What’s the deal with… … Metro changes?

Some believe it resembles the Bat Cave, while others just find it to be remarkably clean and efficient. Everyone’s impression of the D.C. Metro is different, but clearly there is something about the system that puts it above the rest. But now, the Metro is undergoing some changes that may alter its positive, unique image, and transform it into just another subway.

Metro renovations include the blinking warning lights found on each station’s platforms being changed from traditional white to a bold red. Other changes are brighter lighting in stations, and considerably more advertising.

Cathy Asato, spokesperson for Metro, said the primary reasons for these changes are to address safety and the current budget deficit.

Through the implementation of the new red warning lights, the Metro will become more energy efficient. “Each red bulb costs $63 compared to $108 for the original white bulbs,” Asato said. The new red bulbs also last for 10 or 12 years, cutting back tremendously on the amount of time and money spent to replace the bulbs.

“As red is a more noticeable color, it is hoped that customers will be more aware” she said.

Making station lighting brighter, as seen at the Foggy Bottom/GW station, may take away from the relaxed ambiance riders have enjoyed, Asato said, but it is meant to improve safety by making a person’s surroundings more visible.

While additional advertising may not be visually attractive, it is going to hopefully prevent the raising of fare prices due to the budget shortfall.

“Raising fares is still on the table, but it has not been discussed yet,” Asato said.

This not the first time the Metro has received a facelift since it opened in 1976 but these changes do not appear to be met with open arms.

“One of the factors that makes Metro unique is the sense of calm inside the stations and cars,” said Zachary Schrag, Assistant Professor of History at George Mason University and author of “Great Society Subway: The History of the Washington Metro.”

This “sense of calm” is threatened by present changes, Schrag said.

“The difference between such changes is that the earlier changes were debated and worked out by architects, while more recent changes seem to be the whims of managers with no training in design and little understanding of the system’s architecture,” Schrag said.

In the 1990s, a change was made without consulting the system’s architects. “Flimsy plastic signs” were bolted into granite parapets reading “Thanks for Riding Metro,” Schrag said, adding “the signs soon disappeared, but the scars in the granite will endure.”

Will current changes lacking architects opinions be as damaging as those recounted by Schrag?

“The Metro’s very distinctive architecture won’t change,” Asato said.

Currently there is not much rider feedback concerning the changes. Asato said that passengers are surveyed both formally and informally throughout the year.

Changes began in March at the Gallery Place station and will continue to expand on a “station-by-station” basis, explained Asato. Changes are being implemented as the funds become available, so there currently is no total budget for the project.

“What’s the deal with…” is a weekly feature in the Life section. If you have a suggestion for the column, e-mail features@gwhatchet.com.

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