only to show up an hour late and fuming? Too many. But come on, Washington. Metro’s problems are ones you’d love to have if you lived someplace like St. Louis, where the limited rail system doesn’t cover much territory. Or Jacksonville, where the only rail transit consists of a tiny people-mover to carry workers from their desks to a parking lot a few blocks away. Or Rochester, which had a subway but shut it down in the 1950s. Or Raleigh, which has no rail transit to speak of at all.
Go downtown in these cities and you’ll find blocks and blocks of vacant lots, empty buildings, dead streets. DC wasn’t all that different 40 years ago, when downtown and many core neighborhoods were emptying out. But then we got Metro. It was frequent, fast, comfortable, safe—and as such, it made the land around each station a magnet for new investment. And real estate stayed that way even after people started bad-mouthing the system.
Yes, you can ride the trains in New York, London, Paris, or Tokyo and start feeling down on Metro. But it’s worth remembering that even on a bad day, it will drop you off in any number of neighborhoods across DC, Maryland, and Virginia that are packed not just with houses and offices but with bars, restaurants, and entertainment—places so many other cities only dream of.
This article appears in our December 2015 issue of Washingtonian.