Hi, and welcome to another edition of Mythbusting! After our last feature busted some misconceptions about the busiest Metro stations and lines, we’ll tackle another Metro myth this week: that the Metro map that you see in stations is proportional. The official Metro map shows right angles and evenly-spaced stations throughout the system, and all lines look to be generally the same length. So the real Metro system looks the same when it’s drawn to scale, right?
Definitely not. The Metro system is shown with evenly-spaced stations for clarity, and with evenly-sized lines for formatting reasons, but the actual Metro system looks a lot different when shown to scale. The Red line is much narrower than the official map shows, and that line extends well into Maryland– but Shady Grove and Glenmont are not at the same latitude. Similarly, the Orange and Blue lines extend far west into Virginia, well beyond what the official map shows. The Yellow line is barely visible on the to-scale map. And the length of the lines serving the west and north of the District dwarf the eastern and southern lines.
And as for station spacing, the official map is hugely inaccurate. For example, on the official map, Crystal City, DCA Airport, and Braddock Road appear to be just about equidistant. However, in reality, Crystal City is just about half a mile from the airport, but the Braddock Road stop is another three miles from the airport. The Orange line might be the worst offender: all of the stations from Vienna up to Court House appear to be the same distance apart, but in reality only Ballston, Virginia Square, Clarendon, and Court House are that close together. Those stations are all about a half a mile apart, but East Falls Church, West Falls Church, Dunn Loring, and Vienna stations are all between two and 2.5 miles apart. No wonder that trip out to Vienna seems to stretch on forever!
Finally, showing this Metro map drawn to scale helps answer some of those “Is it faster to…” questions. One that I’ve always wondered about was: if you’re traveling from Fort Totten to Gallery Pl-Chinatown, is it faster to take the Green/Yellow line or the Red line? Well, according to GIS, that section of the Red line is just a tiny bit shorter– 4.95 miles compared to 4.99 miles on the Green/Yellow section. So in reality, just get on the first train that comes, since those sections are almost exactly the same length.
There you have it: the Red line is a weird u-shape, the blue line squiggles like crazy through Virginia, and the Yellow line barely exists. Here are a couple more versions of the map, showing station names. No wonder WMATA has to space out its stations evenly on their map– it’s all but impossible to read otherwise!
*All maps shown with GIS data available from DC’s Data Clearinghouse