April 12, 2013

Crystal City isn’t an exciting place to live. It empties on weekends and, when the weather gets nice, fills up with tourists staying in our affordable hotels. Not one of The Post’s 40 Essential Eats or Tom Sietsema’s Dining Guide restaurants calls the area home.

But Crystal City has something the rest of Arlington County lacks: Metro-accessible condos priced below $300,000. That just so happened to be my budget when I bought one there four years ago.

I live about a mile from the Crystal City Metro station, where the Blue and Yellow lines stop, and I work downtown, just off K Street. It takes me 45 minutes to travel just five miles, and my trip includes a bus ride, a Metro ride and a 12-minute walk. Driving would be faster, but I don’t own a car, and anyway, $200-plus a month to park downtown would be a hard pill to swallow. I count on Metro to get me to work.

But lately Metro isn’t holding up its end of the bargain.

Last June, Metro launched “Rush Plus,” which took resources away from the Blue Line and gave them to the Yellow Line. During the peak morning hours, there are now three Yellow Line trains for every one on the Blue Line. This holds true for the commute home as well: three Orange Line trains for every Blue.

For thousands of daily Blue Line riders, the change meant that the commute downtown and back suddenly got much longer. Now, when a Blue Line train finally arrives, it’s as crowded as Chinatown the night of a Caps game. Sure, Metro encourages Blue Line riders to take the Yellow Line and transfer, but this just adds insult to injury for many of us: The route makes little sense for downtown workers and adds time to the already-lengthy commute.

Now Metro is laying the groundwork for opening the Silver Line near the end of the year. It recently told riders that “when the Silver Line opens, in order to create more space in the Rosslyn tunnel, Blue Line trains, all day long, will run 12 minutes apart.” Metro’s answer to concerned Blue Line users? Take a bus.

Metro recently sent a survey to Blue Line riders, hoping to figure out how to get them to take a bus from Crystal City to Rosslyn and then take the Orange or Blue line into the city from there. Between Rush Plus and the impending 12-minute waits for packed trains, this redistribution of resources is pushing Blue Line riders out of the rail system — and into their cars.

Choosing a lifestyle that relies on Metro is a kind of compact, an unspoken agreement between the rider and the transit system. With the promise of a safe, accountable and relatively quick ride to work comes the burden of a higher cost of living in Metro-accessible areas. The rider accepts that braving the elements and a lack of personal space will become part of the commuting routine. She agrees to be part of the sustainable solution with a small carbon footprint that is a hallmark of policymakers’ long-term vision for the Washington area.

Making the commitment to purchase a home in a neighborhood with a Metro station cements this compact. Metro’s Blue Line cutbacks amount to a broken promise. Come autumn, I bet I won’t be the only Blue Line rider visiting a car dealership.