Greater Greater Washington

Transit


Circulator will go to Mall, bus priority gets funding

The DC Circulator bus will add service to the National Mall by 2015, and Mayor Gray has added funding to the budget to improve bus service elsewhere in the city, Mayor Gray and Councilmember Mary Cheh just announced in a press release.


Photo by JLaw45 on Flickr.

The Circulator service would not be the same as the old loop around Constitution and Independence Avenues, which DC discontinued in 2011. That line ran without any cooperation from the National Park Service (NPS), which wouldn't even mention it on signs, claiming that their concession contract with the Tourmobile prohibited even telling people about other, cheaper forms of transportation.

When NPS terminated the Tourmobile contract and updated its concession agreements to be more flexible, officials began working with DC to prepare for Circulators that could offer transportation within NPS land and to and from adjacent neighborhoods.

Multiple sources have said that the District expects to get much of the operating funding for the Circulator from the National Park Service and/or Mall visitors. A Circulator on the Mall primarily benefits tourists, though with easy transportation to and from nearby neighborhoods, it could also help encourage tourists to spend some money at local shops and restaurants.

That funding might come from Circulator fares, parking meters on the Mall (where on-street spaces are now free and thus usually nearly impossible to get), or other sources. Specific details are not yet public and, based on the press release, may not be yet worked out between DC and NPS.


Circulator Phase 1 expansion. Image from the Circulator plan.

This is the diagram of proposed Circulator routes from a recent plan from DC Surface Transit, the public-private partnership that runs the Circulator. According to the press release, funds in the coming fiscal year will fund planning the actual routes, which might or might not be the same as some of these.

New fund supports bus priority around the city

In addition, Gray has added a $750,000 annual capital fund to support projects that improve bus service and reduce delays. This could presumably fund dedicated bus lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board fare payment or other projects that make buses a quicker and more appealing way to travel.

DC won a TIGER grant way back in 2010 to improve buses on several corridors, but 3 years later we've seen few if any changes. According to an email forward to me from DDOT, they are planning to use the money to optimize traffic signals downtown and install backup traffic signal power.

The TIGER money will also fund 120 real-time digital displays in some bus stops, "some minor bus stop improvements on 16th Street, Wisconsin Avenue, and Georgia Avenue," and "some bus stop safety features" on H Street and Benning Road, the email says. For a grant which was supposed to fund "shovel-ready" stimulus projects in the immediate term, though, it's taken quite a long time.

Finally, DDOT is working on a short bus lane on Georgia Avenue between Florida Avenue and Barry Place, a spot where buses get significantly stuck in traffic.

There is also an ongoing WMATA study looking at potential bus lanes on H and I Streets in the area north of and around the White House. This would be a more complex project, but it's important for DC to take some big steps that speed up buses significantly, in addition to small and easier steps like new signals.

Neighborhoods still benefit from performance parking

Another new fund creates a pool of money for neighborhood improvements in areas that adopt performance parking. The original performance parking law dedicated some of the extra money to neighborhood-specific projects, and around the ballpark, it has already funded new trash cans, benches, bike racks, and signs for a historic heritage trail.

Gray's budget eliminated the dedicated funding, but to make up for the loss, this new fund will let neighborhoods with performance parking still have some say in local fixes. This fund will have $589,000 for the rest of this current fiscal year and $750,000 a year in future years.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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And the ongoing effort to establish a Metro alternative that serves DC residents continues apace.

by oboe on Apr 26, 2013 4:04 pm • linkreport

Ooh, in addition to the U Street-Dupont connection, the connection down 17th to the SW waterfront and Nationals Park would serve locations that a sorely lacking bus service.

by MLD on Apr 26, 2013 4:16 pm • linkreport

parking meters on the Mall (where on-street spaces are now free and thus usually nearly impossible to get)

No. On-street parking on the Mall is generally useless due to the two hour restriction, which does not allow enough time to stroll leisurely through a museum, let alone catch a nice large screen movie.

by Jasper on Apr 26, 2013 4:25 pm • linkreport

Improving bus frequency is going to be key to getting anybody to use the things.

The 14th St Circulator should be used as the prime example for improving bus service around the city. That route bridges every Metro line, takes a direct route, makes few stops, and shows up reliably every 5-10 minutes during all of its operating hours.

I'll walk a considerable distance to board the 14th St Circulator instead of a Metrobus (or even Metrorail). (The Georgetown Circulator is considerably more 'meh' due to the insane route that it takes through downtown, and around Washington Circle.)

I'd rather see WMATA learn how to run a successful bus service, but if DC can manage to do it on their own, I guess I can live with that.

by andrew on Apr 26, 2013 9:22 pm • linkreport

I am still somewhat surprised that it will take a few years to get a bus service going that replaced the outdated and rightfully defunct Tourmobile. It is yet another show if DCs disdain for one of its major sources of income: tourism.

It is rather incredible actually. Yes, DC is a political capital. And a legal center. But those industries are taking well care of itself, due to massive federal investments. The truly local industries - tourism, science and (higher) education - are completely off the map when it comes to the City Council, or regional policy. In fact, most policy affecting those industries are harmful.

Meanwhile, GGW keeps putting up self-serving articles about high-tech internet companies, that only suck up money, are massive loss-leaders and barely create jobs for locals.

by Jasper on Apr 27, 2013 8:47 am • linkreport

@Jasper

I think "DC" would love to have successful concession contracts, adequate transportation, and other amenities for tourists. The problem is that most of that responsibility (like with the Tourmobile) lies with federal Washington, which could really give a shit less about the needs of the city.

by Adam L on Apr 27, 2013 9:23 am • linkreport

Circulator service and other transit options to serve the Mall is much better than that ridiculous proposal to spend $1B to build parking for tourists under the Mall.

by Ben on Apr 27, 2013 9:32 am • linkreport

Jasper: DC has wanted this bus service for about a decade. The holdup was primarily federal.

Once NPS agreed to do it, DC couldn't instantly start running buses. First of all, they still have to work out the money. Running a bus on the Mall primarily for the benefit of tourists is not the best use of local dollars if DC had to pay for it on its own. If the cost is shared, it's a good idea, and everyone seems to agree it should be shared, but there's a lot to work out.

Also, to start running a bus line you have to buy buses, hire drivers, and more. That isn't instantaneous or free. When Circulator added the east of the river line it had to cut the 7th Street north-south line. It's a small bus system, and it can get bigger, but that requires some time to ramp up and capital budget to buy equipment.

by David Alpert on Apr 27, 2013 9:33 am • linkreport

David-- I think the Federal Highway Administration has a transit in parks program. Can DDOT get any money from that to promote and expand this route?

by Ben on Apr 27, 2013 9:34 am • linkreport

Here is a good surce of federal money for this: http://www.fta.dot.gov/grants/13094_6106.html .

by Ben on Apr 27, 2013 9:36 am • linkreport

That webpage says the program was canceled in MAP-21.

by David Alpert on Apr 27, 2013 9:37 am • linkreport

David-- do you have any information about what the Wisc Ave improvements mentioned above include? For a corridor that is heavily reliant on buses and that has some of the highest-ridership routes, this is welcome news.

by Ben on Apr 27, 2013 9:48 am • linkreport

David, thank you for tracking down the 2010 tiger grant.

What a complete failure by WMATA.

Orginal project project to save 5.6M a year. And they've waited three years to do anything.

They got 26 M, and we're getting a few new traffic signals, and "Improved" bus statons. What a waste.

by charlie on Apr 27, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

@ Adam L:I think "DC" would love to have successful concession contracts, adequate transportation, and other amenities for tourists.

Really. Then were is the lobby from the city onto federal DC to get it done? No, what DC politics is busy with, is getting statehood, and budget independence.

@ David Alpert: DC has wanted this bus service for about a decade. The holdup was primarily federal.

It was. But now it's DC being slow.

DC couldn't instantly start running buses. First of all, they still have to work out the money.

Off course it could have. Plenty of buses around. Working out the money is a no-brainer. Tourist bring in millions into the local economy.

Running a bus on the Mall primarily for the benefit of tourists is not the best use of local dollars if DC had to pay for it on its own.

So, you admit it is not a top priority. That was my point. To quote Stephen Colbert: I accept your apology.

Tourist bring millions into the DC economy, but DC takes it sweet time setting up a replacement of a service that was yanked away (for very good reasons). Meanwhile, for years, tourists read in their tour guides about Tourmobile, look for it, and can't find a replacement.

Also, to start running a bus line you have to buy buses, hire drivers, and more. That isn't instantaneous or free.

It is not. And of course you can't use any of the millions in tax revenue that tourists bring into the city to make their experience a little better.

It's a small bus system, and it can get bigger, but that requires some time to ramp up and capital budget to buy equipment.

I am not aware that there is a shortage of buses on the market. Buses can be bought on a shorter time-frame than several years. You could even rent some buses short-term, if necessary. Unemployment in the District is very high. Surely a couple of bus drivers could be hired and trained quickly. It is politics that is holding up the money.

DC talks the talk, but does not walk the walk.
DC whines about federal overlords, but fails to deliver when it can do something.

by Jasper on Apr 27, 2013 10:05 am • linkreport

Jasper, [deleted for violating the comment policy.], but let me say that you gloss over many, many issues.

Sure, there's a lot DC could do better, but what you're calling for is DC to replace the Federal government as the responsible agency for managing tourism on the Mall. The Park Service is underfunded and dropping the ball, so we should take over.

Nah.

To be blunt, we, DC, already get the tourists. Our hotels fill up, our restaurants are teeming with them, guides like myself have all the business we could handle. What do we care if they have to walk a mile in the sun with no restrooms? It's not a deterrent to visiting Washington.

They're ALREADY coming in DC, in numbers that are past our capacity to handle. What I'd like to see from the District is how to capture revenue from it (well, and lessen impact on residents).

Frankly, running a tourism bus service is a pretty low margin business. Everyone always says "there's gold in them hills" but no one gets rich off it. Like actual gold rushes, the money never seems to pan out. It involves high capital costs, huge personnel problems, and dealing with a multitude of contradictory and uncooperative Federal and local agencies. I looked at it, and figured I'd be a lot happier as an independent contractor and hired help than being yet another operator one invoice away from bankruptcy.

Transportation access to the Memorials and the Mall is a Federal problem. DC has a role to play in working with the Feds, but they need to own the problem.

Not to say that there isn't many, many things we could do better. But I don't want to let the Feds off the hook.

by Tim Krepp on Apr 27, 2013 12:20 pm • linkreport

+1 @Tim Krepp

by Adam L on Apr 27, 2013 4:06 pm • linkreport

@ Tim Krepp: but what you're calling for is DC to replace the Federal government as the responsible agency for managing tourism on the Mall.

No, all I'm asking for is a Circulator route along the Mall in faster than a few years.

To be blunt, we, DC, already get the tourists.

True. But if you treat 'm like dirt, they will not return. If you treat them nicely, by providing convenient bus service along the monuments, they might come a second time, in stead of going to Williamsburg. Or Philly. Or NYC.

What do we care if they have to walk a mile in the sun with no restrooms? It's not a deterrent to visiting Washington.

You are confirming my bias against tourists by Washingtonians. Tourists may be here now, but by making them walk a mile to a bathroom in the burning sun, makes them not want to come back.

They're ALREADY coming in DC, in numbers that are past our capacity to handle.

Then increase capacity. By getting a nice bus lines for instance that brings them conveniently by all the monuments.

What I'd like to see from the District is how to capture revenue from it

Pleasing them so they come back seems out of the question.

(well, and lessen impact on residents).

Yeah, that evil impact of tax revenue, jobs, metro fares and full hotels. Yuk! And the inconvenience to all those National Mall residents! It is unbearable.

But I don't want to let the Feds off the hook.

So you choose to let tourists suffer for another couple of years. Well done DC!

by Jasper on Apr 27, 2013 4:47 pm • linkreport

That's nice, but not how government works. The Federal government owns the Mall, not DC. And they're not exactly functional these days.

by Tim Krepp on Apr 27, 2013 4:59 pm • linkreport

@ Tim Krepp:The Federal government owns the Mall, not DC.

Do the feds run the Circulator, or does DC? So who is to blame for a service not running?

And they're not exactly functional these days.

Neither is DCs government. They can't even get a bus service running within a few years.

by Jasper on Apr 28, 2013 1:59 pm • linkreport

Go read through the original posts, as well as the links David provided. The DDOT has repeatedly tried to operate the Circulator on the Mall, in the face of, at times, outright resistance from the Park Service.

DDOT has managed to effectively run the Circulator on several other routes, expanding service east of the Anacostia and elsewhere. The only one that failed is the one that requires Federal cooperation. It's not that DC can't run a bus service, it's that they can't run one on the Mall.

The whole point of this article is that after a prolonged and sustained effort by the District of Columbia that's finally changing. God knows I criticize the District government enough, I should at least give them credit when they make progress on an intractable issue.

by Tim Krepp on Apr 28, 2013 2:15 pm • linkreport

anyone know if there are any talks or plans about expanding the rosslyn-dupont route to u street?

by guest on Apr 28, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

The best thing about the Circulator is that it doesn't have a schedule it tries to keep - rather it uses a simple 10 min headway to space busses out. WMATA could simply apply that to Metrobus and I think solve one of its biggest problems - bunching.
Mayor Gray - please extend the Circulator up Wisconsin to Calvert!

by andy2 on Apr 29, 2013 9:05 am • linkreport

The line going down to the SW Waterfront will be a great one for me. I hope that the routes crossing the mall will have some contingency plan for keeping service running through the tunnels or something at times when Constitution and Independence Avenues are shut down for half the summer weekends for footraces and parades and Rolling Thunders and who knows what else.

(I'm still annoyed at the time I was trying to get from NW to SW on CaBi and ended up stuck in the blazing sun on the Mall watching ten billion Rolling Thunder motorcycles go by until I saw a big enough gap for me to dart across Independence Avenue on foot real quick. I wish there were someone or other to call on NPS to allow occasional street crossing during these things, because I saw a bunch of tourist families with irritable children desperate to cross the street and get out of the sun too.)

by iaom on Apr 29, 2013 10:23 am • linkreport

I eagerly cheer any efforts to increase connectivity between residential SW and the rest of DC.

by Birdie on Apr 29, 2013 10:55 am • linkreport

So, no more guided bus tours? That's too bad. As a resident I never used Tourmobile, but it always seemed like a great service for tourists.

by Chris S. on Apr 29, 2013 12:13 pm • linkreport

Now if only Woodley Park – Adams Morgan – McPherson Square line could be extended from Woodley Park to anywhere in Georgetown or Glover Park. It's fiendishly difficult to get to Georgetown or Glover Park from anywhere west of the park, or even from Adams Morgan, Mount Pleasant, or Columbia Heights east of the park, all of which that line currently serves. I understand that the resulting line would probably be too long, but it would be nice to have some way to get across that part of town.

by BC on Apr 30, 2013 12:49 pm • linkreport

@BC

It is possible to get from Woodley Park or other places east of Rock Creek to Georgetown/Glover Park what you want is a one seat ride and that is all.

Woodley Park-McPherson Sq line to K street Georgetown-Union Station line

96-30whatever Metrobus
x3-30whatever Metrobus
L1/2Metrobus-Georgetown/Union Station Circulator

by kk on May 2, 2013 10:55 pm • linkreport

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