Almost 50 years ago, Georgetown residents banded together to block the construction of a Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority station in their neighborhood. Fearing the subway would bring with it inner city crime and poverty, they protested the construction proposal out of existence.
Or, at least, that’s what people thought the story was.
In fact, concrete plans for a Georgetown Metro stop never even reached Georgetown residents because subway planners decided it was physically impossible to build.
Students have often found the lack of a Metro station to be a hindrance to their ability to get around in the city, in addition to the DC Circulator’s recent reinstatement of a $1 fee. Over time, this difficulty has led to the development of different ways to get into and around Georgetown.
Transit Deserts and Oases
The lack of public transportation in the Georgetown neighborhood has long been a source of frustration for students and residents alike.
Georgetown University is a transit desert, or an area where the demand for transportation is greater than the supply, according to the Urban Information Lab at the University of Texas at Austin’s Transit Desert Research.
Georgetown’s campus is considered an area of high transport demand because most students do not have a car or the financial means to frequently use ride-sharing services such as Uber or Lyft.
Outside of Georgetown’s campus, however, other colleges and universities have partnered with services WMATA offers to bridge the transportation gap.
The U-Pass program grants unlimited riding privileges to students at Carnegie Mellon University Heinz College, American University and the Washington College of Law though a mutual agreement with WMATA. While the U-Pass program is open to any college or university within the Washington, D.C. area, Georgetown has not entered into this agreement.
As the U-Pass program would add an additional fee to tuition, however, the university instead provides students with free transportation shuttles like Georgetown University Transportation Shuttle buses and SafeRides, according to Vice President for Planning and Facilities Management Ben Kuo.
“Because U-Pass requires enrollment of all students – whether they use the pass or not – and is typically funded by adding to students’ tuition bills, Georgetown does not participate in the program,” Kuo wrote in an email to The Hoya.
The cost of Uber can add up for students, according to Matthew Carvalho (NHS ’23), who interns in downtown D.C.
“Uber is efficient,” Carvalho said. “I will say, paying is a little difficult. Luckily, my internship is paid so the money kind of cancels out. Having to Uber back and forth to an unpaid internship, where you’re actually losing money in the situation, would be hard.”
But just a few blocks down by M Street and Wisconsin Avenue, where older residents live in million-dollar townhouses, the UIL identified a transit oasis, or an area where the demand for transportation is actually lower than the supply.
The disconnect between transportation desert and transportation oasis causes many students to travel to nearby Metro stops, such as Rosslyn, Dupont and Foggy Bottom-GWU. With each stop at least a mile walk from campus, Georgetown students can be hard-pressed to find efficient and affordable ways to get downtown.
Correcting a Rumor
The historical legacies of the current transportation options in place date back to the first time a Georgetown Metro stop was proposed in the 1970s.
The corner of M Street and Wisconsin Avenue — the optimal location for a station — is so close to the Potomac River that the tunnel required to cross the water would have been technically difficult, according to Topher Mathews, editor of the Georgetown Metropolitan.
“The station would have to be very deep and building it would mean having to break through thick bedrock,” Mathews wrote in an email to The Hoya.
WMATA officials were also more concerned with servicing rush-hour commuters; Georgetown lacked the busy office centers of downtown D.C. and Arlington, Va., according to Mathews.
“The primary purpose of the Metro was to move people between population centers and job centers, and Georgetown was neither,” Mathews wrote. “While the idea of a Georgetown station was very briefly in the plans, it was disregarded very early on and had nothing to do with any sort of public opposition.”
More likely than not, opposition in Georgetown stemmed from wanting to keep the neighborhood quiet and uncrowded. But the idea that Georgetown residents blocked plans for a Metro stop persists, according to Mathews.
Georgetown resident Eva Hinton took credit for blocking the station with the goal of keeping people out of Georgetown in a 1977 interview with The Washington Post, according to Mathews.
“There’s no evidence that her claim is justified at all,” Mathews wrote. “But shortly after the interview, the idea that Georgetowners blocked it appears to become common knowledge. It wasn’t too much after that that people appear to have added the racial and class element to the rumor.”
While access to public transportation has been a citywide issue for decades, Georgetown students have also been working to improve accessibility since 1973. Students of Georgetown, Inc., commonly referred to as The Corp, used a university grant to create a bus service called “Corp Shuttles,” which was an early iteration of the GUTS system that provided transportation to around 300 students, according to Corp CEO Seo Young Lee.
One year later, however, the university formally started the GUTS shuttle service in 1974, according to Kuo.
Getting Around (It)
Many students rely on the GUTS buses to make up for a lack of public transit in Georgetown. GUTS operates free buses connecting the main campus with the Dupont Circle and Rosslyn Metro stations, university offices on Wisconsin Avenue, the Georgetown University Law Center, the U.S. House of Representatives and Arlington, Va.
But GUTS does not operate on Sundays, nor does it operate regular routes to other major D.C. locations like the National Mall, Union Station or either of the airports.
GUTS annually receives feedback from faculty, staff and students on ways to improve the service and is working to expand its services beyond its current scope, according to Kuo.
“Previous survey feedback has helped guide key campus planning efforts and transportation initiatives, such as the addition of the Saturday GUTS route to Trader Joe’s in Foggy Bottom and the Dupont Metro,” Kuo wrote.
The Law Center GUTS bus, however, only goes to Capitol Hill to drop off passengers three times a day, and only in the morning. For students with internships that start midday, Uber or other ride-sharing services present an alternative in the absence of efficient public transportation access, according to Carvalho.
“I get out of class around noon and I start my internship at 1, which makes the GUTS bus hard to take,” Carvalho said. “Even if the timing worked out with my classes, I would have to Uber because it still wouldn’t drop me off at the place I need to be in order to get there on time,”
One alternative to GUTS is the Capital Bikeshare system, with multiple docking stations close to campus, according to Kuo.
“Georgetown supports bicycling as a key component of our approach to sustainable transportation,” Kuo wrote. “We are close to finalizing a proposal to make Capital Bikeshare even more affordable for students, which will be announced within the next month.”
The commute from Georgetown’s campus to Capitol Hill on a bike can pose logistical problems, however, according to Carvalho.
“My time frame is already very short, and it’s approximately a 28-minute bike ride from Georgetown to the Hill,” Caravalho said. “And I go to work in business professional clothing — I can’t really change there.”
Revisiting Past Plans
Though GUTS has proved adequate for most students’ transportation needs, a local Metro station would undoubtedly make a majority of Georgetown community members’ lives easier, according to Ana Terzić (COL ’23). Terzić commutes to campus every day from her home in Fairfax, Va.
“If there was a stop in Georgetown it would be much easier because I would get off the train further down the line and the Metro part of my commute is already quick as it is,” Terzic said. “It would save a lot of time if I didn’t have to switch transportation three different times.”
A Georgetown Metro station would also encourage more residents to use public transportation and invest in public infrastructure, according to Mathews.
“I think having a Metro station in Georgetown would be transformational for both the neighborhood overall and the university specifically,” Mathews wrote. “If the station got built, it would make it (arguably) easier to get larger residential projects through without the typical complaints about parking and traffic.”
Though it may not happen soon, a Georgetown Metro station remains tentatively on the table. WMATA planners have suggested expanding the Metro’s Yellow and Blue lines to include a long-awaited Georgetown stop by 2040.
Another possible solution is a gondola that would stretch across the Potomac River to connect Georgetown with the Rosslyn Metro station. The Georgetown 2028 neighborhood group proposed the gondola as a part of a 15-year plan for Georgetown.
A Metro station in Georgetown, let alone a gondola system, will probably not be a likely outcome anytime soon. Though it sounds out of place for a city, however, the gondola could improve transportation in the area, according to Mathews.
“It would bring students much faster to the Rosslyn Metro, and the school could save a ton of money from not having to run that GUTS bus route anymore,” Mathews said. “It would, in essence, bring the Rosslyn Metro entrance much closer to Georgetown residents.”