Farragut North — one of the busiest stations in the system— has gained a reputation as one of the darkest in town. “I call it the cave,” Metro board member Tom Bulger said at a recent board meeting.
To focus attention on the problem, a group of rider advocates has inspected nearly 70 percent of Metro’s stations and has confirmed what riders already knew.
“We have found that this is a very severe problem, and it impacts everyone in the low-vision community as well as the general public,” said Barbara Milleville, president of the National Capital Citizens With Low Vision.
Milleville, who has limited vision, worked with members of Metro’s Accessibility Advisory Committee to audit the stations. They plan to present their findings and recommendations to the Metro board this month and will urge the agency to incorporate the lighting needs into next year’s budget.
“In the past, lighting was not a priority, and we are trying to say it needs to become a priority,” Milleville said.
Over the past few years, Metro has had a lot on its plate. From catching up on long-delayed maintenance to making rail travel safer after the
deadly Red Line crash in 2009
, the transit system has been running a system and rebuilding it all at once.
Advocates acknowledge those needs but say they don’t want lighting to, yet again, take a back seat to higher-profile needs.
It is a fundamental challenge facing Metro: how to carry out the work required to make the system safe and viable for the 21st century while ensuring reliable, comfortable service to the passengers of today.
A commuter heading home after a long day might want to read a book without having to canvass the platform for the rare spot with good light. A disabled rider with few options besides public transit might fret about navigating the inherent hazards of a subway station when the lighting is lacking.
Lighting problems in Metro are complicated by the distinctive architecture of the system, which opened in 1976.
Designers wanted soft, indirect light that would highlight the cathedral-like arches of the underground stations. And, indeed, images of the system are known by subway aficionados around the world.
But that has made enhancing lighting a tricky endeavor.
“In a sense, [the architects] wanted to create a kind of ambiance that gave you a feeling that you were underground and in a place that had a bit of mystery to it,” said Roger K. Lewis, an architect and professor emeritus of architecture at the University of Maryland.