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DDOT could put tour bus parking on Southeast Freeway

DC is having trouble finding a place for tour buses to park, but DDOT might have an answer: part of the Southeast Freeway east of the 11th Street Bridge, near 14th and L Streets, SE.


Photo by afagen on Flickr.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has started a study to replace that last segment of the Southeast Freeway, which connects the 11th Street Bridge to Barney Circle, and redesign the circle itself.

The roadway was originally part of a larger project to build a new bridge over the Anacostia from Barney Circle to DC-295. It was canceled in 1996. Instead, as part of the 11th Street Bridge project, DC built new ramps between the bridge and the freeway east of the Anacostia River.

What should DDOT do with the extra land? At last Thursday evening's meeting at Payne Elementary School, DDOT showed one potential use of land on diagrams at the break-out tables: a new tour bus parking facility.


Bus depot options. Click for PDF. Images from DDOT.

I was only able to get photos of two of the bus options. In the third one, the bus depot would be at grade, and the Southeast Boulevard would be placed in a tunnel beneath it. We've asked DDOT for the PDF files of all three proposals. Update: DDOT has sent along all 3 PDFs.

This was only the scoping meeting to start an environmental analysis, so these are just concept ideas, which the consultants will develop into formal alternatives as the study proceeds.

DC has had ongoing struggles with warehousing tour buses while they're waiting for groups to explore the sights downtown. Many tour buses once parked in the parking garage behind Union Station, but got kicked out to make room for intercity buses.

DC proposed using the Crummell School in Ivy City, but advocates have sued the city over that plan, arguing that it violates promises to create a community facility there and concentrating more polluting uses in a neighborhood already suffering from poor public health.

Councilmembers Vincent Orange and Jack Evans proposed legislation to move those buses to a vacant lot near Buzzard Point. A bus depot on the old Southeast Freeway land could be the executive branch's solution to the same problem.

The bus parking discussion was only part of last Thursday's meeting. We'll have more about the boulevard itself and the need for comprehensive planning for this area later this week.

Geoff Hatchard lived in DC's Trinidad neighborhood. The opinions and views expressed in Geoff's writing on this blog are his, and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer. 

Comments

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What about RFK stadium? Do we really need to pave over any more space when there is a huge area already paved, served by public trans and near arterials?

by andy2 on Feb 25, 2013 1:52 pm • linkreport

DDOT should be talking to CSX about moving those tracks as far North as possible, ideally right up against the current retaining wall, and making sure they are covered by a concrete deck, basically an extension of the tunnel. This way, they could extend the deck out to where the tracks are now, and use that subterranean area for bus parking. I think the model for this would look more like the area around L'Enfant plaza where there is a subterranean level for freight and bus operations, then the top would appear to be a surface level street integrated directly into Cap Hill. Moving the tracks North would then allow for more integrated access of businesses, streets, and trails to to the river with ramps and staircases, rather than trying to cross the tracks at every turn.

by Will H on Feb 25, 2013 2:05 pm • linkreport

I agree with Andy, the RFK lots are an optimal -- and obvious -- location. So obvious that I doubt they haven't been considered. Does anyone know if this option has been openly discussed and ruled out for some reason? I can't imagine the NPS would be a serious obstacle given how DPW has used the lots for intermittent storage in the past.

by Patrick Kennedy on Feb 25, 2013 2:27 pm • linkreport

Put the railroad in a Cut/Cover trench west of Pennsylvania Ave (basically extending the tunnel), fill in the freeway, and reconnect Hill East to the waterfront. Make it possible to walk to the river on 12th, 13th, 14th, and 15th St. When you're done with all that, rebuild Barney Circle as a park.

That land is 4 blocks from a Metro. It's valuable, and it's useful. Let's not use it as a parking lot, especially when there's another enormous one right next door at RFK.

I was disappointed that the 11th St Bridge project didn't include a long-term plan for the newly-redundant freeway stub, and put so much infrastructure on the ground to form the interchange between the bridge and SE Freeway. (If the interchange had been built as an aerial structure between O and M St, there would have been room for a park beneath it, the Boathouse would have been allowed to stay, and there would be no huge physical barrier at the east end of M Street)

As it is, this is a hugely neglected corner of the city. Let's not use that as an excuse to turn it into a parking lot.

by andrew on Feb 25, 2013 2:33 pm • linkreport

I attended the meeting, and I want to emphasize that several discussion groups tentatively went along with the idea of a bus parking facility along the SE Freeway under two conditions:

1) that the facility be underground; and
2) that the above-ground/at-grade space be turned into a community-oriented green space or park.

I think that so long as safety and pollution concerns are addressed, this can be a win-win for both the city and the neighborhood.

by Frank on Feb 25, 2013 2:38 pm • linkreport

Tour buses are already supposed to use RFK but do not because they think it is too far away and they do not have enough time to get back to pick up their groups.

I don't think more enforcement (there already is plenty) is going to make buses go to RFK.

by MLD on Feb 25, 2013 2:40 pm • linkreport

I don't think more enforcement (there already is plenty) is going to make buses go to RFK.

It's also unclear, then, why they would go to this new facility. If this new facility were attractive to buses, then why not just open up the RFK access road to buses and let them use that as a part of this project?

Community-oriented green space in this area is overrated. We have lots of green spaces, we just have a hard time accessing what is there. If we 'create' some new land out of this reconfiguration, I would rather see it filled with dense development - taking advantage of both the riverfront location and the proximity to Metro.

by Alex B. on Feb 25, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

I was there too, and I recall being told that the bus parking would be underground. Couple that with a deck over the railroad tracks and you could make for a nice waterfront.

by David C on Feb 25, 2013 2:51 pm • linkreport

As I understand it, the big need that's not being met right now by RFK is for commuter buses to/from Virginia, on I-395 and I-66.

This might help the I-395 buses. Doubtful it would help the I-66 ones much.

by BeyondDC on Feb 25, 2013 3:09 pm • linkreport

I thought they were going to tear down that portion of the freeway and replace it with a boulevard.

by ceefer66 on Feb 25, 2013 3:28 pm • linkreport

RFK works for commuter buses, which can park and stay there all day. It should theoretically work for tour buses, but my drivers don't go down there if they can help it because there's no restrooms, no food, and they have a choice to illegally idle or get cold.

For tour buses, the immediate need (which I understand isn't necessarily the point of the article) is being driven by the displacement from Union Station by the intercity buses, as Geoff noted in the post.

There are 32 bus spots in Union Station. 10 are reserved for $50/day. The remaining 22 are first come, first served for $20. Generally, I leave it up to my drivers whether they want to pay or not (most do). If they choose not to, or the spots are filled, they have to go elsewhere, which is what the Crummell site was for.

I usually allow 45 minutes to an hour at Union Station for my group. So for it to be worthwhile for the driver, it needs to be, oh, say 15 minutes from Union Station to allow for transit time there and back.

I appreciate DDOT attempting to secure a spot for the buses to park, although I'm reserving judgement on this particular option until I hear more. But for now, my first multi-bus group arrives...Friday.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 25, 2013 3:29 pm • linkreport

Easy access to the SE/SW Freeway and, by extension, I-395 would make this an excellent spot for VA-based/bound buses given what BeyondDC just posted.

Side note to Geoff: originally, this was to be part of the East Leg, routing I-295 around the east side of RFK and through Mt. Olivet to meet I-95 over the railyard near the 9th St NE bridge. The proposal to connect it to a new bridge over the Anacostia (the Barney Circle Connector) came much later.

by Froggie on Feb 25, 2013 3:30 pm • linkreport

Just to repeat my pair of tweets from just before I killed my phone battery-

I'd be curious how the area behind the false wall on I-395 (along 2nd-4th Streets) would fare... it's currently occupied by abandoned payphones, but I'd hazard a guess that is it was intended to be part of I-95: access and vertical clearance should be good, and presumably ventilation might be workable.

by Bossi on Feb 25, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

I hope bus parking facilities incorporate electrical hook-ups (like those for big rigs at some rest areas) to permit the drivers to rest while parked without having to run their engines for heating, cooling, communications, media...

by Danviro on Feb 25, 2013 4:46 pm • linkreport

ceefer, they already have torn it out. There is no road there now, just piles of dirt and (already) the stormwater system. What you're seeing in these images is the idea of a boulevard. In the top photo you can see connections to the existing street grid.

by David C on Feb 25, 2013 5:14 pm • linkreport

I'm a tour bus driver out of Pennsylvania and just happened to come across this article. It's welcome news that people are thinking about additional tour bus parking.

It's not just a parking problem that we have to put up with, its the Gestapo methods that some of the traffic police use. It's like they hate us and can't wait to ticket us for little or no reason. We are allowed to idle a hot engine for a max of 3 minutes, some will give a ticket before the passengers even step foot on the ground, less then a minute.

I was picking up passengers and the back of my bus was 6 inches out of the pickup area box and I had to close the for partway through loading. The cop was screaming at me, people were half in the door and he forced me to close it on them. I had to go around the block meanwhile another bus got in
there. There are many incidences of this hateful attitude.

A main concern for us is availability of food, unless we can snag a spot in town we are out of luck. A mobile lunch truck could make a killing.

Most of us end up on Ohio Drive scrambling for the few spots available, and pity us if we park in one of the many areas that say no bus parking. That's the official slogan of Washington DC "NO BUS PARKING" It's little wonder that we hate to go there.

by Rick Barner on Feb 25, 2013 5:49 pm • linkreport

David C,

Thanks.

I haven't been in the area lately, so I didn't know.

by ceefer66 on Feb 25, 2013 6:20 pm • linkreport

Is there any possibility that the city could run a reverse direction bus lane on Independence Ave SE? It seems like having a dedicated reverse-flow lane strictly for buses might alleviate the worries of getting the buses back to the center of the city.

Then, encouraging a few food trucks to serve out there might also increase interest in parking. You could give them the same exemption in the reverse flow bus lane.

by Craig on Feb 25, 2013 10:45 pm • linkreport

@ MLD

There is a way to make buses follow the law; give out $10,000 tickets for violations or impound the bus

by kk on Feb 26, 2013 12:14 am • linkreport

There is no way using parts of federal highways for bus storage is legal or safe and no way the roads were design for the continuous stress and load of long rows of these heavy vehicles. Highways are design for rolling loads, distributed loads, and for accident avoidance. How would these mammoths even start up or slow down near high-speed traffic lanes? This is a horrible idea!

by AndrewV on Feb 26, 2013 6:23 am • linkreport

AndrewV: The entire stretch of road is being demolished and these plans would entail total reconstruction. I'm sure your concerns would be moot at that point.

by Geoffrey Hatchard on Feb 26, 2013 6:25 am • linkreport

I can't even believe what kk wrote about $10,000 fines for buses, how ludicrous. He obviously doesn't get the point of this entire thread.

by Rick Barner on Feb 26, 2013 9:40 am • linkreport

@ Rick Barner

I believe that the law should be followed and if you dont want to obey it either suffer with a extreme fine or dont come here plain and simple

by kk on Feb 27, 2013 12:56 am • linkreport

Did you read Rick Barner's first comment, kk?

by selxic on Feb 27, 2013 10:29 am • linkreport

@ selxic

Yes I did read it; the idling for 3 minutes and tickets for that is a concern but the food, bathroom issue is a personal problem that could be solved several ways suchas taking Metrorail and going to either Eastern Market or Potomac Ave for lunch, driving the bus to Hechinger Mall, the shopping center off Minnesota and Benning Rd. Before mentioning about not knowing the city there is always something called planning ahead

If there needs to be time to get back from RFK to downtown that should be planned ahead of time. The driving of tour buses has problems in more than just DC; many cities across the globe have issues with tour buses. This is not something new so I see it as a problem with the job not persay a specific city.

by kk on Feb 27, 2013 11:00 am • linkreport

There are tour guides who frequent GGW who always give very good explanations of the logistics faced with transporting tour groups that come to the nation's capitol.

by spookiness on Feb 27, 2013 2:09 pm • linkreport

Most of the comments have lost sight of the fact that having buses full of tourist coming to Washington and spending here is a good thing. We should encourage it and make reasonable accommodations. Also lost in these comments is the idea that the nation's capital belongs to -- uh -- the nation. Seriously, could we be any more provincial and unwelcoming in these comments?

The DDOT plan looks like a great solution to me.

by David on Feb 28, 2013 5:27 am • linkreport

@kk, I work as a guide in Philly, DC, NYC, and Boston. I can assure you DC is far, far worst place to handle buses. The others have the advantage of urban density, so you can drop a group off and go park somewhere outside the city core for 5-6 hours. In DC, the memorials and museums are spread too far out, with insufficient restrooms and food options. When my group is done at Lincoln, and has an appointment at Holocaust, we don't have time to walk them. Especially as we have to get lunch in there somewhere...

We also has the disfunction of at least 4 police departments enforcing rules in an inconsistent manner. A Park Police officer will give an instruction at one sight and a MPD will

You can say it's not the city, it's the job, but professional drivers who do this everywhere only take DC if they have to. The senior driver would much rather take a group to, say, Atlantic City, and shut down for 12 hours than do DC where he'd have to run all day and take a real chance at a $500 ticket. Which often leaves us with new drivers that don't have the corporate experience.

The other reason that RFK is a non-starter is that the Capitol Police prohibit buses from Constitution and Independence.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 28, 2013 8:15 am • linkreport

The other reason that RFK is a non-starter is that the Capitol Police prohibit buses from Constitution and Independence.

Oh hey, idiotic policy from federal police? Who would have guessed!

I think people who live here and maybe haven't done many tours here or elsewhere don't get that in DC most of the major attractions that people want to hit are half a mile apart if not more.

The Mall is an un-activated wasteland. Every time I am down there I am still surprised at how much you walk and walk and walk to see like 4 things. And then if you'd like to eat something your choices are overpriced museum cafe or terrible hot dog carts.

Tim, do you think that better/improved tour group oriented transit options like circulators would help with this problem?

by MLD on Feb 28, 2013 9:07 am • linkreport

The other reason that RFK is a non-starter is that the Capitol Police prohibit buses from Constitution and Independence.

Which is why I asked about the Park Road idea - turning the RFK access road into a street.

If that were connected to the stub of 395-695, would that help with access? And if so, why then bother building a new facility in this spot?

by Alex B. on Feb 28, 2013 9:08 am • linkreport

MLD, not really, no (re: Circulators). At least with the groups. These are largely school groups, and the teachers want/need to keep them together. They're eighth graders, without a lot of street sense, and even if they had it, are in a strange and unfamiliar city. So they move in packs of 40-50. We could even get that down to, say, groups of 25.

The problem is volume. Even if we had, say 25 person "units", we'd have dozens if not hundreds of those units trying to get from, say, Arlington to the Cathedral. Or Lincoln to Ford's Theater. You couldn't run the circulators fast enough to meet the capacity or the timing.

We running all over town, so it's not as if there's a natural path a circulator to follow. And our itineraries just won't allow it. Too many things require timed entry (Cathedral, Ford's Theater, Capitol, White House tour, Holocaust Museum, etc.) that we don't have time to wait for a circulator.

I think expanded circulator options are GREAT for families and other travelers.

The other thing, is this is a seasonal problem. The huge masses of tour buses come from well, now, through mid-June. Summer is quite a light time for me. We have lots of visitors, but they're families and such who largely take public transportation.

One thing that would be great is activating the Mall. It IS a wasteland now, as you say. Get rid of private parking on the Mall. Create a dedicated drop off site, a 15 minute pick up lane,leave ample handicap spots, and allow food trucks to use the Mall side of Jefferson and Madison. We're always running over to OPO, Reagan, and Union Station for lunch, when the Mall could be an open air cafeteria for kids from around the country.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 28, 2013 11:02 am • linkreport

@Alex B.

I think that would work, provisionally. Take 395 -> to access road -> to RFK? Is that what you're thinking?

It still wouldn't work for a lot of my trips (as, for example, when I'm at the Jefferson Memorial and will only be there 30 minutes) but it would work for say, the Capitol drop off.

I think a little infrastructure would help for the drivers. They need a place to go to the bathroom, grab a bite to eat, and stay warm/cold if we don't want to be constantly fighting the idling issue. But it's doable.

by Tim Krepp on Feb 28, 2013 11:05 am • linkreport

I live on L and am concerned about the bus parking idea. Don't get me wrong I work for a museum and we want to see many tour groups come in to the city. The idling of the engine is what has me worried. We already have a lot of pollution because of our proximity to the freeway and now also with larger CSX trains. If it was built as a terminal with restrooms and waiting rooms, vending machines, possibly a coffee shop would you stay in the facility itself or still want to hold up in the bus. Do most tours have regular hours?

by L Street Resident on Mar 4, 2013 9:27 pm • linkreport

There is already a law about the idling, if t

by Rick Barner on Mar 4, 2013 9:37 pm • linkreport

sorry about that, I wasn't finished and the dog hit the send key:-) I will respond tomorrow. For a quickie answer, that would be great. Stay tuned for more bus drivers insights.

by Rick Barner on Mar 4, 2013 9:44 pm • linkreport

I, for one, don't like to spend my wait time sitting on the bus, in winter it's cold and in summer it's hot. Get us off the bus and that resolves the idling concern. A terminal would be great although I don't know where the funding would come from. If it does come to past, I would hope they get bus drivers input in the planning stage. We don't need a dreary building with hard benches.

by Rick Barner on Mar 5, 2013 9:24 am • linkreport

I am not certain about funding either all I know is what options they are proposing. Many factors need to go into this both on the bus parking, and how they plan to get the buses there. They have talked about connecting 13th,14,th or 15th, fairly narrow streets as access to the blvd but not sure how they would get buses to parking and if they are talking at grade to L Street our front doors will be only 12 to 20 feet from the trucks and will not give the tour drivers any facilities. It also doesn't go along with the sustainability plan that Mayor Gray just proposed. ANC Meeting Wenesday with this on the agenda.

by L Street Resident on Mar 5, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

We also need school bus parking. Just last Friday 5 Fairfax buses got ticket at Haynes point. They were all on their buses when the police came up and wrote them all parking tickets. Please fix this problem, the students should have access to the great museum without the problems of no transportation.

by joy on Apr 7, 2014 7:53 am • linkreport

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