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Metro FAQ: Why doesn’t Metro have four-track routes?

Ten years ago, when Metro was still working well enough for people to wish for more, the more frequent question I got was about the lack of a Metro station in Georgetown. Now that the challenge is to keep the current system functioning, the question is why Metro has only two sets of tracks on each route, so that shutting one down for repairs causes slow service.

In my research, I found two documents that explained the decision particularly well.
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How Congress Undercut Its Own City’s Subway System

Published: “How Congress Undercut Its Own City’s Subway System,” POLITICO Magazine, 16 March 2016.

The most recent maintenance issues are just the latest consequences of a longer pattern of uncertain, interrupted federal financing that began while Metro was still just a paper proposal. Metro was born and built in financial jeopardy. Now, like so much of the nation’s infrastructure, it needs reinvestment, and that challenge may prove greater than the effort to build it in the first place.

Will the Federal Government Finally Deregulate Oral History?


“Will the Federal Government Finally Deregulate Oral History?,” American Historian, November 2015, 20-22.

On September 8, 2015, sixteen federal departments and agencies jointly released a notice of proposed rulemaking that would amend the federal regulations (known as the Common Rule) that govern IRBs. Among many other reforms the new rules would, the notice explains, “explicitly exclude oral history, journalism, biography, and historical scholar- ship activities that focus directly on the specific individuals about whom the information . . . is collected.” If enacted as written, the proposal would resolve the longstanding acrimony between IRBs and historians.

Ray Mohl

I suppose every human culture depends on elders who are willing not only to teach the young, but to listen to them. Back in graduate school, I was writing about freeway revolts with a methodology that consisted of figuring out which Ray Mohl article was most relevant to a given section. Yet when I met Ray in person, he treated me not as a receptacle of his wisdom and knowledge, but as someone from whom he himself could learn.

That may have been true at the edges; one of the pleasures of urban history is that each city has its particulars, so another detailed case study is always welcomed. But more than that, Ray was a fundamentally patient, gentle, and curious man. His was a face I always delighted to see at a conference, and I mourn that I won’t see it again. Ray, I miss you.

For more on Ray’s work, see In Memoriam: Raymond Mohl

Rick Perlstein’s Link Rot

I am a big fan of Rick Perlstein. I love his Nixonland, not least for the way it changed the way I think about midterm elections, and I look forward to reading The Invisible Bridge.

I feel sorry that Perlstein must waste even a moment dealing with the absurd charges of copyright infringement presented by Craig Shirley, an author who apparently has no understanding of either copyright law or the norms of scholarship. Shirley’s claims could be sillier only if he sued for “$2,0000,000,000 (two trillion dollars).”

That said, I share Shirley’s frustration with the decision by Perlstein and his publisher, Simon and Schuster, not to include the footnotes in the printed text of The Invisible Bridge . Instead, Perlstein has posted the notes only on his website.

Yes, it sounds like a good idea. As John K. Wilson writes, “Online citations are a perfectly legitimate means of sourcing—in fact, Perlstein’s approach is superior to conventional footnoting because it allows readers to click on many of his sources and read the original work themselves, which is hardly the tactic of a plagiarist.”

The problem is that such citations can vanish quickly. Consider, in particular, this claim at the start of the Notes section of Nixonland: “A continually updated hypertext version of these notes will be available at my Web site,, so that readers, wherever possible, can explore Nixonland‘s source materials on their own.” (p. 750) Now try to find that “continually updated hypertext version” at It isn’t there, at least not anywhere I could find it.

The printed edition of Nixonland includes the notes, so the disappearance of an electronic version of those notes isn’t a disaster for that book. But since the online notes are the only version of the references supporting The Invisible Bridge, their disappearance would greatly diminish the value of an important work.

I faced this challenge on a smaller level myself, when I learned that for production reasons, it would be impossible to incorporate footnotes to a new preface into the existing notes for The Great Society Subway. Fortunately, the wonderful librarians at George Mason University offered to host an electronic version of the notes for the preface to the paperback edition of my book. I am confident that the Mason Archival Repository Service will be serving data long after has expired.

I suggest, then, that Perlstein not rely on his own website, but instead archive copies of the footnotes with libraries that are committed to preserving digital scholarship.