Greater Greater Washington

Ask GGW: Who can push for more and better bus service?

Reader Michael Fekula wants to see new and more frequent Sunday bus service to his neighborhood, Westchester Park, between College Park and Greenbelt. He sent us a copy of a letter that he wrote to WMATA General Manager Richard Sarles:


Photo by William F. Yurasko on Flickr.

I live in the Westchester Park community which is located on Kenilworth Avenue east of Berwyn Heights and west of Greenbelt. We are served by one bus route: the R12, which runs Monday through Saturday.

The biggest problem is that there is no Sunday service. We have a large number of senior citizens and many others who go to church on Sunday but who cannot get there unless somebody gives them a ride.

There are others who work on weekends, plus, a large number of Univ. of Maryland students who have no way to get to campus on Sunday.

Even shopping nearby is problematic as the closest shopping center, Beltway Plaza, is going to be too long of a walk for older people.

The closest bus service to our location on Sunday is the route 81 bus which goes to the far side of Beltway Plazaa good 30 minute walk from Westchester Park. And it only runs once an hour on Sundays and service ends late afternoon. Not at all convenient.

Matt Johnson wrote about this issue in neighboring Greenbelt back in June. Matt even made a map that showed the stark difference between bus service during the week and on Sundays.

Matt points out that the obstacle to Sunday bus service (or increasing bus service in other ways) is probably not WMATA itself, but the state and local governments:

TRU-G (the transit advocacy group in Greenbelt) has been pushing for Sunday service for years now. WMATA is interested in providing the service, but there's a catch. WMATA doesn't get to decide where to expand service. The funding jurisdiction does. And in the case of Prince George's (and Montgomery) County, that's the Maryland Department of Transportation.

MDOT has to pony up the money, not WMATA. Until people exert enough pressure on the state government, that's not going to happen. In Greenbelt, we've been trying for several years, but there are lots of projects competing for money from the state, and Sunday bus service in Greenbelt hasn't yet made the cut.

Therefore, Michael Fekula and any other Maryland residents who want more bus service on Sundays might also want to start talking to lawmakers in Annapolis and officials at MDOT to ask the state to provide funds for better bus service.
Greater Greater Washington occasionally posts letters that raise questions or make points we feel our readers would enjoy seeing and discussing. If you would like to submit a letter, please send it to letters@ggwash.org. If you have feedback on an article you would like to share with other readers, please post it in the comments section of that article instead. 

Comments

Add a comment »

The biggest problem is that there is no Sunday service. We have a large number of senior citizens and many others who go to church on Sunday but who cannot get there unless somebody gives them a ride.
Who exactly is Mr. Fekula trying to appeal to? This would not be my choice of a lead-in paragraph for a persuasive argument for more robust bus service. It is not the taxpayer's responsibility to subsidize church shuttles.

by dcmike on Apr 24, 2014 11:13 am • linkreport

I'm always curious how this works in practice. Do DDOT, VDOT, MDOT planners do all the long and short range transit planning or does WMATA provide them with route suggestions as well based on their own regional analysis? Maybe MWCOG gets involved?

by BTA on Apr 24, 2014 11:16 am • linkreport

DCmike

Quite a few of the riders on the 16bus on sundays use it to go to church. Riders are riders, whether they are going to church, going to work, going shopping, go to visit friends. They need to get from point A to point B. And on Sundays, as well as other days (and given the parking issues near some churches, it seems worthy to make it easier to get to them by transit, I would think)

we could have church shuttles, like we have mall shuttles, and apt complex shuttles. But a multitude of private shuttles is probably less efficient than a public bus line in most cases.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 24, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

He's not asking for a church shuttle. Just normal service that's present the other 6 days a week. That may ultimately ease some pressure we have in the great church/bike lane/parking conflict.

by drumz on Apr 24, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

I think it's a fine "letter from the community". Transit isn't just to get to work, it's for school, shopping, social needs, and extracurricular activities. Seniors especially are prone to being housebound and isolated so it's important not to forget them.

by BTA on Apr 24, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

I'm all for more transit and helping seniors live independently. I'm just saying this is a poor argument from a politician or taxpayer standpoint. It's easy to make a case for more transit when the service generates economic activity (work, shopping, even education). Not so much for church.

by dcmike on Apr 24, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

We would all like better bus service, but Westchester Park is a gated community mostly of people who want to keep the community at arms length and live in an auto dependent suburb.

by Richard on Apr 24, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

The rationale for most local bus service is not economic development, but to enable basic mobility to the transit captive population. (Of course churches (and other houses of worship) provide socialization, places to network, values education for children, and other things of community value - but of course some may prefer people not go to church for their own philosophical reasons - but thats not relevant - transit agencies typically look at usage, they do not parse and judge the value of the trips)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 24, 2014 11:27 am • linkreport

@AWITC, I agree wholeheartedly with everything you said. In your last last sentence you say, "transit agencies typically look at usage..". But the article itself specifically states the decision isn't up to the transit agency, it's on the local jurisdiction.

by dcmike on Apr 24, 2014 11:31 am • linkreport

AARGH. Not good advice. I will do you the courtesy of not writing a separate blog entry about what bad advice this is. Well, maybe not "bad" but woefully incomplete and definitely not with a community organizing foundation.

They need to start with the transportation/planners in the City of Greenbelt, the local elected officials in Greenbelt and Prince George's County, specifically Councilmember Ingrid Turner, who represents that district, and the transportation planners in the PG County Planning Department and the Dept. of Public Works and Transportation.

And the ACT chapter in PG County and this TRU-G group could begin working to better organize transit advocacy in Prince George's County.

State funding, state plans, typically are in fealty to local planning. The state generally won't step in without the instigation of the locality.

Other resources:

County Transit Plan, http://www.pgplanning.org/Projects/Ongoing_Plans_and_Projects/Transportation.htm

DPWT transit services, http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/sites/publicworks/Transit/Pages/default.aspx

The Rte. 1 transit initiative, http://www.route1ride.org/

UMCP transit services

CM Turner, http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/sites/District4/Pages/default.aspx

County Council Transportation Committee, http://www.princegeorgescountymd.gov/sites/CountyCouncil/Services/StandingCommittees/Pages/default.aspx#the

by Richard Layman on Apr 24, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

dcmike

gotcha, but my sense is that local officials (RL of course is right that they should be approached first) don't parse and weight trip purpose either - not for something as small as a coverge oriented local bus line. I mean if every projected rider for the Silver Line were going to use it to go to church, that would have been a big deal ;)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 24, 2014 11:48 am • linkreport

@Richard, regarding your comment " Westchester Park is a gated community mostly of people who want to keep the community at arms length": (1) there is no gate at the entrance to Westchester Park. The public is not prohibited from accessing that development. (2) do you have evidence for your assertion that residents "want to keep the community at arms length"? That's a bold statement and not in keeping with the (small number of) people I know who live there.

by John on Apr 24, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

I never did get a good photo (it was blurry) but I recall the Port Authority of Pittsburgh running a special "Church Shuttle" in the Hill District when I was there in 2009.

From a transportation demand management aspect, it's just as reasonable to consider Sunday church services as any other activity that generates lots of trips.

On the EnvisionBaltimore list, a deacon kept writing about how the late opening of the light rail on Sundays there makes it impossible to use transit to get to church for many people.

(This was an issue for many years in the DC area too, because WMATA opened late on Sundays.)

by Richard Layman on Apr 24, 2014 12:00 pm • linkreport

Want better bus service? Push for more density in your area. Transit service requires HEAVY subsidies to serve low-density areas, which is why most of the US has abysmal transit service.

by TransitSnob on Apr 24, 2014 12:42 pm • linkreport

Actually, after looking at Westchester Park, it has some density, but it was developed in such a way that it is not on the way to anywhere, and the bus route has to deviate significantly to even reach most residents. This an example of very poor planning. The highest density should be along Kenilworth Ave, where it is most easily served by transit. I realize that this isn't helpful for getting better bus service, but it's useful to know the issues that you're working with. That is, the current configuration will always cost more to operate (longer route), provide slower less frequent service (longer route = fewer buses per hour), attract fewer riders (due to meandering route and infrequent service), and will be more expensive to operate.

by TransitSnob on Apr 24, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

@Richard, regarding your comment " Westchester Park is a gated community mostly of people who want to keep the community at arms length": (1) there is no gate at the entrance to Westchester Park. The public is not prohibited from accessing that development. (2) do you have evidence for your assertion that residents "want to keep the community at arms length"? That's a bold statement and not in keeping with the (small number of) people I know who live there.

I know a lot of people there, although I wish I didn't. They are constantly complaining about people from outside the community walking in and creating crime and the influx of foreign students moving into their little enclave.

by Richard on Apr 24, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport

The description of who decides whether WMATA should institute or modify bus service in a jurisdiction is not fully correct here.

Both WMATA and the local jurisdictions (State of Maryland in Maryland) may propose additions, subtractions or changes to WMATA bus service. For approximately the last 3 years the WMATA budget has included funds to expand bus service in the region beyond the amount provided in the current year budget. If the requested Sunday bus service in Westchester Park is WMATA regional service than the cost would be borne by WMATA from their new bus service funding pot. If the requested Sunday bus service would be non-regional service (more neighborhood in nature and following certain other criteria) then the State of Maryland would have to pay the operating subsidy.

One of the unanswered questions in the whole discussion is how much demand is there for Sunday service in these unserved neighborhoods? The utilization of the Saturday service can provide some ideas.

by Steve Strauss on Apr 24, 2014 3:40 pm • linkreport

I live in Greenbelt, so I'm affected by the lack of Sunday bus service too. Yeah, I have a car -- an 18-year-old car, I might add -- but I still don't like having my options limited on Sundays if for some reason the engine doesn't turn over.

Except for the apartment complex that used to be called Springhill Lake (now Franklin Park), residential Greenbelt is NOT within walking distance from the Metro. Not just in distance but in terms of crossing wide, highway-like streets that don't always have sidewalks. If you don't have a car in Greenbelt on Sundays, you might as well be in Carroll County or on the Eastern Shore, because you sure can't take advantage of the DC metro area.

People spend more than 14 percent of their lives on Sundays. People spend 50 percent of their weekends on Sundays -- if they're lucky enough to have a job that confines itself to the Monday-Friday rat race. Greenbelters of all faiths or no faiths use Sundays to go shopping, visit relatives and friends, go to festivals and museums and movies ... the list goes on.

I read a lot on this blog about all the fancy transit-oriented development, and in principle I agree it's a good thing, but not all of us -- not even all the college-educated among us -- can afford to live in the shiny new construction. Some of us just limp along in 50-year-old condos and send out resumes and hope to find a better job. And, yeah, we need transit options on Sundays too, not just the people who can afford to live in compact TOD.

by Greenbelt Gal on Apr 24, 2014 9:05 pm • linkreport

At least in Greenbelt, you have a lot of things to do without ever leaving Greenbelt.

Another challenge is that Westchester Park is in unincorporated Prince Georges County. If it sought annexation into Greenbelt, it would have more people pushing the county and state for transit services. And probably higher taxes.

The Purple Line will change bus routes, and possibly justify Sunday service in different places. Weekday buses need to feed Metro because so many people head into the District. But on Sundays a bus going up and down Kenilworth might be reasonable.

by JimT on Apr 24, 2014 11:26 pm • linkreport

@Richard, thanks for the clarification. I was not aware residents had that attitude.

@JimT, I agree that it would be logical for either Greenbelt or Berwyn Heights to annex Westchester Park. I am curious about the history of why that development was approved - the density there would make more sense closer to the metro station.

@Transit Snob, I don't think the development pattern of Westchester Park is a factor for bus service, because the bus stops at the entrance to the development on Kenilworth. This does mean residents need to walk a bit to get to the bus, but it does not require the bus to "deviate" from a direct route along Kenilworth.

@Greenbelt Gal, I agree in general - improved bus service on Sundays is needed. However you should not feel stranded; parking is free at the metro on Sundays and it would be an easy 5 minute drive from the center of town. The walk is not idyllic, but it's not impossible, and there are sidewalks the entire way. And it's ~10 minutes by bike, with bikes permitted on the trains on weekends.

by John on Apr 25, 2014 9:20 am • linkreport

greenbelt gal raises an interesting point - there are parts of the region where a bus is needed for a trip that, by distance, is easily walkable (and a fortiori, bikeable) but can't actually be walked because there conditions are unsafe.

For example, it used to be virtually impossible to walk (or bike, if you weren't fearless enough to brave the lanes on Little River Turnpike) from downtown Annandale, to the nearby Community College - so lots of people took the bus. With the completion of sidewalks on the beltway bridge, walking/biking is a slightly more feasible option (though the lack of sidewalks on the south side of LRT west of the beltway, and the incomplete frontage routes on the north side, still mean the old safe route is a considerable detour)

by AWalkerInTheCity on Apr 25, 2014 9:34 am • linkreport

An intra-Greenbelt transit service might be something worth studying, modeled on the Tempe AZ Orbit service.

Generally, such services have a hard time being successful depending on the density, but in Tempe, the various bus routes connect neighborhoods to activity centers and key transit hubs.

Even such a service just on weekends might be worth testing.

That this particular area is in PG County not Greenbelt, creates other issues.

2. WRT JimT's point about the PL and how it will necessitate reconfiguring transit service, this is a key and important issue that PGC Planning and DPWT should be addressing "now" long term, comparable to the jolt that the opening of the Red Line gave to RideOn in MoCo.

I don't know much about The Bus. I might have ridden it once or twice, but I don't remember. But co-incident with the PL it should get a jump start/repositioning/rebranding, just as I argue that PGC needs to reboot its land use planning comparably, in response to the addition of PL light rail service.

3. It would be worth asking the PL Corridor Coalition to have a special conference on bus service.

by Richard Layman on Apr 25, 2014 11:55 am • linkreport

Obviously land use and density make it difficult but it does seem like they should be able to institute some kind of circuitious route that maybe connects New Carrollton to Greenbelt Metro via the denser developments and shopping centers. But realistically in that kind of area people are going to need to walk at least a 1/4 - 1/2 mile to get to a bus stop

by BTA on Apr 25, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

@BTA, you have pretty much described the existing G12 and related routes. They are pretty good for weekday/rush service, but not very useful beyond that - and don't run on Sunday, which is the original point of this post. It's actually a different route that serves Westchester, running south from the Greenbelt metro station along Kenilworth towards College Park metro and beyond.

by John on Apr 25, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

Thank you for your responses to my letter.

dcmike - [Deleted for violating the comment policy.] The S2,3,4 buses in DC serve the 16th St., NW corridor which has the highest concentration of churches and temples in the city. Sunday service for people who want to get to church is already quite common on the Metro rail and bus services, especially in the District where it is a priority in some neighborhoods. [Deleted.]

drumz pointed out that I am not asking for church-only service. The R12 route takes people to the largest shopping center on the route, Beltway Plaza which is jammed on Sundays. Silly me but I thought that one of the ideas behind mass transit was to get people out of their cars and to alleviate traffic around congested areas like shopping centers.

No Sunday service means more people are compelled to own cars with all the consequences that come from that.

There are also people who have to work for a living on weekends. Back in the day I had the night shift as a security guard on weekends. There are plenty of people who do that work, plus the people who work in hospitals and other places that do shift work. That kind of work doesn't always pay enough for one to own a car. And yes, Westchester Park has its share of working class people who rent and do not own their condos, and who have to work on weekends.

Thank you to Richard Layman and Steve Straus for your thoughtful, detailed, and informative comments.

Thank you to Greenbelt Gal and John for indicating that there are more communities that are affected by lack of Sunday service. That is very helpful.

[Deleted] to the other Richard for your comment:
"I know a lot of people there, although I wish I didn't. They are constantly complaining about people from outside the community walking in and creating crime and the influx of foreign students moving into their little enclave."
First, your comments have nothing to do with whether we should have public transportation service. [Deleted.] Secondly, the people you are talking about are a loud-mouthed minority of whiners who are bigoted against foreigners and want to blame them for all problems we have ever had. The majority of us who feel either wise is never heard from. I count myself among the vast majority of those who feel blessed by having neighbors from around the world who make us a diverse community. Many of them are affiliated with the Univ. of Maryland, some as faculty, the majority as graduate students. The largest percentage is from China with the next largest groups from Korea and India; I have learned much by knowing them.
As to the people from outside the community who cause crime, yes, it does happen albeit not much recently. We had a rash of car break-ins (mostly smash-and-grabs) a couple of years ago. The management companies worked with the police and private security and the problem abated. It will never entirely go away but crime never does. That's life.

by Mike Fekula on Apr 26, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

@ TransitSnob

That is not true there are places in PG County that have density that have terrible service at any time of the week outside of rush hour. Just go out anywhere in New Carrolton, Laham, Greenbelt, Suitland, Laurel (No Service on weekends), Temple Hills, Oxon Hill etc. places that have service on the weekends mostly end at like 9pm or 10pm on Saturdays and 7pm on Sundays.

I have never been on a Metrobus in PG County at 11pm on a Saturday or after 9pm on a Sunday besides the K6 or A12 because almost everything else does not run.

by kk on Apr 26, 2014 1:25 pm • linkreport

Add a Comment

Name: (will be displayed on the comments page)

Email: (must be your real address, but will be kept private)

URL: (optional, will be displayed)

Your comment:

By submitting a comment, you agree to abide by our comment policy.
Notify me of followup comments via email. (You can also subscribe without commenting.)
Save my name and email address on this computer so I don't have to enter it next time, and so I don't have to answer the anti-spam map challenge question in the future.

or