91 Comment

  • It’s like this all the time and has been for years. That’s what happens when metro staff don’t care about or aren’t capable of fixing fare gates that break down on a daily basis.

    • Yep, looks like a normal rush hour to me.

    • but why so few gates to begin with? isn’t columbia heights currently the densest neighborhood in the city? I hate getting off there and can’t believe some people can deal with that day in and day out.

      • I think part of the main problem is that the system was designed for 1970s DC or so, and 2015 DC is a very different place. Lots of people living in the city, which has boomed and changed even since I got here 5 years ago, let alone since the last design of stations. I’ve been told it was never designed to be a “subway” per se, but more a sort of commuter rail designed to bring people in and out of the nearby suburbs (though I’ve never understood exactly what the difference is…. except it might explain why a Columbia Heights didn’t get built for massive traffic flow, versus a Metro Center or L’Enfant?).
        That said, surely a little light construction could remodel the existing space to allow more turnstiles, and a little signage could go a long way in reducing the inevitable yet frustrating confusion of how the smart trip works — or whatever holds people up (or, as others suggest – a flat fare structure that lets people walk at speed through a one-way gate)/

        • The Columbia Heights metro station was completed in 1999 and the area around it, though severely blighted at the time, was even then among the densest in the city. It is as if they didn’t expect people to use it.

          • Columbia Heights in 1999 was nowhere near as dense nor did they expect the growth that they’ve seen in slightly under 15 years.

  • Guy coming up the stairs: “What is this….oh, shit.”

  • I don’t think it’s the broken fare gate, it’s the fact that only 3 are exit only…4, but that’s the one where you literally have to wait for it to close before you can swipe (the handicap one). Stuff like this can be easily remedied, there’s six fare gates…put 5 as exit only for rush hour. Or if you’re gonna do 4, do 4 regular ones. More people are coming out of that metro than going in any way.

    • brookland_rez

      When they first opened that station, there wasn’t the density of housing around it that there is today. Metro needs to expand the number of fare gates as the population expands. Noma is going to have this same problem if it already doesn’t. There’s like 3 or 4 fare gates there.

      • I’ve noticed the same thing at Waterfront. There are actually lines to exit now, which was unheard of 4 years ago.

        • It’s going to be a bigger issue once the Wharf is up and running.

          • honestly, the Wharf looks closer to lefant plaza than waterfront to me.

          • The densest parts of the Wharf are on its west end, closer to L’Enfant Plaza. Even if Waterfront is a bit closer to stuff at the east end, many people arriving on YL/BL/OR won’t want to transfer to go one stop.

        • I’m about to start a CH –> Waterfront commute, so I guess this thread is (depressingly) fair warning. They’re adding two escalators to the Waterfront stop, but I suppose that doesn’t make a difference when the choke is at the gates.

          • In response to the L’Enfant Plaza/Wharf comment above, no way. Waterfront to The Wharf is a block and a half walk. L’Enfant is a 10-15min walk.

      • The difference is that NoMa has two different exits – one at M and another at the ATF bldg. Development seems to be spreading out evenly between the two areas.

      • Yeah, it’s true. Still I think that if they pushed the gates and kiosk further back you could have more gates. The mezzanine just isn’t laid out efficiently. I feel that the Metro is constantly designed for low density areas. It’s a suburban transit system cutting through the heart of the city.

  • Allison

    I love the guy in front giving the station manager the death glare.

  • Three months ago we moved to NYC after 10 years in DC. I don’t want to be cliche but the subway is so much better than DC Metro, particularly the one way far exit system. Even at the worst of rush hour the platforms are never like this. Alas, the rent increase (although closer to DC than one might imagine) is killing us.

    • But you have few or no escalator (broken or otherwise), correct?

      • No A/C in the summer on the platforms. NYC subway platforms in from late May to mid September are DISGUSTING.

      • NYC subway has no elevators and no escalators. Literally none. It was too expensive to retrofit so if you can’t do stairs, you arrange for the special ride. NYC subway stations are also low-ceilinged and a bit claustrophobic feeling, and no air conditioning.

        Taken together, these factors mean that summers on NYC subway can be brutal.

        • Not true as far as elevators go, though they are very few and far between. NYC subway definitely has its cons, but in terms of efficiency it surpasses every other system I’ve been on in the US – Europe is a whole other story.

        • But most the stations in NYC are not that far below ground, so yes, for mobility challenged people the lack of escalators and elevators is an issue, but for most people it’s maybe 2 flights of stairs.

    • One swipe fare systems work fine when there’s a flat fare for all rides; not so much when fares depend on distance traveled. Metrorail fares range from S1.75/$2.15 to $3.60/$5.90. To implement a flat fare, the base fare would probably have to jump to $2.50/$3.50. The surrounding counties would love to do this; DC has been the lone holdout. Is that really in the best interests of the readers of this blog?
      .
      tl;dr – with respect to the fare system, it’s useless to compare NYC subways and metrorail.

      • I think, especially since a few stops and you’re close to the max fare anyway, that I’d (personally) gladly pay a higher flat fare and just be able to walk out of the station when I’m exiting. The slowness and confusion of people leaving (even regular commuters, oddly) is infuriating. If it cost $100 more a year to just be able to stroll out, I’d take it.

        • Agreed. It works for the bus

        • A few stops and you’re at the max fare? Maybe in the burbs, but I commuted for years from Columbia Heights to Foggy Bottom, and paid the base fare (or close to it) – that’s well over 10 stops. Max fare would have been nearly a 200% increase.
          .
          And while it’s mighty nice of you to agree to pay an enhanced flat fare, for commuters it’ll be a lot more than $100 per year. Even if it’s an increase of $.50 per trip, that’s $1 per day. And at pek time, the minimum would likely increase by more than $1 per trip – that close to $500 per year. Many DC residents can’t afford that, and many of those that can aren’t willing to shoulder that kind of price increase to (i) subsidize suburban commuters and (ii) potentially save a minute or two per trip. Never happen, anyway.

      • There’s a reason why almost all subways built worldwide since Metro have adopted graduated fares, rather than flat fares — it’s a better, more flexible system.

    • Flow in/out of NYC subway stations is usually better than Metro for the reason you cite, plus larger stations have multiple entrances/exits. The NYC subway has its own issues (I have vivid memories of rodents fighting over fast food remnants inches from the third rail and wondering if they would implode as I waited for the G train on a summer weekend…), but at least it has better coverage of NYC’s boroughs and takes you places you actually want to go instead of essentially being a commuter system that dumps you at Park & Ride lots in the DMV suburbs. Also, having to swipe out of the DC Metro is such a pain.

      • I can’t understand why some stations have only one exit (from the platform). That is one of the dumbest design decisions I can think of.

    • everytime I come back to the DC metro after visiting NYC, I’m amazed at how clean all the stations and cars are. Especially when raining. Rain in NYC just rehydrates the pee all over the city.

    • The NYC subway haters on this blog. Geez! Excuse us for not having elevators or escalators but that is due to the age of the system and the high cost for renovating that many stations. And elevators and escalators do exist at about 20% of the stations. It’s not great, but when I was a kid, I don’t remember any. . . so yay to progress!!! Fortunately, there exists a ride program for the elderly and people in wheelchairs. There’s also an extensive bus system that is handicap accessible. And yeah it’s dirty and hot or cold (depending on the month), but it still an awesome system and should not be compared to the Metro System in DC. It’s like comparing blackberries and watermelons (because apples and oranges are still similar sizes).

  • I don’t understand why Metro doesn’t optimize gates and escalators to rush hour flow. The majority of its ridership rides 10 times a week in two 2-3 hour windows.

    In part, it’s these little things (that are FREE fixes, btw) that have caused people to lose faith in our public transit system.

    • Yeah. Or when there’s a pair of escalators at an exit and one is broken (or inexplicably stationary)… and the escalator that’s moving is the DOWN escalator. It shouldn’t be that hard to make the most efficient use of existing resources.

      • This drives me nuts. Wasn’t there some official decision from WMATA, a few years ago after somebody had a heart attack climbing up a broken escalator, that at least one moving escalator would be going up at all stations?

        • west_egg

          I read somewhere that they’re hesitant to reverse direction like that because sometimes they’ll stop the escalator and it won’t start back up again.

    • I used to live at Shady Grove, and EVERY day at 5pm — there would be as many or more “in” gates than “out.” Just ludicrous. It’s the end of the line, and anyone with any sense can see the proportion of the traffic flow.

      (Plus the Shady Grove crowd doesn’t really know how to expedite things – no walking left down the escalator, waiting for the gate to close before beeping their smarttrip card, general confusion besides)

      • Similar at Farragut North at the end of the work day. Huge crowds going into the station, very few exiting, but two of the three escalators will be running up, with only one running down.

        • This. It is absolutely baffling why Farragut North doesn’t change the flow of the middle escalators to align with rush hour traffic. There is often a crush into one down escalator in the evenings while two up ones are virtually empty. Hell, just turning the middle one off would be an instant improvement.

    • Ha ha – I was home during the day a few weeks ago, and made the mistake of exiting Woodley Park. ALL of the “up” escalators were nonfunctional, two large groups of schoolkids had just exited, and a group of 20 or so stroller-wielding moms were all waiting for the tiny escalator. Turned right around and took the metro to Dupont Circle.

    • Honestly? It’s lazy station managers. They can’t be bothered to change the flow of the gates.
      Sometimes they are optimized for rush hour flows, but most times they are not. It’s flabbergasting that they don’t make this simple change.

      • Do we know if the managers are authorized to switch the gates by themselves? Perhaps they have to have an official “order” from HQ to do so?

        • I think (unless I dreamed it), I once saw a manager get off his ass and change a gate, after many in the crowd were sort of screaming for it.

        • They can and I have seen them do it. It depends on how lazy/cognizant a station manager you have working at rush hour. The manager last night was staring blankly at the crowd and didn’t even leave her booth.

      • You’re probably right. In a system as large as Metro the only way this changes is if it’s institutionalized and managed from the top. For example, at 4 p.m. Metro command tells managers to switch gates from position “A” to position “B.” And back again at 7 p.m. or whatever. It just won’t work at the individual station manager level.

  • Just beat that rush last night. This is the way it normally looks at Gallery Place and Farragut North at rush hour, sometimes worse any given day.

  • This is actually a recent development. There used to be three active exit gates on the right hand side exit, but now two are set to entrances. The station manager has come out of the booth to switch things, so I’m guessing that the gates are set on some sort of timer. The station manager didn’t leave the booth last night and just watched.

    • How recent? I’ve commuted for over 3 years at Columbia Heights and notice a nightly back-up between 5:30ish and 6:30. Some nights are worse than others, but there’s usually at least a several minute wait to get out unless you are in one of the front cars. However, it’s much better than being passed by several buses during rush hour on the S line.

    • To be honest, if I was a metro station operator, I would think twice about leaving my nice secure cage to go out into the angry crowd that likely would dismember me at the earliest convenience.

  • This station was also a hot mess because a north bound train went out of service at U Street. So you had twice as many people trying to get to the gate at the same time, and then more trains kept offloading.

    • I was on a train (the train?) that was offloaded, and that was 6:25ish. So depending on when the person took this photo (apparently “around 6 pm”), it might have been before the offloading even happened… unless another train got offloaded earlier.

  • Normal. This is one of the reasons I stopped taking metro.

    • Just curious, how long does it seriously take to exit? I’m sure it feels like its long, but I’m guessing in the 2-4 minute range. What method are you switching to since you don’t want to wait a few extra minutes? Driving around this area is a wreck during rush hour, so I can’t imagine driving yourself/bus would really save you that extra couple minutes.

      • Yes, probably 2-4 minutes, crammed shoulder to shoulder with jostling strangers, lots of them shouldering ahead of you, people piling up behind as the escalator churns. I’m sure you’re aware that it’s not the actual amount of time involved that makes it stressful. Also, chances are good that you’re arriving at this stampede-waiting-to-happen after having been crammed aboard a packed train, and after feared for your safety on the overcrowded platform down the line.
        I switched to the 16th street buses.

  • This is completely normal and has been this way since at least 2012. Usually only one turnstile is working. The escalators are also constantly broken at Columbia Heights. I don’t think any of this will ever change so you might as well get used to it and just add 10 minutes to your trip for exiting.

    • This isn’t completely normal. It is only recently that the all the gates on the right side were changed from being exits to being mostly entrances. Someone must have reprogrammed or reset the timing, possibly without actually looking at the station usage data.

      • I disagree – I can’t say how the fare gates are organized (how many entrance or exit only), but I moved from CH almost a year ago and I regularly experienced this kind of backup (whatever the cause) on my evening commute for at least a year before that. It’s still like this when I go back to CH. The backup is not a recent development.

        • There not being enough gates to handle the rush is not new, but more gates set as entrances rather than exits during rush hour has only been going on for a couple of months. That doesn’t make it OK, but it does narrow down the timeframe in which someone at Metro jacked the whole thing up.

      • I just came out through the CH exit (1:20pm, Thursday) and guess what! There were three exit fare gates on the right side for almost no traffice. But then one of the two escalators on the north exit was shut off and blocked off (no workers in sight).

        • While not related to the rush hour crush, I do get a kick out of Metro pasting over the completion date sticker on the south escalators. It was originally June 2015, and then December 2015. I checked and you can actually peel off the June 2016 sticker. So it will take Metro a year to update three escalators. This is the sort of thing that drives Metro riders insane.

  • this is when I just leave through the swinging gate, if they catch me whatevs

    • I was going to “suggest” that masses of people, when it’s this messed up, just walk out the swinging gate. Like 100 people walking through would send a sort of message. But (a) WMATA doesn’t care about messages, and (b) since I think you essentially get charged max fare as a result – WMATA would actually like it (i.e., benefit) if people did this.

      Still – you’d get out faster.

      (Slightly more seriously – I wonder what the fire marshal thinks of these sort of congested choke points of stairs and elevators and turnstiles. Given Metro’s recent killing of someone from negligence and disorganization — you’d think this might play into any competent organization’s operations)

      • HaileUnlikely

        That may be satisfying at the time, but less so when you try to re-enter the system and your card won’t open the fare gate and you’ll have to go deal with the station manager to get him or her to deduct your last fare before you can use it to enter again.

      • I don’t think that you will be charged max fare. I think that it’s the minimum fare. After all, how would the station manager two days later know whether you were waved through the swing gate because the pay gates weren’t working compared to you just pushing through because you were tired of waiting?

        • HaileUnlikely

          I have used the swinging gate at other stations when in a hurry and the regular gate would not read my card and I couldn’t find the station manager on a couple of occasions. The next day when I re-entered, I just told the station manager what happened and where I got on and were I got off and he just charges me the fare for that trip.

  • I’ve always felt they seriously underestimated the number of people who would use Columbia heights Station. It’s one of the most densely populated areas in the region, and by that standard the number of gates, station entrances, and train departures is really lacking.

    Even worse, the gates they have are in a state of chronic disrepair. I had a station manager there tell me they don’t have a reliable parts supplier for the gates.

  • I see me! Yes this was pretty crazy last night. I still do not understand why this station only has six fare gates. It needs at least one more on each side. I expect, and always see a backup at the gates almost every morning.

  • The guy’s face on the far right says it all.

  • They could move the station manager’s “tower” back a bit, like they did at another station in DC (I can’t remember if it’s Metro Center or Chinatown) and add another 4-5 gates. The current set of gates aren’t at an angle, which makes it much easier to add more gates in.

  • I see things like this and it makes me freak out to think about fire safety, emergencies, danger, etc. I realize in those kinds of cases, no one’s going to be worried about paying their fare. But with the escalators being so narrow, platforms being so crowded, it honestly feels like it’s only a matter of time before some sort of tragic stampede or trap happens.

    • Have you ever gotten off at the Archives/Navy Memorial station at morning rush hour when two trains come in at the same time? How about that, plus one of the escalators is unusable? And NO STAIRS. That station is a tragedy just waiting to happen.

      • Weirdly, I hardly ever see anyone get off at archives. I see tons more get off at Chinatown, but maybe it’s the time I ride.

    • I think about it too and it makes me panicky. Someone’s going to get pushed off the platform, trampled or crushed.

    • Whoops I made almost the same post in reply to one above. So yes, we think the same. These kinds of crowds and choke points at egress are unsafe if there’s an emergency.

      Just another way WMATA is negligent, and the next time they kill someone they’re likely to get sued into oblivion.

      • While it would be frustrating – a well-managed station, during some of these extreme cases of photo-worthy overcrowded-platforms, would hold people back before entering the platform (from the street, I mean, not exiting a train – they couldn’t help that). That there are, at times, dangerously overcrowded platforms and they continue to do nothing, essentially saying “sure, cram on down there,” is going to end badly, some day.
        Sometimes you can’t see how crowded the platforms are from the turnstiles (not well, anyway), and once you are through – it’s $2.10 just to leave immediately, so you’re stuck…. adding to the problem.

        • This happens occasionally at Farragut North when the red line has a meltdown down during rush hour. They switch all escalators to “up” so that no one can enter the station from the street, or they have an employee there telling people the station is closed because it’s too crowded.

          Annoying, yes, but better than having people entering a crowded platform, which I’ve also seen happen on the red line, usually after a packed to the gills train offloads on a packed to the gills platform because some idiot blocks the doors.

          • Ah, cool. That’s good. I’d never seen it happen; the closest has been around Gallery Place during a hockey playoff game or maybe around L’enfant sometimes before a Nats game/rush hour, when I’ve seen extra high-visibility-vest staff sort of directing the foot traffic.

  • If the 65 people currently on this thread sent an email suggesting that Metro has all but one gate exit only during the evening rush hour I think there could be some action: http://www.wmata.com/about_metro/contact_us/ridercomment.cfm

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