DC Mythbusting: Georgetown Metro Stop

Photo courtesy of
‘Georgetown Tunnel’
courtesy of ‘MikaAltskan’

Hi and welcome to another edition of Mythbusting!  This week we’ll be tackling the myth of the Georgetown Metro.  The legend explains why Georgetown, a vibrant part of the city with many attractions, does not have a Metro station.  Legend has it that Metro planners had originally planned a station for Georgetown, but Georgetown’s well-connected residents fought to keep the criminals and poor people that would ride Metro away from their exclusive neighborhood.  They successfully defeated the Metro plans, and thus, there’s no Metro station in Georgetown today.  Why else would there not be a Metro station at such a major destination in DC?

Two big reasons: existing land use and geography.  First of all, Metro officials never seriously considered a station in Georgetown.  Metro was originally envisioned as a suburban-to-city commuter link that would ferry office workers to downtown DC.  Back when Metro was being planned, there wasn’t really a critical mass of offices or apartment buildings  in Georgetown, so there wasn’t a compelling reason to have a stop in Georgetown for this commuter system.  As Metro planner William Herman is quoted in Zachary Schrag’s The Great Society Subway, “We were building the system for the commuters, and there were not many people commuting to Georgetown” (155-156).

Photo courtesy of
‘Washington, DC – 165’
courtesy of ‘giantminispacegoat’

Secondly, the geography of Georgetown wasn’t exactly Metro-friendly.  The obvious choice for a Metro station would be at Wisconsin and M Streets, and that intersection is really close to the Potomac River.  So there would be two options: go really deep under the river from Rosslyn (which would require an impractically deep station), or go over the river.  Highway planners vetoed a combined transit and highway bridge over the Potomac, so there go those options.  Even if there was a good reason to have a station in Georgetown, it would have been logistically difficult and outrageously expensive.

Interestingly, according to The Great Society Subway, there was some opposition from Georgetown residents to a potential Metro station.  But that was typical of the day, and it wasn’t just white-keeping-out-black or rich-keeping-out-poor opposition.  Opposition to Metro stops happened in many different neighborhoods, rich and poor alike, for reasons such as the long construction schedule or the perceived crime that subways would bring.  David Alpert over at Greater Greater Washington thinks that Georgetown residents would have probably successfully opposed a Metro station there if one had been proposed.  So while this myth is feasible because many Metro stations were opposed during the planning stages, there’s no truth to the myth that Georgetown residents blocked an already-planned station.

Shannon grew up in the greater DC area/Maryland suburbs, went to Virginia for college and grad school (go Hoos!), and settled in DC in 2006. She’s an urban planner who loves transit (why yes, that is her dressed as a Metro pylon for Halloween), cities, and all things DC. Email her at Shannon (at) WeLoveDC.com!

12 thoughts on “DC Mythbusting: Georgetown Metro Stop

  1. Excellent post Shannon! I’ve been fighting this myth since I read the Great Society Subway; it’s an excellent book and does an great job of explaining why we have the road system and Metro the way we do today.

  2. This is definitely one of the more persistent D.C. myths out there. Even when you tell people the real reason, in my experience, they tend not to believe it.

    I, for one, wish there were a station in Georgetown. I’d go more often.

  3. Well done piece – good reminder of the various pieces of the Metro to Georgetown puzzle.
    I wonder if much thought has been given to bringing back a streetcar line – again, Wisconsin and M would be the prime candidates. In the short-term, traffic both would probably suffer considerably if they had to go from 4 lanes down to 3 or 2…but if ridership was successful at offsetting some of that would-be traffic, then it might be worth it in the long run.

    Imagine streetcar service from Foggy Bottom metro out to Rosslyn and up to Friendship Heights with stops along the way…

    Oh and one other thing…that bike better not be there in the middle tunnel when I ride home tonight.

  4. I’ve noticed that the Blue/Orange tunnel between Foggy Bottom and Rosslyn travels almost directly beneath Washington Harbour. If you happen to stand near the vent in between the House of Sweden and the Thompson boathouse, you can hear Metro whirring through the tunnel deep below. It must be some sort of air/exhaust shaft. Perhaps there’s still hope, then, for a Georgetown metro station one of these decades? The entrance could go right here: http://maps.google.com/maps?q=washington+dc&oe=UTF-8&ie=UTF8&gl=us&ei=xvnUSuDYLIralAeFp4idCQ&ved=0CBUQ8gEwAA&hq=&hnear=Washington,+District+of+Columbia&ll=38.900862,-77.058962&spn=0.000772,0.001737&t=h&z=20

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  6. there are simply too many great books available for reading pleasures and some people chose to read the Great Society Subway? it’s illogical to conceive that rich Gtown folks wanted to keep the poor criminals out of their beautiful neighborhood, especially since the rich folks along Wisconsin Ave have metro stations nearby. i believe Gtown wants a metro station now for many beneficial reasons. what seems to keep those perceived poor criminals from residing in the rich neighborhoods is to keep it unaffordable. of course much of this suggestion is based on the natural outcome of economics and no one does this on purpose. but we could state that Gtown provides no affordable income housing or rent control. if this were to transpire, it is inevitable that a San Francisco of the East Coast could take root. as a Bloomingdale resident, do i despise Gtown folks? that would be as stupid as people who assume poor folks and criminal behaviors are interrelated.

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  8. Some of us enjoy reading about transit, yes. Feel free to make a different selection for your book of the month club, but The Great Society Subway is an excellent book for those who are interested in the topic.

    Josh, that’s an interesting location proposal. It seems only marginally closer than the Foggy Bottom station, but plenty of Metro stations are named for places that require a bit of a walk to actually get there from the station.

    Bilsko, there are definitely streetcar plans in the works throughout the city; they come up every so often on Greater Greater Washington. The only one I know of that’s currently under construction is H Street NE/Atlas District, but I bet the people creating the streetcar plans for DC have included Georgetown!

  9. I can confirm that Georgetown residents and shopkeepers alike were vigorously opposed to a subway stop in Georgetown.The talk of the day was that too many “residents” of DC would make their way to Georgetown and crime would go up. It was a lot tonier neighborhood in the early 70s than it is now. And the food traffic was mostly from suburban areas, and the local colleges. Residents perpetuated the rumor that Gtown rested on solid bedrock that was too costly to excavate.

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