The maps below show where DC’s most densely-populated pockets are, as well as where its Metro stops are. It turns out they aren’t always the same places, or in other words, DC isn’t building enough around transit.
Highest density census tracts comprising 50% of DC population, with Metrorail overlay. Map by John Ricco, overlay by Peter Dovak.
Back in July, John Ricco created a pair of maps showing that 50% of DC’s residents live on 20% of the land, and a quarter of the population lives on just 7% of the land. Peter Dovak, another Greater Greater Washington contributor, did me the favor of overlaying John’s maps onto the Metro system.
Looking at the map above, which shows where 50% of the population lives, there are some obvious areas of overlap between density and Metrorail access, including the Green/Yellow corridor through Shaw, Columbia Heights, and Petworth. The southern area of Capitol Hill also has multiple Metro stops and is relatively dense.
But what stands out are the dense places that aren’t near Metro. The northern end of Capitol Hill, including the H Street corridor and Carver Langston, as well as the areas to the west around Glover Park, a few tracts to the north near Brightwood, and two larger areas east and west of the Green Line in Ward 8, near Congress Heights and Fort Stanton Park.
All of these places show that DC’s growth isn’t being concentrated around its transit (its transit isn’t being extended to serve dense areas either, but that’s harder to do).
Of course, Metro is far from the only way to get around. Residents of high density, Metro-inaccessible neighborhoods rely on buses and other modes to get where they need to go; specific to northern Capitol Hill, for example, there’s also the DC Streetcar). Also, some areas next to Metro stops are low density due to zoning that restricts density or land nobody can build on, like federal land, rivers, and parks.
Still, it’s useful to look at where DC’s high-density neighborhoods and its high-density transit modes don’t overlap, and to understand why.
25% of DC’s population lives close to metro… mostly
Really, the S-shaped routing of the Green Line is the only part of Metro in DC that runs through a super dense area for multiple stops.
Looking at the map that shows 25% of the District’s population, the Green/Yellow corridor helps make up the 7% of land where people live. But so does Glover Park, Carver Langston, and a tract in
Anacostia Washington Highlands near the Maryland border— and these places are a long way from a Metro stop.
There are historical reasons for why things are this way
According to Zachary Schrag in
The Great Society Subway: A History of the Washington Metro, Metro wasn’t meant to be an urban subway; it was always meant to be a regional rail system. It explicitly bypassed the relatively few people in DC’s high-density areas, in favor of speeding up rides for the greater number of through-commuters. Apparently, DC had little say in that decision, which is evident in the map.
On the other hand, the citywide streetcar plan was meant to bring rail access to many more DC residents — partly because, well, it was to be built by DC’s government, for DC’s residents, which Metro was not.
The first version of this post said that a tract was in Anacostia, but it’s actually in Washington Highlands.