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Metrobus proposal hurts connections to Upper Northwest

As part of its proposed service changes, WMATA may end the 96 Metrobus at Woodley Park, instead of its current terminus at Tenleytown. While this may make the line more reliable, it could also inconvenience riders and make the bus system less coherent.

Map of proposed changes to the 96, 97 and the new 98 route from WMATA.

Today, the 96 runs between Capitol Heights and Tenleytown. Planners say that ending it at the east end of the Duke Ellington Bridge, two blocks east of the Woodley Park Metro station, will make the line less susceptible to traffic delays, increasing its reliability. A new bus, the 98, would replace the missing segment, traveling between Tenleytown and U Street, while the 97 between Capitol Heights and Union Station would stay the same.

The 90-series buses have used the old streetcar turnaround at the eastern end of the Duke Ellington Bridge for years. In general, it works well as a piece of transit infrastructure. It has a layover facility for drivers and space for buses to pull out of the roadway.

Cutting the 96 at Woodley Park exacerbates the disconnection between Cathedral Heights, Woodley Park, and Adams Morgan. Many riders who may want to transfer between the bus and the Red Line, or who just want to go to Woodley Park or Upper Northwest will be stranded on the wrong side of the bridge.

The only routes that complete the connection between the Ellington Bridge and the Woodley Park Metro station are the 96, the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square Circulator, and the Metrobus X3. However, the Circulator doesn't go to Upper Northwest, and the X3 only runs during rush hour.

The transit system as it currently exists. The 96 would cut short where the high-frequency 90/92 line does today.

If WMATA wants to shorten the 96, it would make more sense to end it at the Woodley Park Metro station, or at Wisconsin Avenue, home to the National Cathedral and the 30-series buses. A timed transfer at the turnaround between the 96 and 98 would work in theory, but it would be difficult for WMATA to make it reliable. After all, the traffic problems that cause 96 to have delays now would still hit the new routes.

Cutting the 96 at the streetcar turnaround will make neighborhoods east and west of Rock Creek Park even more disconnected than they are today. While the turnaround has served its purpose for decades, WMATA should examine ways to bring the 96, as well as the other 90-series routes, across the bridge to Woodley Park.

David Edmondson is a transportation and urban affairs enthusiast working on his master's in city and regional planning at Cornell University. He blogs about Marin County, California, at The Greater Marin


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I've used the Western end of the 96 a few times. It doesn't run very often and didn't seem to carry many passengers but it does connect areas that otherwise are pretty awkward by Metro or bus. Unlike a lot of transit system, Metro has a surprising number of crosstown services that might be more popular if more people knew about them.

by Rich on Sep 23, 2013 3:58 pm • linkreport

The proposed headways on the 96 service are awful. Many on this site preach "car-free." I can't see car free working as good as it could if DC does not add bus service so people can use transit in a spontaneous manner. Buses in an urban core like DC should have buses every 5-15 minutes, not every 20-30 minutes.

by Transport. on Sep 23, 2013 4:00 pm • linkreport

Advertising the service would definitely do some good, great idea.

The service needs to be scheduled frequently. Who wants to plan around a bus through a major urban core that runs only every half hour? Look at the G2. That route is in a growing neighborhood (Shaw), will serve the new Giant grocery store and mixed use development at 7th and P, yet service is only every half hour, if not longer. Imagine, for those unable to bike, standing along P St waiting for a bus with food in the heat for 20+ minutes.

Metro staff did a great job with reformatting the bus route maps. Having good service to add to those maps would be a great improvement.

by Transport. on Sep 23, 2013 4:10 pm • linkreport

I've never understood why any buses end at the Ellington Bridge. It'd make more sense to drive the extra two blocks to the Woodley Park Metro and end passenger service there. The driver could then turn around and rest at the layover by the bridge.

by Gavin on Sep 23, 2013 4:12 pm • linkreport

This is a great tweak to Metro's proposal for the 96 and one they should take seriously. It should be feasible to connect to Woodley Park and then loop back to the streetcar turnaround as a waiting point before starting the next route.

In fact, I would love to see the 90 and 92 routes do this as well, at least during rush hour, as it would drastically improve connectivity between U St and Woodley Park/Upper NW.

by Erin on Sep 23, 2013 4:17 pm • linkreport

Why not turn half the current 96s into 98s, and have one of them terminate at the Ellington Bridge turnaround (or a modified version of it that loops in the Metro station)? That way you don't have the confusion that is bound to occur when passengers on the 98 get to U Street and are booted off the bus to wait for a 96, instead creating a better connection between the east and west sides of the park. Alternatively, Metro could extend the 98 south to Union Station for a similar effect. Either option might also allow for better headways on a larger portion of the route, since the areas served by both the 96 and 98 would be larger.

by AMT on Sep 23, 2013 4:27 pm • linkreport

@Gavin - History and convenience. As the article noted, this was originally a streetcar turnaround, so it predates Metrorail. One wouldn't put this facility here now.

Many of the DC bus routes are substantially similar to the old streetcar lines - I've wondered what the bus system would look like if it were restarted from scratch to serve the city of today, not 1960.

by Distantantennas on Sep 23, 2013 4:35 pm • linkreport

Metro is correct when it says that it can't keep up with the advertised headways on the 96. It's a very long route that goes through areas with unpredictable traffic patterns.

But the solution they've come up with isn't the right one. Ending the 98 at 13th St neglects the 7th St corridor, which will soon have lots more residents. It also creates an annoyance for students at Wilson High who come from beyond U St - and there are quite a few of those.

The beauty of the 96 is that it offers a single cross-town ride which cuts across Metrorail lines. Metro needs to keep that cross-cutting aspect intact while improving reliability - it should do so by decreasing headways rather than splitting the service.

by Ben on Sep 23, 2013 4:36 pm • linkreport

I remember reading ages ago that one of the reasons they don't run any Metro buses that end at Woodley is that the turn around is too difficult. Heading west on Calvert, they turn right on 24th and right again on Connecticut to access the stop by the metro, but getting across traffic to wait for the light to turn left and head back east on Calvert is too difficult compared to the relative simplicity of the turn around at the other end of the Ellington bridge. The Circulator obviously follows that path, so I'm not sure how well the argument holds up, but that's what I read.

They would probably have to get rid of a parking place or two on 24th alongside Open City - already the Circulator buses regularly look like they're going to take out a side view mirror when they try to make the turn onto that narrow street.

by Jen on Sep 23, 2013 5:08 pm • linkreport

I would actually ride these buses if they went up to Bethesda.

by Capt. Hilts on Sep 23, 2013 5:11 pm • linkreport

The line used to turn around at McLean Gardens. Maybe WMATA would consider that compromise when Cathedral Commons is complete.

by Andrew on Sep 23, 2013 8:06 pm • linkreport

This city needs more crosstown buses, not less. Buses that just run from downtown to outer areas of the city are not helpful for people who work in areas of the city far from their homes. The crosstown routes are already poorly served because of long wait times (E4, H2/H4, etc) and have no convenient metro routes. The answer is to add more buses to these routes, not to cut them short.

One of the best decisions WMATA made in recent years was extending the 96 to Tenleytown from Cathedral Heights when demolition started on the Cathedral Commons site.

by Ethan on Sep 23, 2013 11:25 pm • linkreport

So, if Metrobus stops the 96 at Woodley Park Metro Station, then will the only service on Calvert Street, 29th Street, Cathedral Avenue, and Woodley Road be the X1? It might make better sense to extend the 96 to Friendship Heights.

by Rain17 on Sep 23, 2013 11:42 pm • linkreport

"This city needs more crosstown buses, not less."

And we don't need FEWER buses, either.

by Sally on Sep 24, 2013 8:40 am • linkreport

"The line used to turn around at McLean Gardens. Maybe WMATA would consider that compromise when Cathedral Commons is complete."

There used to be a mini-hub for buses in front of the Giant, but I recall a community meeting where Cathedral Commons management said that when the complex is built, they no longer plan for buses to run through as before. I would think they would want to be more transit-friendly, not less.

by Jasper on Sep 24, 2013 8:46 am • linkreport

Crosstown buses are very frustrating, both frequency wise and on time performance which becomes an issue at low frequency. I usually just bike to Woodley Park if there is no H bus coming timely. Why there is no D/H hybrid that goes Gtown/Glover Park to U St. via Woodley is beyond me... Would be a great route to extend the Woodley->McPherson Circulator maybe.

by BTA on Sep 24, 2013 9:04 am • linkreport

I would think they would want to be more transit-friendly, not less.

Jasper, are you unfamiliar with DC west of the Rock Creek? ;)

by BTA on Sep 24, 2013 9:21 am • linkreport

Lesser or fewer seem to be th eoperative words for crosstown bus service to and from "upper" NW. Perhaps once the new Wisconsin Ave project (Giant refurb etc.) near the Cathedral is complete, WMATA will want to rethink crosstown service. But as it stands, there is a fairly dense corridor -- including large aprtment buildings on Wisconsin and Tunlaw, along with AU students, whose bus connections all funnel toward Dupont or Georgetown (or north to Friendship Heights). There are the occasional H buses, but given the headways, if you have to transfer, you're better off walking a couple miles instead. Now, walking is a fine form of public transportion, but still...

by Paula Product on Sep 24, 2013 10:04 am • linkreport

Also Dupont to U st. Eminently walkable but if its the middle of a transit trip, it might not seem like a pleasant 20 minute walk every day. If it continued on to say Georgetown and then out to Rhode Island(?) it could be a super useful crosstown line that would relieve some downtown metro pressure.

by BTA on Sep 24, 2013 11:01 am • linkreport

I used to regularly ride the section of the 96 bus between Woodley Park/Adams Morgan/U Street and Wisconsin Avenue when I lived near the National Cathedral, and also when the 90/92 buses ran to McLean Gardens and the 96 terminated at the Duke Ellington Bridge. Currently, I live near Tenleytown, so I ride the 96 bus occasionally since the 96 now terminates at Tenleytown-AU station. I also used to ride the old 98 bus (remember the reduced-fare U Street Link, the small clunky Orion II bus with the multi-colored paper doll design?) regularly when I lived in Woodley Park.

A few observations about this proposed restructuring:

1.) The biggest impact would be the loss of crosstown service for those who rely on crosstown service. There's no way around that. But splitting long-haul crosstown routes into local routes can sometimes, but not always, boost reliability on the local route.

2.) For those along the 96 bus route west of the Duke Ellington Bridge, the resurrection and expansion of the 98 bus won't have that huge of an impact because it's simply replacing what would be the 96 bus, and they'll serve both 18th & Columbia and 14th & U, where many people transfer/from to other buses.

3.) The old reduced-fare 98 bus, (Jim Graham's baby) which was costly to operate, often got stuck in traffic on 18th Street in Adams Morgan on Fridays/Saturdays, but it did lay the foundation for part of the Woodley Park-McPherson Square D.C. Circulator route. With the rerouting of the L2 bus, the section of 18th Street between Columbia Road and U Street, could use some additional bus service (in addition to the 90s).

4.) I agree that the completion of Cathedral Commons could present a need for increased bus service, but having a terminal at Cathedral Commons vs. Tenleytown-AU doesn't matter much because Cathedral Commons would be served by the 98 on Wisconsin Avenue, in addition to the 30s (and the H3/H4 nearby at Wisconsin & Porter). The only benefit to having the 96/98 bus terminate one block from Wisconsin Avenue at Newark & Idaho outside the old Giant was that it put the bus terminal a half block closer to McLean Gardens.

5.) How might D.C. Circulator expansion fit in here, too? Councilmember Mary Cheh has said she would like to extend the Union Station-Georgetown route to Glover Park and National Cathedral. Maybe it could terminate at Cathedral Commons or Tenleytown (or perhaps link up with Woodley Park).

7.) You can't effectively terminate a large volume of buses at the Woodley Park station because the turn from Calvert Street to 24th Street is way too tight for large Metrobuses (and somewhat tight for Circulator buses), and the return trip forces buses to quickly shift from the bus stop to make a left turn in about half a block. That's why the 90s terminate at the Duke Ellington Bridge, besides the streetcar legacy.

8.) Geography presents the biggest obstacle for additional crosstown routes. If you did want to increase connectivity to Glover Park, for instance, and connect that neighborhood to crosstown service via Woodley Park and Adams Morgan, there aren't places for buses to terminate in the central commercial corridor on Wisconsin Avenue (between W Place and Calvert Street). Nor could you serve the interior of the neighborhood because the the intersection of Wisconsin Avenue/Calvert Street/37th Street is very congested and turns are very, very tight. (Have you ever seen a large out-of-service D1 bus heading to 39th & Calvert to start its morning run try to turn the corner at Wisconsin & Calvert? It's not pretty and there's a reason why they don't have revenue service try to regularly attempt turns at Wisconsin & Calvert.)

9.) Speaking of bus terminals, it's creepy to walk through the semi-abandoned Metrobus terminal at the Van Ness-UDC station behind the Starbucks and Taste of Pleasure. The N8 terminated there before it was scrapped and the H2 bus terminated there prior to the restructuring of the H2/H3/H4 crosstown buses, when the terminal shifted to Tenleytown-AU station. I wonder if there will ever be a need to use the Van Ness-UDC station as a major Metrobus terminal again. It would be nice for for boosted L2 service along Connecticut Avenue, or bring back the L4 bus.

by Michael_G on Sep 24, 2013 11:06 am • linkreport

Yeah Calvert is a mess and I am very familiar with the geography/street grid issues having spent many years walking from Glover Park to Woodley Park on the weekends because it was easier. I've seen a minibus (30' perhaps?) on the 42 very occassionally. Maybe that would do? You'd lose maybe 40% capacity but I'm not sure you'd frequenty get more than 30 people on that route if they came often enough.

by BTA on Sep 24, 2013 11:15 am • linkreport

Someone else mentioned this but DDOT should look at extending the Adams Morgan - Woodly Park Circulator up Cleveland Ave to Woodley Road. These roads are rarely congested. From here, it could serve the National Cathedral, the restaurants on Wisc/Macomb, and the Cathedral Commons development.

by 202_cyclist on Sep 24, 2013 11:38 am • linkreport

Metro is showing no love for Cathedral Heights and Tenleytown lately. Losing the 96 on top of the proposed loss of the 32 and 36 is going to be a real blow to commuters in the area. The new route "30" is supposed to fill the gap, but I don't see how losing 3 buses and adding 1 is an even trade. Other than the 96 - which is too unreliable to be busy - rush hour and weekend buses on these routes are always packed. Here's hoping the Circulator extension to the National Cathedral pans out. And quickly.

by Abby2992 on Sep 24, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

Don't the 90 and 92 already terminate at the Ellington Bridge? Why have all three lines end there? The 96 is great BECAUSE it keeps going across the city - what other line covers this ground?

Sadly, the 96 runs so infrequently. When I need to get home from U Street, sometimes it just pays to walk to the Dupont Metro station and get my D bus.

I'd be thrilled if there was a reliable/more frequent bus that ran from Woodley Park/Adams Morgan or U Street over to Wisconsin Ave. The walk is lengthy and ALL uphill if you're going back, and I think that - properly marketed - such a bus line would be a hit.

by maktoo on Sep 24, 2013 12:12 pm • linkreport

I don't see how losing 3 buses and adding 1 is an even trade. Other than the 96 - which is too unreliable to be busy - rush hour and weekend buses on these routes are always packed.

The idea is that by shortening the routes and splitting some apart, you can make them more reliable and make certain sections faster, so you can then have more total service.

The loss of the 32 and 36 will be mitigated both by the new 30 route as well as increased service on the 31. Also, changing the Wisconsin Ave to U Street portion of the 96 into its own 98 route should improve reliability and service. It might be possible that overall service will increase along this section.

The problem is WMATA is super vague about what these changes will do to service. They are also vague about why they are making these changes - it is likely based on SmartTrip and passenger counter data which tells them where people are boarding and where the trips are. It would be nice if they were more straightforward.

by MLD on Sep 24, 2013 12:18 pm • linkreport

From reading the comments on PlanItMetro, they say that Wisconsin Ave will have the same amount of service it has now:
See that question and the reply below it.

Also the proposal for the 98 bus will have the same frequency as the current 96 (though really it should probably be more frequent).

by MLD on Sep 24, 2013 12:26 pm • linkreport

This cross town bus is also rather important for students making it up to Wilson High School and Deal Middle School.

by DC Parent on Sep 24, 2013 1:28 pm • linkreport

Well the H2 and H4 used to be a much more comprehensive route. It originally started at Westmoreland Circle, traveled via Yuma Street to Tenleytown, where it then broke into two different routes. The H2 went down Van Ness and Veazey Streets to Reno Road, paralleling UDC, before turning onto Porter Street and going into Columbia Heights. The H4 went down Wisconsin Avenue to Porter Street and into Columbia Heights. It then eventually went past all the VA Hospitals and stopped at the Brookland Metro before eventually ending at Fort Lincoln.

Around 2000, however, Metrobus chose to break the route into three pieces. The H2-H4 still operated between Tenleytown and Brookland. However, the portion of service between Tenleytown and Westmoreland Circle became the N8, which eventually went down past AU law school, into Wesley Heights, Glover Park, back to Spring Valley, and even to Van Ness UDC. It first ran seven days a week, but then got cut to only Monday through Friday. Finally Metrobus stopped the service completely. The section between Brookland and Fort Lincoln still runs today seven days a week.

The only other real "crosstown" routes that are left besides the 96 are the E2-E4, which go from Friendship Heights toward Fort Totten and Ivy City and the D6, which goes from Sibley Hospital to Stadium-Armory. Otherwise, while it is easy to take Metrobus from uptown to downtown from most parts of DC, it's hard to go across town.

Another flaw in the system is that, at least in Ward 3, if you want to go from Sibley Hospital, for example, to Connecticut and Nebraska Avenue, you only have service Monday through Friday. Nebraska Avenue lacks service on the weekends. So, if you want to go from Palisades to Friendship Heights, there is no service except a bus ride on the D6 to Wisconsin Avenue and Q Street and then a long ride on the 30s. Furthermore, with the demise of the N8, there is no way to ride the bus from Glover Park uptown without walking to Wisconsin Avenue and boarding the 30s or walking up to New Mexico and Cathedral Avenues.

Meanwhile, in Ward 5, one of the biggest flaws in bus service is the fact that there is really not much service on South Dakota Avenue. There is service at the very end of South Dakota Avenue; but, after it crosses Bladensburg Road, the B9 and H6 head toward Brookland. On the northern end of South Dakota Avenue the Route 80 goes from Fort Totten to 12th Street and the E2-E4 go on South Dakota Avenue from Sargent Road to 18th Street. But the rest of South Dakota Avenue lacks any service.

by Rain17 on Sep 24, 2013 11:40 pm • linkreport

@ Rain17

You also forgot Eastern Ave with the mentioning of South Dakota. With WMATA its 1 step forward and 8 steps back. I could design a better routing system for the majority of Metrobuses in DC from experience in riding them. I doubt anyone that makes changes on the bus routes has ever ridden the buses.

What I would actually like to see are some changes that would have

1 buses use Tilden Street & Park Rd to cross Rock Creek in addition to current routes across the creek

2 Separate and combined the E2, E3, E4 and E6

Have one of the three take the current Friendship Heights to Ivy City route but with rerouting through Riggs Park. The second go from Tenleytown via Nebraska Ave and Military Rd to Silver Spring via 16th Street or Takoma via 14th Street and Piney Branch Rd. The third travel to Columbia Heights via 14th or 16th Street; with the third route taking over the current E6 route through Upper NW then to Military Rd. Lastly a Metrobus Express route from somewhere such as West Hyattsville Station to Friendship Heights.

One thing you missed about the H lines is that there used to be one that travel along Irving Street north of the Hospital to Michigan Ave skipping Michigan Ave between Park Rd and Irving Street.

I have some old Metrobus schedules from the early and late 80’s it is surprising how some of the changes over the years have lead back to older versions of some routes.

by kk on Sep 26, 2013 4:28 am • linkreport

Metro and DC Transportation Officials have messed up Bus Service in the District for years. I dont think District Officials have a clue about how to operate Bus Service.

by Calvin Kenner on Sep 26, 2013 5:18 pm • linkreport

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