Something in a recent article about the opening of nine more miles of Metro's Orange Line caught me right between the eyes.
The extension, my colleague Stephen J. Lynton wrote, brings the rail system to nearly 70 miles, with no more operating mileage to be added until at least 1990.
Please indulge me. I don't believe in egocentrically personal journalism, but those facts brought a choke to my throat and moistened my eyes. I've spent literally half of my life, starting at age 31, and almost an entire 30-year career on this newspaper, covering or commenting on the development, successes and shortcomings of Metro. Before yet another inch of line opens, I likely will be retired and using a senior-citizen card.
In my first week on this paper in 1956, Ben W. Gilbert, then the city editor and now retired happily to Tacoma, Wash., assigned me to cover the impending abandonment of Washington's streetcar system. In a fit of ghastly judgment, this was supported by the Post's editorial page on the dubious grounds that auto traffic would therefore move faster.
Later, early in 1957 by my recollection, Ben told me to drop by the Interior Department building, where a small task force was working on a mass transportation study of the region's transit and highway needs. There I met Keneth M. Hoover, a former Massachusetts transit executive whose first name almost never was spelled right in print.
Ken displayed a tentative map that included a possible subway under E Street through downtown Washington as well as a lot of freeways. It was to be -- oh, how the phrase came to haunt! -- a "balanced" system of rails and roads.
Returning to the office, I found boss Ben professionally unimpressed by the subway proposal, though he liked it. A subway had been talked about so many times over the years, he instructed me, that I should bury it in my story about proposed and presumably more realistic road improvements. Although a map of the proposed subway illustrated the article on the front page of the local news section, its first timid mention was somewhere around the 21st paragraph. It may have been the first time Metro was mentioned in local print.
Despite the low play, the subway proposal began to take on a life of its own, fueled by opposition to the freeways, and by the time the Mass Transportation Survey report was presented to President Eisenhower, I wrote the main story for the Post's front page featuring the subway proposal and subordinating the roads. Before Ike's term ended early in 1961, a federal subway planning agency had been created, which later evolved into today's regional Metro transit authority. I observed and reported most developments.
Today, on a typical weekday, nearly half a million people ride Metro trains, with increases sure to follow yesterday's expansion. To those who say Metro is no all-purpose solution to area traffic problems, it must be said that nobody ever realistically claimed it would be; I, for one, was attacked for articles accurately depicting a need for roads as well as rails.
Daily I commute to and from work by Metrorail, and I'm proud that I was there to watch and help record its creation.