Democracy Dies in Darkness


On the first weekday of Red Line track work, commuters would ‘rather ride a horse’

July 23, 2018 at 7:50 PM

Fort Totten Station, where Red Line riders had to transfer to the Yellow and Green lines, was packed on Monday during the morning commute. (@christinaelise via Twitter)

Maybe Dan Stessel is right.

Maybe, as Metro’s spokesman believes, what commuters experienced Monday morning will work itself out in a couple of days, once riders get used to the closure of two Red Line stations. Maybe — but the first weekday of the planned 45-day disruption was a sweaty mess.

With trains not running between Rhode Island Avenue and Brookland stations through Labor Day so Metro can make much-needed repairs, the transit agency had advised Red Line riders to transfer to the Green and Yellow lines to get around the work zone.

But so many people took that advice that the platforms at Fort Totten and Gallery Place were crammed to the edge at times. Just getting into the stations was an ordeal. Long lines of people waited to walk down broken escalators at Fort Totten, only to then have to squeeze into packed cars.

[Meet Express’ DC Rider columnist, Kery Murakami]

Stessel likened the disruption to roadwork: The first day is often the worst, but traffic lightens up as drivers find ways to deal with it.

“By Wednesday, this will be old hat,” he predicted.

Tracy Ferguson, a Justice Department attorney, isn’t so sure. It took her an hour and a half to get from Glenmont to her office near Metro Center, twice as long as usual.

Transferring from the Red Line at Fort Totten — the last station before the closure — she found the escalators to the Green and Yellow platform out of service. She was enraged that with Metro urging more people to go to Fort Totten, it hadn’t made sure the escalators were running.

Stessel said they had shut down at 8 a.m. because a safety sensor had been activated but they were later back in service.

In any case, Ferguson, like a lot of people, headed for the elevator, where “rude and frustrated individuals shoved in front of baby strollers and the wheelchair-bound in hopes of cramming into the elevator,” she said in an email.

Ferguson said Monday’s mess didn’t seem like “a blip or two” to her and she’s not optimistic things will get better anytime soon.

“If this morning is a semblance of how it is to be or what is to come,” she wrote, “I would rather ride a horse into downtown than take Metro.”

Stessel acknowledged there was crowding at times but said people were “cleared in short order” as trains arrived. “It wasn’t a sustained crowding situation,” he said.

It seemed sustained enough at Gallery Place, where the crowd was packed to the edge of the platform, Kahn Branch said.

“The entire station was dreadfully hot and humid,” he said in an email. What “if someone would’ve had heatstroke in Gallery Place station or fallen down onto the tracks?”

Stessel might be right. Maybe people will start to make other plans. Ferguson said she would leave for work earlier.

Branch said he could take two buses, but “it’s far more walking and will take fairly longer to get into the office.” He could take an Uber, he said, but that would be expensive with the ride-hailing service likely to charge higher “surge” rates because of all the other people trying to avoid Metro.

By Monday afternoon, things had smoothed out somewhat, said Alex Rosen on his way home on the Green Line after work. It was crowded, but more like a typical afternoon rush hour, not like Monday morning, when he had to get off after one stop and take the bus because he was tired of “being pressed against the wall.”

Reach Kery Murakami at Follow him @theDCrider.

Kery Murakami is a reporter focusing on feature stories about those who ride and work in the Metro system. He also serves as an advocate to get the transit system to answer questions and deal with concerns raised by its customers.

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