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Jim Graham's northern Circulator

At last night's Neighborhood Circulation Study in Adams Morgan, Councilmember Jim Graham handed out his own proposal for how to bring the Circulator north into Adams Morgan. DDOT already expects to add the route in 2009.

Here is a scan of the handout:

Graham took pains to emphasize that this is only an idea for discussion, and he's not wedded to the specifics of the plan. Under this proposal, the new Circulator route would make very limited stops to connect people between Metro stations at Woodley Park, Columbia heights, and McPherson Square (hitting all lines) and the major commercial districts of Adams Morgan, U Street, and Logan Circle.

Richard Layman suggested more stops, like one at the Safeway on Columbia Road or in Mount Pleasant. Other meeting attendees chimed in with suggestions of other places for the bus to stop.

Mount Pleasant might be a good stop location as well if the bus can navigate there without too many turns. But consideration of stops at other neighborhood destinations like the Safeway muddy the purpose of this bus, which is clearly to primarily transport visitors from elsewhere in DC and the region to and from our businesses.

Visitors probably aren't going to the Safeway, and residents who take a bus to the Safeway probably want that bus to stop closer to their houses than merely at 18th and Columbia or at the Columbia Heights Metro. There ought to be frequent bus service along there (i.e. the 42), to serve local needs. But as Graham staff member Jonathan Kass pointed out at the meeting, the shorter the route, the greater frequency we can get for the money. Each stop adds time and therefore cuts frequency.

If we want a speedy service to get visitors to and from the area, DC should take some important steps to make the service accessible to the casual user:

Make the bus frequent. It should run at least every ten minutes. Less, and it stops being the easiest way to get to and from the area, pushing people to drive instead.

Make signage from Metro stations incredibly clear. When someone exits a Metro station, they should see hard-to-miss signs telling them exactly where the stop is located. The little tiny bus signs we have now, even for the Circulator, are not visible enough. This is especially important at Columbia Heights if the northbound and southbound stops are separate and may be a block away from the Metro escalator.

Provide real-time information. There should be electronic signs at the bus stops telling visitors when the next bus will arrive. This is useful for everyone, but even more vital for first-time or occasional riders who will wait nervously, unsure if the bus is actually coming or if they are in the right place. Information gives that reassurance. Another electronic sign in the connecting Metro station would be a great way to both make signage clear (as above), ensure people know about the route, and provide valuable information.

Add the route to the Metro map. The Metrorail map is the way most people perceive the city. Residents know their local bus lines, but little else. We should strategically add visitor-oriented limited-stop services to the map, like this:

I do wonder about calling this the "Circulator." On the one hand, the Circulator is branded as a tourist and visitor bus service. On the other hand, the existing Circulator makes very frequent stops and is quite slow (45 minutes from Georgetown to Gallery Place). People might assume this bus does the same. Also, if it only stops at McPherson, this Circulator wouldn't make a very convenient connection with the existing one on K Street.

I'd like to see something faster on the K Street route as well. Maybe we need a "Circulator Express" along with the local service there, and make this a Circulator Express? If we did that, one day a Circulator Local could even run on this northern route, satisfying those who want additional stops. Better yet, let's make this a streetcar!

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington and its board president. He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He now lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. 


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I'd have to disagree with putting this bus (or any bus, really) on the Metro map.

For one, the metro map is entirely schematic. And that's fine, since you're dealing with entirely grade separated routes. Buses run on streets, people know that, and they want to know what street they're on so they know where they are.

Two, how do you determine which buses get on the map and which do not? That's confusing - why is this bus on the rail map?

Three, crowding the map with too much extraneous info makes it harder to find the info you need. The beauty of the Metro map is it's simplicity.

by Alex B. on Sep 11, 2008 9:07 am • linkreport

My understanding was that this isn't the circulator- it's an express bus to supplement the circulator. The northern circulator is supposed to more local in nature and essentially replace the 98 bus (this does parallel the route, but when I think of the 98 bus, I primarily think of it as additional service along 18th St along with the Woodley Park access).

Of course, I could have put my own interpretation of the service ahead of what was said.

by james on Sep 11, 2008 9:10 am • linkreport

I would love a Circulator Express, but then, doesn't it go against the purpose of the Circulator that you point out? I mean, I use it to commute, and I know that pretty much everyone I see on it in the mornings and afternoons is doing the same (particularly now that we're in school season and not summer). An express version down K street would make my life tons easier. I just don't know if it's viable. Hm.

by Leigh on Sep 11, 2008 9:17 am • linkreport

Alex: For regular buses that stop every few blocks, it does make sense for the map to show what street they are on. But this bus only stops as often as a rail. What difference does it really make what road you go along if you simply get on at Columbia Heights and the next stop is in Adams Morgan? It could be underground rail, aerial chairlift, teleportation... all that a visitor needs to know is that there are places to get on and off at these main points.

As for which buses should go on the map, it's the most important routes which we want tourists and people who don't live locally to an area to know about. The map shows the rail routes, but more importantly it's many people's mental image of the region. The map should have the routes and destinations which we want people to add to their mental map. This is one. I'd put lines to H Street and Georgetown on the map as well, and possibly the N22 route between Union Station and the ballpark.

by David Alpert on Sep 11, 2008 9:42 am • linkreport

I LOVE this plan and I really think this city needs more like it. Connect the main business areas so that people interested in spending money can get to and from each, quickly. As for commuters, this would take a good deal of strain off of the 50 buses going down 14th street during rush hours. My main gripe about the 14th street buses is that they have entirely too many stops too close together - sometimes one every block. This would also provide a much needed quick connection between people on the green line and the red line without having to travel all the way downtown.

by Jimmy D on Sep 11, 2008 9:44 am • linkreport

Was there any discussion about what would happen to the "little" bus that currently runs between the Woodley and U St. stops along part of this proposed route?

by Bianchi on Sep 11, 2008 9:52 am • linkreport

It seems that two-thirds of this proposed line just replicate the existing 52, 53, 54. I know that tourists don't much use that line, but it just doesn't seem like a priority to duplicate what already exists.

The nothern third that connects Columbia Heights to Woodley Park would certainly be a welcome addition to the available transit options in that part of the city.

What would be nice is an easy way to go between Dupont and Columbia Heights. The closest for now is the 42 to Mt. Pleasant. Perhaps every other 42 could be routed to the Columbia Heights metro instead?

by b-ro on Sep 11, 2008 9:55 am • linkreport

Why doesn't this Circulator share a stop with the existing Circulator? Or does it?

by Lou DC on Sep 11, 2008 10:12 am • linkreport

It's rather buried in the article but Jim Graham's point is a good one - at what point is DC building its own bus system? And if it does, what's the role for WMATA's bus system anymore? At one point WMATA ran all the busses but now it seems every jurisdiction beyond DC has its own bus system. Does this mean MetroBus just doesn't serve those local needs well? Or is it yet another political, territorial pissing patch? Is a bus system, run by a regional authority, obsolete? Or does it need to be reinvigorated?

There doesn't seem to be a reason why this Northern Circulator proposal couldn't be done by adjusting current Metrobus lines or adding a new MetroExpress. Frankly, I think the clean look of the Circulator buses is what makes people say 'Ooooh, I want Circulator' rather than looking at fixing Metrobus routes.

by Distantantennas on Sep 11, 2008 10:26 am • linkreport

This looks like a whole lot of duplication. Duplicating the 52/54 in the north/south dimension, duplicating the Green/Yellow Line rail between U St. and Columbia Hgts., and duplicating the 98 between U St. and Woodley.

I would love more and more transportation options in this area, but I don't see the logic of this route. The logic of the original circulators was clear: circulate people around downtown to complement the existing transit routes which bring people into and out of downtown.

There is a hole that needs filling, but I'd say it's the east-west dimension further up from downtown. Basically what we need is a much more effective way to accomplish what the 98 bus ("the little bus") was supposed to do. A U St. Woodley connector makes a lot of sense, but it needs high frequency, reliability, and some speed.

This same thing might be said of east-west routes between upper NW west of hte park, east of the park (16th St. Heights) and NE DC. Connecting Mt. Pleasant or Petworth to Brookland would open things up.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 11, 2008 10:36 am • linkreport

Perhaps we should just rename the whole system as Circulator. What's the point of adding all these new lines when you could just improve the system we already have (and which happens to need improving - has Jim Graham taken the 42 or S2/S4 lately?)

by Neb on Sep 11, 2008 10:51 am • linkreport

Mt. P to Brookland has three bus lines in the H2, H3, and H4 routes. The problem with those lines, as well as the 52 and 54 on 14th St., is that they are too infrequent during off-peak hours, take too long to ride due to the overly frequent stops and become heavily overcrowded during peak hours. Perhaps this could be addressed by WMATA with some sort of their own express-type line. That WMATA has yet to do something like this, despite clear demand, suggests to me we shouldn't rely on WMATA to suit our local needs.

If the point is to move shoppers between commercial districts, I say something like the Northern Circulator is ideal. That it will give added benefits to residents on their work day commutes makes me like it even more.

by Jimmy D on Sep 11, 2008 11:01 am • linkreport

@Jimmy D: You are right on. WMATA's bus service in mid-city has all the right routes, but just doesn't get the job done.

If we can get new options (northern circulators and so forth), then we should get rid of the large noisy cyclist-crushing traffic-clogging WMATA buses or turn them into express buses.

by Ward 1 Guy on Sep 11, 2008 11:21 am • linkreport

I think this is a good start... but then again, I think the whole idea of the "Circulator" is that it has some sort of circular pattern that lacks redundancy. For instance, I would route this back up Connecticut Ave to Woodley Park after McPherson. It would solve the "Dupont problem" that some have pointed out. Now, I can already see the problem with this: the redundancy of the Red line from Dupont to Woodley, and the redundancy of part of the 42 bus. But i do think the change would make the line more appealing.

by SG on Sep 11, 2008 11:25 am • linkreport

S2/S4 is already being looked at for what I call "The Treatment": a comprehensive look at the bus line to improve service, including making an express route, off-vehicle payment, stop consolidation, new branded vehicles, and other proposals. I'll be doing a post on this effort soon, but for now, information is at

This is the same process that resulted in changes to the Metrobus 30s line, so if you like the results there, it's going to be similar for S2/S4. If you don't like the results there, attend the public meeting to be held September 23.

by Michael P on Sep 11, 2008 11:30 am • linkreport

What is the name "Circulator" supposed to imply? To me, a circulator bus should have a circular route, like clockwise around the Mall or downtown core. Maybe a "neighborhood" circulator could loop around Adams Morgan/Dupont/U St/H St?

by Michael on Sep 11, 2008 12:03 pm • linkreport

Michael, I agree. It should be some sort of loop route, ideally. I also agree with the necessity of adding H Street to a circulator route, but just not this one. It would be a huge detour...

by SG on Sep 11, 2008 12:57 pm • linkreport

An express bus from Columbia Heights to McPherson Square would be incredibly helpful in my household.

by mark on Sep 11, 2008 1:09 pm • linkreport

I think the route very much, and like that it's a limited stop service. But I agree that Circulator is the wrong brand. Why not MetroExtra?

Now, if you want to talk about a route that might be good for the Circulator brand, how about a loop that runs Adams Morgan - Dupont - Logan - U Street - Columbia Heights.

by BeyondDC on Sep 11, 2008 4:31 pm • linkreport

That should read "I like the route very much".

by BeyondDC on Sep 11, 2008 4:32 pm • linkreport

b-ro: There is a Dupont to Columbia Heights bus, the H1. Runs during rush hours only though.

For those against listing bus routes on the Metro map, its already happened. Metro lists both the 5A and the B30 towards Dulles airport and TMBWI aiports respectively. These are special limited stop buses to highly desired locations; listing them seems ok.

Graham's proposal is probably not meant to be specific. He just wants a replacement for the 98. I'm sure he's not wed to a new bus travelling up 14th St, as there are several which do this already.

David, I think 45 minutes from Georgetown to Gallery Place may be a worst case scenario. Can't say its ever taken me that long, but I usually only ride on the weekends. Perhaps weekdays are different.

by Tim on Sep 11, 2008 4:51 pm • linkreport

Tim: That's what it took the one time I tried it. It was around 6:30 or 7 pm I think. I was almost late for my dinner because it too so long! I got on around Wisconsin and P.

by David Alpert on Sep 11, 2008 4:59 pm • linkreport

There is one difference between Metrobus and the Circulator NOT mentioned in these comments:

Metrobus is run by WMATA and is a unionized organization. Costs tend be higher and there is sometimes less flexibility. For example, the reason Fairfax County runs their own systems (the Connector) is because they can contract with a private company, which is Vieola, and run more service for what would be provided by Metrobus. I know for a fact this is why Fairfax County's Connector is taking over service on several Metrobus routes out near the Vienna Metro station... the county will provide more service (all day long) than the peak only service operated by Metrobus for the same cost.

With the SmarTrip cards, people don't care who is driving the bus or what agency is operating it, just that they can get where they need to go on ANY DC-area bus and only have to have one type of fare - the SmarTrip card.

I believe Vieola runs the DC Circulator buses on some sort of joint contract with the District and WMATA.

I'm not a labor expert, but I believe the Circulator is DC's version of the Fairfax Connector (or MoGoCo's RideOn, PGC's 'The Bus', Alexandria's DASH). WMATA handles major routes (and cross-jurisdiction routes) that move a lot of riders while a less expensive option is good for intra-jursidiction service.

If more service can be provided over what WMATA Metrobus can offer for any give amount... I'm for the more service option. Who cares what type of bus it is as long as it is safe and it accepts SmarTrip as fare.

by JConnexion on Sep 11, 2008 9:27 pm • linkreport

Love the route, but I don't think we should add any routes to the Metro map unless they offer SEAMLESS transfer, which no but (and probably no streetcar) will offer. Perhaps notate the transfer in such a way that MARC, AMTRAC, and VRE are noted on the map, but adding a line would create a whole new level of confusion.

by Dave Murphy on Sep 11, 2008 11:41 pm • linkreport

DDOT contracts with Metro to run the Connector. In the current situation, it doesn't undermine much of anything. The route would tie together two areas that are walkable to Metro, but not close (A-M and Logan). The route would help maintain the vitality of A-M and development of the 14th St corridor. It also would replace horribly unreliable service that stops every block (the 52/54; where waits of 30-40 min outside of rush hour and on weekends are not unusual--the buses are supposed to run every 10-15 min at those times).

by Rich on Sep 11, 2008 11:43 pm • linkreport

Shouldn't a "circulator" kinda, y'know, circulate?

Once it gets to McPherson, it should continue to Farragut, Dupont, and back to Woodley Park. Don't those people want to go to Columbia Heights, U Street, and Logan?

by monkeyrotica on Sep 12, 2008 8:25 am • linkreport

RE: Neb's comment whether CM Graham has ridden the 42/S buses...the answer to that would be NO. The Councilmember does not use any sort of public transportation...ever. Just ask him about it. He drives everywhere, which frankly is shameful for a member of the Metro Board and the person that oversees DDOT....He should have to take mass transit at least two times per month and quite frankly he should have to walk on occasion as well...

by Adams Morgan on Sep 12, 2008 11:27 am • linkreport

I love the idea of having a reliable and clean (and environmental friendly) bus service that would connect Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Chinatown-Gallery Place area. It is a great proposal!

But like others have wrote here, it makes more sense to improve the Metro Bus system rather than favoring a private venture. Not that I don't enjoy the Circulator buses, even if they come every half hour only and their service is usually run extremely slow.

By the way, I think the whole Metro Bus system needs a redo. The buses are almost never on time, they are either too crowded or too empty -sometimes I run alone with the driver- while some important areas of DC are neglected.

Who takes care of the transportation system in DC? I know: people who never ride buses!


by CarlosQC on Sep 12, 2008 1:10 pm • linkreport

being a fairly new resident in DC I only discovered this website recently. I'm a huge fan of the Circulator system as opposed to the normal busses criss-crossing DC. I therefore thought it might be a good idea to assess the situation according to David's 4 main steps:

Make the bus frequent - I think they are succeeding 90% of the time

Provide real-time information - hasn't happened. I strongly believe that although releasing an Iphone app was useful it should not have been a priority: Not everyone owns an Iphone, and for tourists using and Iphoen they probably will not use it because of the cost

Add the route to the Metro map - hasn't happened. Shame as the circulator is premium service compared to the normal buses.

Make signage from Metro stations incredibly clear - failure. Every stop should have a map of the service, and directions to the Circulator should be given as soon as one leaves the metro. Right now there is none of this, meaning that Circulator's ridership is probably not as high as it should be.

1/4: not good at all! why think out of the box to end up not fully achieving???

by Vincent on Apr 21, 2010 12:56 pm • linkreport

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