Greater Greater Washington

An H Street bus lane would help both transit & cars

Every day 33 bus routes converge on H and I Streets in downtown DC, making it the busiest bus corridor in the DC region. According to a WMATA report, a contraflow bus lane on H Street would dramatically improve travel times for both transit riders and car drivers.


Potential H Street contraflow bus lane. Image from WMATA.

At peak times, one bus per minute travels along H or I. At off-peak, it's a bus every two minutes. Today, all those buses mix with car traffic on both H and I Streets, which slows them down. Meanwhile, all those buses make several stops to pick up and unload passengers, which slows down car traffic trying to use the same lane.

Moving all the buses to H Street, which is less congested, and giving buses in the westbound direction a separated lane, would speed up both modes.

Since H Street is one-way going east, westbound buses would need a contraflow lane. There are no contraflow bus lanes in the DC region today, but they do work well in other cities around the US.


Contraflow bus lane in Pittsburgh. Picture from BeyondDC.

In its report, WMATA also studied bus lanes on both H and I Streets, as well as a traffic management alternative that wouldn't provide bus lanes, but would optimize traffic signals for buses. All the alternatives improved bus travel, and all of them either improved or maintained current car travel. But the H Street contraflow alternate provided the best combination of benefits, for relatively low cost.

Ultimately DC owns these streets, so the decision to actually implement bus lanes on them rests with the District, not WMATA. But Metro's report could push DDOT to begin its own study process.

Seems like a good idea.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a professional transportation planner for the Arlington County Department of Transportation. He has a degree in Urban Planning from the University of Colorado, and lives a car-free lifestyle in Northwest Washington. His posts are his own opinions and do not represent the views of his employer in any way. He runs the blog BeyondDC and also contributes to the Washington Post Local Opinions blog. 

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If this ever happens DCPD will need consistent, unforgiving monitoring - especially during rush hour. Anyone who uses bus stops near 14th & H knows how often cars turn from center lanes to cut off buses (AND peds) each morning and afternoon. And don't forget all the illegally parked delivery vehicles! I love the idea but it must be vigorously enforced.

by yup yup on Nov 14, 2013 1:36 pm • linkreport

Here, here. I can't see a good reason not to do this. I imagine it might be helpful to emergency vehicles as well, either through the ability to use the contraflow lane or through the improved congestion levels on both streets.

by Dave Murphy on Nov 14, 2013 1:42 pm • linkreport

Good idea, but I would change the headline to "H St NW". I was scratching my head for a bit, wondering how you'd fit a bus lane on H St NE.

by Tom Veil on Nov 14, 2013 1:43 pm • linkreport

The biggest advantage of a contraflow dedicated lane over a concurrent-flow dedicated lane is that the former is much more self-reinforcing. That is, it is much harder for a driver to enter a lane facing oncoming traffic than it is to enter a bus lane going in the same direction.

by Eric Fidler on Nov 14, 2013 1:45 pm • linkreport

(Come to think of it, "self-enforcing" is more appropriate than "self-reinforcing")

by Eric Fidler on Nov 14, 2013 1:46 pm • linkreport

Eric makes a very good point about contraflow lanes.

by JDC Esq on Nov 14, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

That would be great. But please look at 16th st first. That part of H St is the end of the line for many people in both directions so not as many people lose time in moving through that area.

by BTA on Nov 14, 2013 1:51 pm • linkreport

We need way more dedicated lanes in GGW.
Both for transit and bikes.

by Jasper on Nov 14, 2013 1:53 pm • linkreport

The biggest help to east-west traffic flow downtown would be reopening E St NW between 17th and 15th. This seems to be a non-starter with the Security State, but this added capacity would make it much easier to reserve lanes on that road or parallel roads for transit or bikes or wider sidewalks or whatever. Eliminating the zig-zag turns drivers must now make to get around the White House would also improve flow on 14th, 15th and 17th.

by c5karl on Nov 14, 2013 1:57 pm • linkreport

It is ridiculous that E St is still closed.

by NikolasM on Nov 14, 2013 2:30 pm • linkreport

E st won't reopen in our lifetimes, we live in a security state now and most people don't seem to care.

by BTA on Nov 14, 2013 2:35 pm • linkreport

Check out the simulation videos that accompanied the post on PlanItMetro:

http://planitmetro.com/2013/11/14/h-and-i-streets-bus-improvements-study-final-technical-report-released/

by recyclist on Nov 14, 2013 2:41 pm • linkreport

H st is less congested, except from 16th to NY ave. Which is about half of it. And taking two lanes out for cars is going to just jam it up more.

Also any intersection is a nightmare with blocking the box and pedestrians, so not sure having two buses only lanes will help at all there.

DC has gotten a little better about bus stop placement, but half the time, during rush hour, you've got multiple buses trying to stop in one place. Not good. The commuter buses seem the worst offenders. It is one of the best arguments for streetcars.

We do need E st opened up. H st traffic is considerably worse as a result.

by charlie on Nov 14, 2013 2:43 pm • linkreport

The biggest advantage of a contraflow dedicated lane over a concurrent-flow dedicated lane is that the former is much more self-enforcing.

Which is why one contraflow lanes on H and another contraflow lane on I ST would work better than one normal bus lane and one contraflow lane just on H.

by Falls Church on Nov 14, 2013 4:30 pm • linkreport

WMATA also thought Rush+ would work out, but that turned out to be wrong. I'm not exactly confident in WMATA's ability to develop new service plans right now. We should have someone else - a more competent transit agency, perhaps? - study this.

by Aaron Z. on Nov 14, 2013 5:35 pm • linkreport

I think dedicated bus lanes on major roads (i.e. 14th ST, 16th ST, H ST) should be an absolute litmus test for a new mayor. For such a small city with relatively decent transit -- by American standards -- DC is literally overrun by personal vehicles, which represent a hazard to pedestrians, the environment and the smooth functioning of Metro Bus.

by James on Nov 14, 2013 8:38 pm • linkreport

It would have been good to also state how this happen in the first place; the closing of Pennsylvania Ave which most of the buses used.

There are many streets we could use for transit downtown but dont why should be asked. Instead we choose to funnel all routes down the same streets why.

12th Street, 13th Street (above K), 15th, 17th, 18th, 19th, Constitution, New York, L, M, N, O, Rhode Island are all not used or barely used or only used for a few blocks

What I really think would be better is to shift some buses to L & M streets which have no buses at all. The only east/west streets downtown with buses are Penn, E, F, H, I, K, then P, and then U. We need to spread the buses out so that they all dont get backed up when something happens (often).

Shift the terminals of some routes to other places almost all buses downtown end at either McPherson Sq Station/Franklin Square, Farragut Square, or Lafayette Square.

Washington Circle/Foggy Bottom, Mt. Vernon Square, Logan Circle, Gallery Place, Judiciary Square are all places where some routes could be terminated to cause less disruptions downtown.

I dont see why they cant have 2 or 3 routes on each street between H & M Streets

32, 36, S2, X2, 42 lines take H Street/I Street
N's & 43 lines take L/M Streets
80, D6, S4 take K Street
others uses current routes.

We could make the right lane between Pennsylvania & H street and H & New York Ave bus only

by kk on Nov 15, 2013 12:52 am • linkreport

Why would it be better to shift buses to other streets? The data shows that the traffic is coming from the cars, not the buses. Putting buses on the same street makes transfers more convenient, and makes implementing helpful street treatments like bus lanes actually possible. With only one or two routes on each street, making the case for bus lanes would be much more difficult.

by MLD on Nov 15, 2013 8:19 am • linkreport

moveDC calls for a number of dedicated transit lanes, including portions of H and I Streets NW(and according to the online map, 16th Street, among others). Hopefully dedicated lanes will stay in the final plan.

by Annonymous on Nov 15, 2013 4:44 pm • linkreport

@MLD its better due to there being service on more streets therefore providing service to more people. There are too many areas of the city as it is without transit. Having buses not use the same street does not prohibit transfers just say 7 & H Streets NW or 8 & H Streets NE

by kk on Nov 15, 2013 5:52 pm • linkreport

Contraflow lanes have the potential to be self-enforcing. They were used successfully in Chicago for many years, but were removed after a few high-profile pedestrian deaths.

I much prefer to have bus routes focused on fewer streets than running down every single street. If I can get from A-B via routes 1, 2, or 3, I'd rather have those three buses running down the same street than on three different streets. Besides, we're not talking about giant distances here: three DC blocks is about a 7-minute walk, and only H/I/K streets traverse both the west and east sides of "downtown DC."

by Payton Chung on Nov 17, 2013 11:03 am • linkreport

@ Payton Chung

That is simply not true I street does not traverse both west and east it ends and picks up again.

H Street you could say for going eastbound but not westbound as it ends for westbound traffic at 13th street NW.

K street runs into parks and all 3 become one way for some portions which prohibits traversing west and east as you can only do one.

Look at bus maps of other cities they have more routes and they are all not routed along the same streets.

Getting from a spot via various routes is not problem but they dont all have to take the same exactly route between those points. A 7 minute walk can be long for the disabled and or elderly which many of here seem to have a dont care attitude about.

And its not just HIK and streets but every street; look at the bus map of DC north and south of the mall almost every single bus takes the same route and serves the same stations. This is why some routes are very crowded as it is.

west of Union Station to put it in prospective you have buses on
1 North Capitol
2 New Jersey (2blocks between them at their shortest distance to 7 long blocks at the longest),
3 5th Street for about 4 blocks (where is it 2 - 4 blocks apart on dangerous roads)
4 7th Street/Georgia Ave after W Street NW there is no streets inbetween Georgia and North Capitol with bus service which is a long distance)
5 9th street
6 11th street
7 13th street
8 14th street
9 16th street
10 Connecticut Ave (below U Street and above K Street, 17th Street below K street for one block and 18th Above U for about 6 blocks)

and many other streets for only a few blocks until you to Wisconsin Ave.

There is no bus service in some areas for blocks or miles (due to barriers like Rock Creek Park, Metropolitan Branch, Train Tracks etc) yet you want it all to service the same roads, and it gets worst when you account for what buses are rush hour only and which ones run every day.

by kk on Nov 17, 2013 11:42 pm • linkreport

Let's look at the other CBDs in the USA with >40M sq. ft. of office: Chicago, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Seattle. (A tiny proportion of commuters in NYC and Boston arrive in the CBD by local bus, so I'll exclude those two.) In Chicago, most bus service takes State/Michigan or Washington/Madison. San Francisco routes many services down Market/Mission. 2/3 of east-west routes through central Philadelphia use Market. In Seattle, most buses run through the bus tunnel or 3rd Ave. A great many smaller cities have central bus transfer points that serve the same purpose.

I don't see what Rock Creek Park has to do with bus service downtown? Or that Eye Street will be completed across downtown in a few months?

by Payton on Nov 18, 2013 12:02 pm • linkreport

I tried a cursory look of Jarrett walker's blog but couldn't find the post I was looking for.

Anyway, he's made some great points regarding frequency vs. area coverage wrt to buses. If I find it, I'll post it and KK might find it illuminating. You can get more people riding if service is frequent even if they have to walk a little longer.

by drumz on Nov 18, 2013 12:06 pm • linkreport

First of all I'am not talking about just the USA but all major cities around the planet. I'am also not just speaking of downtowns but areas around them.

Concerning Chicago buses travel on many of the downtown streets I'am looking at a bus map right now.

Rock Creek is a barrier for travel that what is has to do with this; look at an old DC bus map (the new ones dont show as good the lack of service due to the map being skewed to show some routes in bigger detail than others) and see which areas actually have service

@ drumz

Yes you can get some people to walk multiple blocks but not people of old age, disabled, with children or simply with lots of stuff or if the area has obstacles such as geography (highways, bridges, rivers, creeks, wooded areas, or the rail tracks that run through DC, Alexandria, Rockville, Silver Spring, and a large portion of PG County)

I believe in providing a level of service for all not just able bodied 20-40 year olds; many of the people on this site seem to have a f**k the old and disabled attitude.

How many people do you see crossing any of the major roads in the area or bridges (The bridges crossing the Anacostia seldom have foot traffic even though many of them have neighborhoods on both sides but the buses do have people taking the bus just across the river, many people dont cross Kenilworth, New York Avenues in DC or Arlington Blvd in Virginia, MLK Highway in Maryland)

by kk on Nov 18, 2013 2:04 pm • linkreport

"I believe in providing a level of service for all not just able bodied 20-40 year olds; many of the people on this site seem to have a f**k the old and disabled attitude."

I am getting sick and tired of the attitude that anyone over 40 YO is "old" or not able bodied.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Nov 18, 2013 2:11 pm • linkreport

I'm just talking about downtown where the proposed lanes are. There is an argument that says you get more people riding from frequent service than extensive coverage. So even though you walk a little further, you don't have to wait as long once you get there.

For the profoundly disabled we have services available that can take you door to door. For everyone else we can reasonably infer that an extra block or two traded for more frequent and faster service is a net positive.

And I say this as I struggle with joint pain.

by Drumz on Nov 18, 2013 2:19 pm • linkreport

I've ridden buses downtown for many years and I'd say more people work below K st than north of it. There are more residential units north of K st but generally those people aren't getting on buses in that vicinity. Putting crosstown buses north of K just isn't going to be as efficient.

by BTA on Nov 18, 2013 2:24 pm • linkreport

@ BTA

There is more than just people going to work what about those that live in the area from about Shaw neighborhood on westward to 16th Street.

If it is not efficient to have bus service why is there a G2, or 90, 92, 96 lines at all why not get rid of them than ?

How do you know they don't get on the bus. I see people of the lower class walking to bus stops every single day early in the morning and late at night going to work walking to the stops along K Street, I Street, 14th Street, 16th Street taking buses.

@ drumz

Why not provide service in more areas what downside is there to having better service. Why not have the service where the resident go and stop having service that benefits out of towners, tourist more than residents.

That has been the main problem with any transit in DC, from metrorail to the metrobus to the circulator most of the plans don't benefit the majority of the residents of DC.

Metrorail the lines that would cover the most area in DC took forever to be built along with the line that would serve that poorest who would use it over the rich was built last

Metrobus many residents have complained about service for years and not a god damn thing has happened really since the 1980's until recently

Circulator is an incomplete system with routes that end at different times and lacks service in the majority of the city after 7pm after which it is a service for 14th Street and west only

People on this site always complain about Metro access, but would not want Metrobus to cover more areas to lessen the need of Metro Access that makes no sense.

People want a new blue why not accept new bus routes for the time being in the areas that could use it or where a future blue line would be

But want to complain about extending Metrorail to the middle of nowhere but you have places inside of DC or that are very close to DC with no service or rush hour only service that could use it far more than some patch of dirt 20-30 miles outside of the city.

by kk on Nov 18, 2013 2:50 pm • linkreport

@ Drumz

"For everyone else we can reasonably infer that an extra block or two traded for more frequent and faster service is a net positive."

If this was true it would be ok but it is not.

We dont just have people walking a block or 2 but sometimes 5-10. look at a map of DC the only streets where you can walk 2 blocks and get another bus route is downtown along I Street or 16th Street any variation beyond that and you will walk more than 2 blocks.

I listed the streets downtown which have bus service and most of them are more than 2 blocks apart.

North Capitol, New Jersey (one way bus service for half the distance), 7th Street, 11th Street, 14, Street, 16th Street and Connecticut Ave are the only streets downtown going North/South bound that have buses for more than a block or 2.

Going East/West Bound the only streets that have buses for more than a 3 blocks at a time are E, H, I, K, & Pennsylvania Ave.

From Independence on up to U the buses are mostly consintrated between Penn Ave and K Street, then one route on P then another on U.

This leaves about 5 blocks between K and P and 8 between P & U

Many of those streets are more than 2 blocks apart so where is this walking 2 blocks from it is a lie ?

@AWalkerInTheCity

"I believe in providing a level of service for all not just able bodied 20-40 year olds; many of the people on this site seem to have a f**k the old and disabled attitude.

I am getting sick and tired of the attitude that anyone over 40 YO is "old" or not able bodied."

I never said everyone over 40 is not able bodied. I said the old which could be someone 40 or some 100 and the disabled which could be someone 0 years old or 100 years old.

Dont put words in my mouth or try to reconstruct what I said.

I said we tend to cater to the 20-40 able bodied crowd and not any outside of that group period of any physical condition.

by kk on Nov 18, 2013 3:11 pm • linkreport

We have MetroAccess for a reason (hugely expensive as it is). If we also design the bus system to cater to the old/infirm, we end up with stops every block and redundant routing and infrequent headways (oh wait! That's exactly what we have now).

Frequent bus and/or light rail routes should exist on North Capitol, 7th, 11th, 14th, 16th, somewhere further west if the NIMBYs will allow it. Many more routes to the east, as well, those are just the ones I know. And crosstown lines as well. All of these need dedicated lanes.

The way to approach this is by looking at a map, assuming no cars exist, deciding optimal places for buses to travel, then assigning them dedicated lanes and frequent arrival times. Screw the cars; they should be an afterthought.

by MetroDerp on Nov 18, 2013 3:19 pm • linkreport

Well,

A: I'd like more coverage and more frequent service. But there is a finite number of buses right now. Therefore they should be used as efficiently as possible.

B: we are talking about bus lanes downtown. Presumably DC residents ride those buses. If you want to make sure bus lanes are well used it would make sense to have more than one route using the bus lane. If they prove so successful that we put more bus lanes and routes on other streets that's great. Otherwise we risk making perfect the enemy of good.

by Drumz on Nov 18, 2013 3:31 pm • linkreport

You can begin here to start reading arguments for frequency over coverage.
http://jarrettwalker.com/policy-development/

The best thing for people dependent on transit in DC is to make transit competitive to driving for those who have a choice. That'll lead to greater political capital and desire to make transit better everywhere so we can get to a place where we have both frequency and coverage. Plus you can put housing and resources for the disabled and poor on those networks and solve the coverage problem that way.

Now, I get how that seems patronizing, unfair, and makes the city look beholden to the interests of elites. But, its also the best way to achieve better transit for everyone. Not that I think the city should ignore the process, but results matter and the result/goal of having more people using transit next year than this year is a good thing for the city to acheive.

by drumz on Nov 19, 2013 9:08 am • linkreport

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