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The new Circulators and the Metro map

Yesterday, DC launched two new Circulator routes. One connects Woodley Park, Columbia Heights, and McPherson Square Metros with the neighborhoods along Columbia Road and 14th Street, while the other runs from Union Station to Eastern Market and then to the Navy Yard and ballpark.

In honor of this new service, here is a Metro map that includes the Circulator routes.

Click to enlarge and see full map.

DC could make a map like this and post it widely, including in Metro stations, on bus stops, and in tourist brochures. Right now, most visitors to DC visualize the city using the Metro map. That gives them a good idea of the location of Gallery Place and the Smithsonian, but leaves out Georgetown, Adams Morgan (except for the name tacked onto Woodley Park), Logan Circle, and many other destinations. Nor does it help tourists reach most of the important museums and memorials.

We can shape visitors' perceptions of DC geography to include the places they need to know, and encourage more transit use, by widely disseminating an image of our geography that spans more of the city.

This map clearly shows how the K Street Circulator has too many stops. Plus, more of the stops ought to be on the same street in both directions. Mixing some local lines and some very limited-stop lines could create confusion as well. Users accustomed to the frequently-stopping K Street line might be surprised by the very limited-stop 14th Street service. We should brand the new lines with something like Circulator Limited, and add a K Street Limited alongside the K Street Stopping Every Block Local.

Finally, now that Circulator has four lines, do we need to start using colors or identifying letters on the buses and stops? More people will start to fall into the trap of the tourists I encountered who waited for the Georgetown Circulator, expecting it to go to the Mall. Maybe it's time for "Circulator Orange" or "Circulator D Line".

Have you ridden the new Circulators?

Update: I've added the H Street shuttle and the Georgetown Metro Connection, which both also run every 10 minutes and are targeted at least partly at non-commuters. Thanks to Paul S. for the suggestion. I also made a few minor tweaks based on comments.

Update 2: Here's a PDF version for those of you who'd like to print this out.

Update 3, April 4: I've modified the map based on your many great comments. The new version now appears here. Here's the original.

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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This is a really great map; I think I might print it out to use as you suggested. Even as a resident of DC, I still think of the city in terms of metro lines. The new circulator routes makes it seem more accessible.

by Nick on Mar 31, 2009 8:28 am • linkreport

I actually had my first ride on the Circulator bus yesterday, and think it's a fantastic way to get around the non-Metro parts of the city. I had taken Metro from Shady Grove to Chinatown with my daughter, and on an impulse decided to go to Georgetown. No problem... Hop on the bus! And it even used the same SmartTrip card! Very convenient. It gives me yet another reason not to take the car into DC.

by Welmoed on Mar 31, 2009 9:00 am • linkreport

I almost wonder if the Union Station to Navy Yard line doesn't belong on the map. It terminates at 7pm weekdays and has no service on weekends (unless Nationals are playing). It doesn't seem to have wide enough hours to warrant being on a map with Metro.

But if I'm in the minority on that concern and we toss it aside - what about the H Street Shuttle?

by Paul S on Mar 31, 2009 9:13 am • linkreport

I like the semi-circles indicating stops in only one direction. Clever use of graphics and I think helps with potential confusion.

by RAK on Mar 31, 2009 9:18 am • linkreport

Rode my first circulator from Union Station to the Navy Yard this morning. My thoughts:

The 2 new buses depart from the garage in the back of the station - I wandered about out front for 10 minutes before I saw a bus labeled "Special" go into the garage.

The ride was quick, the limited stops and elimination of the "loop" past the Navy Yard visitor gate and Maritime Plaza greatly cuts down on travel time. It took me 20 minutes, comparing favorably to walking (25-35 minutes) and the subway (20 min-30 min, depending on how long I have to wait).

Stays above ground, so I can still stream audio on my iPhone. This, plus the fact that it's cheaper than metro will probably make the bus my "go to" route when I don't have the time to walk (or it's raining). At least until the new bike center opens at Union Station - I'm almost sure that I'll get a bike and store it there at that point.

by Ryan on Mar 31, 2009 9:19 am • linkreport

* Aren't you on some WMATA board? Forward and paste. This is brilliant. I'd like them see explain why they shouldn't use this. And why they haven't thought of this themselves.

* Why aren't the Georgetown and Nay Yard lines the same line? I.e. Why do those buses turn around @ Union Station in stead of driving on?

* I would draw Wisconsin Ave as a diagonal as not to confuse folks, especially tourists. All the state avenues are diagonals, lettered and numbered streets are the grid.

by Jasper on Mar 31, 2009 9:31 am • linkreport

Quick note: The green circulator route travels eastbound on Irving, not westbound (Irving is one-way, eastbound).

by Jimmy D on Mar 31, 2009 9:39 am • linkreport

Thanks for the map! And I agree that the K St Circulator needs to re-evaluate its stops. Why have stops virtually every block from 13th to Q, but then make a 6 block jump from 7th to New Jersey/1st St? There are over 1,000 people living in the four (soon five) buildings on the corners of Mass & 4th alone. It would be far more useful to add a stop at 4th and cut three or four of those incessant stops on the west side.

by tom veil on Mar 31, 2009 9:42 am • linkreport

Rather than mixing the Circulator routes on the Metro map, perhaps WMATA could include a blowup of the center city with a map (Metro-style not to scale) of the Circulator routes and where to transer to the Metro. For example, put 18-Farragut North-16 on the map. I do not think it's a good idea to add the Circulator to the Metro map in Metro stations and cars. I think the map would get too cluttered and confusing, especially for tourists from places that don't really have any transit.

I completely agree that the Circulator on K has too many stops, specifically between Farragut Square and Rock Creek. I avoid Georgetown because it takes as long to get from Farragut North to Georgetown on the Circulator as it does to get from Wheaton to Farragut North on the Metro. Add in a greater than 10 minute transfer due to standard bus bunching. The Circulators should stop no more than every five blocks. I don't think it's unreasonable to ask anyone to go no farther than two and a half blocks in either direction.

by Cavan on Mar 31, 2009 9:57 am • linkreport

Jasper - Perhaps it's time we try a 12 or 16 point compass rather than the current 8 point?

by Squalish on Mar 31, 2009 9:59 am • linkreport

Why don't they extend the circulator down H Street NE to connect the Atlas district and shadow the street car development?

by max on Mar 31, 2009 10:06 am • linkreport

I rode the Union Station - Navy Yard bus yesterday. After scratching my head at the old N22 stop like Ryan did for a while, I found two buses in the bay behind the train station (I am lucky enough to know where and what this bay is - many of the people at whom this bus service is directed will not be able to find this bay easily). The displays were not on, and when one of them did come on it said "Special". There were five or six circulator "ground crew" in the bus bay, and a line of puzzled looking tourists asking them for help. I asked the driver of the "Special" bus if it was the new N22, and he said it was. I got on board, and eventually, after taking one more passenger, we squeezed our way out of the bus bay, and I got off on 8th St. I don't know if the trip was any quicker than it used to be on the N22 - it didn't seem like it. Having the circulators go to the bus bay seems like a good idea, except that there needs to be clear signage directing people there, it took several minutes for the bus to wend its way back out again, and two identical buses side-by-side with their displays off, or ambiguously declaring "special" was confusing. It was definitely not quicker than it would have been for me to take Metrorail. The main reason for taking this new circulator route, as far as I can see, is the same as the reason I sometimes used to take the N22: no one uses it, so it's a clean and quiet alternative to the train. The reason not to take it is the same as the N22 as well: taking waiting into account, you can probably walk to most of the places it goes in about the same amount of time the bus would take to get you there.

by lucre on Mar 31, 2009 10:09 am • linkreport

Fantastic map, as always. One suggestion, though. Why not include a dotted "transfer to Metrorail" link for the 14th/U stop on the green Circulator line to the U Street Metro station?

by Adam on Mar 31, 2009 10:29 am • linkreport

I opted to walk yesterday as I hadn't yet found the n22 circulator stops by union station. Are there any plans to put a circulator stop next to the metro station? Having the union station stop hidden in the garage is inconvenient and not particularly pedestrian friendly.

Also, the circulator web page says that the line ends at 6 but the circulator map says that the line ends at 7pm. It would be helpful to know which was true and whether that was the last bus at union station or navy yard, or both.

Otherwise I like the map. The idea of connecting the navy yard route with the georgetown route is great, other than the inevitable bus bunching that occurs with a long line.

by Nicole on Mar 31, 2009 10:31 am • linkreport

Paul S: Good point. I've added the H Street shuttle, and also the Georgetown Metro Connection, since both run every 10 minutes and try to attract shoppers, tourists, and other casual visitors (possibly as well as commuters).

Jimmy D: Oops. Fixed.

Adam: Thanks. I've added the dotted line.

by David Alpert on Mar 31, 2009 10:36 am • linkreport

An awesome mash-up would involve doing your own bus route overlay. I live on the Hill and frequently take the D6 and the 90/92 to get to places I want to be in NW. I have a fairly clear picture of where the buses go but it would be great to lay them out on a map like this - figure out my own transfer points etc.

The universal problem with bus maps is that there are far too many routes to represent well on a single map. And there are many, many bus routes that I will never find reason to ride, so they need not clutter my map.

by HM on Mar 31, 2009 11:02 am • linkreport

"all service operates at least every 10 minutes"

Wish that were true on Metrorail. It only operates every 15 or 20 minutes late night or weekends. :(

by Michael Perkins on Mar 31, 2009 11:48 am • linkreport

But fifteen minutes on a metro platform (particularly underground) is boring but doable. Especially when you know with metro to a high degree of certainty that the train is coming. For me, ten minutes at a bus stop out in the open by the side of the street (when you actually don't know if the bus will ever show) is a non-starter. I'd rather walk/metro or forget it.

by Steve on Mar 31, 2009 12:05 pm • linkreport

I'm not sure I totally get the new 14th st. circulator. To get to AdMo you have to go all the way to Co. Heights. Plus, the other day it was bunched together with two other 42 busses. I'd rather see improvements to the existing servcie (e.g. double deckers to increase per bus capacity) and improved bike facilities. This is a totally bikeable area, and should be built for people who don't feel safe/comfortable biking in the current situation. (It also seems like this would be much cheaper than the circulator in the long run.)

I also tried to take the H Street shuttle. This is another waste, imo. I ended up catching the X22 because that was actually easier to access, and find. (I still don't understand why the existing bus service couldn't have just been improved or upgraded?)

by norb on Mar 31, 2009 12:34 pm • linkreport

I have to agree with Norb on the new 14st line. Existing bus routes cover all these roads already. I live on Mt Pleasant St, and can take the S or the 50s down to Logan, or the 42 to AdMo. Granted, if I wanted to go to Woodley Park, I'd either have a decent walk or a xfer onto a 90 at 18th/Calvert, but for the expense and increased congestion along Columbia Road and Irving Street, is it worth it? The fact that this bus runs every ten minutes though does call to attention the need for more frequency on crosstown buses - I feel like the H is some kind of phantom at times. When you need to have a timetable memorized to avoid a twenty-plus minute wait on a Saturday afternoon to get around the most densely populated neighborhoods in the city, something's wrong. It shouldn't be so forbidding to cross the park.

And re the K St route - DEF too many stops. I used that bus at least once a week when I worked in Foggy Bottom and lived in SW (I couldn't stand waiting on the green line after the evening rush). Tried it a few times randomly in the morning, and it was a different story. Took FOREVER to get from Mt Vernon Sq to Foggy Bottom.

by Nate on Mar 31, 2009 1:12 pm • linkreport

I think a few of you are missing the point on the Adams Morgan Circulator. Does it seem like the most efficient route from point A to B? No. But it is limited stop while connecting Adams Morgan to all five Metro Lines by serving Woodley (Red), Columbia Heights (Green/Yellow) and McPherson (Orange/Blue). No one will need to transfer off their originating Metro Line to another metro line before being able to arrive at a station serviced by this Adams Morgan circulator. There is value in that.

by Paul S on Mar 31, 2009 1:21 pm • linkreport

My concern with this map: Let's say we keep putting non-commuter-oriented bus lines on the map, but they aren't all Circulator. I see that as potentially confusing to someone who wants to use, say, the H Street Connector from Gallery Place but gets on a 7th Street Circulator because they are expecting to board a Circulator bus.

As I see it, there are two solutions to the problem:

1) Label the H Street and Georgetown connectors differently on the map (adds to map clutter, therefore not ideal)

2) Make the H Street and Georgetown connectors each part of the Circulator -- could add to their visibility also

You're absolutely right that we're going to need some short hand identifier for Circulator bus routes soon. Especially with 5 already (or 7, by my solution) and more on the way, letters will probably work better than colors just because there are more of them (that are easy to distinguish).

by Adam S on Mar 31, 2009 1:30 pm • linkreport

This map is great!

by Aaron on Mar 31, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport

This is a cool map - what you say about people visualizing DC in terms of the Metro stations is totally on point, and I've been guilty of it. With the new Circulator coming to CH, this totally helps.

by scottahb on Mar 31, 2009 1:34 pm • linkreport

This map seems to confirm the suspicion that I've had for a while - namely, rather than restructuring MetroBus, DC is basically building its own bus system from the ground up. I suppose it's not surprising. All the suburban jurisdictions have done it.

by Distantantennas on Mar 31, 2009 1:37 pm • linkreport

Hey Paul, I definitely understand your point, but again, can't one already accomplish that feat with existing buses? 42 will take you within a block and a half of green, and 90 runs right past it and red. I do know there are a lot of metro riders who never set foot on metrobuses that might be a little more inclined to ride the Circulator (even though I have issues with the buses because of the seriously increased likelihood that I won't be able to sit facing frontwards) - perhaps maps like the one above showing metrobus routes would help (it is a pretty slick map, by the way). It just seems like superfluous service. Don't get me wrong, I'm all for having a quicker trip to Whole Foods, but I'm really not as excited about this line as I anticipated now that I know the route. And once Ellwood Thompson's opens, even that benefit for me will be negated. In the end, I guess this is a nice argument to have - it means that between walkability and already existing transportation, I live in pretty great area.

by Nate on Mar 31, 2009 1:39 pm • linkreport

Awesome map -- thanks.

by Brad on Mar 31, 2009 1:45 pm • linkreport

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the H Street Shuttle runs on 30 minute headways, not 10.

by Mony on Mar 31, 2009 1:52 pm • linkreport

@Adam Re: names of bus routes. I have a whole long essay I've written on this very topic on my web site here:

I'm not a big fan of numbers and letters.

(Note to all: Perhaps this is a post we can put on GGW for a separate discussion rather than go off on a tangent on this one, which rightfully should be about David's map and the Circulators.)

by Steve O on Mar 31, 2009 3:09 pm • linkreport

Distantantennas, not really. RideOn does not duplicate anything that WMATA routes do. The routes the suburban jurisdictions run are purely supplemental to the Metrobus routes. In the suburbs, the Metrobuses only run on the most major routes. RideOn is mostly commuter-oriented and fills in the gaps between Metro and Metrobus routes.

The Metrobus routes in DC are much, much denser. There are more of them and the main ones run more frequently. It's not really a fair comparison.

by Cavan on Mar 31, 2009 3:14 pm • linkreport

@Mony - That's my impression, too. Every time I've taken the H St Shuttle, it's had a 30-minute headway. They didn't triple their service without telling me, did they?

by AMT on Mar 31, 2009 4:28 pm • linkreport

I think you could improve readability of the west side of the map (GU and West End). I'd basically emphasize "M Street" a little bit more, by

(1) have the Gtown connection go due west once it hits M and New Hampshire, and

(2) have the Circulator come northwest to the new horizontal M Street, from about 22nd to 26th Street, basically like it does now along Penn Ave NW.

I also agree with making the Wisc Ave stops more of a diagonal. And this will pull the whole section of the map away from the Metro lines to improve readability.

Just some thoughts -- this is AMAZING work.

by Dave on Mar 31, 2009 4:41 pm • linkreport

Why is the metro map scaled differently than the actual terrain it covers? I know the outlying stations are so far away that real-world scaling poses layout problems, but by not scaling at all to the real world and by completely omitting all but the crudest representations of above-ground points of interest the map actually prevents me from using it spontaneously.

If I want to go somewhere new and I have the address, I have to go online and plot the location of the nearest metro stop - I can't just look at the metro map. If I'm in a subway car and my friend texts me "hey meet me at x place, here's the address" and I don't have the city memorized I can't tell where to get off!

NYC's subway system is far more complicated than DC's and yet the streets are plotted on the map alongside the lines and stations. I find it far more useful and intuitive than the DC map, which doesn't reflect reality.

The point of metro is not just to travel to a different metro station. The point is to visit things located above that station!

by pete-o on Mar 31, 2009 4:42 pm • linkreport

You must be the only one I've ever talked to who found the New York Subway map more user-friendly than our Metro map.

by Cavan on Mar 31, 2009 4:53 pm • linkreport

i'd like to see buses differentiated from real transit in some way, visually, so people know what to expect, and they can play their trips accordingly.

we should be continuously looking to phase out bus service, replacing it with rail service.

by Peter on Mar 31, 2009 7:51 pm • linkreport


You have a point on scale take for example Union Station & Minnesota Ave or New York Ave and Mt. Vernon Sq there are at the same or almost at the same latitude what is with the way there depicted on the maps Minnesota Ave is not south of Union Station its almost direct east about 2-3 miles away

Like wise with U street and Georgia Ave if you go by the map Georgia Ave is due north of U Street when its damn sure not and Takoma is not due north of Georgia Ave and all of the Green line below Anacostia is wrong. If you look at the map and look at every station that borders DC and Maryland or is on the border there all wrong if you go by distance

Going back to the Circulators I'd rather have the N22 it ran more than just morning rush hour to evening rush hour and would love a stop over by 1st and Louisiana or 1st and Constitution NW since there are no buses that go and stop over there and that walk is a b***h to any station or bus stop.

Exactly how does the new Adams Morgan Circulator replace the 98 its basically a completely new route and they got rid of the 98 it doesn't even go half of the same route so it isn't really a replacement.

by KK on Mar 31, 2009 9:00 pm • linkreport

the google transit layer, available for some cities, shows different transit types differently -- like yours, but to my knowledge, it doesn't show bus routes. we could argue about whether it should or not - i say no.

here is sf. notice the light rail lines are in grey, which is probably what they deserve, given that cars are given priority over any transit in the city, thus forcing the trains to be stopped more than they're moving.

by Peter Smith on Apr 1, 2009 3:12 am • linkreport

Fantastic map - one trivial note... I would lower the Columbia Rd. route of the new 14th St. Circulator below the Columbia Heights metro station. As the map is now, if you're going north on 14th St. it appears that you would get to the Columbia Heights metro before making the left turn on Columbia.

by MichaelDC on Apr 1, 2009 9:21 am • linkreport

Kill the Circulator south of L'Enfant Plaza. Those busses to and from the Waterfront are nearly always empty, or used by the occasional SW resident (me included) who doesn't feel like walking to the Metro.

Right now, there is no reason for tourists to ever visit the SW Waterfront. The fish market is unique, but the few tourists I have taken there all comment on how pathetic it is compared to real markets in other cities and, lets face it, not a lot of tourists are in the market for fresh seafood anyway. Pike Place in Seattle is an attraction, Maine Ave is a basically a giant supermarket counter.

Phillips is packed with tourists, but they all come off of tour busses, H2O (or whatever it is called now) isn't a draw, nor really are the other places down there. Even the dinner boats seem to draw more locals out for a special occiasion then tourists.

I like the Circulator as a concept, but forcing it down to the Watefront makes no sense right now. Maybe in 10, 20, or 100 years or whenever things change down there, but not now.

by tivonia on Apr 1, 2009 11:34 am • linkreport

I rode the new Navy Yard circulator today, and in case you were wondering whether there's such a thing as "new bus smell", the answer is yes. And it's almost exactly like new car smell.

by Michael Perkins on Apr 1, 2009 11:41 am • linkreport

I have some issues with the circulator:

1) The paint on the side of the bus: the design that acted as a sort of system map is outdated and must be reconsidered. It now only shows a fraction of the places the circulators go. This design was very short sighted, or the lack of attention to updating it was a serious mistake.

2) With 5 lines now, we need some sort of differentiation between them, both on the maps and at the stops. Colors, numbers, names? Something.

3) The circulator system seems very bi-polar. Some actually circulate (like the K St. line) and others act more like express buses (the new Adams Morgan line). It's a shame that the Adams Morgan bus doesn't stop anywhere near the center of activity. The stops are so far apart that few people will use the bus. People can now take the circulator to Columbia Heights from Adams Morgan, but they'll have to walk to Calvert and Lanier to do so. The next stop isn't until 16th Street, a half mile away, and so close to CoHi that it makes no sense to take the bus from there. It should stop more frequently in activity centers.

4) Bus service is already good along 14th street, and Thomas Circle is a mess. Why route more buses along there? How about going north/south on 11th instead, providing more service to under-served communities and avoiding bottlenecks.

by meichler on Apr 2, 2009 12:18 pm • linkreport

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