Reporting on pedestrian life in the D.C. area

Metro GM Richard Sarles debuts Farragut Crossing with fluffy friends

October 28, 2011 - 02:07 PM
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George Washington and WMATA's leader. (Photo: John Hendel)

Forget fancy ribbon-cuttings. WMATA officially wins the award for most entertaining press conference so far this fall. I briefly dropped by Metro's Farragut Crossing unveiling that happened today at noon. Details of the free transfer between the Farragut stations, which has been years in the planning and is also known as a "virtual tunnel," are here. But here's what you need to know about what happened earlier — Metro officials, Councilmember Muriel Bowser, Greater Greater Washington's David Alpert, and others did indeed come to the Farragut West Metro station at noon today ... and they were surrounded by multiple enormous mascots.

Chocolate strawberries
Mascots! (Photo: John Hendel)

Yes, giant mascots, representing our local sports teams and George Washington University. When I first arrived, they were hopping around the sidewalk outside the 17th Street entrance to Farragut West. Occasionally they posed for pictures, occasionally they would mock-harass passersby, occasionally they would sprint forward just for the hell of it. My personal favorite is the giant George Washington, all decked out in blue and white and bearing a passing resemblance to Sarles. These mascots, their oversized plastic heads bobbing above the fray, joined all the officials in front of the gray Metro station walls during their announcement about how wonderful the Farragut Crossing, which lets riders leave either of the Farragut Metro stations and walk to the other and pay nothing to do so (within 30 minutes), is for all D.C. commuters. WMATA had several people on hand ready to pass out information about the Crossing and had two staffers in yellow who were prepared to help any future customers learn the area. As you'd expect, there was a lot of thanking, a lot of talk about how many years had gone into this idea, and a lot of hope for how WMATA would continue to innovate using technology.

"Our best ideas come from our customers," Metro General Manager Sarles told the gathered crowd, "and the Farragut Crossing is certainly one of those."

And then music began and all the officials and the mascots collectively sashayed their way north along 17th Street and Farragut Square in the brisk October breeze. They pushed past crowds of lunchtime wanderers who were just trying to grab some kimchi and tacos from the assorted food trucks. Many District residents turned their heads in confusion, attempting to make sense of the giant mascots and the suited men and women embarking on what Sarles called a "quick stroll." He spoke correctly, of course. I trailed the conga line along 17th in a voyage to the Farragut North Metro station that took under five minutes. As I wrote earlier, it's only two blocks — no distance at all, and the half-a-million dollar Farragut Crossing initiative is only sensible and will greatly help anyone looking to transfer from the Red Line to the Orange and Blue lines. WMATA hopes instituting the free surface transfer will help ease congestion at Metro Center. Perhaps the most interesting fact highlighted at the press conference was that Farragut North and West were originally intended as one Metro station back in the 1970s. Why did they split into two stations? Our friends at the National Park Service.

I'll give you this, Metro — you may not hold these press ceremonies often, but you've managed to be wonderfully entertaining and a little surreal on this one occasion you have. The transit agency has begun to show a little more personality than usual lately, from its Facebooking to WMATA's Barbara Richardson playing "The Metro Song" at yesterday's board meeting. At least a little personality will help people pay attention to their announcements, I suppose, and the kitschy enthusiasm fits with the broader history of WMATA's communication efforts. Yesterday Metro debated how it communicates with its riders. Is this all part of a new strategy to be likable?

Chocolate strawberries
Serious business. (Photo: John Hendel)
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