Concept rendering of the potential new tunnel to the east side of the tracks (center). Image by AECOM/WMATA.

The DC Council will debate public funding for Union Market on Tuesday. Please ask them to find a way to include a new entrance to the NoMa Metro station in their plans.

The northern entrance to that station is west of the railroad tracks, facing the NoMa neighborhood. For about $16-24 million, a tunnel could be dug under the tracks to the east side, at 3rd and N. That would get people out much closer to new buildings along the tracks, to the Two Rivers charter school, and very significantly, to Union Market and Gallaudet University.

Union Market is walkable from Metro now, but not the easiest walk

The current main Union Market building is 0.5 miles (10 minute walk per Google Maps) from the entrance at 2nd and N NE (by the ATF building) and the same distance from the M Street entrance. A half mile is the usual radius planners consider in assessing transit-oriented development, and Union Market is in that area, but at the edge.

Half-mile walkshed (red outline) around the NoMa station. Image by WMATA.

With a station entrance at 3rd and N, on the east side of the railroad tracks, it would be just 0.3 miles, or a six minute walk. While 0.2 miles or four minutes are small numbers in a sense, they make a big difference. This paper looking at transit around the nation found that for each 1,000 people living half a mile from a station, they generated 249 weekday transit trips. At a quarter mile, it was 338—or about 35 percent more trips.

For jobs, the difference is even more stark. 1,000 jobs a half mile from transit generates 421 trip; a quarter mile, 685, or 61 percent more.

Now, the NoMa entrance would be a bit more than a quarter mile, but even half this difference would mean a lot. The paper unfortunately did not look at the impact of retail, but the built-out Union Market will have lots of homes and jobs.

WMATA already did a detailed study of the entrance with engineering firm AECOM, and a Trammell Crow project on the east side of the tracks will leave room in the building for the tunnel. $16-24 million is a relative steal for such a big jump in transit accessibility, and would be of huge benefit to Union Market.

The council will discuss Union Market Tuesday

The council will debate an $82.4 million Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deal for Union Market, and among its components is $36 million in public funding for 600 parking spots on top of 1,000 spots private developer Edens will build. Councilmember David Grosso (at-large) has proposed requiring $18 million (half of the parking money) to go for the Metro tunnel. The full council will vote on this TIF on Tuesday, November 6.

Modifying the TIF isn't the only way to get the entrance to happen. Another option would be for the District to fund the tunnel out of other capital resources, or find other ways to pay for it.

In a TIF, the city allocates a portion of the future tax revenue it will get from a development as subsidy to the developer. TIFs can make developments financially viable which might not otherwise be, and the city would still come out ahead because of a higher tax base. Detractors say the government often gives TIF subsidies even when the developer could have built the project without one.

DC's TIFs rarely pay for parking explicitly, as in this case. In a hearing on the TIF, both Jack Evans (Ward 2) and Kenyan McDuffie (Ward 5) argued that the extra parking is needed to get people to and from Union Market, make it a success, and bring in all the tax revenue it would represent. Even if that's true, helping more people get there by Metro would bring similar benefits; plus, it'd do it without adding to existing traffic, and add revenue WMATA sorely needs. Evans has been arguing vehemently for dedicated funding for Metro, and now he has an opportunity to bring it some by making an existing station even more valuable. 

Please use the form below to ask the council to find a way to make the Metro tunnel happen—whether as part of the TIF or through another means. This tunnel will bring benefits far exceeding its cost.

Update: The DC Council passed the full TIF package (including the $36 million for the 600 parking spaces) with a final vote of 11-2 on December 5th, 2017. In response to public input, Councilmembers Allen and Silverman introduced a bill to create increased transparency and oversight over TIF funded parking.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.