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DDOT's 5-point plan to improve 16th Street buses

DDOT isn't yet willing to install a bus lane on 16th Street, but the agency is moving forward on a host of other improvements, and will study a bus lane next year.

Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The 16th Street bus line is bursting at the seams. It carries more than half of rush hour trips on 16th Street. But the buses are slow, and they're so full that riders in the city's close-in neighborhoods often can't board.

Advocates have been pressuring for bus improvements on 16th Street since 2010. ANC Commissioner (and District Council candidate) Kishan Putta has championed the cause. Now, DDOT has adopted a 5-point plan to fix 16th Street.

Here are the 5 points:

Already complete: Signal optimization pilot program: In July 2014, DDOT retimed 44 of the traffic signals along 16th Street to improve their efficiency. After a few weeks of results, it appears to have sped up traffic (including buses). DDOT will continue to evaluate the results the rest of this summer.

August 2014: More articulated buses: Metro will reshuffle its bus fleet, to provide more long "accordion" buses on 16th Street. WMATA will move the articulated buses currently running on the Y series in Maryland to the 70 line in DC, then move the articulated buses currently on the 70 line to 16th Street. The Y series will have shorter buses, but they'll come more often.

Fall 2014: Longer rush hour operations: DDOT is considering extending the hours of rush hour parking restrictions on 16th Street, to keep more travel lanes open up to an hour longer in each direction. That will keep two lanes open to moving traffic, including buses.

Mid 2015: Transit signal priority & full optimization: By mid 2015, DDOT will expand its signal optimization pilot program to the entire corridor, and install new software that instructs traffic signals to hold a green light a few seconds longer if a bus is about to pass through an intersection. That will speed up buses along the route, so they're less likely to have to stop at red lights.

2015-2016: Bus lane study: Beginning in 2015, DDOT will begin a comprehensive study of transit improvements along 16th Street, including the potential for bus lanes and other long-term construction projects. The study will take about a year to complete, meaning 2016 is the earliest DDOT could install bus lanes.

None of these 5 points are new. DDOT has been working on them all for some time. But it's good to have them listed all in one place.

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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Bus Lane!

by Richard on Aug 11, 2014 12:18 pm • linkreport

Nice to see some progress, however infinitesimal. Still, at least 18 months to stripe and paint a single lane is a bit rich. There is no actual reason for this delay other than a lack of gumption.

by Low Headways on Aug 11, 2014 12:19 pm • linkreport

These are good ideas for moving buses more quickly, but the problem is too many people south of U try to take a bus. Seriously, just walk to work.

by charlie on Aug 11, 2014 12:27 pm • linkreport

Not everyone can walk the 1.9 miles from 16th & U to Federal Triangle (or even some subset of that). Not everyone wants to, especially when it's hot, icy, or pouring rain.

These are good. Some stop consolidation would help (and/or make the S9 run every 5 minutes instead of every 7-10). Also, what about buses that just run part of the route? I was thinking they would only go north to 16th and Upshur, then take Upshur to Georgia, a quick jog on New Hampshire and back to 16th on Spring to head back south. This would cover the busiest part of the 16th Street route, and provide a nice connection for folks living by the Petworth metro--easier to use that than changing at L'Enfant or taking the 70 bus to the X2 if you work by the White House. It would also go by many schools (Roosevelt, MacFarland, Powell, Sharpe, and Raymond) the Petworth library, and the new Safeway.

by sbc on Aug 11, 2014 12:57 pm • linkreport

Charlie, easy enough to say on a balmy August day, you won't be whistling that tune in February...

by Simon on Aug 11, 2014 12:58 pm • linkreport

Charlie, not that I live in that area, but I would have to say that people who live near the core deserve transit just as much as any others. DC city streets shouldn't be reserved for Marylanders and DC residents who choose to live far away from the core up north.

by JR on Aug 11, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

It would also be nice to have a bus on 14th street that took a right on new hampshire or K street and went down towards farragut square. As someone who lives much close to 14th street...i have to walk over to 16th in order to get a bus that takes me closer to my office. And the 14th street line is miserably slow

by corey on Aug 11, 2014 1:02 pm • linkreport

Improving the buses on 14th would probably help 16th a lot. I think there are many people who walk past 14th to take a 16th St bus, especially if you work West of 16th.

by MLD on Aug 11, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

This DDOT 5 point plan is really only 2ish; the pilot program has been completed, the additional articulated buses is Metro's decision, not DDOTs, and the fifth point is just the usual language about undertaking a study.

I guess its better than nothing. Still, 2016 (and mid-late 2016 probably) at the earliest before we could see a bus lane along this corridor? C'mon DDOT - you can do better than that.

by Mr. Johnson on Aug 11, 2014 1:43 pm • linkreport

I thought there already was a busy lane study? There also used to exist a bus lane. What is DDOT's justification for not starting this latest study sooner? What are their goals for the study? We need metrics and greater transparency for any delays.

by GP Steve on Aug 11, 2014 1:46 pm • linkreport

So... in other word, DDOT is doing everything it can to avoid bus lanes. It is even going through the trouble of pretending to care about bus lanes, and installing a bunch of cheap useless features to prove their pretend.

by Jasper on Aug 11, 2014 2:07 pm • linkreport

There's a noticeable lack of enthusiasm from this ANC crowd for getting the planned extension of the Dupont Circulator to 16th and U a.s.a.p.. That would solve the problem of neighborhood transit but the bus lane proponents want 16th and U to stay in misery to further the religion of BRT.

16th probably has the transit from the suburbs to justify a rail line but 16th is a a residential street and already has too much commuter traffic. 14th was the traditional commercial/transit street but is becoming bucolic now as the smarter people religion with no knowledge of DC transit keep repeating their simplistic mantra of "Bus lanes on 16th ! Bus lanes on 16th !" God is Great !

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 11, 2014 2:48 pm • linkreport

People just want to get where they need to go. If you think it has roots in adherence to some "BRT Religion" then you're way off.

by MLD on Aug 11, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

What would really improve bus service is off-board fare collection (proof-of-payment system), but that isn't even being discussed. Bus lanes would certainly speed up service, as would removing stop that are spaced ridiculously close together.

by TransitSnob on Aug 11, 2014 3:01 pm • linkreport


Agreed. There are multiple causes of non-go time. We should list the time contribution (e.g. fare collection takes 10 min/15% of the route time [or whatever the actual value is], traffic slowing takes x minutes, etc). At the presentation at the Chastleton a few months ago, the consultant showed an example time breakdown chart from a different city. So we should say these 5 things take the most time of non-go time, what are solutions, and track progress on the solution. These are data driven issues, not subjective ones.

by GP Steve on Aug 11, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

There's a noticeable lack of enthusiasm from this ANC crowd for getting the planned extension of the Dupont Circulator to 16th and U a.s.a.p.. That would solve the problem of neighborhood transit but the bus lane proponents want 16th and U to stay in misery to further the religion of BRT.

Brilliant. Make fun of people proposing a solution while offering a counter proposal that would exacerbate the problem. All based in a sense of what streets "should" be seeing improvements rather than fixing what's actually broken.

by drumz on Aug 11, 2014 3:09 pm • linkreport

I rode the S4 from Silver Spring to 16th and P at 11am yesterday (Sunday) and it was nearly full. Lots of people heading to/from church I would guess. Anyways, I can't even imagine what it's like to ride at 8:30am on a Tuesday.

by Mike M on Aug 11, 2014 3:35 pm • linkreport

Tom, if you really want to excoriate the lack of a circulator extension, let's bundle a bunch of things together. (I am planning to write a post on this at some point).

Since 2008, DDOT has come up with four different plans that would significant improve mobility and the pedestrian experience along 14th Street. These include the overall 14th Street streetscaping project (including bus bulbs and signal timing), the extension of the Rosslyn-Dupont Circulator to 14th and U, and the rerouting of the souther terminus of the 53 bus to loop back north via G, 15th, and H Streets rather than Franklin Square.

So where's progress on any of these? Nowhere. 6 years of plans and DDOT has accomplished absolutely none of them. And if they could get some of these done, the pressure on 16th as a pure commuter route would be significantly alleviated (a Rosslyn-U Street circulator would get me off the S- and 50-line buses for good).

by LowHeadways on Aug 11, 2014 3:39 pm • linkreport

LowHeadways- Full funding for the Rosslyn-Dupont Circulator extension to U was passed in the last budget. It could already have been done and the ANC not demanding quick implementation of this solution to neighborhood transit problems is noticeable.

The 14th Street streetscape not only eliminated several bus stops on 14th but the bulb-outs also pretty much assured that there won't be dedicated lanes on 14th for buses or streetcars.

by Tom Coumaris on Aug 11, 2014 3:56 pm • linkreport

@ LowHeadways

When funding is available, WMATA has plans to extend the Route 53 from Franklin Square to Federal Triangle. It was recommended in the 14th Street Line Corridor Study to terminate this route at 15th & G Streets NW but opposition from property owners on G Street between between 14th and 15th streets to a bus layover prevented this proposal from being implemented.

Also, there are plans to implement a new limited stop Metrobus Route 99 service from Dupont Circle to Anacostia via the Florida Avenue and U Street corridors.

by Douglas Stallworth on Aug 11, 2014 4:12 pm • linkreport

@ TransitSnob - Metro has announced a pilot program for off-board fare collection, which will be tested on 16th Street.

by JDC on Aug 11, 2014 4:13 pm • linkreport

Follow up - I readily acknowledge that Metro promised to begin the project in June 2014, and it's August and there has been no update.

by JDC on Aug 11, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport


Good point. I've noticed Metro is not transparent in it's status on various projects/tests/etc. Metro had notes on upgrading NextBus to be every 30 seconds and on every bus a few years ago. Nowhere could I find the status of this project. I contacted Metro's contact center and a few weeks later, they got back to me that yes this was completed. They are a public agency and should be transparent on their projects.

by GP Steve on Aug 11, 2014 4:19 pm • linkreport

@GP Steve - amen. NYC does such a fantastic job of PR regarding its projects; so does the London Underground. NYC even has their own official photographer - WMATA used to have someone doing similar things and posting photos/videos of each weekend's track work in connection with Metro Forward. They were using a separate blog in addition to the existing FB page and Youtube.

by JDC on Aug 11, 2014 4:46 pm • linkreport


That isn't actually off-board fare collection, it's just the ability to load your smartrip at a kiosk on the street.

by MLD on Aug 11, 2014 5:05 pm • linkreport

Bus Lane!

by Richard on Aug 11, 2014 12:18 pm


I meant to comment about bus lanes in the post specifically about bus lanes.

Bus lanes. I guess, but what is the hold up with bus drivers being able to push lights? Let's get that in play, then you'll really get buses moving.

by Jazzy on Aug 11, 2014 5:11 pm • linkreport

Mike M:

On Tuesdays at 8:30 a.m. there are significantly more buses scheduled than at 11 a.m. on a Sunday. Frequency follows demand.

by Mr. Transit on Aug 11, 2014 5:17 pm • linkreport

The other thing is we need DDoT to commit to both a start AND end so they don't keep taking comments for years like with zoning.

by GP Steve on Aug 11, 2014 6:08 pm • linkreport

Rush hour bus lanes

by asffa on Aug 11, 2014 6:17 pm • linkreport

Low Headways -"Nice to see some progress, however infinitesimal. Still, at least 18 months to stripe and paint a single lane is a bit rich. There is no actual reason for this delay other than a lack of gumption."

I wonder how much resistance is due to proponent's gaping lack of emphasis on them being RUSH HOUR bus lanes, confusing(?) people to thinking said lanes are going to be entirely "repurposed".

by asffa on Aug 11, 2014 6:20 pm • linkreport

@ MLD - correct. These machines would NOT be off-board fare collection and I am not sure what I was thinking. I should have clarified that in my citation. But, I think (thought?) the purpose of putting devices such as this outside buses was to consider the ability to eliminate adding value on a bus on busy routes, which slows loading a lot more than just people swiping their cards one after another.

by JDC on Aug 11, 2014 7:34 pm • linkreport

Bus lanes!

I agree that this is just some ploy by DDOT to try to somehow not have to deal with the work that it will take to make bus lanes. Metro should put so many buses on the street that no car or taxi will even think about driving in the right most lane. Then it will become the defacto bus lane. Some mornings, with articulated buses and regular buses lining up at a stop one after another it almost looks like the right most lane is already reserved for buses.

by dc denizen on Aug 11, 2014 8:26 pm • linkreport

Off board fare collection. So insanely easy to do (just put a machine and a sign at each stop), so ridiculously hard to convince WMATA to do.

by Eric on Aug 12, 2014 4:21 am • linkreport

@Eric: Don't you have to convert an entire bus line to proof-of-payment, then? It doesn't speed up buses to have people pay off vehicle if they still have to validate their payments when they board.

by Michael Perkins on Aug 12, 2014 7:51 am • linkreport

Off board fare collection. So insanely easy to do (just put a machine and a sign at each stop), so ridiculously hard to convince WMATA to do.

"Insanely easy"? There are like 50+ stops in each direction on this bus route, you're talking 100 machines plus the infrastructure to install them.

Put smartrip pads at the back doors and allow all-door boarding.

by MLD on Aug 12, 2014 8:56 am • linkreport

Today on the S-Line at Euclid there was about 50 people standing there at 8:30....a little rain = way more people. I checked my DC Metro Bus App and busses were coming about every 8 minutes. Pretty unacceptable for rush hour.

by corey on Aug 12, 2014 9:11 am • linkreport

The 16th Street bus line is bursting at the seams. But the buses are slow, and they're so full that riders in the city's close-in neighborhoods often can't board.

I used to ride this line in the 80s and this was true then. It's amazing that 30 years later nothing's been done to address the issues.

by Hattie McDaniel on Aug 12, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

@MLD Why not focus on a limited stop route? It looks like the S9 has 16 stops. Assuming you only need one at each end you're just talking 30 machines. Now you could allow other S riders at those stops to use the machines possibly.

by GP Steve on Aug 12, 2014 9:31 am • linkreport

@GP Steve,
This is exactly what WMATA should do. Proof-of-payment on the S9 and other limited stop services. I'd certainly walk an extra two or three blocks for a limited stop bus that spent significantly less time waiting for people to board. Then, as ridership grows on the limited service, WMATA could switch some buses from the local routes to the limited routes, saving everyone times, which would further boost ridership, both on the limited line and on the corridor in general as transit trip times and wait times go down. The local service will still exist for the remaining people who value short walks more than short trip time. This is basically what NYC has done with Select Bus Service (except they have bus lanes) and LA has done with Metro Rapid (except they don't have proof-of-payment).

by TransitSnob on Aug 12, 2014 9:56 am • linkreport

PoP on one bus every 8 minutes at some stops probably will not help the problem that much, right?. Personally I think you would get more bang for your buck if you just implemented all-door boarding with smartrip pads at the back door on all buses on the S lines.

If you only implement it on the limited stop, you would also need a way for the system to allow people to tap at the kiosk and then, tap again if they decide to board a local bus. Otherwise you will have a rush on the kiosk as the S9 pulls up. Especially in the crowded sections of the route people do not discriminate in which bus they take - they just hop on one that comes. And WMATA will have to figure out how to count it for ridership; I'm not sure FTA would be keen on them counting all of those extra taps as separate trips.

by MLD on Aug 12, 2014 10:06 am • linkreport

@asffa: I think they should be 24/7 bus lanes, and that the same should exist on a number of roads, but clearly I'm in a minority around here.

@Doug Stallworth: thanks for the update. How many "property owners" in total derailed a project that would benefit thousands of commuters? Also, is there any kind of timeline on the Federal Triangle extension, then?

@Tom Coumaris: Argh, so again the delay is DDOT's fault? Everyone should be on their case constantly about this. As for the streetscaping, I don't think the bulbs permanently preclude anything. (Though, given the glacial pace at which the entire region seems to do anything substantial on infrastructure...) I have to disagree with you on the stop consolidation; it's a necessary evil. Stopping at every other lettered street isn't a huge imposition and the time savings will be noticeable.

by LowHeadways on Aug 12, 2014 11:15 am • linkreport

LowHeadways - why, when the buses won't run like that and weekend service will remain terrible?

by asffa on Aug 12, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport


You assume that your work trips end once you reach the core, but for some of us, the journey continues beyond Downtown DC. As much as I would love to walk all the way to Metro from my neighborhood and get a one seat ride to work, the bus makes the DC-based part of my trip slightly more bearable.

by bsl35 on Aug 12, 2014 11:24 am • linkreport

I drive 16th street every day from greater Silver Spring, and I welcome these changes. Helping buses move helps me move too, and I am all for better bus service as a former Mount Pleasant resident. I remember what it was like.

Extending rush hour parking restrictions seems particularly important. If you are not behind the wheel, you might not notice how many times the rush hour lane is blocked. It is never fully clear, and I often see a tow truck out just starting to clear cars a good hour into the restriction times. I wish DDOT would start massive parking enforcement to keep the lanes clear for buses and cars alike. As it stands, a "dedicated" bus lane would still mean that buses would encounter multiple obstacles to get around.

by SarahB on Aug 12, 2014 4:23 pm • linkreport

Extending the rush hour restrictions on 16th in the evening would be huge. Because right now, they really stop at 6:15 (or earlier) when people start parking and sitting in their cars, waiting for 6:30 to roll around.

by MLD on Aug 12, 2014 4:32 pm • linkreport

@ LowHeadways:

DDOT surveyed the property owners on the north side of G Street near 15th Street who expressed opposition to a bus layover. Because of numerous comments regarding the need for improvements in 14th Street Metrobus service, a recommendation will be made to fund the extension of Route 53 service to Federal Triangle next year.

by Douglas Stallworth on Aug 13, 2014 11:12 am • linkreport

@Eric: Don't you have to convert an entire bus line to proof-of-payment, then? It doesn't speed up buses to have people pay off vehicle if they still have to validate their payments when they board.

No, you don't. At any stop that you want, you can put a Smartrip reader (possibly solar charged) and a sign saying "At this stop, pay before boarding. There will be occasional inspectors on the bus to make sure you do not board without paying first."

by Eric on Aug 14, 2014 4:20 am • linkreport

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