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Simplify Shirlington-Pentagon bus choices

On paper, travelers between Shirlington and the Pentagon have more than 160 buses per day in each direction to choose from. In reality, however, it's difficult to know about and take advantage of these options.

Shirlington bus station. Photo from Arlington VA.

The location of the Shirlington Transit Center bus bays and the fact that two separate operators serve the route, without a combined schedule, hinder passengers' full use of the choices available.

A little restructuring can save passengers from having to remember multiple schedules and know which bus bay to go to depending on when they arrive at the transit center.

Metrobus routes 7A/C/E/F/Y, 22A, 25A/D and ART route 87 serve the I-395 corridor, connecting downtown Shirlington to the Metrorail network. The 7A and 25A are express, taking 6-9 minutes to travel directly between these two stations. The 22A makes a few stops before getting on I-395, resulting in a travel time of about 12-14 minutes. The ART bus takes a local route that takes about 23-27 minutes, meaning that for Pentagon-bound passengers it is usually advantageous to wait for the next Metrobus than take the ART 87.

At Shirlington the 7 and 25 buses are located at Bus Bay C while the 22A is located at the farthest possible point away, bus bay A:

Because these buses travel through the transit center in opposite directions, it's not possible to locate them all at the same bay. But placing them at adjoining bays A & E or B & C would make a lot more sense. A passenger wanting to go directly to the Pentagon would not have to dash around the station to the far end to catch the other bus.

It would be difficult to arrange the bays any more rationally at Pentagon station. There, four adjoining bays, Upper 3, 4, 5, and 6, serve the Shirlington routes. Riders have to be astute to note the alternate buses arriving and knowledgeable of their various options. ART bus locations are not shown on this map, which appears to be somewhat out of date.

While WMATA posts station bus stop maps for rail stations such as the Pentagon, ART's site had a better graphic and includes the Shirlington transportation center map as well.

Because there are several routes that serve these two points, many riders probably only learn over time that they have several options. There is no combined point-to-point schedule of the 160+ buses per day that would make this information easy for passengers to have, hold and use.

Also, since NextBus treats each bus bay as a separate stop, it doesn't effectively serve these customers, who don't care what bus number they get on—they just want to get between these two points as quickly and easily as possible.

There are other cases where a rearrangement of bus stops at the Pentagon would help riders: e.g., the 29 and 17 buses both serve some of the same parts of Annandale, but are located on separate levels at the Pentagon. Similarly, the 25 and 8 buses share parts of Alexandria, but are located far apart at the Pentagon. Passengers are forced to choose one bay or the other, which may frustrate them if circumstances (like a late bus) work against them.

A programmer could probably create a simple smartphone app using NextBus data that would combine the Shirlington and Pentagon bus stops (or other highly-used point-to-point locations), which would be quite useful to these passengers.

These simple changes and enhancements would cost little or nothing, but would get more riders to their destinations quickly and easily. If transit agency planners and managers were to imagine themselves in the shoes of their customers, these kinds of improvements could be more obvious.

Steve Offutt has been working at the confluence of business and environment for almost 20 years, with experience in climate change solutions, green building, business-government partnerships, transportation demand management, and more. He lives in Arlington with his wife and two children and is a cyclist, pedestrian, transit rider and driver. 


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The 17 and 29 bays are both on the lower level at the Pentagon. The 17A,G,L and FFX 306 (which is the midday 17A) depart from L6; the 17B,F,H,K,M from L5; the 29C,E,G,H,X from L4.

Only the 17A,B,M; FFX 306; and 29C,E,G,H would be "Annandale" common service (although I'd say more Linconia along the common portion of the routes at Little River Tpk).

This is a tough task with all the providers and service changes but important to get right.

by Transport. on Apr 13, 2011 12:19 pm • linkreport

The way most bus stations are designed is to make sure that buses stop at bays with regular intervals. This is to prevent two buses arriving at the same moment. I think generally little thought is put in designing bus bay schedule for customer convenience.

by Jasper on Apr 13, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Good points. Hire Matt Johnson...

2. I have advocated the creation of transit wayfinding systems for a long time. We need to do a better job of providing info so that more people ride.

3. It happens that when the Metro system was created, WMATA had more of these tools available, because transit usage needed to be explained. I happened to pick up two such items recently (at an estate sale).

The Metro Ride Guide published in 1978 provided station maps for each system listing the bus services provided, as well as listing local landmarks, civic buildings, parks, and commercial establishments.


I haven't gotten around to blogging about it, but scans from the 1978 Ride Guide and the 1976 Metro Owner's Manual: How to use it ( are in my flickr stream.

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 12:49 pm • linkreport

Steve, you read that diagram wrong. The 17 and 29 aren't on different levels at the Pentagon, they're next to each other. Also, I would not argue that the 25 or 8 serve large similar stretches of Alexandria. The closest the 8 comes to where the 25 serves is a few stops (3?) along Quaker Lane north of King Street (which is the where the 25 serves the Farlington neighborhood of Arlington). At no point does the 25 or 8 come close to serving each other's neighborhood.

by Wes on Apr 13, 2011 1:07 pm • linkreport

Good analysis - let me add one correction, one other factor for consideration, and one update.
Correction: on the Pentagon Metro map, the ART routes (42 & 87) are both at U-4. The 42 absorbed the old 24P and the 87 absorbed the old 22B.
Another Factor to Consider: When assigning routes to a bus bay, one must consider the number of peak buses involved. Bay U-4 may have the highest volumes at Pentagon Metro.
Update: The ART 87 has three variations, of which two serve Shirlington - the 87 (local, not a quick connection to Pentagon) and the 87X, which runs non-stop on the freeway from Pentagon to Shirlington in 10 minutes during peak periods (and has a few PM Peak trips that do the same thing in the other direction). See

by Steve Yaffe on Apr 13, 2011 1:22 pm • linkreport

@Richard Layman Those are fantastic. They remind me a lot of the wayfinding system that London uses for its busier bus interchanges.

by andrew on Apr 13, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

You can generate combined point-to-point schedules on the CommuterPage mobile website at (this is also linked from the ART site). It's designed for mobile devices but works fine from the desktop. The combined schedules include all local bus systems and tell you how long the different options take to get from point A to point B.

by jimble on Apr 13, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

WMATA Station pages have bus maps that show where all the buses go from that station:

There's also the link to the Station Masters guide that shows the area around the station.

by MLD on Apr 13, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

andrew -- you wouldn't happen to have an image of one of those wayfinding boards would you, or could you mention some of the specific interchanges, and I can try to hunt down an image/info?

by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport


I'm talking more about the numbering system used on the map. From what I remember of my (admittedly limited) London bus experience, when several stops are clustered at a single intersection, each stop has a huge letter or number attached to the top of it that's (ideally) visible from any point at the intersection. (The signs they use are also 100x better than what Metro does. Why is the agency's phone number set in larger type than the bus route numbers? It's a godawful design. Circulator's not much better either.)

Throughout the intersection, and typically near each stop, there's a number of map/charts that shows the intersection, each of the numbered stops, and tells which buses correspond to each stop.

There are also neat stripmaps and timetables at many stops.

Here's one particular wayfinding map (tiny in the center) that does what I'm talking about, embedded within a "spider map" of bus routes spreading out from that particular Tube station. The legend showing which buses correspond to each stop is on the right. (Afraid I can't dig up a better example that JUST includes the local wayfinding map.)

TFL has one of these maps for almost every major interchange. The above linked one is of the vicinity surrounding the Bank tube station, which is one of the most heavily bus-congested areas of London. The outlying areas are a lot less crazy, although I chose this one to demonstrate that the design works even when you've got a completely insane number of bus routes converging at one point.

I would also be remiss if I didn't include a link to this excellent wayfinding article I came across while digging up those images.

I'm pretty sure that Jarrett Walker at Human Transit has written on this subject, but can't seem to find a link...

by andrew on Apr 13, 2011 3:38 pm • linkreport

=v= If you've got location enabled, will use it to find all the stops nearest you. There's an AnyStop Android app and a NextBusDC iPhone app that do likewise.

by Jym Dyer on Apr 13, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the corrections and clarifications.

@MLD - True, with two caveats:
1) they are listed as "Entrances/Evacuation" maps, which is not at all intuitive (who would know to look at the "Evacuation map" to find out the bus bay locations?), and
2) only for Metrorail stations, so places like Shirlington and Tysons transportation centers do not have maps--at least not that I could find.

@jimble - great tool. It would be nice if they could be sorted by arrival time as well as departure time, since sometimes a later bus actually arrives at one's destination earlier.

@Wes - Oops on reading the map wrong (gettin' old eyes). These may not be the best examples, but I think the general point (as echoed by Jasper), that little thought is generally given to this, still holds.

by Steve O on Apr 13, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

@Steve O
The bus maps are listed under "bus maps" not "evacuation maps." They're even better than the old list because not only do they list the buses and where they are, but they also show you where the bus goes on the map.

Correct though that the transportation centers don't have these maps. Unfortunate.

by MLD on Apr 13, 2011 5:01 pm • linkreport

Would be better if I actually included the right link to the Bank wayfinding & spider map.

by andrew on Apr 13, 2011 5:13 pm • linkreport

Andrew -- thanks. I did some looking after reading your first comment, and came across maps similar to the Bank St. station map that you call attention to such as:

- (map of key area with key sites and bus routes using spider map iconography)
- (map of night-time bus routes)

This is really useful with regard to a workshop where I am one of the presenters next week in Baltimore. Maybe I'll get around to blogging about it.

I am always interested in stuff on wayfinding. Thanks for the link to the article. Note that in doing that image research, I did come across another image within that site about master design protocols for the bus stop stanchion/standard.


by Richard Layman on Apr 13, 2011 6:24 pm • linkreport

You mentioned that 7A is the only express to the Pentagon. Actually 7A, 7C, 7E, 7F, 7Y all go express to the Pentagon and return express to Shirlington (along with 87X) which leaves one stop over from the 87X at the Pentagon.

Also, its actually not that hard to see which buses are using the station as their are only about 6 places that a bus can stop and rarely are the 7 or 22A buses stopped at the same time (atleast during rushhour).

by Josh on Apr 13, 2011 6:35 pm • linkreport

For my needs the Shirlington Transit Center works alright. WMATA needs to fix the disaster that is the Southern Towers series of stops.

by ChrisB on Apr 13, 2011 11:08 pm • linkreport

@chrisb southern towers is a series of stop thats a disaster that WMATA needs to address

by Jerome on Apr 14, 2011 7:53 am • linkreport

@Richard There are hundreds of them.

by andrew on Apr 14, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

The Pentagon routes aren't the only ways connecting one to the Metro network - the buses going to Ballston are generally logically grouped (23a, 10B, 22a at one bay) - the 25a is on the other side, too, but in reality only about 20 feet away. It really is a small station. Also, if you're waiting at the 7 bay, and a 22a to Pentagon rolls by, it's going to have to pass directly by you before leaving the station - if you flag the driver, they'll almost always stop. More importantly - unlike most metrobus stops, there are big scrolling marques saying the time that the next bus is coming - you don't even have to go read the little sheet with all the schedules. If scrolling lights can't help you find your way, I don't know what can. As a Shirlington resident, I think this all is a non-issue.

by MichaelTRuhl on Apr 14, 2011 12:48 pm • linkreport

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