Greater Greater Washington

More bus service may come to 16th Street's southern half

WMATA might beef up service on the busy 16th Street (S) line with a bus starting in Columbia Heights, where existing S buses often become too full to pick up passengers. That was one of the options WMATA and DDOT bus planners discussed with riders at a meeting last Monday.


Photo by Jess J on Flickr.

Every bus commuter knows that during morning rush hour, the people who board a bus early in the route are the ones who get the seats. They can get some reading or work done, or fit in one final snooze before they start their days.

But to riders who board the 16th Street "S-line" buses on the the southern half of the route, it's not just a matter of getting a seat. Full buses pass them by, one after another, during the morning crunch. More and more commuters in that section have been giving up on the bus altogether and either waste money and gasoline on taxis and cars, or walk relatively long distances, making them late to work.

25 residents packed a daycare room at the Jewish Community Center on a cold and rainy night last Monday evening and shared not only their frustrations, but also their thoughtful ideas. Express and Current reporters also were there. Dozens of residents who could not attend emailed me their concerns and ideas, which I shared with WMATA officials.

For example, rider Mary M. wrote,

Just this week (Tues, Wed, and today, Thurs), it has taken me 45-50 minutes to get from 16th & V to 14th & I, and anywhere from 4 to 6 buses have passed the stop each morning because they are too crowded to accept any more passengers. (Also, on Tuesday morning, 2 buses that had hardly anyone standing passed us by in the cold). There are usually 15-20 people waiting at V St in the mornings.
At the meeting, S bus riders heard from WMATA bus planners Jim Hamre and David Erion and DDOT's Steve Strauss. All 3 have a wealth of experience with District bus service. They have worked to make improvements in the past, like the S9 express bus. Rapid population growth in central DC has created challenges for bus service to keep up, they said.

But they offered hope of addressing this problem without affecting service for those who live along the northern half of the route. On Friday, in a follow-up phone call, Hamre also told me that WMATA is working on new proposals which he can discuss with the community around the 3rd week of February.

New route could serve half of 16th, if there's a space to lay over

One possibility discussed with Hamre during the meeting is a rush hour route focused on the morning problem strip: Columbia Road to downtown DC. But one obstacle is layover spacea bus route requires a location for the bus drivers to park, pause, and get ready for an on-time departure. My ANC colleague Noah Smith proposed inquiring about space in nearby neighborhoods.

We asked whether the route could run for only the 8-9 am hour, and therefore perhaps avoid the need for the parking stop. But the availability of a layover space is a very important part of running a bus route, the planners said. Would the elusive search for bus-length parking in one of the most congested parts of town stall this idea?

After the meeting, my wife Divya, who often jogs to Rock Creek and back, suggested asking about using the existing turnaround area on Calvert Street, by the Duke Ellington Bridge, where the 90s bus lines end today. That is less than 5 blocks from Columbia Road, and then just another 5 blocks from the 16th & Columbia intersection.

Hamre was intrigued by the idea when we discussed it by phone. While it's not ideal, he said he'd look into it, among other possibilities. (None of those possibilities include reducing service to the northern half of the S route).

Other ideas that came up at the meeting include posting bus supervisors along the current S line to efficiently reorder buses en route, and consolidating certain stops that are very close together (at least during rush hour) along 16th Street.

We are looking forward to seeing WMATA's proposals later this month. As soon as the meeting is confirmed, we will share it here and elsewhere to hopefully get an even bigger turnout than the one we had last Monday. Thanks go to the Jewish Community Center for providing the space, WMATA and DDOT officials for attending, and Noah Smith, who collaborated with me to organize the event.

Kishan Putta is a Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner who is also an avid District cyclist and health reform advocate. He has lived on 16th Street for several years with his wife Divya. He is also an active board member of Friends of Stead Park. You can find out more and contact him at kishanfordc.com

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How about an S Metro Extra route that has very limited stops from Silver Spring to Columbia Heights then goes local until the end line? Vise versa for the evening rush?

by Randall M. on Feb 4, 2013 10:35 am • linkreport

As someone who lives in Silver Spring and takes all of the S buses, I think the real answer is expanding S9 service, making it more frequent during rush hour and running later at night. Let riders taking longer trips from further north use the S9, while those doing short trips can take the (hopefully less crowded) S2 and S4.

There aren't as many transit alternatives on 16th Street north of Columbia Heights, while those further south when they have more alternatives (the 42/43, 50 buses, Green Line, walking & biking - though of course you could also bike from Shepherd Park or Silver Spring - etc.)

by dan reed! on Feb 4, 2013 10:53 am • linkreport

The seemingly obvious answer is to increase service along this bus route during the morning and evening commute times. Adding even five more buses an hour would solve this problem.

I imagine there are no extra buses, so why not target this route for a new purchase or reallocation of buses? The need is clearly there and Metro needs to be responsive to its customer base.

Long term, it seems like 16th Street would be a ripe target for a streetcar line (especially nice Walter Reed 's new complex is up and running)

by Adam on Feb 4, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

Very stupid question, but why not start the buses where they are now, and just not pick anyone up until Columbia or U st.

Although, honestly, if you live under U you should be walking to work.

by charlie on Feb 4, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

Hallelujah! More S9 (express) would be great period. I take it from McPhereson to Park when I see one. They're always full. The bus situation seems to be better than it did years ago but I'm getting on at like 7:45 now instead of 8:45 so I don't see the worst of it.

After many years of observation I would say the crush starts somewhere between Park and U st. most days. Another bus route starting there would make sense. One option would be that it could go off 16th at that point and maybe get cross town coverage, say maybe go down Columbia Rd starting from Catholic and then go south on 16th to pick up residents on the eastern half of Columbia Heights. I think the ridership is there. Or the other way to Cleveland Park. It would be nice for locals to have an additional Red line metro connection to the H buses. Or even just elsewhere in Petworth to get that crosstown leg in, maybe along Park/Irving. If layover space is a problem I wonder if it could start on Mt Pleasant and then go down 16th?

by Alan B. on Feb 4, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

I take the @ buses to work each day. I get on just north of Columbia Heights. So long as they don't reduce OUR service, I see no problems with this. For the people who can't handle walking the slightly over one mile from 16th & I to 16th & V, I'd suggest getting up earlier. If I get on a bus by 7:45, it will rarely reach full standing capacity before getting downtown.

by Matt on Feb 4, 2013 11:08 am • linkreport

I ride the S buses daily from 16th & Euclid and have been riding them from various points in Columbia Heights for several years. It's probably the best bus line in the city - extremely frequent service during rush hour, good service off-peak, and moves along pretty quickly. It is basically at max capacity at certain periods due to the fact that most passengers get off at 16th & M or 16th & K - this means that at certain times the buses get extremely crowded from everyone trying to arrive at work at 8, 8:30, or 9AM.

1. Bus bunching is a big problem along this line. I do think having someone control/hold buses when bunching gets really bad could help. Sometimes I will see FIVE buses all bunched up together, the first couple completely jam-packed and the fifth basically empty. Holding the emptier buses could help clear out crowded conditions. I do think some of the drivers could use some education specifically for this route about how they should be less aggressive if their bus is empty and try to stop at more stops instead of leapfrogging so much.

2. The Ellington Bridge layover idea is not feasible - it takes too long to get from there to 16th & Columbia to start the route. I would not be surprised if it took as much time to go that distance as it does to go from Columbia to P St. The turnaround in Mt Pleasant might be more feasible AND that would have the added benefit of siphoning off some of the traffic from the Park Rd and Irving stops, which can also get crowded.

3. Especially in the last couple weeks this line has been crowded due to the cold - there are a lot of people along this corridor who walk to work but who choose the bus when it is cold or raining heavily, I always know it will be harder to catch the bus in bad weather. That just shows you how hard it is to plan for capacity on this line and how stuffed to the gills it already is.

4. The varied conditions mean that people who are smart can take some steps to make things easier for themselves. If you are constantly experiencing really crowded conditions, try going to work 15 minutes earlier or later - you might find that there is far less crowding. I know if I get to the stop at 7:35 things are much less crowded than if I get there at 7:50. If you are waiting forever at 16th & V for a bus, walk thee 600 feet to 16th & U - more buses stop there! And another thing that can may not immediately help you but can help the entire system is not cramming onto the first packed bus that comes - this slows everything down. The buses are so frequent on 16th that if you wait for the next bus there might be fewer people on board.

by MLD on Feb 4, 2013 11:13 am • linkreport

This is a great idea. It's not uncommon to watch 4 or more buses go by before it's possible to board one.

And this is the place where it's hitting capacity. Sometimes I'll try to board at Euclid rather than Crescent because one stop can make the difference between getting on or not.

The capacity problems continue through 9:30 not infrequently, so this should run at least until then.

by Gavin on Feb 4, 2013 11:17 am • linkreport

Also, my dream version of NextBus includes information on capacity. Think: "The bus in 2 minutes is 90% full, but the bus in 4 minutes is only 60% full -- I'll wait."

by Gavin on Feb 4, 2013 11:21 am • linkreport

How about stage buses from the DPR parking lot at 16th and Lamont or the brief stub of Pine Street NW in from of the Sacred Heart Basilica?

by Steve S. on Feb 4, 2013 11:27 am • linkreport

Normally I would walk to work but when it's bad weather I'm going to take the bus (especially when it compares to dealing with the winter sidewalk slip-and-slide). I thought there were going to be more articulated buses running during the AM and PM rush, but I have only seen a handful and all of them have been the S1 line.

by Adam L on Feb 4, 2013 11:29 am • linkreport

Does anybody know why there are stops at S, Riggs, and Corcoran? That's three bus stops in less than a quarter mile.

by Gavin on Feb 4, 2013 11:31 am • linkreport

WMATA recently opened a new large bus garage near the WASA treatment plant off of Shepherd Pkwy. If the problem is not having enough buses available at the Northern bus garage, why not shift some other routes to the new bus garage to free up buses for 16th St? Or shift a route or two among bus garages until enough buses are avaialble at Northern.

We need more bus service. Everytime a bus route get changed, there are issues of moving buses around instead of adding more buses or more service.

by Transport. on Feb 4, 2013 11:32 am • linkreport

@Gavin
Also, my dream version of NextBus includes information on capacity. Think: "The bus in 2 minutes is 90% full, but the bus in 4 minutes is only 60% full -- I'll wait."

This is possible, they could integrate the AVL and passenger counter (I assume their buses have them) systems to try to estimate how many people are on the bus. I'm not sure if any transit agency successfully does this yet though.

Does anybody know why there are stops at S, Riggs, and Corcoran? That's three bus stops in less than a quarter mile.

I have to guess they tried to get rid of Riggs at some point, and somebody found the one old lady who was unable to walk to another stop and brought her to the public meeting.

by MLD on Feb 4, 2013 11:37 am • linkreport

More interlining could work, but given how much bus bunching there already is it might just be a stopgap.

Bus infrastructure improvements (signal priority, jump lanes, or even transit-only lanes, along with parking for more articulated buses) would be more a more effective way to whack the mole.

by David Edmondson on Feb 4, 2013 11:47 am • linkreport

To Dan Reed:

At the end of December WMATA, with DDOT's full support, expanded the span of S9 service so that the limited stops now run much later in the evening. Check the updated schedules for more info.

by Steve Strauss on Feb 4, 2013 11:54 am • linkreport

One problems with shifting bus routes to a new garage, and I don't know if WMATA does this, could be that drivers are often assigned to certain garages not routes and will not be happy when the pick changes drastically over night. Not saying that's a good reason not to do it, just where that kind of suggestion can run into issues.

by Alan B. on Feb 4, 2013 12:22 pm • linkreport

@Alan B.: Thanks for pointing this out. If what you say is a problem within Metro, I hope the staff say so. Routes should be operated from the various garages based on efficiency and need, such as to allow for more service on 16th St. vs. operating the system according to what may or may not tick off a few bus drivers.

by Transport. on Feb 4, 2013 1:00 pm • linkreport

Just to clarify I don't know that that's how it works in WMATA, but that's how some agencies operate. And I agree it's not a good reason to not get it done if it needs to be done, but union contracts, etc etc may make that process kind of slow or difficult.

by Alan B. on Feb 4, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

I'd love to see a streetcar line, but it's more suited to 14th than 16th. That and 16th wouldn't happen anyway due to NIMBYism as well as distance from commercial corridors, where 14th is more apt (particularly the stretch between U and CH Metro).

by Phil on Feb 4, 2013 1:15 pm • linkreport

How about running a turnaround via Irving, 14th, and Columbia? That way you tie the route into Columbia Heights and the Green Line at the northern end, and you might be able to convert one of the loading areas along Irving or 14th into the required bus layby space during peak hours only.

by Peter K on Feb 4, 2013 1:24 pm • linkreport

Bus infrastructure improvements (signal priority, jump lanes, or even transit-only lanes, along with parking for more articulated buses) would be more a more effective way to whack the mole.

That's the right answer, particularly a bus only lane during rush hour. That way buses can make the trip faster which means they can make more trips per hour, increasing frequency without needing to purchase more buses. It would also reduce bunching.

by Falls Church on Feb 4, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

I like the idea of starting a bus line in Mt Pleasant (where the 42 starts) and running it from there over to 16th and down. I'm probably biased because I used to live in Mt.P, but I think that an express bus with limited stops on 16th (Irving, U, P, K and Metro Center) would be hugely popular and would only need to run for 1-2 hours during peak rush hour to have a positive impact.
The other alternative is of course to use buses with a higher passenger capacity on the current route/schedule.

by grumpy on Feb 4, 2013 1:58 pm • linkreport

The 16th Street Line Study completed by WMATA in 2009 recommended implementation of peak direction transit only lanes on 16th Street between Spring Road and Irving Street, short term service south of Arkansas Avenue, and greater use of articulated buses on Routes S2 and S4 in addition to implementation of the Route S9 limited stop service started in March of that year.

The creation of the transit only lanes required further study by DDOT. Resident opposition to operation of buses on Arkansas Avenue prevented implementation of the short turn service starting at that location. Use of articulated buses are restricted by the number of these buses (20) and the limited space available where they are located at Northern Bus Garage. These buses are also used on the high ridership Route 70 Line on Georgia Avenue.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 4, 2013 3:01 pm • linkreport

Does WMATA have new buses in the pipeline over the next few years beyond replacement for retiring vehicles? I think you could make a strong argument they would be useful here.

by Alan B. on Feb 4, 2013 3:18 pm • linkreport

@grumpy

Yep, what Douglas Stallworth said. Buses aren't infrastructure-free, unfortunately, and they need garages. Given how much demand for high-capacity bus service in the city this should be one of the big infrastructure priorities for WMATA. The X, S, 70 lines all need more capacity. I believe the 30, 40, and 50 lines need it, too, but I'm not familiar with them enough to know for certain.

by David Edmondson on Feb 4, 2013 3:20 pm • linkreport

LOL @ Arkansas Ave residents. I object to Piney Branch Parkway being used as a speedway, but let's see if anyone will stop them.

by Steve S. on Feb 4, 2013 3:52 pm • linkreport

30s were horrible back in the day so probably yes. 40s I don't usually take for rush hour because connecticut is horrible. 50s are nearing S, but I'm not sure it's quite there yet.

by Alan B. on Feb 4, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

The bus barn is at 14th and Decatur/Buchanan. Why couldn't more S buses originate there? Some already do during the rush, but more could be added. This would pick up sometimes large groups at 3331 (I think its the Woodner), but otherwise the next big stop is Irving.

Beginning at Irving (or south) does really leave out individuals who have no other options, unlike the Columbia Heights residents that have the Metro (not always convenient, but an option) the 42/43, etc.

by North of Columbia Heights on Feb 4, 2013 6:05 pm • linkreport

In March 2010, the Coalition for Smarter Growth submitted a petition signed by 550 people to elected officials and DDOT calling for a dedicated bus/bike lane on 16th St. The 2009 Bus Priority Corridor study had called for a transit-only lane, along with other improvements to make bus service more efficient and reliable on 16th St. DDOT kept telling us it was studying these improvements, but it's unclear the city has implemented them; certainly not a bus lane. It's great that DDOT and WMATA are looking at enhanced service, but wouldnt better management of the existing roadway to get more out of existing bus service be most cost-effective?

by Cheryl Cort on Feb 4, 2013 9:13 pm • linkreport

I agree that a rush hour bus/transit lane is a great start -- i would even suggest photo-enforcing it to make sure it is respected by auto drivers...heck, i would even support a congestion-type "toll" and allow some autos to use it if they are willing to pay the price. But bus-only rush lanes are sorely needed on 16th, Georgia, Connecticut and a bunch of other arterials. That is the ONLY way we will get people into bus transit.

In the meantime, perhaps the additional 16th buses can stage their abbreviated route from the parking lot of Carter Baron. It's huge and underused.

by Danviro on Feb 5, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

Why do they need to have the extra buses on a schedule? Wasn't there an article about how buses that were allowed to run on a continuous loop without being tied to scheduled stops actually got people to work faster? What if it was just a certain number of buses that run continuously starting at 8am (or 7:45 and ending after reaching the last stop after 9am?

by 4LOM on Feb 5, 2013 11:30 am • linkreport

@4LOM

Exactly. And ever since WMATA (supposedly) switched some bus lines from a timetable-based to a headway-based schedule, that should be more possible than ever. Rather than "the bus will come at 7:47" - which, of course, is pretty much never the case anyways - have something like what TfL buses use, where between 6:30 and 9:30 buses will come every 4-6 minutes, etc. That would allow the variation inherent to quick turnarounds.

It would probably require dedicated lanes, too, but those are roughly a decade late anyways and can't possibly come soon enough. Eliminate parking on 16th and 14th Streets and replace them with bus lanes.

by MetroDerp on Feb 5, 2013 1:03 pm • linkreport

What about the layover spot for the H8 and 42 bus routes in Mt Pleasant or simply take a lane from Irving Street infront of Columbia Heights Station and allow buses to layover there.

Its done on several streets downtown H, I, 9th and 17th streets so why not there.

by kk on Feb 5, 2013 6:28 pm • linkreport

What about using the underground garage at the DCUSA mall as a layover spot? I know it may not ideal, but whenever I've been in the DCUSA garage more than 1/2 of the spaces have been empty.

by Greg on Feb 7, 2013 9:41 am • linkreport

When funding and new vehicles become available, WMATA will implement a new Route 59 limited stop MetroExtra service on 14th Street between the Takoma Metro Station and Federal Triangle. This will provide improved service in this corridor and encourage a large number of riders on the northern end of 14th Street who currently walk to 16th Street to take the more frequent 16th Street service to travel on 14th Street instead. This will free up capacity for S Line riders on the lower end of 16th Street south of Irving Street.

by Douglas Stallworth on Feb 7, 2013 10:21 am • linkreport

I agree with the posters that say if you're going from 16th and U to McPherson Square you should walk. but for those of us going to Federal Triangle it's about an hour walk. Doable, yes, but not ideal. More Federal Triangle buses would make everyone's lives easier! Kishan, thanks for your work on this.

by Stephanie on Feb 12, 2013 12:19 pm • linkreport

[Deleted for violating the comment policy.]

Sometimes I walk, sometimes I don't - for a variety of personal reasons. But it is certainly not up to you [deleted for violating the comment policy] to tell me how far I should walk. (Not to mention any number of seniors, disabled, injured people. Should they just suck it up and walk, too?)

by stebbins on Feb 15, 2013 9:43 am • linkreport

@stebbins

I think the suggestion is only that if you have other options (walking is one) you should consider taking them if you find yourself waiting forever for a bus.

Not everyone has all those options available to them.

by MLD on Feb 15, 2013 9:55 am • linkreport

@ stebbins - I'm with you. People living along the southern half of the route pay taxes just like the other half, so they are entitled to the service, to use as they see fit.

by guesty on Feb 15, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

@ Stephanie - Glad that our efforts may yield results soon. Please join us TOMORROW EVENING (Wed, Feb 20):

***Metro will present a proposal for a NEW rush hour bus route***

We have shared two possible layover options with Metro and they have been working hard to consider possible solutions.

Come see them for yourself tomorrow (2/20) at 7pm @ The Chastleton Ballroom; 1701 16th St., NW (16th & R)

We appreciate Metro's consideration. If you want to see this problem addressed, come let Metro know what you think of their proposal.

Post any Qs here or send emails:
Kishan.Putta@DupontCircleANC.net

by Kishan Putta on Feb 19, 2013 3:26 am • linkreport

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