Dysfunction Junction Vol.3: L’Enfant Plaza Metro Station

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Dysfunction Junction chronicles the most forlorn, baffling, and wonderful crossroads of our fair city. Ben Ball is a transportation nerd in his spare time. He lives in LeDroit Park. Ben previously wrote about Circular Logic.

[Disclaimer:  Though Ben is the Chair of the Metro Riders’ Advisory Council these views are his own.]

Forget that hunk of stone up on Wisconsin Avenue. The L’Enfant Plaza Metro station is Washington’s real cathedral.  When alien archaeologists unearth this cruciform catacomb in southwest DC, they are going to think that it’s some kind of religious structure.  A temple to the gods of concrete.  A secret chamber for the rites of the Smithsonian cult.  A place where supple virgins were sacrificed on electrified third rails.

We simply know it as the transit point everyone loves to hate.  Does anybody live there?  Of course not.  Is there a single bar or restaurant worthy of the name within a half mile radius?  Not even close.  (Food trucks don’t count.)  So let me personally thank I.M. Pei and those visionary 1950s planners for making all the rail lines converge in the most useless place in DC.  (Yes, yes, I know.  The SW Ecodistrict.  Wake me up when that actually happens.)

Even finding this station is a challenge.  Good luck finding the entrance near HUD – it involves going up a flight of stairs and making a U turn to reach an escalator which takes you underneath the stairs you just climbed.  The 7th and D exit is closed on the weekends – good thing they put the airport bus stop there.

 Continues after the jump.

Knowing the Silver Line will further diminish Blue Line service to western DC, Metro has been trying to coax Virginia residents into taking the Yellow Line to L’Enfant and transferring.  The problem, as we all know, is that transferring at L’Enfant Plaza is not exactly easy.

First off, there aren’t enough escalators.  Technically there are six between the upper and lower levels on each side, but three of those are way at the end of the platform – too far for a seamless transfer.  Of the remaining three that people actually use, the center one is always a crapshoot.  It always seems to be running in the direction I’m not, when it’s running at all. Gawky tourists (and casual Nationals fans from Virginia) seem to be inordinately attracted to those escalators for some reason, flagrantly violating the stand-right-walk-left rule.  I’d also like a few of those fancy new LCD screens near those escalators to tell me if that train that’s arriving on the other level is the one I need to scramble for.

Another thing:  the escalators are facing the wrong direction.  Instead of putting the escalator entrance toward the Green/Yellow line trains so people go straight down to the lower level, the station is configured so you have to go around a corner.  (The wayfinding pole adds another obstacle at just the right choke point.)  If Metro simply reconfigured the escalators so they face toward the Green/Yellow Lines, that transfer would be a lot easier.  Added bonus:  it would naturally place more people at the ends of the Blue/Orange trains, something Metro has already identified as a problem in this station.

Transferring between Green and Yellow?  That isn’t exactly intuitive either.

It’s not all bad, though. This station is one of the few that has art in it, after all.  The Gallery Place/Chinatown stop is probably worse in terms of layout and overcrowding.  L’Enfant Plaza is a redeemable station, if only Metro would only take a long hard look at how passengers actually use it.

13 Comment

  • I’m sure I’m not the only one who missed that once-an-hour bust to Dulles and then had to pay for a cab (or else miss the flight) because the stop is hard to find coming out of the metro.

    • bus not bust

    • Between Metro’s lack of decent signage for the 5A bus at the L’Enfant end at the Washingon Metropolitan Airports Authority doing its best at the Dulles end to hide the existence of the cheap 5A bus and encourage people to take the pricier Washington Flyer bus instead, it’s a wonder the 5A has as much ridership as it does.

      :(

      • Meant “at the L’Enfant end *and* the . . .”

        • And, yet, it’s usually packed. I always get on at L’Enfant rather than Rosslyn for that reason. They should have doubled the service long ago. The whole L’Enfant area, though is confusing.

  • Use the hotel entrance to the metro.

  • I remember reading the Gene Weingarten story about Joshua Bell in the metro station and thinking it was odd that they chose the entrance for L’Enfant Plaza as the site for the violinist to perform. When does anyone ever enter or exit L’Enfant Plaza? There’s hardly any housing or anything to see or do around there, and almost everyone uses the station as a transfer point, so they wouldn’t be passing by the entrance (I sometimes get off there if I’m going to a museum on the Eastern side of the Mall, but your average Washingtonian who would do that isn’t going to the museums on a weekday).

    • lots of folks who work at HUD, HHS, NTSB, FAA, USPS, DOE, USDA, etc. etc. etc.

    • the reason metro was built: fed workers.

    • I live in SW (corner of 7th and I) and I exit at L’Enfant after coming off the Orange or Yellow lines in three specific cases: A) The weather is nice and I want to enjoy a walk home; B) It’s going to be more than 10 minutes for a Green down to Waterfront; or C) There’s a Nats game that night and I don’t feel like being packed into an overcrowded train and having to fight my way on and off through the throng going to Navy Yard.

  • The entrance on 7th and D isn’t too inconvenient, especially when you consider the CSX tracks that cut off pedestrian traffic from Independence back to D street. I think Gallery Place is by far a worse junction as the platforms intersect at a T rather than a cross. And Union station is by far the biggest cluster f#$%@ in the whole system.

    With the remodeling of L’Enfant Plaza there already is more foot traffic in the area. The entrance isn’t the most convenient for all users but for those in the office buildings it works incredibly well. As the SW waterfront is redeveloped – get ready to see this portion of the city reborn as DC finally realizes that it has a waterfront and embraces it.

  • I have been using LEnfant Plaza frequently and for a long time – since only the lower level tracks were in use and you walked along the unused Yellow/Green tracks to get downstairs – and I would say that in general I know the Metro system better than the average person – HOWEVER, at times I still get turned around in LEnfant, and find myself coming up to ground level in the wrong place. There’s just something about that place that throws me off. I would support any improvement.

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