Greater Greater Washington

Transit


What can we learn from the 7th/Georgia bus errors?

In 2007, WMATA and DC introduced several measures to improve service in the 7th Street/Georgia Ave. corridor: Metro Extra Route 79, signal priority at 28 intersections, and bus lanes on 7th street and 9th Streets downtown. Some of them have helped, while others have failed. Why?


Near side bus stop that "wastes" signal priority.

Signal priority was introduced on the corridor for Route 79 only, but has only yielded a 1.5% time savings per trip and those results were not deemed totally reliable. That's because DC and WMATA tried a one-size fits all approach.

Each of the 28 intersections provide the same 10 second green extension in either direction. They also can't be triggered more than once every ten minutes in both directions combineda bus northbound that triggers it will then prevent southbound buses as well as northbound buses from taking advantage for 10 minutes.

The bi-directional approach means that buses traveling counter-flow may trigger the signal when the need for extension is in the peak travel direction. Bus stops were also not relocated to take advantage of the signal extension.

Stop location has been another impediment to reaping the full benefits of signal priority as no stops have been relocated to take advantage of the extra signal time. The photo shows a crowded bus stop at Georgia and Kennedy that regularly causes buses to miss the light. Moving the stop to the far side would take better advantage of the signal priority.

The experience in Portland where they installed a similar system with 55 intersections on a single route may provide some insight. They not only added signal priority, but included special lanes, curb extensions and stop relocation. The Portland pilot routes experienced a 10% reduction in travel time in the peak period, peak direction and an 8-10% improvement in on time performance.

They found that they had to analyze mounds of data and do an intersection by intersection analysis to determine the correct signal phasing and stop location. They found that similar appearing intersections are not similar at all. They found that close cooperation between the staffs of traffic and transit agencies was an absolute necessity and found that the process is incremental and takes time to reach the final objective.

The 7th Street and 9th Street bus lanes also provide lessons. The lanes are not well designed. It is not clearly marked where cars are permitted to enter the lane to make right turns. Bus lane signage prohibiting autos could also be improved.

Enforcement has also been poor to nonexistent. The District needs to pass a specific ordinance to prohibit cars from bus lanes and it needs to settle on enforcement mechanism(s), such as cameras mounted on bus shelters similar to speed and red light cameras, or assigning of ticket writers specifically to enforce the lanes.

The 9th Street lane has been largely a failure due to very few buses using the lane, poor lane design and no enforcement. In contrast, the proposed ¾-mile stretch on I Street from 13th to 19th St NW has an average of 30 buses per hour and the time savings per bus would be close to 3 minutes per bus. With good enforcement and design, an I Street lane could make bus travel much more pleasant and speedy while saving money at the same time.

Craig Simpson is currently working as a representative for Progressive Maryland. He has in the past worked for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689 and the Metropolitan Washington Council, AFL-CIO. He has a degree in Labor Studies from the National Labor College. 

Comments

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I've always wondered why bus stops on the "near" side of traffic light. Perhaps so they don't block cars turning right. Seems like a bad design for heavy bus corridors.

I've very dubious of any new signaling to be honest. It sounds great, but traffic is so fluid and variable that it is hard to get real world results.

Couple points:

"The bi-directional approach means that buses traveling counter-flow may trigger the signal when the need for extension is in the peak travel direction"

But isn't a good idea to return those counter-flow buses back to starting point quickly?

"They found that close cooperation between the staffs of traffic and transit agencies was an absolute necessity and found that the process is incremental and takes time to reach the final objective"

I think we're already seeing a divergence, based on your other bus post today?

"The District needs to pass a specific ordinance to prohibit cars from bus lanes and it needs to settle on enforcement mechanism(s), such as cameras mounted on bus shelters similar to speed and red light cameras, or assigning of ticket writers specifically to enforce the lanes"

Hmm. just what we need. More civil liberties being trampled. And maybe with bus lanes we should just enforce them during rush hour.

by charlie on May 21, 2010 11:44 am • linkreport

@charlie. I'm confused by your lane enforcement point. How is driving in a bus lane a "civil liberty"?

by Dand on May 21, 2010 1:06 pm • linkreport

@Dand; the use of cameras to monitor administrative violations (parking, red lights, bus lanes) etc. If you don't some clever little police officer is going to abuse that power, well, I have a bridge in Brooklyn for you....

by charlie on May 21, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

Perhaps another take-away message is that "low hanging fruit" don't always give a significant or sufficient pay-off, and you might find yourself having dithered a large chunk of time pursuing the low-hanging fruit but now realizing you also need the higher-up fruit, but without made any provisions to secure a ladder.

by thm on May 21, 2010 4:37 pm • linkreport

@charlie

"But isn't a good idea to return those counter-flow buses back to starting point quickly?"

Yes, except that they already do get there quickly. With fewer passengers on the route, counter-flow buses spend less time dwelling at bus stops and can often pass stops altogether. In addition, many of the busiest lines run buses back to the starting point empty so that they can resume rush hour service faster.

by Adam L on May 21, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

While some bus stops should be moved we also need to look at how it will effect people transferring which no one seems to ever think of.

GA Ave & Kennedy street has an extremely high amount of people transferring between the 70 and E routes as does GA Ave & Columbia/Irving, GA Ave/7th St & Fl Ave and 7 + H Street

Any ideas when it comes to moving stops need to be thought of on how it will effect transferring.

by kk on May 21, 2010 5:28 pm • linkreport

@kk:
You make a good point. What that means is that the cross-street buses may need to have their stops moved or that Kennedy Street is not a good candidate for signal priority.

If the bus' transponder is extending the green for traffic on Georgia Avenue at Kennedy, but the bus doesn't go through because it is boarding or discharging passengers, it is a waste of resources.

by Matt Johnson on May 21, 2010 9:03 pm • linkreport

A few observations on the 79 route, which I use almost daily:

- Overall the 79s are an excellent overlay service and help quite a bit to make up for the Green Line's routing deficiencies (trying to also serve 14th Street just adds circuity - the line would have been better off running straight up Georgia Avenue, connecting to the Red Line at Silver Spring, and then heading out in MD along Rt 29).

- Spiffy, new buses are attractive, but nobody seems to know how to maintain the (nonstandard?) destination signs. Often a revenue trip is marked "T00" or "NOT IN SERVICE" with a hand lettered sign taped to the front window or the door; also some buses have, inexplicably, one of the digits blank. Both have been common for well over a year now.

- The 79s get signal priority? That's news to me - I've never seen any evidence of it.

- Northbound 79s often sit through an entire light cycle at H Street while passengers board, sometimes even for two cycles.

- The 7th Street bus lanes seem to work reasonably well, actually the most conspicuous offenders are trash trucks parked there in the morning.

- Stop placement could probably be improved. Good boarding counts at Florida Avenue/Howard U Hospital, but at the expense of a decent transfer from the Green Line at Shaw/Howard.

- Poor headway maintenance causes some buses to skip intermediate stops due to overcrowding. Metro seems to be aware of this and dispatches some trips with two buses running nose-to-tail.

- Some of the 79 drivers are real pros and know how to run the route as it was designed, but others act as if it were just another local: hugging the curb and slowing for the stops it doesn't make as if unaware of the 8- to 10-block spacing.

- The 9th Street southbound bus lanes generate significant delays - that left turn off RI Avenue to get onto them is a real nuisance. All this for the opportunity to serve two dead blocks for the new convention center and two more for the site of the old one - while at the same time giving up the chance to serve Chinatown or make a convenient Metro connection at Gallery Place.

- The "temporary" multiyear diversion caused by the interminable construction of the Silver Spring bus terminal (more than a year and a half into it and they're still pushing dirt around the site) causes inordinate preventable delay to arriving trips. An optional passenger discharge at the light before the intersection of East-West Hwy and Colesville Road, for instance, would allow them to walk through the NOAA office courtyard, saving two long lights worth of delay and about a quarter mile of walking.

by intermodal commuter on May 21, 2010 9:22 pm • linkreport

Actually, I love the 9th Street bus lane. It's generally much lighter trafficked than the other lanes and is a great way to get around masses of clueless tourists and taxicabs who are meandering between lanes and turning across several lanes of traffic on the weekends.

But seriously, these bus lanes are emblematic of a lot of DC traffic planning. We do stuff without any analysis, without any idea how a problem might be solved, or if there's even a substantial problem to begin with.

On 9th Street, which I drive frequently when I have to go to Virginia, I have rarely seen a bus in the bus lane. Also, 9th Street, even during rush hour, is just not that bad. So we've got a road that flows pretty well most of the time, and doesn't seem to have too many buses anyway. Why did we create a bus lane again?

What supposed benefit would we see from these lanes? It seems obvious to me that there is not substantial enough bus traffic there that we should be dedicating an entire lane to them (and bikes, I suppose, though I can't honestly say I have EVER seen a bike on 9th Street). Even when traffic is at its worst, traffic moves pretty well. Was there really a problem that needed solving here?

I am not proposing something better, I'm just not sure what the traffic planners had in mind when they created these bus/bike lanes. It seems to be a lot of paint that accomplishes little. No, it's dedicated use is not enforced much, but it doesn't seem like anyone is really clamoring to use it so who cares?

by Jamie on May 24, 2010 2:40 pm • linkreport

I have noticed that often the 79 bus does not result in significant time gain. But it is still so much better than riding the non-express bus. I remember the first day that I rode the 79--it was wonderful & guilt-inducing! It felt wonderful, strange and wrong to be riding in style down Georgia Avenue. (I have been riding the 70 for 30+ years.) The 70 line was not calm, clean and drama-free. It was loud, dirty, late. (There's a reason there's a short film & play about it.) But I quickly got used to it. Yes, it would be great if it could be faster but I'll take a slightly slower 79 bus any day.

by Marya McQuirter on May 26, 2010 10:26 am • linkreport

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