It may be an urban myth that racism kept Metro out of Georgetown (while many residents did oppose a station, Metro planners hadn’t included the neighborhood in initial plans in the first place), but according to a graduate paper from 1994 that Rethink College Park found and put online, it played a significant role in the decision to locate College Park’s Green Line stop where it is, far from campus.
According to the paper, an alignment that would have run along the western edge of the University of Maryland campus received the support of the Maryland DOT and the WMATA board, and generated 5-7 times the ridership compared to the more eastern alignment that was eventually built. Many groups weighed in—
residents of various neighborhoods who all wanted the line to stay away from their homes, residents of Greenbelt who wanted a station in their town, and others. But one big voice was the University’s, and at the time, the University didn’t want a station located nearby.
The University of Maryland started as an agricultural school, and was almost entirely white into the 1970s. As a result, its administration at the time was suspicious of a connection with urban Washington and of the people who lived there, many of whom were African-American at a time of significant racial tension. The paper quotes “a distinguished campus historian” who said, “[University] President [Wison Homer] Elkins didn’t want undesirable elements on campus, which [to him] meant black people from Washington.”
As a result, the University was publicly silent on the alignment issue despite support from students and faculty, at a time when advocacy from the University would have shifted the balance toward a campus station. The University also wanted to keep the station away to limit construction of large amounts of parking near campus, a worthwhile goal, but according to the paper, Metro was willing to keep parking to a minimum and move parking to the station at the end of the line, which would have been near the Beltway intersection with I-95.
The University also insisted on a tunnel to minimize noise and the effect on pedestrians, which contributed to ultimately forcing a much greater inconvenience on pedestrians of having to ride shuttle buses to the distant station. This is very relevant because today, the University is again advocating for a transit line (this time, the light rail Purple Line from New Carrollton to Bethesda) to be built in a less convenient location (along the edge of campus rather than along a central road).
Rethink College Park has been running a series of articles opposing the administration’s position. But clearly, despite three decades, the evolution of College Park into an inner ring suburb of a growing metropolitan area, and a significant increase in public support for transit, the conception of Maryland as a rural agricultural college, or at least a sleepy suburban one, is still hard to shake.