Thursday, November 13, 2008

DC Metro System

Now, I grew up in the DC area, in the 60s, so I remember all the excitement and anticipation about the planned Metro subway system. Every time we took a trip into the city, it seemed like there was yet another excavation underway, with a big hole in the ground surrounded by construction fencing, plywood barriers and the like. The bank where my parents had their account even gave away little folded card models of the futuristic looking Metro cars, with a slot in the top, to be used as a coin bank. It was heady stuff, the idea of a subway system for the Nation's Capital.

Several decades later, and it's lost a lot of the luster. Above, you can see what greets riders at the West Falls Church Station in Northern Virginia, as you head toward the escalators. This isn't a joke... for quite some time now, there has been this corrugated cardboard sign, hand printed, to indicate which escalator takes you to the platform for the DC-bound trains! Snazzy, huh? Nothing says "this way to the seat of power" like corrugated cardboard and a Sharpie, right? And I've run across a number of other hand printed signs that are put in place to make up for the fact that a more "official" looking sign doesn't exist, or because the official signage is confusing. A common example is some form of handmade sign on the elevators to indicate which button to push to call the car... and honestly, looking at the panels, it's easy to see why extra info might be handy... it's not all that obvious which is the button for the car and which calls a station attendant.

And don't get me started on the reliability of the elevators and escalators in the system! You know it's bad when the system announcer comes on the loudspeaker one day and announces that there are NO elevator outages, and you can hear the note of surprise and pride in her voice! Seriously, at any given time, there are typically 4-6 elevators in the system that are out, and sometimes quite a few more. And the escalators are at least as bad, if not worse. It struck me a few months ago, after a few trips to NYC, and riding their subway system... when the DC folks were planning this system, did they ever think of that radical invention... STAIRS?!?!?! Seriously... the reliance on motorized escalators is a little bizarre, at least in the areas where it's a short trip up or down. Stairs seldom fail to work, and perhaps if they had gone that route, they could have put in more and better elevators for the folks who really need them.

Harrumph. Oh well, there are a lot of good things about the system... it's mostly just showing its age, and the fact that funding has always been tricky for them with three govermental jurisdictions to deal with. Wait, make that four... DC, MD, VA and the Feds. No wonder it has problems!


Arjewtino said...

Very interesting write-up. I particularly liked the idealistic view into what Metro could someday be.

FoggyDew said...

Ask and ye shall receive, Metro is currently in the process of replacing its escalators that rise 30 feet or less. Check this out:

Tim said...

Foggydew - it's good to see it's been considered, I just hope it actually comes to some action. The document doesn't seem to indicate that action is going to come, but let's all hope.

Laura said...

Maintenance is something that Metro definitely needs to work on, but there is one little thing about escalators that's handy in that case. When an escalator breaks, it turns into stairs.