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Savvy Metro riders always have a Plan B

This morning, a bomb threat caused Metro to close its Rockville and Shady Grove stations during the morning rush. Many riders were delayed or stranded while Metro worked to recover.

Photo by nevermindtheend on Flickr.

These unexpected closures are, luckily, few and far in between. But by learning all your options, you can be prepared for them.

Metro was able to establish shuttle bus service relatively quickly, but hastily set up bus bridges are often disorganized, hard to find, and slow. Your best option may be to take a regularly scheduled bus service.

If your station were to be unexpectedly closed, would you know which bus would get you around the closure? If you're a regular transit rider, you might want to have that piece of information handy.

Let's take Rockville, for example. With that section of the Red Line closed, riders had several options to get around the closure.

Perhaps the best alternative would be Ride On route 46, which would take riders as far as Medical Center. Route 46 runs on Rockville Pike, parallel to the Red Line. It runs every 15 minutes, and covers the distance from Rockville to Twinbrook, the next open station on the Red Line, in only 10 minutes.

The "Q" Metrobuses are another alternative. They run every 10-15 minutes during rush hour between Rockville and Wheaton along Veirs Mill Road.

Rockville also has a stop on MARC's Brunswick Line. Since this closure happened during the morning rush, riders had the chance to board the last few inbound trains of the day. These commuter trains take riders to Silver Spring and Union Station.

Riders who knew about these regularly scheduled buses/trains may have been able to get around the closure even before Metro's bus bridge was set up. Knowing your alternatives can save you lots of time and frustration.

If you haven't done so already, take the time today to find alternate transit options to/from your home and work stations. You never know when something could cause a closure. If you know your choices, you don't have to be at the mercy of crowded bus bridges and overburdened station managers.

Photo by strangelibrarian on Flickr.
Your Plan B might be as simple as walking a few blocks to a nearby station. Or perhaps it could involve Capital Bikeshare. In many cases, you will likely need to have a bus route in mind as an alternate. If so, on your way home tonight, stop by the station manager's kiosk and pick up a bus schedule for your backup route or print if off of Metro's website.

It would be great if Metro could get some alternate routes out via twitter and email during these closures, though their communications department is likely pretty busy during unforeseen closures. So don't wait. Be proactive and find your Plan B today.

Matt Johnson has lived in the Washington area since 2007. He has a Master's in Planning from the University of Maryland and a BS in Public Policy from Georgia Tech. He lives in Greenbelt. Hes a member of the American Institute of Certified Planners. He is a contract employee of the Montgomery County Department of Transportation. His views are his own and do not represent those of his employer. 


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Sure! Ride a bike!

by Buben on Jun 13, 2011 1:52 pm • linkreport

Last year I tried to use the 30s to get around a closure either at Cap South or Fed Center SW. Horrible mistake. The 30s are really slow even compared to Metrorail during a service disruption. By the time I got to Farragut West, I hopped back on the Orange line rather than risk further delays transferring to the 38B and the 2 or 3.

by Michael Perkins on Jun 13, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

I always say the same thing Matt. When the Orange line is messed up, I always go with the 38B - "Orange Line with a View!" :-)

by Matt Glazewski on Jun 13, 2011 1:54 pm • linkreport

Only problem with bike is that you can't bring it on the Metro during rush hour - which is the point of this article, I think - not finding another transportation alternative in and of itself.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

@Michael Perkins:
I've had the opposite experience. Back in 2009, when the Red Line was closed for a long period following the crash, I had to get from Petworth to Silver Spring (my daily commute). I tried every alternative. The slowest by far was the Bus Bridge. The S9 + a walk ended up being the fastest.

The point is that with the rush hour frequencies of the Ride On 46 and Q buses, many riders could have already been on the (regular) bus before Metro even had a bus bridge established.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 13, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

Thankfully, I am no longer riding Metro. My plan A is to take the car. My plan B is take the other car. Cleaner, cheaper, faster and more reliable. Yay!

by varun on Jun 13, 2011 2:00 pm • linkreport

And as someone who regularly rides the bus rather than Metro - I welcome everyone to "rediscoverthebus" as Tommy Wells says. A bit slower? It can be catch as catch can - I've had Horrible waits and delays on the Metro too. Nice thing about the bus is you can always pop off and jump on CaBi, get a cab, get a zipcar, walk, etc - you can't do that if you're stuck in a tunnel. And bring a book and enjoy DC at it's finest. It's a beautiful city - don't waste it below ground!

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2011 2:01 pm • linkreport

@Matt Johnson

That's because your experience wasn't on the 30s. The S9 is light years better than any of the 30s buses. The 30s have lots of stops, they have to make lots of turns on their trunk line (which slows things down) and they have some very congested routes (which leads to bunching).

Which is a key point - just because it's a bus doesn't mean it's a good substitute.

by Alex B. on Jun 13, 2011 2:03 pm • linkreport

@Alex B.
The S2/S4 and 70/71 were also both faster than the bus bridge. And that was an established bus bridge, not one being quickly assembled.

The reason it was slowest was not because it made a bunch of local stops or went out of its way. It was because you had to wait in line for 3 or 4 or 5 buses before you could get on one.

But maybe you and Perkins are right. You should stand around for 25-30 minutes and watch 2 or 3 Route 46 buses leave Rockville for Twinbrook while you wait on Metrobus to drive a few buses over from Montgomery Division on short notice to serve as a bus bridge.

by Matt Johnson on Jun 13, 2011 2:07 pm • linkreport

Your comment about how they should post alternate routes on Twitter reminded me of something. I think they should shorten their Twitter handle. @metroopensdoors is too long to put information in when you're name-checking them. (This is akin to the posting about station names being shorter, too.) @WMATA would be better; you'd save 10 precious characters.

by Ed on Jun 13, 2011 2:09 pm • linkreport

The problem being off course that every alternative is gonna be massively overcrowded and most likely overwhelmed as soon as a metro line breaks down. This is the value of metro: it moves wayyy more passengers than any other transit method can. It can not be expected that the regular bus system takes over from metro without getting overwhelmed.

When I got out of metro shortly after rush hour last week, the gates slowed due to some malfunction. It was surprising how many people got stuck at the gates within minutes of the error at that relatively quiet station.

A metro train moves hundreds of people at a dedicated track. Buses move tens of people mixed with traffic. That's a different deal.

by Jasper on Jun 13, 2011 2:11 pm • linkreport


I'm not denigrating your choice, I'm just noting that the 70s and the S's are superior trunk lines to the 30s.

The larger issue is that buses do offer redundancy, yet people don't know the routes because the routes are inherently confusing. It shouldn't be a real surprise that the routes with the simplest trunk lines (like the S9 or the 70/71) not only perform well, but are easy to understand and to use for non-frequent riders.

by Alex B. on Jun 13, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

This whole article / discussion, I think, gets at the heart of what Greater Greater Washington stands for. And that's how complimentary our resources are to make for a great "city-wide" system. It shouldn't be what is better - Metro or bus, but rather how does the Metro and the buses (and CaBi, and walking/bike trails, and care-shares, and pedestrian streets, and yes, even highways) compliment one another to move the people of our area at its maximum potential? The idea that if they close down a Metro station, thousands of people are stranded is absurd and laughable.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2011 2:16 pm • linkreport

I dont understand y WMATA should provide you with your own alternative, if your using WMATA you should be able to find another way around without the assistant of WMATA

by Jerome on Jun 13, 2011 2:24 pm • linkreport

There's a group that somebody JUST started for things exactly like this. I hate not knowing what the hell is going on. The alerts are usually something vague like "police situation".

Here's the link:!/pages/DC-Metro-Woes/216724711693599

It's not spam. More people need to join so I know if I should even start my commute in the mornings! Rather be late than pissed off.

by Alli on Jun 13, 2011 2:27 pm • linkreport

"It's a beautiful city - don't waste it below ground! "

This would be a great bus advert. I love the buses for this reason alone. We really do have a beautiful city, and you really see so much of it from our bus system.

by greent on Jun 13, 2011 2:34 pm • linkreport

Two tools on WMATA that all users should know well: Trip Planner (TP) and Service Nearby (SN). Most users are used to a scaled-down Trip Planner since found on the WMATA homepage. It has its limitations but it's not too hard to find 'normal'TP from here. SN, however, is buried under the Rider Tools pulldown and it lacks many of the features found in TP. For example, TP gives you flexibility to set radius, rail/bus service, and jurisdiction.
So, recommendatations for WMATA:
1. Give SN visibility on the homepage
2. Give SN a common interface with TP
3. Develop a mobile-friendy version of SN
4. Integrate SN with TP. For example, if you select a nearby bus stop, you should be able to then plan a trip from that stop directly from TP.

by Smoke_Jaguar4 on Jun 13, 2011 2:57 pm • linkreport

I always say the same thing Matt. When the Orange line is messed up, I always go with the 38B - "Orange Line with a View!" :-)

One small problem--that is what everyone else does too, and it overcrowds the 38B buses and eventually you are in the same situation just above ground. The last time this happened a few months back, I had to wait for at least 4 buses to pass before I could get on one. I was almost 2 hours late for work that day. My boss was not amused.

I used to live in Brazil in the 1980s. The buses NEVER made me late there. Sad when WMATA is worse than Brazil was 30 years ago. Oh and the bus fair was WAAAY cheaper. :)

So now, when I see there are issues on the orange line, I actually just start to walk to work. Luckily, on a nice day I can make it to work in about 1 hour. I realize most people don't have that luxury.

by Stefan Sittig on Jun 13, 2011 3:15 pm • linkreport

But Stefan - if you wanted to, you could have hailed a cab. [Now] you could jump on a CaBi bike.

And not to say that what you said is 'incorrect,' but if you want to get on a bus, you find a way to get on the bus. I used to live in Georgetown (at the corner of Wisconsin and N in front of Daily Grill) and when the 30's would come they would be chock full of people - double-wide standing room only - everyday, every bus. Everyone that I waited with still got on - you do it and deal with it. In my ten years in DC I have seen 2 - maybe 3 - buses that had to put on their topsign: "Full- wait for next bus." You just make it happen.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2011 3:28 pm • linkreport

Shipsa: I have no problem waiting for another bus standing in an overcrowded bus. The problem is that most Metrobuses and the 38B as well, only come every 20 minutes or so. If you have to wait for 4 to pass, that's 80 minutes late.

And trust me, I'd be more than happy to squeeze in and stand on a bus, I don't have personal space issues at all. But the WMATA bus drivers determine when a bus is full, not me.

Am glad your experience in Georgetown was easier. Mine was not. Glad you could "make it happen" as you say. But if the bus driver won't let me on the bus, I can't "make it happen".

And yes, I could hail a cab (and pay 12 dollars, versus 3) or bike or take a motorcycle or scooter or hangglide. I realize there are other methods (like walking, which is what I choose usually) to get to places.

It's just that this thread is about Metro and alternatives--and it's sad to me that it takes longer for me to get to work sometimes via Metro train/bus than it does to walk or drive. That shows you how inadequate Metro is.

That is all.

by Stefan Sittig on Jun 13, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

Shisa01: at least 3 times a week on the S line (16th St, NW) there are full buses that pass my stop. The drivers do not pull over to pick anyone up, and if they have to do drops offs, they stop 1/2 block before the stop to let people off (outside the bus stop area), and then pull away from the curb.

But I have never seen the top sign say Full. Not once.

by greent on Jun 13, 2011 3:51 pm • linkreport

Oh the joys of living and working downtown: alternate route is CaBi. Alternate alternate route is a couple of buses. After that, it's walking.

A car would work, but it's not worth the expense - I save about $250-300/mo not owning a car. Sure, it goes back into my rent, but I'm happier for it.

by OctaviusIII on Jun 13, 2011 3:58 pm • linkreport

I think you're 100% right, Stefan - it is about Metro and alternatives. Metro is great and "somewhat" reliable, but is sure ain't perfect and when it does fail - if that's your primary mode of transit - you have to have those 'alternatives.' And yes, I don't know what your situation was - maybe it was raining or 115 degrees and you couldn't walk or your plane was in the shop and you couldn't hanglide, but if your boss wasn't amused, I would think that you would have done what you could to get in on time - I'm sure you're a hard worker and didn't appreciate his/her lack of understanding.

I don't claim to be knowledgeable about NoVa by any stretch, but I'm sure that there are more options than just the 38B - I know I've seen signs for the Dash bus and I remember (maybe it's no more) some bus that ran from like Ballston to the Pentagon.

Anyway, that's the point of this article - if you know what your options are, you're better off. To me, sitting and waiting for 80 minutes for a bus is absurd - even if it is that everytime one came it was full. And when I said that "you make it happen," it wasn't just getting on a bus - it was also finding a bus - or any other mode of transportation - to get you where you need to go.

But regardless, I know 'make it happen' is rather crass and since I don't know the full situation, it's like telling a homeless person: "get a job." So in hindsight I would like to take back that phrase. My apologies.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 13, 2011 4:52 pm • linkreport

When i lived in Columbia Heights, i learned that the S buses on 16th and the 50 buses on 14th were both a MUCH faster way of getting downtown or to Silver Spring/Takoma Park than taking the trains.

by dcseain on Jun 13, 2011 6:07 pm • linkreport

Just remember -- never, ever commute via CaBi. It is for short trips only.

by OX4 on Jun 13, 2011 6:43 pm • linkreport

Has WMATA or a jurisdiction ever made a bus roue which parallel a line free during this type of problems.

The one thing I refuse to do is to pay another fare because of an issue I dont cause.

by kk on Jun 13, 2011 9:57 pm • linkreport

I love the bus. It really IS a great way to see the city
(I mean, who uses it to get somewhere OR needs to be reasonably on time, anyways??)

Oh, the beauty of standing around for a late, or never to arrive bus...
Oh, the beauty of dealing with angry women screaming at their children...
Oh, the beauty of dealing with crack zombies in wife beaters...
Oh, the beauty, of being crammed in, seated or standing with fat, sweaty people.

Oh, the beauty of that glimpse of a DC "viewshed" under someone's armpit!

MetroBuses: Livin' the Dream In DC!

I would certainly take a bus in a pinch, but, seriously, promoting buses as great transportation??

Bicycling, walking, the occasional Metro trip, and save money for a car. Thats "movin' on up", Jeffersons' style.

by ed on Jun 13, 2011 11:38 pm • linkreport

Haha – I love the "It would be great if Metro could help us out with this, but..." part. The phrase "the soft tyrrany of low expectations" springs to mind.

by Stephen Smith on Jun 14, 2011 1:26 am • linkreport

"Only problem with bike is that you can't bring it on the Metro during rush hour - which is the point of this article, I think - not finding another transportation alternative in and of itself."

Unless you have a folding or collapsible bike such as a Dahon or a Brompton (to name two well-known brands). Those are allowed on the Metrorail at all times. Technically they're supposed to be in bike bags at rush hour. I don't know whether that's enforced.

by Rich on Jun 14, 2011 9:27 am • linkreport

Thanks for the clarification, Rich; I was unaware you could do that.

by Shipsa01 on Jun 14, 2011 10:10 am • linkreport

I had a similar experience as othrs with the 38B a few months ago when the Orange Line was messed up one morning. I got on at Ballston, but by the time the bus got to Clarendon, the driver simply blew past the massive crowds waiting outside the Orange Line stations. One bus simply couldn't handle its regular ridership plus the huge amount of people who couldn't get on an orange line train that morning.

It took well over an hour to go the 5 miles to my office. That was the last time I ever rode the 38B.

by Rob P on Jun 15, 2011 4:04 pm • linkreport

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