The Federal Government is by far the largest source of employment in the region, and many government offices were constructed near Metro accordingly. Unfortunately, federal agencies often design their campuses and otherwise plan around automobiles. Perhaps the most egregious case of this is the Suitland Metro station.
Suitland Federal Center opened in 1941 to house the United States Census Bureau and other yet-too-be-named federal agencies. The Washington Post posited that the site would one day rival Federal Triangle in the scope of government business on the campus. In the 1960s, plans for a new Metro system were laid out and a station near Suitland seemed to be coming soon. But it wasn’t until over half a century later in 2001 when the final phase of Metro construction finally brought a station to the would-be behemoth of federal employment.
The Suitland station sits poised to serve riders in both directions: Area residents headed into the city, and reverse commuters headed to the federal campus. Unfortunately, the layout of the Suitland station takes on more of a park-and-ride layout, which impedes walkability to and from the station.
The federal campus’ circuitous pathways make for a 13-minute walk between the station and the Naval Maritime Intelligence Center, one of the largest entities on the federal campus. The most direct existing route there requires a trek across the station’s parking lots, which hardly makes for an inviting pedestrian environment.
Plus, the federal campus itself treats non-automobile commuters as an afterthought. Disparate offices separated by large tracts of parking and unimproved land create an inhospitable environment for people walking and bicycling.
Suitland has a lot of parking and not a lot of riders
As of 2016, Suitland was ranked 53rd out of 91 stations for ridership, the lower end of the middle of the pack. Many of the stations with lower ridership are outside the Beltway or located in lower density residential areas.
None of the other stations with lower ridership are particularly close to a concentration of federal jobs like in Suitland. Few have more on-site parking than Suitland’s 1,890 spaces. Southern Avenue and West Falls Church are the only stations inside the Beltway with more parking and lower ridership than Suitland.
Suitland has another more dubious distinction. The Suitland-Silver Hill Census-designated place has experienced population declines since 1990, even after the Metro station opened. Prince George’s County has historically proved to be notoriously bad with transit-oriented development near its 14 Metro stations. Despite focused efforts recently to improve the county’s track record, Suitland has experienced very modest investment that has done little to improve access to the station.
The result is a Metro station wedged between a freeway interchange and a large parking structure. A reputation for crime along with the car-oriented design means many people don’t feel safe in the area.
Not a great environment for transit-oriented development
With medium-density garden apartments scattered across Silver Hill Road from the station already cramped by federal land, there is little space for any new development immediately adjacent to the station. However, it lies reasonably close (just under a mile) from more richly developed areas near Iverson Mall.
Unfortunately, the stretch of Silver Hill Road connecting the two offers little to any mode of transportation other than the automobile. It is a six-lane road with a three-foot sidewalk alongside it, and that sidewalk traverses high-speed freeway exits on the final approach to the Metro station. Sharrows are present, but the do little to attract cyclists on a speedy six-lane road.
In spite of the area’s declining population, new development is taking place. On the other side of the station on the northern corner of the Silver Hill Road-Suitland Road intersection, a more urban-style activity center is under construction.
Towne Square at Suitland Federal Center is a 25-acre mixed-use development on the former site of a housing project. The development will have almost 900 housing units, 100,000 square feet of retail, and recreational amenities. It sits just roughly a half a mile’s walk from the station.
As with Iverson Mall, however, the problem is the approach to the station. The only entrance to the station that civilians can use is along Silver Hill Road, which remains a six-lane beast with narrow sidewalks east of the station.
Here’s how the Suitland Metro could be better
The historically poor development patterns of the area, the scattered and inconsistent layout of the Federal Center, and the severely hostile streetscape approaches to the Metro station render a potentially bustling center of growth and development to languish as a stagnant, underused transportation amenity. But it is fixable.
Obviously, the station cannot be relocated, but Silver Hill Road could be more inviting to people bicycling, walking, and taking transit with wider sidewalks, protected bike lanes, and more trees. Suitland Federal Center’s ample excess land could be used for more agencies, hopefully oriented in a more commuter-friendly design than the current office complexes.
Reconfiguring the Suitland Parkway interchange in a more pedestrian-friendly manner would make the station more accessible from the west. Coordinated planning could boost the local economy by encouraging federal workers to utilize retail amenities off the federal campus.
With some targeted investment, Suitland Metro Station could potentially draw more ridership and improve transportation options for both federal workers and area residents. More pedestrians in the area can improve crime and stimulate the local economy. Suitland could become poised to outgrow its unsafe reputation and serve the community and federal employees in keeping with other prominent Metro stations.