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Hard To Build More Core Capacity Unless You Want More Buildings Built In The Urban Core

By Matthew Yglesias on June 24, 2011 at 9:13 am

"Hard To Build More Core Capacity Unless You Want More Buildings Built In The Urban Core"

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Eric Fidler’s point about the desirability of adding capacity to Metro’s core rather than just building more suburban spurs. But like with everything else in DC, this goes back to the question of density in the urban core. A sentence that starts with “if we built more transportation capacity in the urban core…” needs something to go next. If we did this separated Yellow Line proposal, then what would happen? Absent revision of the Height Act, you’d have the exact same quantity of office buildings and office jobs in the areas served by the new line as you have today. A lot of money would be spent, and at the end of the day the city would basically look the same as it does now.

And the same goes for most of the proposals I’ve seen for extra core capacity. A separated Blue Line that stops in Georgetown, the West End, the Atlas District, etc. sounds great to me. But does that mean more people will be living in Georgetown? More people working in the West End? Will we start allowing 10-story buildings along H Street NE?

To my way of thinking, it’s easy to justify the expense of new subway tunnels in the District in order to facilitate big increases in density. Land in DC is very expensive. It should be built up very densely. But to make dense development feasible, it’s extremely helpful to have a heavy rail system that can move huge quantities of people. It’s a simple, compelling argument. But absent the increase in density, it’s a huge expense with relatively narrow benefits.

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