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A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.

Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit—people have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritization—which means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthals—not to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.






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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I would have given Mayor Gray even less credit for his non-answer than you did. Bikes are great, but this question is about a specific bus lane, not transportation in general. And I'm surprised Muriel Bowser mentioned express buses on Georgia Ave and not the express bus on 16th, which gets just as stuck in traffic as the other non-express buses. I like how Tommy Wells breaks out the name-calling. Passion, that's what we need in our politics. Based on past actions, I don't believe one word of what Jack Evans says. If he were arguing for special lanes for himself, or light prioritization for his own personal vehicle, I'd buy it. Has he ever seen a bus?

by Jon Renaut on Mar 6, 2014 10:35 am • linkreport

Um Muriel, aren't you on the Metro Board. Can't you actually ask the Metro folks to come up with a plan for doing this that they can then show to you so you can then support it? If you haven't done that yet, can we expect you will do that if you are elected as Mayor?

by fongfong on Mar 6, 2014 10:38 am • linkreport

calling streetcar projects trolleys is the transportation equivalent of calling all developers evil. it's basically code for "i have no substantive arguments against this but want to make it sound bad"

it's childish.

by ballston guy on Mar 6, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

"I'd like to see the plans first" is code for "I want to support this but I know I'll have to backtrack once someone points out that you'll actually have to takeway a lane from cars to make this work, but at least I can blame it on 'the plans'".

by drumz on Mar 6, 2014 10:45 am • linkreport

"Has he ever seen a bus?" lol

Buses may be the ONE place in the District where we wont see Jack or one of his gazillian campaign promos. I'll give his campaign manager some props if he tweets a photo of Jack riding a bus between now and April 1 (not the Circulator, but maybe the 70 or X2 — during rush hour.)

by @ShawingtonTimes on Mar 6, 2014 11:00 am • linkreport

"Has he ever seen a bus?" Probably not. In fact, I think he feels that those Red White & Blue signs are there to reserve street parking for members of the Council:

by Shipsa01 on Mar 6, 2014 11:22 am • linkreport

Sadly, I think I'll be voting for Mr. Corruption Gray. Answer or non-answer, I don't like the notion of a mayor Bowser.

by gotryit on Mar 6, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

What would be great with this is a somewhat subjective rating on how good they will be for developing the DC bus system.

by bk on Mar 6, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

All I need to know is that Muriel Bowser is pro-puppies. And smart people will create new policies that will increase the amount of puppies in DC.


by Crickey7 on Mar 6, 2014 12:20 pm • linkreport

love how bowser talks about how to get people to ride the bus.... umm.. we don't have that problem anymore (especially on 16th st). Our problem is the bus is overcrowded and the only remaining way to alleviate that is to move buses faster

by guest1 on Mar 6, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

I just want to know who these smart people Bowser keeps referring to are. Maybe we can elect one of them.

Again, I'd have to say Tommy wins this round, but I'm still nervous about entrusting the whole city to him. I think he'd do wonders in charge of DDOT or WMATA though. Transit is really where he shines. Doesn't do bad on housing. He's at least on par with average on education.

But he doesnt do well with jobs, crime, or home rule in my book.

I'm with gotryit. The question of Gray's ethics doesn't remotely bring him down to par with the others.

And that's not to put him on a giant pedestal. I believe the city is doing well and going in the right direction and that 4 of the other 5 nimrods running serious campaigns (sorry Reta) would run DC into the ground. Tommy has the potential to really shake things up, but the jury out is on whether that'd be worth the risk.

Basically: Gray > Wells > Catania > Evans > the homeless guy in Georgetown who wears the vinyard vines whale hat > Bowser

by potomacaveres on Mar 6, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

Wells wins Quote of the Day -"""they're a bunch of Neanderthals—not to insult Neanderthals."""

The 16th/14th street buses are one corridor and 14th Street buses are just as crowded as 16th with just as many full buses. 14th doesn't have the precious rush hour lanes and is intended as the streetcar route so getting dedicated lanes below Columbia Heights should be much easier. Just pitifully myoptic that the proponents can only imagine 16th.

by Tom Coumaris on Mar 6, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

It's not just the S buses. A couple of 43's blew past me and several others this morning because they were packed. I was in a rush so I flagged a cab instead of waiting longer.

The city (and wmata) need to be much more proactive in adapting to the growth the District is undergoing. Studies are not necessarily the best answer and at DC government's pace will often do nothing to alleviate the problem for years. Instead, try something, if it's not perfect, then tweak it.

by dno on Mar 6, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

And again, Bowser shows that she knows nothing.

by Cavan on Mar 6, 2014 2:24 pm • linkreport

@Tom @dno +1

By now all of our major north-south arterial should have a dedicated rush-hour lane: Wisc, 16th, 14th, Georgia, etc. The way I see it is that we need elected and appointed leaders that use buses, trains, walk, and/or bike. Instead every one of them drive. They cannot relate. I just wish we had at least one council member, mayoral candidate that used another form of transportation other than a car. It would be another good form of "diversity".

by dc denizen on Mar 6, 2014 2:31 pm • linkreport

Meh I almost think Bowsers answer was better than Grays except that huge hanging clause "where it makes sense" which I'm guessing is anywhere people want to drive.

Someone should explain that the city/WMATA can actually save money on buying more buses and hiring more drivers by moving existing buses efficiently with dedicated lanes and signal priority.

by BTA on Mar 7, 2014 9:10 am • linkreport

We don't need more politicians who are going to passively kick back and wait "to see the plans." We need politician who are going to roll up their sleeves, work with transit riders, and actively make the plans.

by PassBuck RollLog on Mar 7, 2014 10:41 am • linkreport

where it makes sense we should have bus lanes.

Good. I'm glad she's not taking the position that we should have bus lanes where it doesn't make sense. What a non-answer answer. Can she name a place where it makes sense? What criteria would she use to determine where it makes sense?

This is just a version of "abortions for some, miniature american flags for others".

by David C on Mar 7, 2014 10:49 am • linkreport

"Meh I almost think Bowsers answer was better than Grays except that huge hanging clause "where it makes sense" which I'm guessing is anywhere people want to drive"

Pretty much all of what she says sounds OK until you actually start to examine it. That's what's troubling.

by MLD on Mar 7, 2014 1:37 pm • linkreport

There is zero room for bus lanes on 16th Street unless you cut of the street to cars and force all the traffic on to the flanking streets.

by AndrewJ on Mar 8, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

16th has two lanes in each direction during rush hour. That could mean one for buses and one for other traffic in each direction during rush hour. It would make sense, given that DDOT's analysis showed that half of the people in vehicles on 16th are on buses.

by MLD on Mar 8, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

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