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

by Prince Of Petworth April 17, 2013 at 1:30 pm 13 Comments


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.


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