by Ann Kessler
December 5, 1981 was an historic day in the Forest Hills neighborhood. It marked the opening of the Van Ness-UDC Metro station as well as the Woodley Park and Cleveland Park stations, the first Metro stops to open west of Rock Creek Park.
Although the day had started out dreary – and the official ceremonies at the Woodley Park and Cleveland Park stations were marred by rain – the last opening of the day at the Van Ness-UDC station went off without a hitch. Mayor Marion Barry and a group of dignitaries – City Council Chairman Arrington Dixon and City Council members Polly Shackleton (of Ward 3), Jerry A. Moore, Jr., Betty Ann Kane and Hilda Mason – were in attendance to mark this new terminus for the Red Line. The local merchants of Van Ness, hopeful that the new Metro station would bring more customers, created a festive event with door prizes and the University of the District of Columbia’s marching band, the Striders, performing.
When it came time for the ceremonial ribbon cutting, two local senior citizens were chosen for the honor: Helen Cronkite (mother of Walter Cronkite, the CBS newsman) and Sally Sussman. Those attending the celebration were permitted one free ride on Metro until 4 p.m. that day. All three stations would officially open and begin their regular schedules on Sunday, December 6th at 10 a.m.
Remarkably, the Van Ness-UDC Metro stop opened six months ahead of schedule. The original opening date was to be in May 1982, when the Metro board felt the system would have enough subway cars to adequately support the expected new passengers, and not affect on-time operation or create overcrowding in the existing stations. However, Metro’s general manager, Richard S. Page, proposed in May 1981 that the station’s opening date be moved up to cut $40,400 from the system’s expected losses.
That savings, in theory, was to come from reducing the number of buses traveling on Connecticut Avenue, thereby forcing an additional 28,000 commuters to transfer from buses to trains. The idea was unpopular and controversial. In May 1981, more than 300 bus riders attended a Metro community hearing at Wilson High School. For four hours, more than 50 speakers protested any changes to the direct bus routes downtown. But as a Washington Post editorial stated at that time, “to effect any savings, the city must have the political courage to reduce substantially the Connecticut Avenue bus service that the subway would replace.”
Thus, the battle lines were drawn and the question of whether the nine Connecticut Avenue bus lines would continue was in doubt. Two public hearings were held in September 1981 at the Montgomery County Council Office Building in Rockville and Lafayette Elementary School in northwest Washington. Then, Montgomery County released a study that found commuting costs increased by 25 percent with a corresponding increase in the rider’s time in transit – due to changes to the bus schedule. By November, the Metro board agreed, despite its staff’s opposition, that buses would continue to supplement the available subway service. The bus riders prevailed – for the time being.
The Van Ness-UDC station would be the last stop on the Red Line for more than two years. The Tenleytown-AU, Friendship Heights, Bethesda, Medical Center and Grosvenor stations opened in August 1984.
Although the Metro stop did not help Connecticut Avenue near Van Ness Street develop into a shopping destination, it has allowed nearby residents the freedom to travel easily almost anywhere in the DC metropolitan area. Almost 40 years after its arrival, the Van Ness-UDC Metro station remains the heart of the neighborhood.
Barker, Karlyn. “Metro Extension in Northwest To Be Opened 6 Months Early,” Washington Post, June 28, 1981, p. B1.
Burgess, John. “Connecticut Ave, Bus Cuts Rejected,” Washington Post, November 20, 1981, p. B1.
Burgess, John. “The New Northwest Passage: 3 More Stops on the Red Line…,” Washington Post, December 4, 1981, p. B1.
Crosby, Thomas. “Early Opening of Van Ness Subway Urged,” Evening Star, May 18, 1981, p. B1.
Crosby, Thomas. “Metro Oks Service Cut, Early Opening of Line,” Evening Star, May 29, 1981, p. 13.
Crosby, Thomas and Elissa Cottle, “Van Ness Metro Line Will Open on Dec. 5,” Evening Star, June 26, 1981, p. A2.
Feaver, Douglas B. “Metro Could Open Red Line Segment Later This Year,” Washington Post, April 24, 1981, p. A16.
Hodge, Paul. “Bus Cuts May Hurt Maryland Riders,” Washington Post, August 27, 1981, p. MD1.
Hodge, Paul. “Bus Cuts Would Affect 4,000,” Washington Post, August 27, 1981, p. DC1.
Hodge, Paul. “Bus Riders Win a Reprieve,” Washington Post, Sept. 17, 1981, p. DC1.
Hodge, Paul. “Commuters Fight to Save Connecticut Avenue Bus Lines,” Washington Post, September 17, 1981.
Hodge, Paul. “Metro’s Plan to Cut Downtown Bus Runs Angers NW Riders,” Washington Post, May 21, 1981, p. DC1.
McCombs, Phil. “Board Approves Early Opening of Metro to Van Ness Station,” Washington Post, May 29, 1981, p. A1.
“Onward to Van Ness,” Washington Post, May 25, 1981, A18.
Puskas, Jane. “Red Line Could Open This Year,” Evening Star, April 24, 1981, p. B1.
Robinson, Eugene. “The New Northwest Passage:..And the Anticipation of It All,” Washington Post, December 4, 1981, p. B1.
Robinson, Eugene. “3 New Metro Stops Get Rainy but Lively Celebration,” Washington Post, December 6, 1981, p. B1.