Light Rail Metro Rail Washington DC

Stretching the Limits of Washington’s Dense Core

Future Washington, DC Metrorail Map

» After the completion of Metro’s first 106 miles, it’s time for another big investment.

If Washington’s Metro system is proof of anything, it is that American cities have the capability to build massive, expensive transit systems that work. Since the network opened in 1976, it has expanded to 106 miles of two-way track, five lines, and 86 stations. Despite ever-increasing sprawl, huge increases in car use, and relocation of business and government facilities from downtown to the suburbs, Metro now handles 800,000 daily trips and it has redefined life in the center of the region and around stations. As a result of Metro, Washington and its close suburbs are becoming communities where it is possible to live a normal life without owning a car

Despite the huge investment in Metro’s “first” system plan, which was completed in 2003, the region still has significant capacity needs to be met and hundreds of thousands of potential transit trips that cannot be completed because of a lack of adequate service. As the city and its surrounding region grow, opportunities for dense, transit-friendly development need to be made available. It is time, then, to plan for the next twenty years of investment in the region’s heavy rail network.

Region-Wide Transit Needs

Though none of the existing Washington transit network suffers from the extreme crowding common in cities like New York or Tokyo, the growth of the city core and of areas around stations in inner ring neighborhoods like Bethesda, Silver Spring, and Rosslyn have begun to strain the system’s capacity. The section of the Blue and Orange Lines between Rosslyn, Virginia and Farragut West, in the center of D.C.’s “new” downtown, is by far the system’s most heavily used during the A.M. peak, and it shows, with little free space on trains. A 2002 study by WMATA, the local transit agency, suggests that the Orange Line will reach its carrying limits in 2020, with the other lines following in 2025, even with the implementation of all 8-car trainsets.

The Silver Line, currently under construction, will spur out from the Orange Line just before West Falls Church, heading through Fairfax and Loudoun Counties. With a stop at Dulles Airport and four stations planned for Tysons Corner, a major office and retail center, the line will likely attract a large number of riders — exasperating exacerbating the existing capacity issues with the Orange Line, which cannot support more trains because of the fact that it shares track with the Blue Line between Rosslyn and Stadium-Armory Stations.

Two other major transit projects planned for the Washington region — the light rail Purple Line that will run between Bethesda and New Carrollton and the proposed Washington streetcar system — will do nothing to improve these problems.

The excellent blog Greater Greater Washington has proposed several major Metro expansion projects, including a separated Yellow Line between downtown D.C. and Silver Spring and a Gold Line between Tysons Corner and Alexandria, but neither of these proposals would heal the so-called “Orange Crush” between Arlington and downtown Washington.

That’s why the proposed separated Blue Line, which is being seriously considered by WMATA planners, is so important. Seven miles long, the corridor would delink the interconnection between Orange and Blue Lines at Rosslyn, include a new station in Georgetown, and run under M Street NW and H Street NE. The project would increase Orange (and Silver) Line capacity by 4o%, provide better transit access to underserved areas of inner-city Washington, and relieve the Red Line between Union Station and the new downtown. It’s a vital project for the region’s future. (The alignment of the Blue Line on the map at the top of this post was inspired by that proposed by GGW‘s David Alpert.)

But the separated Blue Line, if implemented alone, might suffer from underwhelming use. That’s because the existing Blue Line attracts far fewer users than its Orange Line teammate; the areas it serves south of Rosslyn, including the Pentagon and Alexandria, already have quicker access downtown via the Yellow Line. The Orange Line’s service to the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor will continue making it the hub of new urban growth in Northern Virginia. And even if the Blue Line were to attract huge numbers of users in its D.C. section, train frequencies would be limited by the fact that the Blue Line shares track with the Yellow Line between Pentagon and King Street. The corridor, then, would be unable to reach its full potential — a major problem considering it would be a downtown trunk route.

In addition, though the new Blue Line would expose new areas of the District to redevelopment, there are significant limits to what changes it could produce. Washington has a height cap and much of its northeastern quadrant’s building stock is made up of brownstones protected by historic preservation laws; a new Metro line should produce major new investments around stations, but the new Blue Line in and of itself would not do nearly as much as its predecessors in reshaping the built form of the region.

The Project

To complement the new Silver and Blue Lines, then, the Pink Line proposed here would offer the region a major new transit investment that would have the potential both to maximize the use of those two aforementioned lines and to spur major infill development. Running between Tysons Corner and River Terrace, the line would double capacity on the tracks to be created by both the Silver and Blue Lines by including a newly built, 10 mile-long underground connection between West Falls Church and Arlington National Cemetery. With nine new stations, it would greatly expand access to southern Arlington, eastern Fairfax County, and the city of Falls Church and trigger massive new development opportunities unavailable elsewhere in the region. It would do so while servicing some of Northern Virginia’s densest communities, containing some of its most poverty ridden and car-dependent families.

All at the measly cost of some billions of dollars no one has yet made available.

Northern Virginia Proposed Metrorail Lines


The ten miles of underground construction required for the Pink Line’s implementation would come at a very high cost, but its benefits may well be worthwhile. The line would run south under Route 7 from West Falls Church Metro, through downtown Falls Church and Seven Corners to Bailey’s Crossroads, where it would turn back east along Columbia Pike into Arlington County, linking up to a new station on the west side of the Pentagon to avoid disrupting Yellow Line traffic flow (a new station would have to be constructed there), and joining up with the Blue Line before Arlington Cemetery station.

As the maps below show, stations along the new line would be within a 1/2 mile of very dense neighborhoods, especially those in south Arlington and at Bailey’s Crossroads. In addition, the section along Route 7 between Seven Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads would reach communities with some of the area’s highest concentrations of poverty.

Northern Virginia Density Northern Virginia Poverty


The buses Metro already runs on the affected corridors, including the 16 line on Columbia Pike (290,000 passengers per week) and the 28 line on Route 7 (143,000/week), are the transit agency’s highest-ridership routes in Virginia, confirming the importance of this corridor. The 28 buses are currently being upgraded to handle more passengers.

As the maps below show, the area’s inhabitants are predisposed to riding transit. Despite the fact that residents are now only provided substandard bus service, they already use transit at levels exceeding those found in most of the surrounding neighborhoods, with the exception of in the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and at Crystal City, where Metro has stations. People along the Pink Line, probably as a result of their high-density lifestyles and higher rates of poverty, are as likely not to have a car in their households as their peers anywhere else in the region, with rates reaching up to 30%. The result? people in the area suffer from longer-than-average daily commuting times, reaching up to an astonishing 50 minutes in some areas adjacent to the proposed Bailey’s Crossroads station.

Northern Virginia Transit Share Northern Virginia No Car Households Northern Virginia Commute Times


This corridor, with densities already approaching those along the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor and likely to increase with more development, is simply too populated for the implementation of other modes of transit. The Columbia Pike Streetcar being discussed by transit advocates in Northern Virginia won’t do the trick not only because it won’t significantly speed commutes over existing bus service, but it also won’t link the area to anywhere other than the Pentagon or have the capacity to handle huge numbers of passengers. Metro service is necessary because the Pink Line would connect directly to the region’s four largest employment zones, at Tysons Corner, the Pentagon, Rosslyn, and downtown D.C.; this area’s residents are likely to take advantage of this Metro line in substantial numbers.

The Pink Line is prime ground for a major investment in heavy rail transit. If Metro has been successful elsewhere in the Washington region, it will be a roaring achievement here.

Coordinated Planning

Of course, transit isn’t productive unless the districts surrounding stations have been planned appropriately. The Pink Line’s corridor today is hardly the model of an urban zone, but the successful transformation of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor in Arlington from a series of auto-oriented strips to a livable, dense office and housing district suggests that similar changes could be experienced elsewhere in the region.

With development along Columbia Pike increasing rapidly, Arlington County is taking serious steps to prepare the strip for revitalization and upzoning. In addition, Fairfax County is in the process of implementing major land use and zoning changes at Bailey’s Crossroads to allow for more development there — this would include two new streetcar lines, including the continuation of the Columbia Pike corridor. These efforts are well intentioned but may actually increase the problems described above; namely, residents of the areas along Columbia Pike and Route 7 suffer and will continue to suffer from inadequate transit that does not meet the needs of a heavily populated neighborhood.

If the Pink Line Metro were built, however, Fairfax and Arlington must take their planning activities to the next level. The maps and plans I’ve created below demonstrate how appropriate development might follow the construction of a new Metro station at “Bailey’s South,” roughly at the center of the Pink Line’s new underground routing.

The map and satellite image below illustrate the area’s existing conditions. It is a peculiar place, with high-rise residential and office towers just blocks from single-family homes and retail strips. It is an unwalkable community with poor street connectivity. The implementation of the transit lines themselves would do nothing to cure that disease.

Bailey's Crossroads Existing Conditions Bailey's Crossroads Satellite Image and Proposed Transit


As shown below, however, a network of new streets and right-of-way improvements in the area roughly within a quarter-mile from the new Metro entrances could be the stage for a vibrant, livable district. Similar plans could be undertaken for each of the stations planned for the Pink Line.

The one-story retail strips along the corridor, as well as some one-story office buildings, would be demolished to make way for new buildings between 2 and 20 stories, ringing a tight network of blocks and parks. There would be a mix of uses, with housing, office, and hotel offerings within walking distance of the Metro station. The highest buildings would be located adjacent to Metro, with lower buildings along the zone’s periphery, closer to the single-family homes that would remain unchanged in the surroundings. Walkability would be the quarter’s focus, with pedestrian-scaled retail and restaurants at the ground level.

Bailey's Crossroads Proposed Buildings and Roads Layout Bailey's Crossroads Proposed Building Heights


Such district-level planning would have to be a standard component of the planning process for the Pink Line stations. The sheer degree to which the neighborhood around the Bailey’s South station could change demonstrates the extent to which urban-scale development could become standard in neighborhoods around these stops.

Related Light Rail

Though I am adamant that the transportation demands of the Pink Line corridor are too large for any transit service other than heavy rail, there should be a role for new light rail lines in the Washington region along less dense routes. The maps above show potential alignments for further extensions of the Purple Line, with a corridor running north from Alexandria to Ballston along Mt. Vernon Avenue, Glebe Road, and Lee highway. This line could play an important secondary role in redefining mobility in Northern Virginia towards the increased use of public transportation by reinforcing existing low-scaled neighborhood districts without encouraging the massive development around them that would follow heavy rail.

What We Get

Transit is all about building cities, and indeed, the Pink Line would stretch the Washington region’s dense, walkable core beyond the boundaries currently imposed on it by the limits of the Metro system. By constructing a new heavy rail trunk line, Northern Virginia would not only benefit from new service to people who desperately need better transit, but it would also expand offerings to Tysons Corner and the District of Columbia, whose new lines will have capacity limitations according to current plans.

With no funding to build this massive project, because of the recession, Virginia’s new anti-infrastructure investment Governor Bob McDonnell, and the political fear of raising taxes, Arlington and Fairfax Counties are not likely to push ahead with this project any time soon. But development off-shooting from the line’s completion would more than offset the project’s costs in tax revenue over the long term. If and when the time comes, the Pink Line offers great opportunity.

Data shown in maps based on U.S. Census 2000 information.

56 replies on “Stretching the Limits of Washington’s Dense Core”

This is creative and thoughtful work! I have just a couple of cautions.

1. This would only work if the Virginia counties and cities involved were comfortable with a regional planning focus that would create MAJOR centres of activity along the Pink Line’s north-south segment, and ideally at junction nodes like Vienna. The U-turn at the south end of the Pink line will cause most ridership to turn over in this area, so the Pink line will have limited value as a radial and must therefore build a strong north-south market based solely on its own land uses and connections among them.

Arlington’s redevelopment success on the edge of DC doesn’t say much about redevelopment possibilities on an orbital line much further away.

2. Absent an extraordinary change in land use vision, I’d expect this north-south piece to be downgraded to part-surface light rail, perhaps anchored more usefully around Crystal City if it’s not trying to join the Blue Line. Let’s face it, the segment between the Pentagon and Rosslyn is never going to be high-demand, so the duplication is a bit wasted there.

3. The new Blue Line alignment looks great and I don’t see why it can’t be designed to carry short line trains that end at Rosslyn and thus fill the gaps. The urban densities through there, plus the university in Georgetown, should be more than enough to provide good patronage there.

Or to equalise line length and get better reliability, redefine the Blue Line as two lines, one Franconia to “River Terrace,” the other Rosslyn to Largo. I suspect that’s the most cost-effective outcome, rather than trying to create new branches, again short of a really transformative land use vision for your Pink Line corridor..

4. I always find it amusing to see low income cited as part of the case for rapid transit. This is actually sending contradictory messages to different groups. To low income people and their advocates, it says “see, we care about you and want you to have efficient mobility.” To developers it says, “hey, you can get this land for cheap, evict everyone, and make a fortune.” And both messages have to be true, in part, even though they can’t be true on the same parcel, or in the same timeframe.

Great work, Yonah. Really interesting.

Why not bing the pink line all the way from Dulles to King Street or Huntington? Then, realign the Yellow so that it goes into the heart of Virginia through the proposed stations at Glebe Rd., 4 Mile Run, and Bailey’s with Bailey’s as the terminus. Eventually, the Yellow line could become a true North South Axis if it were broken away from the Green line and sent directly up to Silver Spring via a similar parallel corridor under 14th or something.

All that being said, the density in DC may not be high enough to support the lines and investment.

What would they do with the mess that is Skyline City? Those densities seem pretty high, so there is low likelihood of them tearing down the condos and office buildings. However despite these 40 level condos looking urban, they are actually spaced out on an automobile scale.

Putting aside arguments that the region has much higher transit priorities than a subway under Route 7, and that there are less expensive ways of dealing with the Orange Crush, the operational characteristics of your Pink line are weird.

If we’re going to go to the trouble of building a new Blue line subway under M Street, we may as well just route the Silver line along it and let the Orange run freely (or vice versa). It doesn’t make much sense to take a line down Columbia Pike and send it along a lightly-used segment like the cemetery rather than directly downtown via the Yellow line bridge.

Anyway, Here are three more transit expansion visions for the DC region, by GGW, BeyondDC (me), and Track Twenty-Nine.

How about some transit investment in MD? Perhaps another e-w line through bethesda, kensington, garrett park? One line down macarthur blvd from potomac village through the pallisades into north georgetown to dupont, logan, mnt vernon sq, and then over to H st.

I would try and get one of these lines closer to Shirlington if possible. Also, it might be worth considering route 50 over Columbia Pike as the pike is supposedly getting a streetcar, leading to too much duplicated service. I do like your vision for Bailey’s Crossroads. That place is ripe for some urbanization love.

Very interesting. I like your take on the Greater Greater Washington Team’s work. One tweak: I think you should switch the pink and grey lines’ downtown routes. That would minimize the transfers at Rosslyn by allowing passengers at Pentagon or at the Courthouse-East Falls Church corridor to simply wait for their preferred color train to come along instead of switching.

Great exercise. Do you have anything in your plan for the other side of the region? I do agree that heavy rail would be a good mode choice for the VA-7 corridor. However, I don’t trust Fairfax County to do it right. They’re aleady trying to f*ck up the mulligan they’ve been granted in Tysons on the Silver Line.

Do you have any ides for outer DC and Maryland? You’re more likely to get a decent planning outcome in Montgomery County. Not guaranteed but a decent chance. Why so much focus on Virginia? Perhaps a heavy rail line from Rockville down Viers Mill intersecting at Wheaton, then down University Boulevard through Langley Park and then to College Park. Similar corridor as VA-7, but less of a total wasteland. Plenty of small existing edge cities with enough activity to support a walkable urban retrofit like the Four Corners and Randolph-Connecticut Ave intersections in addition to Langley Park.

There would be a little duplication with the Purple Line.

Good post linking a transit proposal with economic uses. Much appreciated.

I’m not proposing the heavy rail line down Viers Mill. It’s just a fun fanstasy exercise. I would use grade-separated light rail for that. It’s not worth the billions required to do that. I also feel that grade-separated light rail would make more sense for VA-7. Transit fantasies are fun, though. They also lead to reality eventually. The Purple Line is a perfect example.

This is the most interesting Northern Virginia proposal that I’ve seen. Until DC relaxes its building height restrictions, Northern Virginia (and Arlington County in particular) has the greatest potential for growth in the region while still being close enough to the metro-area core to be relevant.

There are always problems with every proposal, however. Do you really think that you could convince the town of Falls Church to allow heavy metro to be built through their town limits? Sure there are East and West Falls Church Metro stops, but as your properly scaled map shows, they are actually situated in Fairfax County. Falls Church has always resisted growth (similar to Georgetown) and they take pride in having a small school system so close to DC.

Expenses will be a problem. Northern Virginia is having enough problems with their above ground Silver line out to the airport. The Pink Line would be almost entirely underground, which means serious bucks. And building it pieces would bring the same level of benefits. Could this be a cut and cover or would you still need deeper boring equipment?

Also, I think you would have to redesign your schematic DC metro map for optimal Pink line use. The strange horseshoe loop on the pink line makes it look like the pink line is more than 6-8 times longer than the Silver line, even though the properly scaled map shows it’s actually less than twice the length.

To BeyondDC, I have a question and a comment. Diverting the Silver line from “Orange” to “New Blue/M Street” would only cause problems for the existing Orange line towards Farragut-L’Enfant Plaza. Sure, you will have maximum capacity in Arlington, but following Rosslyn you would divert significant capacity away from the existing Orange line. For the Silver line to succeed, we need to have frequent service at Tysons, which necessitates at least 1:1 Silver:Orange trains through Northern Virginia. Diverting half of those trains to the new M Street line is not reasonable as you would just move the Orange Crush into the District.

Also, what other lines are higher priority on your list? Extensions beyond the current limits don’t seem as relevant to me. More E-W lines in the District would be nice, but to me this Pink Line proposal has great potential for growth, would connect many of the major job centers of the region, and would give Tysons maximum capacity similar to Arlington and Red Line service.


I used to think that Falls Church would be a problem, but they seem to be changing. The City of Falls Church put in an earmark request to Jim Moran to include in the Transportation Appropriations bill:

“$500,000 to conduct a study on the feasibility of enhanced transit service along the Route 7 Corridor connecting the King Street Metro Station in Alexandria with the future Columbia Pike light rail service that terminates at Skyline in Fairfax County with the planned multimodal center in Falls Church with the future Metrorail Stations in Tysons Corner.”

Which is Steve Offut’s Gold Line (and a fair stretch of Yonah’s Pink Line). “[E]nhanced transit service” is probably not heavy rail, though.

I don’t know if this made it into the bill. Not all earmark requests that come to members of the Appropriations Committee get included in the final bill. But it does indicate that Falls Church is willing to consider transit along their stretch of Rt. 7.

As someone who commutes to Skyline from the District via the Yellow line and the crowded 28F/G bus from the Pentagon, this makes we feel all warm and tingly. Thanks, Yonah.

Cut and cover should be possible between 7 Corners and Bailey’s Crossroads. There are service roads along the Rt. 7 RoW for most of that stretch. If the actual track alignment were to be partially or even wholly under the service roads, cut and cover wouldn’t even be that disruptive.

Back when Metrorail was being initially designed there was a proposal for a line along Columbia Pike. There’s still stub tracks and tunnels just south of the Pentagon station that would have been the connection. Does anyone know why it wasn’t built? Was it just money?

> What other lines are higher priority on your list?

Metrorail is not the only mode of transit. The complete DC and Northern Virginia streetcar network should be a much higher priority, as should WMATA’s priority bus plan. After that, improvements to MARC and VRE to convert them from rush hour oriented commuter operations to true transit services should come next.

These are basic needs currently unmet that will result in much higher bank-for-buck ridership improvements than a circuitous crosstown subway far from the regional core.

And while the M Street blue subway might make sense, if we’re going to go to the trouble of a second whole new Metro subway then another one in Mid-City DC (North Capitol to Georgia perhaps) or up Wisconsin Ave would likely be better investments.

Minor nitpick… the path you show between Bailey’s South and 4 Mile Run on picture 2 and picture 9 are different. The path for pic 9 is a sharp right angle for Metro to take. Construction would have to thread very closely to some mid-rise buildings.

Beyond DC– I agree with you that a complete regional streetcar system should be a higher priority than this proposed Pink Line through Northern Virginia (an interesting but very expensive proposal).

Beyond DC— I attended the streetcar Open House for Ward 3 and suggested a streetcar line up Wisconsin Avenue, from Georgetown or Rosslyn to Tenley. This corridor has the density for such a route and it would provide greater capacity on the Orange/Blue lines, as some of the riders coming from Northern Virginia could now transfer to the streetcar instead of going all the way to Metro Center.

I also think another very viable corridor for a streetcar or, preferably, light rail is Route 28 in western Fairfax County from I-66 to Route 7.

NMRguy– Isn’t the East Falls Church station actually in Arlington County? I ride by this station all the time on the W&OD trail and I think this is actually Arlington.

I am also interested to know what impact high speed rail service will have on the WMATA subway system. I attended the Greater Washington 2050 session recently and I think it is reasonable to assume that if the DC region has high speed rail to Richmond and to the PHL/NY/BOS by 2050, this would create additional ridership on the Red Line which will need to be addressed.

@ Ben. Yep, you are certainly correct. East Falls Church does fall within Arlington County.

@ BeyondDC. There’s no doubt that the streetcars and the rail lines need to be implemented. I lived for a few years in Amsterdam, which has an extensive streetcar network, so I know the value of trams in a city. Trams work incredibly well when they have their own right of way (with prioritized traffic signaling), and are are also best in high density areas for relatively local transit. For such a huge city as DC, however, we could never expect the streetcars to substitute for more regional Metrorail, but they have their advantages over buses.

Getting two directional MARC or combined MARC-VRE options would also help to make it a more reliable transit option.

However, I still hesitate to call Central Arlington County “far from the regional core”. The heaviest usage for Metrorail occurs on Orange Line (Ballston-Metro Center) and Red Line (NW). There are a lot of jobs and great potential for growth in Arlington. A heavier transit option for Route 7-Columbia Pike will be necessary in the future. We just need to decide what scale of investment is optimal (in this limited funding world that we live in).

the line will likely attract a large number of riders — exasperating the existing capacity issues with the Orange Line

While it will be exasperating, I think you mean “exacerbating”.

@bdc (#4)

There’s no benefit in running the sliver or orange lines through the new tunnel. Once the blue line doesn’t run through the Rosslyn tunnel, the new bottleneck along the K route is the switch where silver and orange merge at East Falls Church. That merge limits the capacity of the line between East Falls Church and Rosslyn to 25-26 tph. Even if you divert some trains to the new tunnel, you haven’t created any new capacity at Ballston or Clarendon.

But in general I agree with you. I’d rather see any new money that one can scare up spent on building out a streetcar network than building new Metrorail lines.


The separated blue line will, in fact, relieve a good deal of congestion along the present orange line. Right now there are 15 tph (all orange) passing Ballston. After the separated blue line is built (and it’s back on WMATA’s outyear plans), there would be 25-26 tph (both silver and orange) passing Ballston. That’s a 70% increase. It makes sense to wait and see what effect that has before planning to relieve what may no longer be intolerable congestion. There’s such a thing as planning too far ahead.

At first I thought you were proposing replacing the Columbia Pike streetcar with heavy rail. But as I looked more carefully at your diagrams I realized your pink line was in addition to the streetcars. I suspect this is overkill.

But the pink line makes sense as a transit route. Portland OR has two types of streetcar. There are the regular streetcar streetcars and there’s a thing called MAX which is a streetcar running along the streets stopping frequently in the densest part of its route, but as it enters more sprawly parts goes to grade separated dedicated RoW, speeds up and stops less frequently. It seems to me that the proposed pink line, at least between Tysons and the Pentagon would work well as a MAX-type light rail: streetcarish along Columbia Pike and in Falls Church; grade separated, faster with sparser stations between Bailey’s and 7 Corners (perhaps cut and cover tunneled in that segment) and between Falls Church and Tysons.

You are right that the Purple Line will NOT relieve congestion on Metro or improve Metro’s infrastructure. In fact, the Purple Line will suck transit funds away from Metro.

What we need is a seamless Metro connection (not light rail) between the two legs of the Red Line, ie between Silver Spring and Bethesda Medical Center along the Beltway, or between Silver Spring and downtown Bethesda, tunneled underground.

To connect the two legs of the Red Line with Metro is only 4 miles. This would be very cost-efficient, because of the benefits to riders and the benefits to Metro’s infrastructure. For example, this would allow a Metro rider to take a one seat ride from Union Station to Bethesda Medical Center, via Silver Spring, without ever going through downtown DC.

A true circuit Metro connection would greatly improve Metro’s infrastructure. For example, when there are accidents or track work on the Red Line, Metro trains could approach from the other leg.

Connecting the two legs of the Red Line with light rail doesn’t do any of these things and makes no sense. It is a totally squandered opportunity.

Betty –

You’re right, thank you for that.

Jim –

I am proposing eliminating the streetcar for Columbia Pike. The reason it’s in the second map of Bailey’s Crossroads is that it’s on Fairfax County’s plans right now — I do not think it’s the right investment for the corridor.

Nor do I think this corridor is right for light rail of the MAX variety — it’s too dense, and there are too many potential Metro through-connections that would be missed if built that way. People in this corridor need the same type of fast, reliable transit service that you get in underground rapid transit — not a streetcar along Columbia Pike that will provide little time improvement over existing bus service.

The high ridership seen on the Orange Line suggests that this corridor needs true Metro rapid transit, not light rail — even a tunneled light rail line wouldn’t have enough capacity to carry the loads of the tens of thousands of people who live in this corridor and need to get to Tysons or downtown Washington. Just as important, a Metro would leverage the investments already being made in the Silver and Blue Lines and increase ridership and capacity on both, not true of an incompatible light rail project.

If we’re going to be concentrating expansion in northern Virginia, I’m a little bothered that there’s no proposed rail transit improvements to Landmark. The maps show that the 395 corridor is already very dense and intensely developed, and transit offerings to the area are fairly scant given these conditions – a few local and express buses that have recently seen some pretty drastic cuts. This situation will only exacerbate as BRAC realigns a number of DoD positions to complexes along that corridor such as the Mark Center.

Other than that, I think the Pink Line suffers from a couple of be-on-the-way issues, but maybe it could be rerouted as a Southwest-Southeast route from the Pentagon to Anacostia or something.

Oh, Pam. Are you going to pony up the dough for your supposedly-brilliant heavy-rail fix, or are you going to just going to sit there and lie endlessly to people who know better than to listen to your entirely privileged and classist folderol?

Pam, I forgot to add: what happens to Langley Park and College park under your Comfortably Invisible Red Circle Line proposal? Do students and immigrants just not need fixed-guideway transit the same way people in Kensington do?

They need to consder extending a spur of heavy metro rail five to ten miles south of the Pink line along the growing cities along I 95 to get as close as possible to Fredricksburg VA do to that they seem to be building six and 15 story office buildings along it. The Light Rail line along the I 270 needs to be linked up to the purple line and the purple needs to be linked up to the Baltmore Light Rail system to meet the needs of the vast mega suburb of Washingtion and Baltomre. In the 60 years it might one day be possible for the Baltmore metro line and the Washingtion metro to link up as one sold mega metro system.

Pam: it’s much cheaper to prevent accidents from fouling up the Red Line than to build subways through outer suburbia. Washington keeps comparing itself to New York, with its four-track subways, but the truth is that the global standard is two-track subways, and in most cities those subways don’t need the redundancy of multiple routings or four tracks.

Yonah: the focus on NoVa raises a lot of environmental justice questions. As the ghetto is pushed from DC into PG County, the relative lack of service in the eastern suburbs will contribute further into underinvestment in low-income areas.

These kind of posts, are exactly the kind of presentation work that I wish I could work on every day, and hopefully convince politicians to take the risk in implementing. Beautiful graphics as always.

Good ideas for the pink line. As I attend classes at the Northern Virginia Community College campus in Alexandria, that seems the most obvious omission. A stop at Route 7 & Dawes Ave would work, but probably few people would walk >1 mile from the proposed Baileys South station. And as Nikolas mentioned, what about Shirlington?

@Alon. There’s no doubt that many neighborhoods in the District are becoming too expensive for the poor and undereducated to stay. Comparisons of the areas around the north Green Line Metro stops from just 10 years ago to now are striking. But it’s going to be difficult to convince policy makers to build more infrastructure in PG County when the current lines there (Green, Orange, and Blue) have among the lowest usage of the entire Metro system. Does anyone know if the low ridership levels are due to poor urban planning from PG County leaders or just broad socioeconomic factors that limit opportunity?

Speaking only of the heavy-rail plan:

1) The pink line routing is rather bizarre; it should stop at the existing Pentagon station, and continue north into the city alongside the yellow line, possibly on a new route branching off at Chinatown or L’Enfant

2) There’d also be a need for a Vienna – M Street route as well; call it the Plaid Line

This is a very well thought out proposal, and the graphic explanation is excellent. I have read about the “orange crush” before and the need for new capacity into downtown DC is clear. The proposed Pink Line, however, takes a circuitous route and ignores the higher density neighborhoods just south of where the Pink Line turns north from Columbia Pike.

I think an alternate solution (shown in link at top of comment, sorry if the photshopping is sloppy) would be to separate the Green, Blue, and Yellow lines with new subways under Columbia Pike, Capitol St (per GGW’s separate Yellow Line proposal) and M St. The Columbia Pike line would turn south along Seminary Rd and Beauregard St before eventually picking up at the last two stations of the current Blue Line. This scenario would obviously be vastly more expensive than the proposal above, but would increase capacity at the core by 66%, satisfying decades of increased population density in growth in Virginia, Maryland and DC, and could provide the basis for many new branches at the periphery. It would also restrict merging of train routes to only that of the Silver and Orange lines. Transfers at Roslyn and the Pentagon provide for travel within Virginia to Tyson’s Corner. A branch of the Yellow line or a short shuttle train could connect the extremities of the Yellow and Blue at their ends.

These new subways would take decades to plan and build and would not preclude or replace a city-wide streetcar network.

Washingtion DC old streetcar core would be very good if it were laid along is old routes expect the ones over the metro tunnels. It would be good at linking the places to busy for buses but two low to carry metro. I wounder though what would happen to the Washningtion Metro subway and streetcars if it were hit my a rouge wave such as gas prices going pasted $4 to $5 dollars. The flood of people could cause it to suffer a hreat attack. No metro planners seem to mention the 900 pound grilla in the room about the oil prices?

The extended Purple LRT seems to be a circum-DC perimeter beast. If so then the northeast corner should run :
River Rd.
I-135 (?)
Tysons West
West… (? can’t make it out)
Tysons East
. The gap you have in the “DC-Metro.jpg” map is what caught my eye.

Just a nit from a rider of BART (a system that could have used some help from Wagner).

What about, rather than doubling back, running the Pink Line through Pentagon, interlining it with the Yellow Line as far as L’Enfant Plaza and then breaking off to connect with Union Station? This would give a direct link between Union Station and Pentagon and speed up access from Fairfax Co to the eastern half of DC. Desirable?

While I love the maps on this site, I think this one is a bit flawed when it comes to selling this idea. With circuit-diagram maps, you always end up with some stations being out of whack with reality (including in the London original), with stations that are actually walking distance looking like they are miles apart, for instance. Geographically, 4 Mile Run is more or less due south of Ballston, but on the schematic it appears to be due south of Rosslyn. Tweaking the schematic map so that, perhaps, Pentagon was pushed up or the stops west of Ballston were more spaced out and the Orange/Silver and Pink were closer to parallel would reduce the appearance of doubling back an enormous distance, when in reality it’s just turning the corner and the distance between Pentagon and Rosslyn is roughly the same as Pentagon to Glebe Road.

>I am proposing eliminating the streetcar for Columbia Pike. — I do not think it’s the right investment for the corridor.

Well ideally we’d have maglev subways beneath every major arterial in the region. Unfortunately, we can’t fund that. On the other hand, we can build a streetcar. In fact, we can build a bunch of streetcars.

If the point of this post is to say “look what sort of thing we could do with a lot more money” then OK, fair enough, but if the point of this post is to suggest a real world scenario then it is way off.

However, I question if DC should build “a bunch of streetcar” lines if the planners are not willing to give the streetcars full right-of-way with priority signaling along their paths. Last I read, only a couple of the lines are planned to include designated rail lanes. Streetcars have distinct advantages over buses, but they are not easily maneuverable. If we are going to have a bunch of streetcars stuck in traffic, then we may as well be stuck on buses than trams. The additional advantage of building designated transit lanes is of course that buses can also use lanes to more quickly deliver commuters across town, so it is money better spent.

Interesting proposals but I wouldn’t be so poo-poo about the money issue. DC Metro already needs $10-$15 billion just to fix up what currently exists before it falls apart and before more people die. And there’s the $3 billion going into the silver line. Another 50 – 100 miles worth of metro and light rail is likely to cost another $5 to $10 billion. Where exactly does this system come up with $15 or 20 billion (cost of repairs + proposed new construction)?

Allen, if you can build 50-100 miles of metro for $5-10 billion, stop commenting on blogs, and go register your patents, now. All the cities that are currently spending $30-60 billion for 50-100 miles of metro would pay you millions to save them all this money.

“All at the measly cost of some billions of dollars no one has yet made available.”

Ah, yes. Details. Stinking little details…

What’s funniest to me about this discussion about the lack of funding for transit expansions such as this one is that the Washington region has actually been pretty successful in securing big money for big infrastructure projects — the Silver and Purple Lines come to mind immediately, as does the Blue Line extension, which was completed just after the “original system” was finished. Whether the Pink Line proposed here should be the top priority for the region is a discussion worth having, but dismissing it because it would cost “too” much is unreasonable considering recent history. Politicians from the region have been good at securing the money for billion-dollar transit expansion projects, and it seems likely that major Metro extensions will be funded in the future.

Yonah, does the DC region succeed in producing funding for projects that are actually useful, like rerouting the Blue Line or any other construction in DC itself rather than its exurbs?

Alon –
They sure seem to be getting themselves together in relation to the streetcar project. And don’t forget that the last Metro station within city limits opened less than 10 years ago at Congress Heights (2001). If representatives from Maryland and Virginia can be convinced of the importance of the Blue Line reroute (perhaps by adding the incentive of a project like this Pink Line and another such project in Maryland), I don’t see why D.C. won’t be able to invest in big Metro projects again.

It could work, then…

But just one nitpick: maybe DC should redraw its map to be a little more geographically accurate. The current map makes the Blue Line look like it’s taking a bigger detour than it actually is, and makes your proposed Pink Line look like an even bigger detour.

So I’m almost a year late on this read. Being that I have ridden the Metrorail faithfully for over the last 25 years, I have to be the one to tell you what a MARVELOUS idea the Pink Line is. I must say this, the proposed Purple Line route through Tysons should be more than enough as a “fitting teammate” for the Silver Line between Tysons & Falls Church. So instead of having the Pink Line cover the area between Tysons East & The Pentagon, have the Purple Line serve those areas & have the Pink Line serve the Columbia Pike corridor to Annandale…and come to think about it, Metro has that little “branch off” just south of Pentagon built for whatever “just in case” comes up. This would be that just in case. Eliminate the Pentagon West station & keep that current Pink Line route to Bailey’s Crossroads (transfer to Purple there) & stretch it out to Annandale, as seen on the original Metrorail plan map I saw at Metro’s HQ (if it’s still there, it should be in the basement level near the model of the Franconia-Springfield station…if THAT is still there). Beyond that, have the Purple Line run that very section of the Pink Line between Tyson’s East & Glebe Road stations & it’ll definitely work for the large mass of western Arlington/eastern Fairfax counties that will eventually get tired of the mass confusion known as the 16’s buses. As far as Pentagon housing 3 lines, I’m sure it’ll work out fine because it’s just that 1 station & if you factor in the times in between the Yellow & Blue Lines (every 5 minutes between both at the peak of the peak hours now), a train serving the station every 3-4 minutes should not hurt the flow one bit, which is unlike that nightmare hub between Rosslyn & Farragut West. Everything else is great…for as long as Metro makes River Terrace a 2-level station & make the current Blue Line branch-off (between Stadium-Armory & Benning Rd) a link between the new Blue Line’s Largo corridor & the Orange/Silver corridor for the Redskins fans coming from FedEx Field by the Morgan Blvd station who’d want to use the Orange or Silver Lines…the same way Metro currently does with the Blue Line from Gallery Place to Pentagon via the Yellow/Green corridor (of course, the New Blue would make that obsolete with service to Mt. Vernon Sq station). It’s an idea to add on to yours. Thanks for reading this & thanks for that needed bit of information.

Some points others may already have made:

•The limitation on train frequency on the new Blue line is an important problem you’ve identified. But it could be solved more cheaply by separating the Blue and Yellow tracks in Virginia.

•If your Pink Line goes west of Falls Church and shares track with the Silver Line through Tyson’s Corner, you’ve just created on the Silver Line the same frequency limitation problem you’re solving on the new Blue. It seems better to take the Pink to East Falls Church and let people transfer between Pink, Silver, and Orange there; then each line can run more often.

•The proposed system map makes the Pink alignment in Virginia look really circuitous; I have a hard time thinking people west of about Glebe Rd. would get downtown faster on the Pink line than going to Falls Church and transferring to Orange or Silver.

The density, high transit use, and long commute times on Columbia Pike need to be addressed, as does the problem of headways on the new Blue. But I’m not sure they can be solved with the same project or that this is the best way. Your point about streetcars being inadequate is fair enough, but I might prefer light rail instead from East Falls Church through the corridor to King St. and Old Town Alexandria–a key destination which is now a 20 minute walk from Metro. If that line can go over the Wilson Bridge and connect with a future Purple Line in PG County (where the longest average commutes in the region are), and even a future connection from Falls Church or Tysons to Bethesda, even better!

How about extending the Blue Line to Woodbridge, Dumfries or even Quantico? There is a larger portion of agencies affected by BRAC that are moving south. Why shouldn’t there be METRO access in the largest bedroom community in the Metro Area?

That whole area is so packed with people that they could extend the Blue Line down to Fredricksburg and have a few branch lines break off of it and the two to five miles to sections of US Route 1 in that whole area is way over built up that they have six and five story tall condos that go for $600,000 along US 1 that are being built up like crazy

Throw VRE and MARC commuter rail service into the mix and you can begin to see where Fairfax County needs to be making an investment in LRT and BRT to make connections within the county, which is probably the greatest source of traffic for that part of the region.

Nice map! I’d suggest (as other commenters have) NOT having that Pink line make a giant U-turn right back to Rosslyn and the West End and instead have it hop on the Yellow line bridge after Pentagon into downtown.

From there, it could have a couple transfer stations with the Green line on M St SW/SE, turn up 2nd or 3rd SE/NE to hit a transfer at Capitol South, then join back up with the Blue at a Union Station transfer point.

This allows for anyone on a line passing through Pentagon to choose from 3 different access points into Downtown — the Rosslyn/West End path (Blue), the L’enfant Plaza/Gallery Place path (Yellow), and the Navy Yard/US Capitol path (Pink). And folks around Tyson’s who get nothing extra from the Pink might have a reason to take it in the morning.

Note that this also would be identical to the southeastern half of the “Loop Line” that WMATA already has on its long range plan (

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