Photo by Toastwife on Flickr.

Rob Pitingolo is an urbanist blogger from Cleveland who recently moved to Arlington, and has been contributing to GGW. Yesterday, he curiously noted that so many Washingtonians complain so loudly about the Metro, despite it being one of the best transit systems in America by any objective measure.

Pitingolo posed the question, What’s the root of DC’s hatred for Metro?

He went on to reason the answer is that:

So many people use (transit) here that there are a whole lot more opportunities to hear from people that don’t like it. In Cleveland, the same types of professionals who get frustrated with ‘hot cars’ and delayed trains and rude station managers (in Washington) simply aren’t using public transit.


He makes a good point, that transit is an integrated part Washington’s culture in a way that it is not in other cities, but that’s only half the answer. The other half is that Metro just isn’t as good as it used to be, simply because it’s aging, and many of us remember when it was new and perfect.

Metro is only about a generation old. It was planned and built since most of its riders have been alive, and for its first couple of decades, nothing went wrong. The maintenance and safety problems that have plagued Metro this decade are for the most part new events, consequences of an aging system that we simply didn’t have to deal with until recently.

Like Pitingolo, I came to the Washington region from Ohio. I was 8 years old in 1989 when my family moved from suburban Columbus to Gaithersburg. But the Metro I was first introduced to was brand new, without a stopped escalator or single-track segment to be found. Shady Grove had just opened five years earlier. At the time, with precious few other rapid transit systems having been built since before World War II, Washingtonians liked to claim that Metro was the best subway in the world.

Really. People said that. Best in the world.

Things have, inevitably, changed. Escalators get old. Tracks crack. Repairs have to be made. Older infrastructure requires maintenance that is often inconvenient to riders. These are facts of life,  dealt with by every infrastructure agency in the world, but they are facts that Washingtonians didn’t have to think about until recently.

We remember the good ol’ days, and so these days of problems sting especially sharp.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Tagged: wmata

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post .