Greater Greater Washington

After a decade in service, where could the Circulator go next?

As the DC Circulator celebrates its tenth anniversary, planners are weighing options for the system's continued growth. Tuesday evening, they held a public forum at Eastern Market to talk about ways to expand the Circulator and unveiled a new bus paint scheme.


Model Circulator wearing the new "comet" paint scheme parked at Eastern Market. Photo by the author.

Having expanded from two routes to five, the Circulator's core function remains to offer a frequent, reliable, inexpensive link between DC's activity centers and its neighborhoods. Planners are considering 7 possible new routes, which were on display at the forum.

District Department of Transportation officials say the one with the greatest support is a connection between Dupont Circle and U Street, followed by a Dupont Circle-Foggy Bottom link. The proposed "Abe's to Ben's" Circulator between the Mall and U Street could serve both links. The input planners receive will inform the expansion priorities they will recommend this summer.


Image by DDOT.

I see one of Circulator's roles as to fill gaps in the Metrobus network that serve to better connect DC neighborhoods. I, too, cast my top vote for a Dupont-U Street connection, preferably starting by extending the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route up 18th Street NW and across U Street to Howard University.

My second vote is for an extension of one of the routes currently ending at Union Station north into NoMa, perhaps one way on First Street NE and the other on North Capitol Street. Buses already create congestion near Union Station by using Massachusetts Avenue, E Street, and North Capitol Street as a turnaround. Having a Circulator turn around in NoMa instead helps to alleviate this, while providing bus connectivity to the heart of a rapidly developing area.

It is interesting that DDOT proposes retaking the Convention Center to Southwest route from WMATA, which incorporated it into the Metrobus network in 2011 as Route 74. A DDOT representative explained that, as part of the 70s series, the 74 is considered a "regional" rather than a "local" route, and thus it is cheaper for the District to subsidize as Maryland and Virginia also contribute to it through WMATA's funding formulas.

At the forum, DDOT also debuted a Circulator bus wearing a new exterior paint scheme. Instead of two arcs representing the route map with the names of destinations, the new design has two swooshes that a DDOT representative described as "comets."

On display inside the bus were preliminary drawings by renowned transit vehicle designer Cesar Vergara of an interior for the next generation of Circulator buses. This would make Circulators' interiors more closely resemble those of the newest members of the Metrobus fleet, products of New Flyer.


Preliminary rendering of a proposed interior for new Circulator fleet. Image from Vergara Studio.

DDOT presented a map of the planned National Mall Circulator, which will connect Union Station with the Lincoln Memorial via Madison and Jefferson drives and around the Tidal Basin next spring. The agency sought input on what to include at the stops along this route, like area maps, and lists of nearby attractions, and where one or two-day passes and SmarTrip cards should be sold.


Chart by DDOT.

Circulator's ridership numbers have declined slightly over the past two years compared to the previous two. David Miller, a transportation planner with DDOT contractor Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning, speculated on the reasons for the dip and offered these hypotheses:

  • Metrobus's service quality has improved, siphoning off former Circulator riders who once perceived Metrobus as a less attractive service.
  • DC residents, particularly young adults, are gravitating towards more flexible car and bike sharing systems, aided by better bicycling infrastructure, for short trips to see friends or go shopping for which they previously used Circulator.
  • Circulator buses are starting to get shabby. The fleet is 10-14 years old and is just now starting to undergo repainting and reupholstery.
So far, surveys of Circulator riders have only covered demographic information, trip purpose and trip type. They have not asked riders to describe why they chose Circulator over other modes, or why they've chosen other modes over Circulator for other trips.


Results of the last Circulator survey. Image by DDOT.

Despite Circulator's branding as a service that connects shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations, a solid majority of riders use it to get to and from work. The average rider is a young adult with at least a college education making less than $40,000 per year. Most riders use Circulator on all days of the week, with pluralities using it daily, and take it round trip.

DDOT will release a final update of the Transportation Development Plan Summary Report this summer, and will hold another semi-annual forum this fall. Beyond that, aside from the spring 2015 implementation of the National Mall Circulator, there is no timeline for implementing any expansions of the system. Once DDOT comes out with its recommendations based on public input, it will be up to DC citizens to convince the Mayor and Council to fund them.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC neighborhood of Bloomingdale. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation, and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGW are his own. 

Comments

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Paint job is 'ok'. I'm fine with the existing one. I'm not at all crazy about that interior. Ugh.

by JDC on Mar 4, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

Circulator:Metrobus::Suburbs:Cities::Charters:DCPS

The effect is to cream off choice user and distract attention from improving the legacy system, leaving the vast majority of users worse off.

Long term vision should be that once a route has been shown viable by Circulator, it should be rolled into the Metrobus system for better interoperability with the rest of the network, and Circulator should experiment somewhere else (U/Dupont, someone mentioned NY Ave recently, etc.)

by xmal on Mar 4, 2014 10:40 am • linkreport

Circulators should be used, as they have been, to determine popular routes, then be replaced over time by streetcars once those routes are established.

by caryoreilly on Mar 4, 2014 10:47 am • linkreport

The Dupont Circle - Foggy Bottom route is already served by the rush-hour-only H1 bus, which received additional trips recently. I have maintained that the H1 should be a full-time route, at least the portion from Mt. Pleasant/Columbia Heights to Potomac Park (i.e. the portion that isn't mirrored by the H2/3/4).

by DCDuck on Mar 4, 2014 10:59 am • linkreport

xmal, problem with rolling into metrobus is higher fares + less frequency.

by JJJJ on Mar 4, 2014 11:10 am • linkreport

I think Foggy Bottom (Blue/Orange), Dupont Circle (Red), Columbia Heights (Green/Yellow) to Georgia Ave-Petworth (also Green/Yellow) would make an excellent circulator route.

It would connect all the lines many of the nightlife districts in one direct route, and act as a good feeder service to Metro along many of DC's highest density neighborhoods.

I think the paint scheme needs to be updated. It looks too much like a system map that it is likely misleading to many who think you can get from K St to Adams Morgan with a one-seat ride.

by recyclist on Mar 4, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

Circulator is free in Baltimore. Great way to entice riders who otherwise would drive short distances.

But here they're talking about raising the Circulator fare?

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 4, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

The problem with the exterior paint isn't the "design" but that it is highly confusing to have ALL circualtor buses painted wiht destinations from one line.

But I actually thought it was a wrap job, not paint.

The vast majority of people on the DuPont-Foggy Bottom use it for either Georgetown or Rosslyn -- i.e. not the H1 bus.

My own circulator use has dropped a lot. Moving was part of it. Bad service (the 10 minute headways are joke) is also part of it. Bikeshare is also a part.

The buses could be cleaned better. Also Circualtor buses seem to have their readers out of service more often than Metrobus.

by charlie on Mar 4, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

Whenever I read about longterm planning of circulator and streetcar routes I end up feeling disappointed. It seems like there is no movement towards expaning public transportation options in upper northwest. I wish Military Road would be eyed for some kind of transportation improvement so that those of us in Chevy Chase could abandon our cars for weekend outings. I would love to see a circulator or streetcar that connected friendship heights to H Street via GA Ave or Columbia heights.

by Jay on Mar 4, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

If they'd operate the Circulator after 9 p.m. from Georgetown to Union Station, I'd use it more often. I've curbed trips to G'town because of that arbitrary elimination.

by lou on Mar 4, 2014 12:33 pm • linkreport

http://circulatordashboard.dc.gov/cirdashboard/#Home is a useful tool

by BTA on Mar 4, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

@Jay - I agree with you. The problem is that Upper Northwest seems to be in no rush to ask for additional transit service. Any new routes would be fought tooth and nail.

by DCDuck on Mar 4, 2014 1:13 pm • linkreport

I'm concerned about the Circulator's focus expansion as opposed to improvement. It feels like a new paint job without fixing the issues. I take the Circulator sometimes from south Glover Park to around 14th and K. There are fundamental issues that really should be addressed before they have a strong focus on expansion:

* Bus equipment is unreliable. Non-working A/C and doors that don't open/close correctly or are REALLY slow to do such.
* Slow service from the slow doors, lack of traffic and signal priority (seem to get stuck at almost every light especially at Wisconsin and M going north), slow drivers (compared to MetroBus drivers in my experience), slow boarding (perhaps add rear door access for Smartrip users)
* Overcrowding or bunching. It seems the the frequency and low price often encourage more use of the service than the current approach can support. This results in even slower service as the dwell time increases. Perhaps some of the routes are too long to have reliability with the current DC traffic. Would shorter routes be better?

by GP Steve on Mar 4, 2014 2:33 pm • linkreport

I agree with traffic signal priority but that's an issue on all bus routes in the area unfortunatley.

by BTA on Mar 4, 2014 3:26 pm • linkreport

@BTA Agreed. I guess I have the impression that Circulator should be priority, DC corridor service but that's not correct. Therefore I expected some of these routes to service as high quality transit to eventually be replaced by streetcars in some cases, but the quality in terms of speed and reliability has not been there.

by GP Steve on Mar 4, 2014 3:31 pm • linkreport

The Circulator should expand throughout the city to cover most of the city not just areas with bars, clubs, shopping.

NE Washington outside of Union Station & Capitol Hill, Upper NW, East of the River should all get Circulator Service.

All Circulators should run from 7am-12am or 7am-2am period, not some and certainly not portions of some routes. Not 6am-7pm, 7am-9pm, 7am-12am, 7am-2am, 7am-3am on different routes or different hours at different times of the year.

To be bold I would say 5-10 % of DC Metrobus routes should be converted to Circulators every year.

The Potomac Ave-Skyland, Union Station-Franklin Sq, Union Station- Navy Yard should all be extended to service the same times the other Circulators do. Unless there can be a reason shown that is not lack of buses as the reason for doing so. If Metrobuses in the areas that DC Circulator has routes that terminate early can run to 10pm , 11pm, 12am or 1am why can the DC Circulators not also ?

The every 10 minutes is a damn joke I have waited at the terminals for all lines at different times of the day and they hardly ever come every 10 minutes; especially for the Union Station-Georgetown route.

If the routes can not run every 10 minutes or close to that there should be a schedule plain and simple. I can understand being late sometimes but when it is a weekend morning at 7am what excuse is there; there is almost no traffic. I should not be waiting 15 or 20 minutes at the damn terminal.

by kk on Mar 4, 2014 3:47 pm • linkreport

There really aren't any good options for taking public transportation from NW to NE without going downtown and transferring. I currently avoid going to H Street NE from Logan Circle because it requires either driving and hunting for parking, or bus/Metro transfers, both of which are highly inconvenient.

by Andy on Mar 4, 2014 4:56 pm • linkreport

X2 is convenient for southern Logan circle, and the 90/92 for northern Logan circle to h St ne.

by h st ll on Mar 4, 2014 5:09 pm • linkreport

@ Andy

Do you expect a one seat bus ride; cause it ain't gonna happen you're just gonna have to transfer plain and simple many people transfer between buses or bus and rail everyday you can also!

There are options to go from NW to NE without going downtown its just that Logan Circle is not a major place of interest. Before you say there isn't a good option how about looking at WMATA Metrobus map for DC.

You can take the following to get from Logan Circle to H Street NE

G2 to a 90/92
52/53/54 or Circulator to 90/92
52/53/54 or Circulator to either a X2 or D4 (and walk two blocks south)

If don't want to transfer you can take

Walk to U Street to take a 90/92 to H Street NE
Walk to 14th or 13th & K Street to take a D4 to K Street NE and walk 2 blocks south to whatever part of H Street You are going to.

by kk on Mar 4, 2014 7:54 pm • linkreport

@DCDuck, the H1 has not received any additional trips as of yet. WMATA proposed adding some mid-day trips when they conducted public hearings last summer, but I have gotten no word on where that proposal is.

As of now, the H1 remains limited to a few rush hour trips on each end.

by Patrick Kennedy on Mar 4, 2014 10:07 pm • linkreport

I think given the poor state of E-W transit above K St there would be a lot of logic to some one seat routes that go NE-> SW and vice versa. Like Columbia Heights/16th St -U st - Florida Ave - Benning Road or Rhode Island Ave - Washington Circle would be pretty useful. I generaly prefer a grid system, but we are so far from a NYC style grid (thanks, L'enfant!) that you have to get more creative here.

by BTA on Mar 5, 2014 11:02 am • linkreport

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