Greater Greater Washington

Check out this 1942 DC bus and streetcar map

DDOT posted this 1942 map by Capital Transit to help people navigate around the city by bus or streetcar:

Fares were 10¢ or 50¢ for six. You could buy a monthly pass for $1.25. And unlike today, you could transfer for free between bus and rail.

One block of text urges "housewives" to "help Washington's War Effort" by only "travel in business shopping areas only between" 10 am and 3 pm. That's because 300,000 people were getting to and from work outside those times.

The streetcar numbering also shows where we get today's bus line numbers (for routes that don't have a letter). Many of the lines followed routes very similar to major bus corridors today.

The 30 followed Wisconsin Avenue NW and Pennsylvania Avenue SE, and today, that's the 30 series buses. The 40 and 42 lines followed Connecticut and Columbia to Mount Pleasant, as the 42 (and 43) buses do today. The 50s lines used 14th Street, the 70s Georgia Avenue, 80s Rhode Island Avenue, and the 90s a rough circle around the central city, like their modern equivalents.

The 60 took 11th Street and ended at the north end of Columbia Heights. This matches the commercial district there today, but the modern 62 and 63 mostly use Sherman Avenue through this area and continue farther north.

The 20 route no longer exists; it followed the Potomac River to Glen Echo.

And finally, the 10 streetcar line went to Rosslyn and (with the 12) H Street and Benning Road. The eastern part of this became the X lines (X is the Roman numeral for 10).

If you're wondering whether historical streetcar precedent suggests whether the streetcar should go up Georgia Avenue to Silver Spring or to Takoma, the map is no help; the 72 cut east to Takoma while the 70 stayed on Georgia (though it ended just before the District line).

Finally, the Mall (or, at least, West and East Potomac Park) had a sort of Circulator: the Hains Point line, but only on Sundays in the summer.

David Alpert is the founder of Greater Greater Washington. 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 daughter in Dupont Circle. 


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You used to be able to by reprints of this map at the National Capitol Trolley Museum.

by Some Ideas on Jul 10, 2014 4:37 pm • linkreport

-No "E", "M" or "T" buses on Military Road across Rock Creek Park. Military Road and Missouri Avenue named "Concord Avenue" here. Alignment is along what is now Joyce Road. My mother mentioned having a friend who lived at 14th & Colorado, and went to high school and junior college at Immaculata in Tenley, and she needed to take the 14th Street carline into town and then the Wisconsin Avenue carline out.

-No Washington Hospital Center, VA Hospital, Children's Hospital, NRH complex between Michigan Avenue and Irving Street. In fact, Irving Street does not exist east of Park Road, and North Capitol Street does not exist north of Michigan Avenue - it is all part of the Soldier's Home property. The H2 route is much simpler.

-Macarthur Boulevard is still Conduit Road. Sibley Hospital does not exist in its current location. The "D" bus stops two blocks short of its current terminus, and follows a slightly different route at the south end of Conduit Road.

-No "D" or "M" bus crosstown on Nebraska Avenue, west of New Mexico Avenue.

-No buses on Massachusetts Avenue between Wisconsin and New Mexico Avenues, only on Cathedral and New Mexico Avenues.

by Frank IBC on Jul 10, 2014 4:53 pm • linkreport

Practical, resilient, and beautiful. Let's re-build it!

by Thayer-D on Jul 10, 2014 4:55 pm • linkreport

Your forgot the 40's line which now would be a combination of the 97,D6 & 42 Metrobus lines went toward Capitol Heights from Mt Plesant

by kk on Jul 10, 2014 5:05 pm • linkreport

-National Airport not shown.

-Jefferson Memorial not shown.

-No RFK Stadium. Griffith Stadium is adjacent to Howard University campus but not labeled on map.

-No Kennedy Center. No Watergate complex. No State Department or other federal buildings south and west of Virginia Avenue, only old sites of US Naval Hospital and National Institutes of Health immediately north-northwest of the Lincoln Memorial. No Roosevelt Bridge or Potomac Freeway. Constitution Avenue continues in a straight line to the river. "Watergate" at its original site between Memorial Bridge and Rock Creek Parkway.


by Frank IBC on Jul 10, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

The other item that's kind of interesting, the map shows "planned" streets, which are identified with dotted lines. A good area to look at is near Fort Totten and Fort Circle Park where there are dotted outlines for streets that didn't exist (and still don't).

Very interesting to see on a transit map.

by Randall M. on Jul 10, 2014 5:49 pm • linkreport

This, plus the bus lanes map, are kind of a depressing reminder how a lot of what we're doing today is really just re-doing what existed decades ago.

On the other hand, it does suggest that we're just returning to the natural order of things. Like the '50s-'90s were a weird departure from the rest of urban history, but now we're getting back to normal.

by Gavin on Jul 10, 2014 5:59 pm • linkreport

Only 2 streetcar lines east of the Anacostia River.

by DaveG on Jul 10, 2014 6:19 pm • linkreport

Note the remains of the street grid for the Fort Reno neighborhood near Deal Junior High.

by alexandrian on Jul 10, 2014 8:02 pm • linkreport

That street grid around what is now the ft. totten metro station... what? Did that exist once?

by Nick on Jul 10, 2014 11:12 pm • linkreport

@ Randall M., Nick -

Much of Brookland and Fort Totten was built in the 1940s. That is the plan at the time for future construction. However, the street grid as it was actually built was very different - in particular, the part north of Emerson Street. The park between Galloway and Gallatin Streets, through which I-95 was later proposed to be built, does not exist at all on this map.

by Frank IBC on Jul 10, 2014 11:36 pm • linkreport

Some other interesting changes:

-The L buses terminated at Judiciary Square, not Federal Triangle.

-The M4 ran in a loop between Pinehurst and Tenley Circles that combined portions of at least three other, later bus routes, including the present M4.

-The proposed streets in the vicinity of Military Road, Oregon Avenue and 27th Street (now St. John's High School) were very different from what was actually built.

by Frank IBC on Jul 10, 2014 11:43 pm • linkreport

"Pentagon Building" is shown with it's own R2 bus line.

by DaveG on Jul 11, 2014 5:08 am • linkreport

Right, the Pentagon was just open when this map was out, and as the roads to it aren't shown... Unless someone here knows, how long did it take to complete the road network after the building was first occupied?

by ArlRidgeRes on Jul 11, 2014 10:13 am • linkreport

@ ArlRidgeRes - The road network around the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery was completed no later than 1945. It's shown in the USGS topographical map of that year.

The Capital Transit map shows the Pentagon on top of the rail line between Rosslyn and the Long Bridge. I'm guessing that's just laziness on the part of the mapmaker.

by Frank IBC on Jul 11, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

The Jefferson Memorial opened in 1938, but is somehow not on the map? No Frederick Douglass Bridge - it did not open until 1949 or 1950. RFK Stadium only opened in 1961 or 62.

by slowlane on Jul 11, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

The Veterans Hospital back then was at "Mount Alto" (now the Russian Embassy site on Wisconsin). "Doctors Hospital" until the 1980s was at Farragut West (the present site of "International Square" food court).

by slowlane on Jul 11, 2014 1:55 pm • linkreport

Jefferson Memorial was not completed until 1943, and Jefferson's statue was added in 1947. Plaster statue installed by dedication in 1943. Bronze statue installed 1947.

by DaveG on Jul 11, 2014 1:56 pm • linkreport

An interesting line not shown on the 1943 Capital Transit map was the 14th Street Takoma Park extension line. From 14th & Colorado, it ran along Kennedy St. to Butternut, then up to Takoma Park, passing under the B & O railroad underpass at about Tewksbury, I think. The Kennedy St. section was single- track, with a couple of double-track turnouts, a practice common in smaller cities, but unique to Washington. Capital Transit always used the oldest cars for this line, and they were incredibly noisy. They were replaced in 1936 with little Ford buses, also usually restricted to small city service. I believe the Kennedy Theater was planned with the streetcar service in mind, because Stanley-Warner always placed their neighborhood theaters on streetcar lines.

I remember the fare was a dime, with three tokens for a quarter. Transfers could be used indefinitely as long as you were going in the same direction and time hadn't run out. A weekly pass cost a dollar and a quarter. Streetcar motormen on the one-man cars and bus drivers made change for fares, usually while the vehicle was in motion.

Open cars ran every summer on most lines until 1935. The seating arrangement was transverse wooden benches (rattan covered seats were standard on the closed cars) with no middle aisle for standees or the conductor. He had to give change and collect fares from the side of the moving car at the same time he was hanging for dear life. Since these cars were open on all sides except the floor and roof, it was better to check the weather before you took one. These open cars were painted a bright yellow and red, as I recall, opposed to the dark forest green of the Capital Traction closed cars and the lighter green of the Washington Railway and Electric cars.

Some of the Capital Traction Co. cars had two long rattan-covered benches running along the length of the car on either side. They were used to accommodate more passengers during rush. The conventional seating arrangement, seats facing forward, required the conductors to go through the cars and swing the backs of the seats into a different position. This was true, of course, where there was no end-of-line loop. It was was a very noisy procedure.

When I started riding mass transit with my mother, about 1931, there were three compahies: Capital Traction, Washington Railway & Electric, and Washington Rapid Transit. The last-named operated buses along a 16th Street trunk line. (There were also a few Virginia and Maryland interurban lines.) In 1933, the DC lines were all consolidated into Capital Transit, which it remained for many years. The two-man streetcars all took on the Washington Railway & Electric colors, while the one-man cars took on the silver colors of the bus company. Later, the streamlined PCC cars were given a cream=green color, which changed over the years. A distinctive feature of the front-engine buses was the capitol dome radiator cap they all had. The 16th Street bus lines operated open-topped double-decker vehicles during the summer until 1935.

It was great fun riding the buses and streetcars downtown in those days, especially to F Street, which was the heart of downtown in those days. The abandonment of Washington's great streetcar system, with its unique underground trolleys, was the abandonment of Washington as I knew it.

by Joe Ehrhard on May 2, 2015 12:04 pm • linkreport

I'd like to make a correction in what I've just written. The 14th Street Takoma Park line did not turn up Butternue as I stated, but up Third Street. on which it resumed its double trackage. I used to see them all the time when I was a student at Coolidge High School. Those tracks remained embedded in the pavement until about 1944, when they were dug up, probably for their scrap value in the war effort. Incidentally, the 14th Street Takoma Park line ended at a different terminus than the 7th Street/Georgia Avenue Takoma DC line. They were separated by about 5 blocks.

by Joe Ehrhard on May 3, 2015 12:34 pm • linkreport

I'd like to make a correction in what I've just written. The 14th Street Takoma Park line did not turn up Butternue as I stated, but up Third Street. on which it resumed its double trackage layout. I used to see those tracks all the time when I was a student at Coolidge High School. They remained embedded in the pavement until about 1944, when they were dug up, probably for their scrap value in the war effort. Incidentally, the 14th Street Takoma Park line ended at a different terminus than the 7th Street/Georgia Avenue Takoma DC line. They were separated by about 5 blocks.

Now I'd like to pay tribute to one of Washington Railway & Electric's bus lines, the 19th Street Loop, which ran between Adams Mill Road and Fort Toten. Between 1926 and 1935, they ran little brown model X Yellow Coaches, the first really successful commercial bus. You could hear them at all times of the day, above the roar of lions and the braying of elephants in the Zoo. Going up the Kenyon Street hill in second gear they sounded like sopranos in a Wagnerian opera. They came about every 5 minutes all day long and never broke down. They were slow, but dependable, and provided as comfortable a ride as one could ask for. Basically, they served as feeders to the Mount Pleasant, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue rail lines, but they also functioned as an early crosstown bus route, maybe the earliest in Washington. I love streetcars, but I wish I could ride on of those brave little brown buses again.

by Joe Ehrhard on May 3, 2015 1:24 pm • linkreport

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