Michael Barone
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Believers in central planning should take a look at Washington's Metro rail transit system. While they will find many things to like, they will also see examples of how central planners -- and especially rail transit planners -- can get things disastrously and expensively wrong.

Things to like include aesthetics. Metro stations and cars are attractively designed and reasonably spacious. Metro attracts more riders than any other American rail transit system except, of course, New York's.

It has stimulated local planners and developers to create vibrant downtown-like clusters of stores, restaurants and apartment buildings along the Orange Line in Arlington, Va., and around the Bethesda, Md., station on the Red Line.

But then there are the bad things, which my colleagues at The Washington Examiner have documented at great length.

The escalators at the south side of the DuPont Circle station are being repaired and out of commission for -- get this -- nine months. This is Metro's fifth busiest station.

Other escalators are often on the fritz. Metro's designers didn't put canopies over all of the escalators but left them out in the open. It turns out that it rains and even snows sometimes in Washington and that water corrodes the metal escalator.

Who'd 'a' thunk it? Well, actually the designers knew all about the Art Noveau canopies that covered the stairwells of the Paris Metro, but they didn't have the funds to match what the French were able to manage at the turn of the 20th century.

Deferred maintenance and failure to replace outmoded cars have taken a heavy toll. This isn't the designers' fault, but this sort of thing happens frequently in public-sector agencies (and sometimes in private-sector companies, as well).

Metro has found the money to meet union demands, but too often it hasn't found funds to keep the system up to date.

In the wake of increased delays, and after a collision of two trains resulted in nine deaths in June 2009, ridership has fallen. In response, Metro has raised fares. Higher prices for worse service: not a winning combination.

Metro's more fundamental and interesting flaw is apparent when you look at its attractive route map. (Metro, like mass transit systems going back to the London Tube in the 1930s, is good at graphics.)

What you see is a bunch of differently colored lines converging in downtown Washington, near government and private-sector office buildings.

The assumption of Metro planners was that jobs would continue to be heavily concentrated in the historic downtown.

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Michael Barone

Michael Barone, senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner (www.washingtonexaminer.com), is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and a co-author of The Almanac of American Politics. To find out more about Michael Barone, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com. COPYRIGHT 2011 THE WASHINGTON EXAMINER. DISTRIBUTED BY CREATORS.COM