A Metro map from 1967 is loaded with high-sounding proposals for the District’s then-nascent transit system. They range from ambitious to laughable, and give a glimpse into the space-age mentality of the era in which Metro was dreamed up.
“SERVICE WILL BE FREQUENT: Air conditioned trains will run every two minutes at peak hours,” the map reads. “The system will carry 281 million riders by 1990.”
Metro, which opened for service in 1976, logged about 206 million rail trips in the fiscal year ending last June. And trains run anywhere from three minutes, on the Red Line at rush hour, to 12 minutes, on the Blue Line — sometimes longer.
Elliot Carter, 24, was browsing the Washingtonia section of the of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library when he stumbled upon the map, the Proposed regional rapid rail transit plan and program, prepared by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority in 1967. He was intrigued by the planners’ far-flung ideas and the station names of the time — monikers that would have left Red Line riders venturing to “Pooks Hill” station rather than Medical Center, and Green Line passengers stopping off at “Weapons Plant”, rather than “Navy Yard.”
Not only that — that map promises that “Riders benefit from safe, no-delay, high speed, dependable service.” Metro is in the midst of a 10-month long rebuilding project known as SafeTrack, which aims to restore the system’s safety and reliability to a state of good repair.
“It was really like a time capsule back to the idealistic mid-century transportation department ideas,” said Carter, who majored in history in college and launched his blog, Architect of the Capital, earlier this month, a repository of relics from D.C.’s past. “Obviously with SafeTrack there’s kind of a disconnect.”
Of course, much of the system did come to life as proposed — and even outgrew the 95.6 miles originally planned — as Washington became home to the nation’s second-busiest subway system.
The proposal outlines a rapid transit system that “operates on exclusive rights-of-way uninterrupted by slower trains or traffic crossings. Adapting to each community, it runs under streets in subway, on surface tracks, or on attractive aerial structures.” It also calls for arced ceilings, floating mezzanines and much of the monumental architecture seen in stations today.
To date, Metro covers 117 miles, with the subway making up about 50.5 miles of those tracks, and surface tracks accounting for 58 miles. A little more than nine miles of track are on aerial structures, according to Metro.
Still, today’s layout is more compact than planners’ vision. As Carter outlines, the Red Line would have extended to Germantown, Md., the Blue Line would have gone all the way to Bowie and Brandywine and the Green Line would branch out to Laurel.
Beyond the specifics — which are easy to nitpick — there are themes that ring true today. The proposal, aimed at selling the nation’s capital on a Metro system, treats the subway as the cornerstone of a thriving city.
“It is a powerful aid to central city and neighboring suburbs alike. It enables each to contribute and draw from the others. It is a vital, metropolitan force for a better future.”