Greater Greater Washington

Posts in category Roads

A dedicated bus lane and 30 other ways to improve bus service on 16th Street

A full-time bus lane on 16th Street, or a rush-hour only lane, are two of many possible strategies for improving bus service on 16th Street. DC transportation planners presented a menu of ways to make these buses faster and more reliable at a meeting Wednesday night.

A bus in traffic on 16th Street. Photo by Kishan Putta on Twitter.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying 16th Street in detail from Spring Road to Lafayette Park. Planners scrutinized the buses' operations to figure out how much time buses were waiting for people boarding, at lights, and more.

Now, they've devised three scenarios. Each scenario combines a host of individual changes, from small ones like lengthening a bus stop to major changes like a bus lane. After getting some more public input, the team will run them through traffic models.

Ultimately, they will be able to mix and match pieces, so rather than focusing too much on what's in each scenario, here is a list of some of the most significant ideas to think about.

A full-time bus lane (in scenario 2): 16th Street south of Spring would get a bus lane in each direction, a general travel lane in each direction, and a reversible lane. Between U Street and O Street, where 16th Street is 48 feet wide, it would become 5 narrow lanes (with the middle one reversible) instead of the current 4 wide lanes. That would ensure that drivers in the peak direction still get two lanes as they do today.

Typical lane configurations for scenario 2 in Columbia Heights (left) and Dupont (right). Click for a detailed diagram of the corridor with lane configurations for all portions. Images from DDOT.

A rush-hour bus lane in the peak direction (in scenario 3): During morning rush, 16th would have a southbound bus lane and two southbound general travel lanes; the reverse would apply in the evening. Through most of Columbia Heights where 16th is already 5 lanes, that means one reversible lane (like today). In the narrow part from U to O, it would stay four lanes, but in this scenario, would have two reversible lanes.

Typical lane configurations for scenario 3 in Columbia Heights (top) and Dupont Circle (bottom) in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Click for a detailed diagram of the corridor with lane configurations for all portions. Images from DDOT.

Removing a few bus stops (all scenarios): In some places, bus stops are very close together, like a stop at Riggs Place southbound which is between other stops at Q and R. Planners suggest removing southbound stops at Newton, Lamont, V, and Riggs, and northbound at L, Q, V, Lamont, and Newton.

Queue jumps (scenario 1): If there is no bus lane, there would be a few "queue jump" areas where buses could go ahead of other vehicles at a signal. For instance, northbound at U Street, buses now pull out into a combination bus stop and right turn lane, but then have to wait to merge back in when the light turns green. A special signal could let the bus go first if it's waiting.

Headway-based service (all scenarios): Now, buses operate on a schedule, where each bus leaves at a predetermined time. The Circulator, instead, uses a headway system where they leave each end whenever it would space out the buses at the appropriate time intervals (10 minutes for Circulator). The S buses would start using this same system as well to try to reduce bunching.

Other bus stop tweaks (all scenarios): Southbound, the stops at Harvard and M Streets would move to the far side of the street, which will also make it possible to lengthen them. Other stops would get longer as well.

Off-board fare payment: There are three ways to do this. One (in scenario 2) would be to just add kiosks at bus stops to let people load up their SmarTrip cards while waiting for the bus. Loading them on the bus adds a lot of delay.

WMATA is already exploring doing this on five lines, though at the meeting, Megan Kanagy of the study team said that cash transactions on 16th Street represent a low percentage of riders.

Alternately, DDOT and WMATA could work together to set up full off-board payment, where people touch a SmarTrip at a kiosk or pay and get a receipt or something (the exact physical details are not yet worked out). Inspectors would then spot check buses to verify people had paid.

Fare payment kiosks for New York's 34th Street Select Bus Service. Photo by New York City Department of Transportation on Flickr.

According to the table here this would save 1-4 seconds per rider. People could also then board through both the front and rear doors.

This is a big change, however. One challenge is that it's hard to do this on only part of a route, since if someone gets on in the non-off-board zone, pays with cash, and then rides into the zone, there's no way to prove he or she paid. The S1 bus now splits off the other buses at K Street and heads over to the State Department, while the S2 and S4 go east and south to the Federal Triangle area. Therefore, this option would be hard to implement unless the routes also got shorter, as discussed below.

An easier way to get started (in scenario 3) would be just to do this on the S9 express bus, which goes from Silver Spring to McPherson Square and makes fewer stops.

Shorter routes (scenario 1): In addition to the issues with off-board payment, the route split also hurts reliability. Longer routes are harder to keep on time, and when buses start in far-apart spots and then merge, it's hard to get them to not be bunched up once they merge.

One option, then, is to shorten the downtown sections of each route, having the S1 just go to Farragut and the S2 and S4 just to McPherson.

Routes for the S1, S2, and S4 downtown. Image from WMATA.

A big drawback is that especially for the S1, riders won't have a lot of great alternatives. In fact, Metro is already proposing cutting back the 80 bus to make it more reliable, and it doesn't run very frequently anyway. According to the data here (page 23), 61% of the riders who take the S1 to the Dupont/U/Columbia Heights area get on in the portion beyond McPherson.

So that doesn't sound so good right now. But it could be in the future. Transit planning guru Jarrett Walker talks a lot about the value of having a simple network of frequent routes instead of a lot of branching. Rather than giving riders a lot of sub-routes which go different places, just make it easy to transfer (just like with most rail systems).

If Metro were able to more holistically rethink the bus routes downtown, we might end up with a network where all S buses go to the same place, but there's a frequent, reliable route east-west. Anyone going to the Foggy Bottom area could confidently transfer to that bus without it making the trip much slower or less reliable than the S1 today (or hopefully even better!)

Therefore, it seems this option is worth studying now, but probably not implementing yet. The bigger rethink of bus routes is also worth getting started on.

Fix some intersections: DDOT previously studied of the complicated intersection where Havard, Columbia, and Mt. Pleasant Streets all meet 16th in three very closely-spaced lines. Scenario 2 contemplates going ahead with some changes, though there would be more of a public process first to decide exactly what that would be.

Driving southbound, one lane becomes a left turn lane at W Street, and a lot of drivers either don't know or try to use that to jump ahead. All scenarios consider starting signs earlier and a physical separator as well.

Limit parking: There are 535 parking spaces in this area now. Ten would go away to lengthen bus stops in all scenarios. Right now, parking is not allowed along the peak direction during rush periods, and in some places is not allowed in either direction during rush.

In scenario 1, there would also be no parking midday (when parking really constrains the buses which have to merge into traffic), but still parking in the off-peak direction mornings and evenings. Scenario 2, the full-time bus lane, would have no parking except for 10 pm to 7 am, when people could park in the bus lane.

Scenario 3, the part-time bus lane, would have no parking on either side during morning or evening rush periods (to make room for the bus lane) but still allow it midday. However, in all scenarios the middday period would not start until 10 am, versus 9:30 today. The many pieces of each scenario are complex, but summarized here (page 22).

Use Arkansas instead of Missouri (scenario 1): Buses driving to or from the bus garage on 14th Street now go north to Missouri Avenue and then south again on 16th. Instead, they could use Arkansas Avenue, just south of the bus garage, increasing reliability.

Weigh in

The team wants to hear from residents before they start running the scenarios through the traffic models. They're interested in strategies they might not have included and feedback on the ones they did.

There will be four "pop-up" events, where people can stop by, ask questions, and give feedback without having to sit through a long meeting. They are:

  • Wednesday, October 7, 5:30-7:30 pm at 16th Street and Spring Place, NW
  • Wednesday October 14, 4-6 pm at 16th and L
  • Thursday, October 15, 5:30-7:30 pm at 16th and U
  • Saturday, October 17, Noon-2 pm at 16th and Irving
And leave your thoughts in the comments. What do you think is best? Anything else that should be part of the mix?

Here's where a protected bikeway could go on the east side of downtown

People who want to ride a bike north-south along the east side of DC's central business district and in Shaw could soon have a new protected bikeway to do it. A new study recommends four options, including 6th Street NW, 5th and 6th, or 9th.

The 15th Street protected bikeway. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has been studying options for a bikeway to connect areas between Florida and Constitution Avenues. This bikeway would connect central DC neighborhoods, downtown, and the existing major east-west bikeways like the one on Pennsylvania Avenue.

This area has high levels of bicycling and many popular destinations but a distinct lack of quality bike facilities. Currently, 7th Street has the most bicycle traffic, but usage is pretty evenly spread out. 5th stands out because a large number of people ride south on 5th despite the road being one-way north.

DDOT planners studied an assortment of designs, considering every street between 4th and 9th. They first eliminated 4th and 8th because they were discontinuous streets. After a round of data gathering, where they looked at parking, parking utilization, auto and bicycle traffic, transit, potential pedestrian conflicts, cost, loading zones, events, and institutions along the route, they eliminated 7th Street because of heavy transit and pedestrian usage; they didn't want the bikeway to become an auxiliary sidewalk.

Data on transit ridership (left), pedestrian volume (center), and Capital Bikeshare usage (right) in the study area. Images from DDOT.

During this whole process, they have also been involved in a public outreach effort, meeting with institutions, businesses, churches, council staff, and other stakeholders. With data screening complete, there are four alternatives which they have made public and plan to discuss at an upcoming public meeting. After that, they will narrow the alternatives to three, which will get more intensive study and planning before choosing a preferred alternative sometime this winter.

Here are the alternatives:

5th and 6th couplet: Alternative 1 would place a one-way northbound protected bikeway on the east side of 5th Street up to New York Avenue and a painted bike lane north of that. A one-way southbound bikeway would go on the west side of 6th.

This would remove a travel lane on 6th north of New York and a parking lane south of there. On 6th south of New York Avenue, the bikeway would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane converted from what is now a southbound travel lane. While DDOT considered using angled parking on 6th, that didn't make it into the final design.

One-way on on each side of 6th Alternative 2, would replace a travel lane in each direction on 6th Street with a one-way protected bikeway on each side. South of New York Avenue the bikeways would be adjacent to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane.

Bi-directional on 6th: Alternative 3 would remove a northbound travel lane north of New York Avenue and a parking lane south of New York and would convert a northbound travel lane to a rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane to make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 6th. This is similar to what exists on 15th Street (though the one on 15th is on the west side).

Bi-directional on 9th: Alternative 4 is like Alternative 3, but on 9th Street. A northbound travel lane north of Massachusetts Avenue and a parking lane south of Massachusetts Avenue would disappear, while a northbound travel lane would become an rush hour travel/off-peak parking lane. This would make room for a bi-directional protected bikeway on the east side of 9th. The southbound bike-bus lane would remain.

Bike planners are looking at numerous factors in deciding which to eliminate next. All the alternatives have similar expected travel times for cyclists, so that will not be a factor. But they will be considering turns across bike facilities, pedestrian intensity next to the bikeway, the amount of protection along the facility, and other safety factors.

As one example, the Verizon Center often shuts down a lane on the west side of 6th Street for loading for shows. That could be an obstacle for Alternative 2. There may be similar challenges in other spots for the other alternatives.

The planners will look at which designs affect buses the least, and how to deal with the unique parking needs of churches to accommodate their loading and unloading requirements, large event needs, funeral needs, etc.

Alternative 1 provides the least protection. DDOT has decided not to remove on-street parking in residential areas, which limits 5th street to painted bike lanes north of New York. Another consideration for 5th Street is that it has fewer stop lights, but more stop signs and some speed bumps.

In Alternative 4, 9th is one-way south of Massachusetts, so northbound cyclists would be going the opposite direction from car traffic, meaning it would suffer from the same light timing issues as 15th Street does. Timed lights on 15th mean people riding north hit more red lights than on a typical street.

DDOT has a website with all the designs which is accepting comments. The team is planning a public meeting soon, but haven't settled on details. If a final design is chosen this winter, work could begin before the end of 2016.

Which design do do you think is best?

An interactive map will make Montgomery more bike-friendly

Casey Anderson, the chair of Montgomery County's planning board, says he wants the best bike plan any place US city has ever seen. The county's interactive Cycling Concerns Bicycle Atlas is a tool for gathering the feedback it needs to make that happen.

Image from Montgomery County. Click for the interactive version.

The primary goal of the County Bike Plan is to move from a world where only 1% of the population feels comfortable riding (high stress roadways) to one where those who tolerate moderate (10%) or low stress (50%) also feel comfortable riding. Importantly, it also recognizes that there is a substantial minority that will never get on a bike.

Image from M-NCPPC.

This effort began with the Second Great MoCo Bike Summit, and has been part of a series of community meetings where Board Chairman Casey Anderson and planner David Anspacher led attendees through a discussion of common cycling issues and defined the four levels of stress.

Unlike a similar atlas unveiled in Fairfax County this spring, which asked cyclists to identify routes they'd like to see bike lanes on, Montgomery's map asks users to note problem areas within the county's existing network, such as poor or missing connections, unsafe sewer grates, and concerns with road conditions.

The map will remain up indefinitely. The county has already started using feedback from the atlas to address immediate concerns. The plan should be complete in 2017, and it will include recommendations about specific bike facilities to be built.

Hundreds of people have already used the map,, and the county is asking them to keep it up. Users can also rate and comment other users' feedback directly on the map.

There will be one more community meeting to discuss the Bike Plan on Tuesday, October 6, at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda.

Petworth residents complained drivers are speeding. DC says it's true, but "acceptable."

Half of drivers on Illinois Avenue in Petworth exceed the speed limit, and residents asked for traffic calming. But an analysis from the District Department of Transportation says that speeding is "acceptable." Instead, DDOT will install signs reminding drivers to stop for pedestrians.

Illinois Avenue at 9th Street, NW. Images from DDOT.

Responding to resident concerns, the local Advisory Neighborhood Commission, ANC 4D, passed a resolution in January, saying,

Several of these blocks of Illinois Ave. have awkward intersections leading to pedestrian safety concerns. Cars are parking within signed areas but too close to the intersections, blocking the view of crossing traffic. Additionally, the lack of stop signs on Illinois at the intersections with Emerson and Farragut Streets result in speeding traffic. When combined with the difficult visibility, the community believes this leads to unnecessary accidents[sic].
Illinois Avenue has just one driving lane in each direction and one parking lane on each side. The buildings are mostly row houses, some small apartment buildings, and small detached houses. There's also a public school, the Truesdell Education Campus, serving children from 3 years old to eighth grade.

A team from DDOT's Traffic Operations Administration studied the area and reviewed crash data, culminating in a report in June. The report says that from 2012 to 2014, there were 47 crashes including 19 injuries. Three of the crashes involved pedestrians and two involved bicycles.

Two of the crashes involving people not in cars happened at Farragut Street, where there is not a four-way stop or a traffic light, as the ANC resolution highlighted. The other three happened at other intersections.

The speed limit here is 25 mph, and the analysis concludes that only 52% of drivers are staying at or below that level. Another 34.2% are driving between 25 and 30 mph, while 13.8% traveling faster than that (one, it appears, clocked at 56-60 mph).

The report's language casts this as not a problem, such as by saying that 67.8% travel below 30 mph and that the average speed was 23 mph. It concludes:

Additionally, the 85th percentile speed is within an acceptable range for the posted speed. Of note, the criteria typically employed by DDOT for installation of traffic calming measures requires the measured 85th percentile speed to substantially exceed the posted speed limit, defined as exceeding by at least 25 percent (31 miles per hour in this location). Thus, while the 85th percentile speed is 4 miles per hour above the 25 miles per hour speed limit, this measured speed does not substantially exceed the posted speed limit. (Emphasis added.)
In other words, while legally there is a rule that everyone has to travel below a certain speed, DDOT's policy is not to take action unless at least 15% of drivers are traveling at least 25% faster.

This is the opposite of Vision Zero

Certainly, it's fair to say that this is far from the worst street in DC for speeding or for safety. However, DC has adopted a policy called Vision Zero. The objective:

By the year 2024, Washington, DC will reach zero fatalities and serious injuries to travelers of our transportation system, through more effective use of data, education, enforcement, and engineering.
The report doesn't say if any of the 19 injuries were serious or fatal, but the blasé attitude of the report toward speeding and 19 injuries is the polar opposite. It's Vision Zero, not Vision Nineteen.

Remember, the chances that a driver striking a pedestrian is fatal rises from 5% to 45% as the car's speed goes from 20 mph to 30 (and then to 85% at 40).

To eliminate—not just reduce somewhat, but eliminate—fatalities and serious injuries will require a readiness to actually make changes. A policy that nothing can be done beyond posting signs unless 15% of drivers regularly go more than 31 mph in a 25 mph zone will not achieve this.

There will be a lot of ways to improve traffic safety that don't also slow down cars, but DDOT will have to also be willing to calm streets, and not just where speeding is egregious. A smaller residential avenue with a school, where the local ANC wants traffic calming, would be a good spot.

This video shows why it's important for black women to bike ... and organize

The Washington area has two organizations devoted to getting black women and girls to ride bicycles: Black Women Bike and a local chapter of the national group Black Girls Do Bike. This video by Groundswell talks about why these are important.

Greater Greater Washington contributor Veronica Davis co-founded Black Women Bike in 2011. In the video, she talks about why she started the group. When riding through a neighborhood, she overheard a little girl tell her mom excitedly that she saw a black woman on a bicycle—an unusual sight for that girl, but an opportunity to show the girl that she, too, could ride.

In addition to Veronica Davis, the video includes interviews with Najeema Davis of Black Women Bike and Monica Garrison of Black Girls Do Bike. One big question they answer is about why it's necessary to have groups like theirs in the first place. Can't it just be "people of all colors and genders bike"?

Veronica Davis explains that there is a persistent stereotype that bicycling is just something that black women don't do. Some reinforcement comes from black women themselves, but also society at large. Getting over those mental barriers is an important step even though the act of riding a bike isn't all that hard.

Despite the best intentions of other bicycle groups, if there are few black people and even fewer black women in a group ride, some people will feel that bicycling just "isn't for them."

The group rides encourage people to try out something that might have seemed too hard or too risky before. Davis says that the group rides with black women of all ages and sizes is the best way to expand the community.

You can check out the other videos in the series at Groundswell.

Why tolling I-66 is actually a good idea

Express toll lanes are coming to I-66. Some drivers accustomed to a free ride are upset at the idea, but tolls will help the highway run more smoothly and increase access for car drivers. Most importantly, they'll improve transit.

HOT lane on I-95. Photo by Virginia Department of Transportation on Flickr.

High Occupancy Toll lanesHOT lanes, as they're called—allow single-driver cars to use HOV lanes in exchange for paying a toll. Carpools and buses drive for free, while cars with only one person (or sometimes two people) pay.

Virginia plans to convert the existing lanes of I-66 inside the Beltway to HOT lanes by 2017. The state also plans to widen I-66 outside the Beltway with new HOT lanes by 2021.

Congestion pricing keeps HOT lanes moving

The toll price on HOT lanes varies based on how many cars are on the road.

The point isn't so much to make money, but is rather to manage how many cars are using the lanes. When there's little traffic, officials want to encourage drivers to use the lanes, so the toll is low. But when traffic rises, officials want to encourage drivers to travel some other way, so the tolls rise accordingly.

In theory, officials raise the toll rate to whatever level is necessary to keep traffic moving smoothly.

HOT lanes can lead to more, better transit, but there's a big "if"

One of the biggest problems with buses is that they're often stuck in the traffic congestion from cars. HOT lanes provide a way out. Since HOT lanes are supposed to be free-flowing, and since buses can use HOT lanes, tolls create defacto busways, giving buses a way to move along the highway at speed, even if the normal un-tolled lanes are jammed.

But buses can only benefit from HOT lanes if buses are present, and if there are enough of them to be a realistic, convenient option. Unfortunately, that's a big "if."

Past Virginia HOT lane projects on I-95 and the Beltway haven't delivered the bus service planners originally promised. Officials built the HOT lanes, celebrated what they accomplished for cars, and largely forgot about buses.

But it doesn't have to happen that way. In San Diego, for example, California state law requires the I-15 HOT lanes project to use toll revenue to directly fund high frequency bus service. That's a good model, and it can work on I-66.

The plan for I-66

Both the I-66 projects, inside and outside the Beltway, have elaborate plans for more bus service. If those plans actually happen, catching a bus to western Fairfax or Prince William County might become a much more quick and convenient possibility, with frequent all-day buses instead of only a few at rush hour.

Proposed bus service improvements in the I-66/US-50/US-29 corridor. Image from Virginia.

But to ensure transit benefits actually materialize on I-66, leaders will need to lock in guaranteed transit funding as part of the deal. The days of trusting Richmond to deliver are over, after the failures on I-95 and I-495.

Part of the problem on I-95 and I-495 is that a private company helped build the toll lanes, and in exchange gets to keep toll revenue as profit. That means the private company has a vested interest in limiting transit, because everyone who takes a bus is not paying a toll.

But on I-66, at least inside the Beltway, VDOT's plan is to operate the HOT lanes itself, without using a private company. And without a private company trying to profit, officials can reinvest toll revenue straight into transit.

That's exactly what VDOT says they want to do. As long as they guarantee that promise with a binding legal contract, it's a good deal for transit. Much better than if VDOT went the traditional 20th Century route and simply widened I-66, with no thought to transit at all.

HOT lanes delay widening

To be sure, without a tolling plan, pressure to widen I-66 in Arlington would mount significantly.

Arlington has long opposed any widening, arguing that wider highways ultimately result in more drivers and more congestion. Under VDOT's current plan, widening won't be on the table until after 2025, after the bus improvements are in place.

But Fairfax County is already pressuring VDOT to widen sooner. VDOT's answer has been to try tolls and transit and see how they work, then widen later if it's still necessary.

Without the option of tolls and transit, that widening pressure would likely overwhelm decision makers.

Friday's your last chance to speak up on DC's zoning code (and you should!)

Opponents of DC's zoning update are continuing to try to delay changes that will add housing and make it less expensive to build. But DC's zoning commission has had enough of delay. They now need to hear support from residents to actually approve the changes.

Photo by Warren R.M. Stuart on Flickr.

The final deadline to comment on the proposal, which has been going on for eight years, is this Friday.

Here are the key provisions and my comments. If you agree, the best thing to do is write a short (1-2 sentences is fine) explanation in your own words of the same general concept (or any other you believe in) and submit it through the online tool, linked next to each item below.

Accessory apartments: This proposal will let homeowners in detached house zones rent out a basement, other room, or existing garage to earn some more money from otherwise-unused space as well as providing someone else a place to live.

Comment here, and select section 253.8. I'm saying, "Please approve the proposal for accessory apartments. Many homeowners have extra space and need money to help cover a mortgage, pay for needs in retirement, or other expenses. Meanwhile, many people need places to live in DC. This proposal is a win-win that addresses both needs."

Parking: The new zoning code will lower minimum parking requirements, most deeply around Metro stations, streetcar lines, and high-frequency bus corridors.

Comment here, and select section 701. I'm saying, "Please approve the proposal to reduce minimum parking requirements. These requirements are often unnecessary and drive up the cost of new housing. Issues with street parking should be solved through street parking rules and not in the zoning code."

If you want to go further, you can advocate for even deeper reductions, or an outright elimination, of the parking minimums. The original proposal got watered down over time.

You can also comment on any of the other changes, all of which you can read about in The Office of Planning's zoning update blog.

The online tool is the easiest way to comment. You can also email a PDF letter to or use one of the other methods at the bottom of this page.

The zoning board says enough is enough

At least 40 opponents sent letters asking to extend the time even further. They also asked to have the Office of Planning go back to neighborhoods for yet another round of meetings, and to translate the zoning code into more languages.

Zoning Commission Chairman Anthony Hood, who had pushed for more meetings and some delays in the past, has had enough. He said,

We've extended the time and extended the time and extended the time. I understand this is a new undertaking, but ... we extended it 90 days, and on our own, because of concerns of things ending in August, we extended it a few more days ... so it went from 90 to 119 days. To extend it again and keep extending it and keep extending it; I think this city will not have a new zoning code which was forecast years ago. I think we have done due diligence for the residents in this city. It's probably 8 years now. This is an 8-year project.
On the translation issue, OP's Jennifer Steingasser noted that the agency had previously created and circulated a fact sheet, explaining the main changes, in Amharic, Chinese, English, French, Spanish, and Vietnamese. Zoning staff said a full translation of the text would cost $100,000 per language and is not required by law.

The commission voted unanimously to deny all of the extension requests, except for one from Advisory Neighborhood Commission 4A to submit its testimony about two weeks late. That ANC will get its minor extension; everyone else needs to speak by this Friday, September 23 25.

Go do it!

Support Us