The American Institute of Architects recently hailed the Washington Metro system for "setting a national standard for the design of urban mass transit systems" and cited its superior "stations and equipment" as "examples for other large U.S. cities." It further noted that the planned 100-mile system that now serves 300,000 passengers daily enhances their commuting with features that range from an acoustically controlled environment to special provisions for the elderly, the blind and handicapped.
It's wonderful to know that Metro is beautifully designed--that's something to be proud of. But I'd feel even better about the design award if the subway were also serving as it should those who really need it.
Plans to construct the inner-city subway are bogged down in red tape and political controversy. The Green Line through Anacostia, for example, has been delayed interminably by pending court action. The fight is over whether to shift the alignment from a terminus at Rosecroft Raceway in Oxon Hill to Branch Avenue near Silver Hill Road in Suitland. Litigation against Metro by Branch Avenue supporters is now in a Baltimore federal court.
I'm not alone in my concern for the inner-city subway. Arthur E. Teele Jr., outgoing administrator of the federal Urban Mass Transportation Administration, which dispenses transit funds, called his inability to influence "the further development of the Metro system to include subway lines for the 13th Street corridor and for Martin Luther King Avenue" his "greatest disappointment" in his job.
Responding to questions during a recent lecture at the University of the District of Columbia, Teele called the unreadiness to complete the additional subway lines "playing with the lives and futures of those who are economically dependent on the transit system."
Elaborating in an interview, Teele said that he believes in the Reagan administration view that the federal government must defer to local officials. For that reason, he said, despite his "deep sense of frustration" over the failure to serve all parts of the community, he decided once he had studied all the issues that he should not interfere in the local decisions over where the subway would go.
Teele said he made his comments to the UDC students in part because he wanted them to understand that they must get involved if the new federalism is going to work, because it affects their lives and the lives of people like them.
"There is no more compelling need than what we witness every morning in Southwest and Anacostia, with people trying to get to work denied greater job and career options because of a lack of transportation," Teele said.
Gordon White, director for community services at Southeast House, says economic development in Southeast, home to 217,000 residents, is in limbo since construction of the Green Line has been blocked.
"There are a number of real estate brokerage firms sitting on mountains of land waiting on determination of that subway," said White. "Property is off the market and cannot be rented or utilized and that creates a tremendous problem. We have the worst cab system because taxis say it is not profitable to come here. We have no major shopping centers, and what is here is eroded. The community has no major financial or economic anchors. All this could be changed if the subway could finally be determined and initiated."
The city and Metro officials should go to court and push to build the subway at least as far as Anacostia, while the fight over where it will end in Prince George's County drags on. This would get the subway across the river and link Anacostia to the rest of the city.
Some re-engineering would be necessary in order to be sure that the Anacostia station location could accommodate either of the two Prince George's County alignments, but these are technical matters, and since nothing has been constructed, why not proceed with the Anacostia station?
Completion of the inner-city segment of the subway is one of the most important political issues the city faces. When it happens, we'll all have reason to be proud.