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The DC region lost 60 miles of bus lanes. It's time to get them back

Prior to 1976, the Washington region had at least 60 miles of bus-only lanes, with even more proposed. This map shows where they were.

Image from WMATA.

On the map, from PlanItMetro, the red lines show existing bus lanes as of 1976. Blue and black lines show proposals that never materialized. The network reached throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and into Maryland.

Unfortunately, all the bus lanes were converted to other purposes after the Metrorail system was built.

It's no coincidence or surprise that some of the old bus lanes were on the same streets where they're now proposed again, like 16th Street and H and I Streets downtown. Those are natural transit corridors, with great need for quality service.

Will we ever get this system back? The region is off to a good start, with moveDC's 25 miles of proposed transit lanes, and the upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. But the 60-mile system from the 1970s shows we still have a lot of work to do.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and professor of geography at George Washington University, but blogs to express personal views. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado, and lives in NE DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post


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Well this is just going to make me angry. Interesting though!

by BTA on Jul 7, 2014 1:10 pm • linkreport

I think you should focus an equal amount of attention to how to make the bus lanes work. I fear getting a bus lane, for example on 16th st, only to have car drivers flout it, making it useless thereby giving ammunition to those who would wish to remove it.

In that sense, I wish we could see more discussion of best practices. Bus lanes in far right lanes are problematic as cars will inevitably turn across them, not to mention double park and so on. It would be nice to see center bus lanes, with bollards separating them up until the intersection. That way, a car driver would not be able to enter or exit the lane, except at intersections but it would be harder and the drivers would get stuck behind any bus traffic, not to mention the illegality of what they are doing would be quite obvious given the bollards. You can see examples of this in other countries, Seoul comes to mind.

by JR on Jul 7, 2014 1:22 pm • linkreport

If I recall correctly, when I first moved here in '02, Connecticut ave had what appeared to be old markings for an HOV/Bus only lane (the diamond) in the right lane going southbound from Chevy Chase Circle to somewhere around Van Ness St. Anyone else remember this or know when those rules were changed?

by Annon on Jul 7, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

+1 JR

by charlie on Jul 7, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

Thank you Dan and Jonathan (WMATA). When we started pushing for bus improvements in 2013, Metro's bus director Jim Hamre told us about this and I'm glad Jonathan was able to find and document this.

Not only is there successful precedent in various other US (and foreign) cities, but we have precedent here in DC itself - ON SIXTEENTH STREET ITSELF!

DDOT has promised to move forward with the implementation process on 16th Street (starting with an environmental study), BUT:

1) DDOT has refused to commit to starting this process/study. They said it will be sometime in FY2015, but they owe the residents a START DATE. DDOT needs to issue its RFP (even just for the study) ASAP - preferably this summer.

2) ALTERNATIVELY, DDOT could/should start with a PILOT in the section with 5 lanes already (Arkansas to W). Former DDOT officials have told me that this is possible without a study.

Fundamentally, DC government has already done this before on 16th Street and the time has come to try it again. Remember, this is neither costly nor permanent.

DDOT says they want to start with wider rush-hour parking restrictions. But there is no reason we cannot do both. They also have suggested (in their MoveDC plan) that millions be spent on making 16th Street a high capacity bus route.

I recently testified before the DC Council ( that:
"residents are glad moveDC would make investments on bus service, but don’t want the long-term plan to delay more immediate plans for 16th Street. An outspoken advocate for a bus lane along 16th Street, Putta urged the the city to move forward with a bus lane feasibility study for the corridor."

7 of 13 councilmembers have expressed public support, including both major mayoral candidates (I've not asked Ms. Schwatz yet). It's time to act, DDOT.

We stand ready to help. Thank you.

Kishan Putta
ps- we are also working to improve busing in under-served areas such as from the Minnesota Ave metro station. Metro told me they will try to address publicly this very soon - I will keep you posted!

by Kishan Putta on Jul 7, 2014 1:58 pm • linkreport

Sorry for misspell: Schwartz!

by Kishan Putta on Jul 7, 2014 2:00 pm • linkreport

Transit only lanes are highly useful when enforced which is now very easy w/ videocams mounted on the buses or rail cars. As always, the real issue is political will. WMATA hasn't been interested in quality bus service;it would be nice to see them turn around.

by david vartanoff on Jul 7, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

>Transit only lanes are highly useful when enforced which is now very easy w/ videocams mounted on the buses or rail cars.

David Vartanoff, I'm afraid I have to disagree with this simplistic idea, on the basis of evidence from many other cities in the US and elsewhere. As you well know, it only takes a small number of flouters -- one double parked car, one car waiting to make a right turn, etc. -- to completely offset the advantages of a dedicated lane. 100% fines won't deliver 100% compliance.

by JR on Jul 8, 2014 8:46 am • linkreport


You are not mistaken. Wisconsin and Connecticut were among the many streets that had bus/cab/bike/HOV in the far right lanes in operation at least to the late 1980's.

by Andrew on Jul 8, 2014 8:53 am • linkreport

'Wisconsin and Connecticut were among the many streets that had bus/cab/bike/HOV in the far right lanes in operation at least to the late 1980's.'

That would make much more sense today than the poorly marked and understood -- and downright unsafe -- 'reversible' rush hour lane on Connecticut Ave.

by Alf on Jul 8, 2014 10:05 am • linkreport

@JR Yes, scofflaws will never completely disappear. However, if the odds of a stiff enough fine, AND a change in the general culture (think about how driving drunk has become unacceptable compared to 40 years ago) occurs, then we will get better transit. Some of us remember when PA Ave SE had streetcar tracks in what is now the tree filled median. The reason we invented elevateds and subways was to have unobstructed rights of way for transport. Given that DC is never going to get the funding to build a truly comprehensive subway network such as that in Manhattan, a network of reliable express and local buses on major commercial arterials would be highly useful.

by david vartanoff on Jul 8, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

I commuted daily on South Capitol Street for the most part of 30 (thirty) years, which had a bus-lane for a short distance near the Douglass Bridge. Hundreds of cars every morning, used the in-bound bus-lane there with abandon. Enforcement was almost non-existent (maybe one day a year). And on occasional mornings with extreme traffic-jams, our bus-lane would be clogged with hundreds of cars just like the regular lanes were. And drivers at the head of the line, without fail, would willingly let them all merge in. This situation could have been a terrific cash cow for MPD who could have collected MILLIONS of dollars in tickets - but instead they just ignored the situation for many years - after all, it only involved Anacostia, where citizens seldom vote or express themselves.

by slowlane on Jul 8, 2014 1:18 pm • linkreport

Getting preoccupied with enforcement and finger waving at scofflaws really doesn't help address implementation. The preoccupation with having cameras everywhere w/o considering their limitations is particularly counterproductive.

If bus lanes actually carry a lot of bus traffic, then a lot of the other problems become minimized. Bus lanes along with more service on major through streets would be a step forward. Mixing modes in bus lanes is probably not a good idea---it's the old DC area love of complex solutions that confuse most people (like the confusing and sometimes contradictory totem poles of parking signs in DC). Make bike lanes just be bike lanes. Make bus lanes be bus lanes and fill them with bus service. Metro has cut way back on bus service on Connecticut Avenue which probably makes it a poor candidate for bus lanes. Wisconsin seems like a better candidate.

by Rich on Apr 5, 2016 10:42 am • linkreport

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