News & Politics

5 Metro Sins, Ranked by Avoidability

Photograph by Melina Mara/Washington Post/Getty Images.

1. Problem: System-wide delays due to track maintenance.

How avoidable was it? Very. A third track would enable trains to keep running while the normal track is being repaired. But when Metro was first built, planners deemed it too expensive.

2. Problem: No stations in Georgetown.

How avoidable was it? Mostly avoidable. The story of prissy blue-bloods keeping Metro out of Georgetown is something of an urban myth. The fault also lies with Metro’s architects, who couldn’t imagine a future in which people would use Metro for anything other than commuting to and from downtown.

3. Problem: Hard to get from one hot DC neighborhood to another without transferring.

How avoidable was it? Probably unavoidable. Given the state of the city when the system opened, it would have been very hard to envision people traveling from Eastern Market to Shaw in the name of nightlife. This frustration, paradoxically, is a function of Metro’s success.

Related: The Infuriating History of How Metro Got So Bad

4. Problem: Reliance on escalators.

How avoidable was it? Not very. A thicket of sewers, power lines, and other infrastructure meant stations needed to be far underground, requiring escalators. (Whether Metro could have maintained them better is another issue.)

5. Problem: Convoluted finances.

How avoidable was it? Unavoidable. Stable transit systems have a dedicated source of revenue, but Metro’s governance structure involves three jurisdictions and Uncle Sam—a setup that makes it harder to avoid annual haggling over subsidies.

This article appears in our December 2015 issue of Washingtonian.

Senior Writer

Luke Mullins is a senior writer at Washingtonian magazine focusing on the people and institutions that control the city’s levers of power. He has written about the Koch Brothers’ attempt to take over The Cato Institute, David Gregory’s ouster as moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press, the collapse of Washington’s Metro system, and the conflict that split apart the founders of Politico.

Staff Writer

Michael J. Gaynor has written about fake Navy SEALs, a town without cell phones, his Russian spy landlord, and many more weird and fascinating stories for the Washingtonian. He lives in DC, where his landlord is no longer a Russian spy.