Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Not sure what to think about WMATA station closures ... and the National Mall

This guide to how to use the Metrorail system was published in advance of the system opening, and was an advertising supplement in the Washington Star, 3/21/1976.

In the wake of the threat of violence around the Inauguration, WMATA, the heavy rail operator in the Washington metropolitan area, has announced the rolling closure of stations starting later this week ("Metro to close 13 stations for a week amid threats of inauguration violence," Washington Post).

From the article:

Stations closing on Friday include: Farragut North, Judiciary Square and Union Station on the Red Line; Archives on the Green and Yellow lines; Arlington Cemetery on the Blue Line; Farragut West, McPherson Square, Federal Center SW, Capitol South, Smithsonian and Federal Triangle on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines. 

 Stations closing Saturday are Metro Center and Gallery Place, two of the largest transfer stations.

Now they've always closed some stations for the Inauguration because of crowd control or their location within the security perimeter.

But closing Union Station, which connects to regional passenger rail services, and Metro Center and Gallery Place, the two biggest transfer stations in the system, renders much of the system useless.

At the very least, free shuttle buses should be provided from Union Station to aid rail riders in connecting to the Metrorail system, to be able to complete their trip.

And it also demonstrates the need to have more rail station redundancy within DC to provide opportunities to connect to the MARC and VRE services apart from Union Station (on the Penn Line you can connect at New Carrollton to the Orange Line, on the Camden Line you can connect at Greenbelt and College Park, and on the Brunswick Line you can connect at Silver Spring).

VRE does have an additional train station link within the city at L'Enfant Plaza.  Merging the MARC Penn Line and the MARC Fredericksburg Line is one way to provide more station redundancy and inter-connection ("A new backbone for the regional transit system: merging the MARC Penn and VRE Fredericksburg Lines").  Adding a connection to the MARC Brunswick Line at Fort Totten would connect it to the Green Line independent of the Red Line, and is a reason to do so even though there is a Red Line connection at Silver Spring.  

... when I was in Liverpool a couple years ago, I was constantly surprised by the number of security personnel in the train stations in the core.  It seemed like more than one dozen people (some of the LA Metro transfer stations seem to have lots of police very visible too.)

I figured it was to give people confidence, that maybe they were afraid of the city.

It's hard to believe that when designing the Metrorail system back in the 1960s, they should have been thinking about designing "hardness" into the stations to be able to ward off insurrection.

Ironically, after the last couple Inaugurations, I argued that it was a good way to stress test the system ("The subway and the inauguration," 2009) and that they should make Metrorail transit free for that day ("Should transit on Inauguration Day be free?," 2013, 2016), as a crowd control measure.

The first Obama Inauguration in 2009 was probably the absolute peak of success for WMATA, with more than one million subway riders that day--and it was about 6 months before the terrible crash at Fort Totten which killed nine people.

National Mall Closure.  Since the WMATA announcement, it has also been announced that the National Mall will be closed to the public for the Inauguration also ("Entire National Mall to close on Inauguration Day," Post).

Normally (pre-covid) there was always National Mall access control on Inauguration Day.

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At 11:04 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

DC statehood proponents often claim you can carve out a "federal zone" in downtown which would remain under control of Congress.

We've been trying that since 1998 and the result is basically a "Green zone" which carves out the heart of the city. This is just another continuation where our security states have gone into overdrive.

It has been a very long fight to make Washington the "federal city" but the end result may not be exactly what people want.

At 1:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

A letter to the editor makes a related point, that a Governor Bowser couldn't send the NG into a separate federal district without a request from the Capitol.

In Mexico City, which is a federal district with a Mayor as Governor co equal to Governors of other Mexican states, I wonder how it works?

At 1:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

This is from 2017 but illustrates your point.

At 1:24 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WTOP: DC preps for inauguration: Metro closes some stations; widespread road closures.

At 1:32 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

A city under siege
By Paul Schwartzman, Paul Duggan, Perry Stein, Lauren Lumpkin and Michael E. Miller

At 2:09 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

The closest hysteria I can think of after Lincoln's assassination.

Washington was of course literally an armed camp at that point. Allegedly the most heavily defended city in the world and certainly most of what is now Arlington county was just military campgrounds.

RE: national guard, yes as usual I don't see much in practical terms that would be different if DC was state or had voting powers in Congress.

The first time I remember the security state being such a pain was the 1999 NATO summit.

At 8:08 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

The summit sucked. I remember. (And stuff in other cities like Seattle and Vancouver.) Was that the same year as the sniper?

I wouldn't necessarily call the Civil War period hysteria. The city was so close to enemy lines. But yes, except once, they didn't venture close. But Baltimore was pretty seditious. Plenty of Marylanders joined the confederates.

A couple years ago I went to an NPS talk at Fort Slocum which is a couple blocks from our house. It was fascinating! There were lots of issues with "contraband," Maryland slave owners coming to try to retrieve slaves, the agency created and developed by former slaves, the anger of soldiers at the continued existence of slavery in Maryland, etc. It was a tinderbox.

2. The interesting thing about the federal district and protection is that it wasn't anticipated that the Executive and Legislative branches would be so at odds. Plus there wasn't much of a standing army when the constitution was being written.

Who would've thought it would be the DC police department saving the Capitol alongside the Congressional Capitol Police department! The story to-day about the stand that MPD and Capitol Police made at the West Tunnel was pretty incredible.

At 9:55 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

With maps. There's your federal district.

At 4:57 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Plus, I've been thinking of an update to an old Doors song.

... "Rioters on the storm"

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

Walked down the green zone yesterday.

I'm not sure who is spending the money -- DC or the feds -- and its probably both, but pretty amazing that one can find the money to armor up like that but not run a vax clinic.

(off topic, grover norquist's brother is now acting SECDEF and is considered the adult in the room)

Pretty good way to destroy the city if this continues.

RE: I was specifying Stanton's actions after the assassination rather than the war generally.

As I said in March, if you want to lockdown the county until November the American Republic will not survive.

At 3:10 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt "lockdown" if people would have adhered to protections -- mask, distancing, restrictions on indoor activities, handwashing -- complemented by testing, tracing, provision of quarantine and income protection, there didn't need to be lockdowns.

But it still would have come at great cost to indoor-based commerce. And there should have been aid to deal with that.

But it's not rocket science. If you want life to continue, take precautions.

But yes, DC on permanent lockdown because of the threat of violence ruins the city.

Because of the proximity and care integration at U of Utah Health, I don't think Suzanne's parents would be able to do as well in DC as here.

I do miss it though. And now, the lack of a daily paper...

At 3:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Seems as if Bowser's been capable of stepping up. Although it's true I guess that DC didn't ask for the NG to be activated in advance, and they should have.

At 12:37 AM, Blogger Douglas Andrew Willinger said...

Build the North Mall- Grand Arc I-95/I-270E multimodel tunnel

At 10:23 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

It's hard to say what the takeaway here is re: security and the inauguration.

The closures of Metro and the length of the imposition of the barriers is unprecedented, but that's clearly something the securicrats feel they can get away with because of the pandemic. Absent the pandemic, they would be facing a lot more conflicts from closing Metro stations, barricading streets, etc.

Because of that, I'm not sure what lessons there are to learn here. Obviously redundancy in the rail network would be great, but that's also irrelevant. If we had redundant systems today, they'd still shut them down.

It's worth noting that the red zone barriers are basically the same as previous inaugurals; the only difference is the timing and the extra headcount for national guard troops.

The barricade plans are still set up as if there would be large crowds, parade attendance, etc.

At 8:28 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

RE: Bowser. well, she's learned some real skills in terms of deflecting blame. Objectively the corona situation in DC is worse than in spring (as is majority of country outside of NE) but she's not taking the hit.

ON the storming, see:

RE: alex's point. This is far worse than previous inaugurations. They are running the same security plans as before (close bridges, worry about car bombs etc) instead of dealing with the actual problem. You can say that was the entire theme of 2020, we've been running the wrong game plan all along.

The lighting along the mall and the 200,000 american flags are terrifying.

At 11:23 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

Why would Bowser take a hit on COVID? The failure is so obviously federal.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I disagree about the need for redundancy, although yes, stuff would have been "just as closed" maybe.

A few years ago, WABA advocated for including a bike/pedestrian connection on the new Long Bridge.

I advocated for bus lanes on the bridge, to provide for redundancy in case the 14th Street Bridge is closed. I think Alex B. didn't think that was necessary.

With the closure of the bridge and Amtrak's temporary shutting down of services south of Washington, it shows the need for redundancy, a better connection. I'd say tunnel. But it's easy for me to say that since I don't have to pay for it.

At 1:53 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

wrt the District Dig, I agree that DC f*ed up wrt the insurrection. The NG should have been on standby all along. They take at least 24 to 36 hours to mobilize in volume. If you think there's any possibility they will be needed, they need to be called up with the necessary amount of time to be mobilized.

By choosing to not be ready because of "optics" (the way the Army described their own concerns), the problem blew up in their faces.

But the USCP didn't have their full force mobilized. Obviously, DC didn't either.

That article about how MPD officers mobilized at West Tunnel and helped prevent it from being breached is harrowing. But it was also telling in that the various officers responded to the emergency call on an ad hoc basdis. There was no readied force in reserve.

I mean how many times have you gone to demonstrations in DC, and passed by phalanxes of MPD officers in reserve, ready to be called up.

At 1:55 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

WRT coronavirus, is the thing about DC not unlike Cuomo being heralded for his coronavirus response, when the reality is that his delaying by a week or more for closures, and his focus on bloodying De Blasio instead of dealing with what matters, plus his decision about nursing homes having to take covid positive patients, without ensuring their were proper quarantine protocols and the necessary staffing in place, led to many thousands of unnecessary deaths.

But he talked good on tv...

I have no first hand knowledge, obviously, of the coronavirus response in DC. Were there these kinds of issues in DC?

Were there steps the Mayor and public health agencies should have taken to reduce the impact.

(Similarly, Hogan and his "getting Korean covid tests," which didn't work and were therefore not used. Yet he touts this as an element of how great he is. WRT Alex's point, he should have been honest and said, we had to do this because the federal government failed to respond adequately. But forcing the states to compete against each other, to rush to purchase without standard contracting protocols in place, buying stuff we had less experience buying, set us up for failure.)

At 2:18 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Douglas: wrt your "branding" the North Capitol tunnelization "The North Mall" it's brilliant, although it would have been better 15+ years ago. Then again, plenty of my best ideas are iterative and improve over time.


I wish I would have thought of your "North Mall" branding.

cf branding

Anyway, it would be great to integrate three different concepts here:

1. The National Coalition to Save Our Mall's "South Mall concept"

2. Their proposal for an underground parking garage on the mall but married with my ideas.

3. Yours mostly (and some of mine) concepts for the North Mall.

As you know, I now favor undergrounding a bunch of regional traffic from the surface streets, because it has such a negative effect on the neighborhoods and the city.

The SE-SW Freeway, North Capitol, and New York Avenue are the primary targets.

But other streets have similar issues and at least, it would be nice to underground transit on them, like 16th Street, maybe Georgia Avenue, etc.

If you want to write something about "North Mall" I'd be willing to run it.

I don't know if it's too late to submit comments on the FRA Maglev review.

I wrote an entry suggesting that the city could piggyback on the maglev tunnel and build a tunnel above it for the regional I-95 traffic on New York Avenue.

At 2:20 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Sorry, I left out two branding links.

Again, the North Mall concept is brilliant. Ties urban design and transportation together.

At 9:55 AM, Anonymous Alex B. said...

I advocated for bus lanes on the bridge, to provide for redundancy in case the 14th Street Bridge is closed. I think Alex B. didn't think that was necessary.

With the closure of the bridge and Amtrak's temporary shutting down of services south of Washington, it shows the need for redundancy, a better connection. I'd say tunnel. But it's easy for me to say that since I don't have to pay for it.

This kind of redundancy wouldn't have helped during the inauguration. The security plan was to keep people away. They purposefully eliminated redundancy.

Just look at the road network and the road closures - there's lots of redundancy there, and it was systematically eliminated for security reasons.

Point being, I don't think you can use this particular inauguration as an example for how to better plan our systems.

At 12:49 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Point taken.

At 9:13 PM, Anonymous h st ll said...

WMATA doesn't exist for pax or the general public, unfortunately. Giving them an additional 500M a yr with zero accountability was obviously a huge mistake and now they are begging for more. Embarrassing!


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