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Webb frustrated by congestion, tour buses on the Mall

For a letter that at first blush sounds like it's saying "the Mall should be more of a high-speed freeway for my chauffeured SUV to the Capitol," Senator Jim Webb's letter to Mayor Fenty and the National Park Service is actually quite reasonable.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Webb is frustrated that illegally-parked tour buses on the Mall create traffic congestion, and writes, "While it is clearly in our mutual interest to promote local tourism and an appreciation for the National Capital Region, the severe traffic congestion associated with these sites must be significantly reduced."

Fortunately, Webb comes up with fairly sensible proposals: greater enforcement of parking regulations, designated bus parking areas, and even increased use of Metro to get to and from the Mall.

Mike DeBonis points out that DC very much would like to designate a tour bus parking area, but didn't get a federal grant to set one up in the Mount Vernon Triangle area. DeBonis also suggests that perhaps if the Park Service allowed a Circulator bus, more tourists could ride it, and cites our "typically exhaustive" coverage of this issue. (Thanks!)

It's good that a federal lawmaker is taking an interest in this issue because the decisions about the Mall are almost entirely made by the National Park Service and very little by the DC government.

The disappointing element of Webb's letter is that it's clear he's primarily thinking about the experience of those who drive through the Mall. The Mall provides a beautiful drive along Independence Avenue, but that same area is horrible for pedestrians. Walking from the Washington Monument to the Tidal Basin gives the distinct impression that you're an unwelcome guest in a freeway median.

NPS responds to the pressures from Congress, which sets its budget, and many members of Congress are driven through the Mall to work. Their influence also contributes to NPS's focus on making its parkways, like the GW Parkway, "safer" for drivers by straightening and widening curves, which ironically only makes drivers go faster and creates a new need to straighten more curves for "safety."

I often choose to drive through the Mall and GW Parkway when going between DC and Virginia because its roads are often less crowded than other roads, and have fewer lights. But I strongly avoid going to the Mall on foot. This isn't how our parks should be.

All in all, however, Webb should be commended for suggesting entirely reasonable solutions to a congestion issue: better enforcement of existing laws, and alternatives including transit.

David Alpert is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Greater Greater Washington and Greater Greater Education. 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 loves the area which is, in many ways, greater than those others, and wants to see it become even greater. 

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I'm disappointed to read the district attempted to create a tour bus parking lot at 5th & I next to residences. The vast empty parking lots surrounding RFK seems better suited for this use than a small corner lot downtown.

by FourthandEye on Jun 17, 2010 10:58 am • linkreport

I wouldn't get too hung up on Webb's proposed solutions - the current Tour Bus situation is a major problem for every user of the Mall - and not just the Mall, but adjacent areas as well. Tour buses will park and idle along Maine Ave SW, for example - and plenty of other areas well outside of the traditional definition of the Mall.

Regardless of double-parking (which also clogs bicycle routes), even tour bus parking along Madison and Jefferson streets ends up creating a massive, impenetrable wall of buses. The design and street layout of many of the roads on the Mall and in East/West Potomac Park sure isn't ped friendly, but the buses exacerbate the problem.

The biggest thing is getting someone in Congress to light a fire under the feet of the various agencies and actors.

by Alex B. on Jun 17, 2010 11:04 am • linkreport

@FourthandEye

That lot was only meant to be a temporary solution until the development program for that site was in order.

by Alex B. on Jun 17, 2010 11:05 am • linkreport

The NPS is asleep at the switch when it comes to managing pedestrian traffic in these areas (Mall and GW Parkway). The worst part has got to be the crosswalks between the Memorial Bridge and Arlington Cemetery. There is no signage asking drivers to slow down or yield as they whiz by tourists, joggers, and bikers who frequent this area. Accidents are fairly common. It appears here that Sen. Webb is mostly interested in car traffic. Either he, a family member, or a major donor most likely got stuck in traffic one Friday afternoon.

by aaa on Jun 17, 2010 11:21 am • linkreport

Interesting that he went to AAA for information. I sometime wonder if journalists are cribbing from GGW (just as GGW cribs from online news) but an important function of something like AAA is answering questions from politicians when they call.

Also funny that Dave turns a request for enforcement into a "a new lot would be nice". A nice lot would be nice but not everyone gets a pony for their birthday. Sometimes we need to find cheaper -- and more effective methods.

by charlie on Jun 17, 2010 11:29 am • linkreport

Finally a (n ex-executive) lawmaker demanding that the executive (of which the NPS is part) actually enforces the laws that have been made.

We have plenty of laws. We just do not implement, apply and enforce and evaluate them enough. This is equally applicable with the Mall and the NPS as with oil drilling and the MMS or financial collapse and regulation.

Implement, apply, enforce and evaluate to see if the law achieves its goals and does not create unforeseen problems.

by Jasper on Jun 17, 2010 11:52 am • linkreport

@charlie

Enforcement is great, but if you're getting the tour buses to stop parking illegally, then they have to go somewhere. The leap to finding a tour bus facility is incredibly small. Webb's letter also expressly looks at alternatives - more transit, dedicated bus parking, etc.

It's also worth noting that just about every planning agency in the area has documented the need for more tour bus and intercity bus facilities in DC. I'm not sure what you're objecting to.

by Alex B. on Jun 17, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

If Congress is going to be serious about this issue, they need to make sure that legal bus parking is available, close to the mall. Tourists want their buses to be nearby, so they don't have to walk far, or worse yet, use public transportation to find them. Bus drivers don't want to navigate through the city just to find parking and find their way back to the mall.

Boston has a parking garage under Boston Common. I know a garage under the mall would be a huge ass project, and I'm not necessarily saying it's a good idea. But it might be worth a look.

by Tim on Jun 17, 2010 11:59 am • linkreport

Look at all those jaywalkers (or about to be ) in the photo!

Anyway, there seem to be a couple of problems. One is congestion, particularly from parking at rush hour--note those buses in the photo, which are legally parked *and* can stay there through rush hour, which makes congestion much worse. And the other is the aesthetic of having walls of buses. Can't really do much about that if you allow buses, other than to provide some off-mall parking area that's not too far away.

by ah on Jun 17, 2010 12:02 pm • linkreport

I think DDOT used to have maps on its website for tour bus drivers, explaining to them the best routes for them to use and encouraging them to park on RFK's empty parking lots. I'm not sure if DDOT still uses those maps or if they've been distracted by more important things like repainting the bike lanes on Penn Ave every other week.

But if you talk to tour companies, their #1 complaint is the lack of tour bus parking, the lack of enforcement, and the lack of information from the city that clearly lays out where they should park.

by Fritz on Jun 17, 2010 12:14 pm • linkreport

David, maybe there is a missing ?

by JBE on Jun 17, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

Meant to say end italics tag. Unless that is your new font scheme.

by JBE on Jun 17, 2010 12:26 pm • linkreport

"Walking from the Washington Monument to the Tidal Basin gives the distinct impression that you're an unwelcome guest in a freeway median."

I'm a little unclear on this. If you just follow the path you can easily cross at one of several light-controlled intersections.

The mall is a huge open space with just a couple roads going through it. I've never had any trouble getting around as a pedestrian.

"But I strongly avoid going to the Mall on foot"

Can you explain this? Obviously millions upon millions of other people go to the mall on foot every year --- probably more than any other single destination in DC. Why is it any more difficult to get to it on foot than anywhere else in the city?
What possible reconfiguration (except for elminating all vehicular traffic between wherever you are coming from and the park) would change the simple fact that it is, actually, a park in the middle of a city?

Beyond that is there a pervasive safety problem on Independence Avenue between the mall and the tidal basin? I can't think of a car/ped accident. Considering how many people go there every day (and judging by that photo above, go wherever they feel like) this is actually quite remarkable. Maybe there isn't a problem.

by Jamie on Jun 17, 2010 12:28 pm • linkreport

I'm glad this topic is getting some attention! It's a complex problem and one that I deal with daily.

I'm a tour guide, and I'm one of those folks whose bus is constantly cutting you off, blocking your crosswalk, sitting in traffic, and any number of admittedly negative externalities we put you through. It's crap and I hate it too, but I have no choice.

You see, a few weeks before a tour (if it's lucky I get a few weeks) I get an itinerary in the mail with what I'm going to do with that group. This is where the fun starts. You see, in the competitive world of school tours, companies promise schools they can see all of Washington, DC in, oh, 14 hours.

So they show up with a schedule that has us running all over town and spending 15 minutes at everything. In the last five years or so, bus parking has been increasingly squeezed, so my driver drops us off (assuming there's even a legal spot around, good luck at Jefferson!) and circles around. Even if it was available, RFK and downtown are often too far away for the few minutes I have before I need him again (although they would be very useful for longer drop offs). So instead of parking somewhere (Ohio drive used to be popular), he makes a loop around the Mall area. Take a look next time and see how many of those buses you see are empty.

The next factor driving empty buses is parking. Union Station is available but costs money. Not a lot, but even a few bucks come out of the drivers pocket. These guys don't make much money and they're fighting to get the jobs nowadays. Conversely, they don't personally pay for gas. So even ten bucks to park will be a huge disincentive to a guy that is probably taking home only a $150 for the day.

Also, I'm not exactly sure how I'm supposed to get a bus to RFK. Most of Capitol Hill is off limits to buses now. There's a way, but it wouldn't be timely enough.

Frankly, I don't know the answer. Much of the new regulations passed in the last five years has worsened the problem. Enforcement currently is a bizarre mixture of harsh and inconsistent. The Park Police are by far the worse. Once a month they hand out $500 tickets like candy, the rest of the month they don't lift a finger. It's a crazy roulette game.

As much as I have problems with the Capitol Police in other areas, the Capitol pick up/drop off is clear, well understood, and well enforced. You drop off at Garfield Circle, pick up at Peace Memorial, time is given to reasonably load and unload but if you overstay your welcome the cop waves you one. The only tickets given out are when bus drivers foolishly try to argue.

Transit is a great alternative, but will never make much of an inroad into the school groups, which is the lion's share of spring tourists.

Again, I'm glad Sen. Webb is weighing in here, as this is largely a Federal issue.

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 12:38 pm • linkreport

@Fritz

Yes, DDOT does have items available on their website:

http://ddot.dc.gov/DC/DDOT/On+Your+Street/Traffic+Management/Parking/Tour+Bus+Parking

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 12:43 pm • linkreport

What a joke! Dude should take Metro.
Dude should advocate expanding Metro.

Constitution and Independance should be converted to bike lanes and bus parking.

Jim Webb must think he is _very_ importaint to be complaining about traffic.

It is insulting to think he is traveling to the core of the city from the suburbs and shouldn't take the train. That is exactly why the system was built.

He must be much richer then I am.

by robotmistake on Jun 17, 2010 1:17 pm • linkreport

To me, this issue with tour buses is just a simple problem of supply and demand... there's only so much space available on the Mall for buses. So, when a commodity is scarce, there should be some mechanism (market-based or otherwise) in place to apportion that commodity. It's unreasonable to continue this free-for-all system where tour buses get to pick up, drop off, and park whenever they want. Just like parking for non-commercial vehicles, there have to be incentives and regulations to ensure that a scarce good is apportioned efficiently.

I noticed that the National Zoo only does reserved bus parking and New York City has designated layover areas assigned to the various bus operators. I think these are great ideas that could be extended, in some fashion, to apply to the National Mall. If operators have to compete for spots, it aids enforcement of the rules as nobody wants "their" spot taken.

Of course, it would be up to National Park Service to develop and enforce a new system, but it seems like apportioning tour bus access to the Mall is the only reasonable method to help cut down on all the negative problems associated with them.

by Adam Lewis on Jun 17, 2010 1:35 pm • linkreport

Transit is a great alternative, but will never make much of an inroad into the school groups, which is the lion's share of spring tourists.

You know, I realize that competition drives almost all of the current practices, and everything comes down to convienience, but so long as all tour operators are operating under the same set of rules, there's no reason that things have to be the way they are. Park the buses in PG County, drop the kids on the Metro, have them walk from site to site, and take the Metro back to the buses at night.

Christ, my 3 year old daughter takes the metro to the Mall with her preschool--they walk the 4-5 blocks to the station, take the train to the Mall, then walk from the Smithsonian stop to whatever museum they're visiting. At the end of the field trip, they do it all over again in reverse.

by oboe on Jun 17, 2010 1:38 pm • linkreport

If Congress is going to be serious about this issue, they need to make sure that legal bus parking is available, close to the Mall. Tourists want their buses to be nearby, so they don't have to walk far, or worse yet, use public transportation to find them.

This doesn't seem to follow. Tourists also want unguided tours of the White House and the Capitol. As my grandfather used to say, "Hard cheese, mate."

by oboe on Jun 17, 2010 1:41 pm • linkreport

@Oboe; one of the highlights of every spring tour is the visit into the metro. But I think the problems with dumping more school tours into rail are the teachers don't know the system and get confused, and let's be honest, the rail system can't handle those mobs. It is a nightmare already with them floating around.

And while we're at it, can we mandate that every tour bus visiting dc has to use a natural gas engine -- save us from so much pollution.

by charlie on Jun 17, 2010 1:47 pm • linkreport

Adam Lewis:

You're right. This is fundamentally a supply and demand issue. But so far the approach has been to reduce supply and not address demand.

The Zoo is a perfect example. As you note, we can't park there, so buses drop off and go drive up and down Connecticut for an hour. So instead of a bus parked, you have a bus driving nowhere, adding pollution and congestion.

I'm not sure how you address demand, but if folks have a suggestion, I'd love to hear it.

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

oboe:

My daughter's class does the same thing, and has since she was pre-K 3. But it's only for a few hours. My tour groups start at 7:30 and go until 9:30 (and beyond). We need the bus not just for transportation, but also to regroup. Where do you put your stuff when you're going into the Capitol or the White House. Water fountains are few and usually broken. Where do you put extra water. How do you handle folks in a wheelchair.

Re-working a DC tour without a bus is possible, but it will take a whole lot more effort than doing it by fiat. As it stands now, there's no incentive for a tour company to do it. It's not cheaper nor is it a better experience.

Like I said, what you say isn't impossible, but what tangible steps do we do to get from where we are to there?

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 1:59 pm • linkreport

@TimK

You can address demand by increasing prices. Make tour buses go through a permitting process not only to park, but to pick-up and drop-off passengers in D.C.; much like taxicabs. Cap the number of permits and allow tour bus operators to bid for them.

The cost of a convenient, totally chauffeured tour will likewise rise and thereby reduce demand. The arguments about where to keep your stuff, where to get water, etc. are semi-bogus. What do people do who are *not* on a personal bus tour? I know, it's a shocking proposition, but other people seem to get around fine without a motor coach. Make people pay for convenience and the demand will take care of itself.

by Adam Lewis on Jun 17, 2010 2:27 pm • linkreport

I love it! Use the market to regulate demand! Just like we do for the Washington Monument, Ford's Theater, Holocaust Memorial Museum, etc. Oh wait, it's politically impossible to charge people to come to the Nation's Capital.

Truth be told, I like your idea. The only way this could be solved is on the supply end but by using cost you will be pricing out quite a few schools who can barely afford to make the trip as it is.

The issues I raise may seem semi-bogus to you, but solving them is why I have a job. The logistics of a school tour are daunting and I'm not being sarcastic when I say I'd love to see a way to do it without a bus. I just don't see it happening.

Like I said, if you use cost to reduce demand, you will be telling a large number of poor schools they can't visit DC. That the traditional school trip is a luxury item reserved for those that ante up. It's a solution, but I don't think it's politically palatable.

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 2:48 pm • linkreport

There needs to be a "cell phone waiting lot" for buses, so they can drop their passengers off at The National Mall, drive to the waiting lot, wait for their passengers to finish touring, then return and pick them up. Somewhere under the highways might be a good place for the waiting lot. There may in fact already be such a lot just inside the entrance of East Potomac Park. In summary, my proposed solution would be to eliminate all bus parking near the Mall, and instead provide bus parking nearby and make the Mall a drop-off/pick-up only area.

by Alan on Jun 17, 2010 3:00 pm • linkreport

Alan,

That's basically what the system is now.

by TimK on Jun 17, 2010 3:06 pm • linkreport

The tour-bus parking issue also spills over into neighboring areas. In Arlington, there is on many summer weekday mornings a tour bus double-parked in front of a certain hotel, blocking the only turn lane at a major intersection.

Clearly, a major factor is that these companies are accommodating the laziness of their clients. No reason these people can't waddle their fat a$$es to a legitimate parking area for the buses.

Folks like TimK--and great post, btw--could still have a job if the buses would just drop off the kids in DC and then drive to RFK or wherever and return at the end of the day. The tour guides could--gasp--lead them around on foot.

I love the idea of making them get permits and prove they have a parking spot set up. Would this *really* drive the cost up by that much? Wouldn't the parking cost be offset by the fuel savings from not driving around all day with the a/c on?

I'm pretty sure that bus tours in other cities (e.g., state capitals) require that buses park in a designated area.

by JB on Jun 17, 2010 3:10 pm • linkreport

@Adam Lewis:

Since TimK is a tour guide and you're not, don't you think it's just a wee bit presumptuous of you to say that his views on his customers' demands and expectations are bogus? If you think you can run an all-Metro tour company, by all means start one up. Tell your customers they have to just suck it up and take mass transit all day. And come back to us in a year and let us know how that business model is working out for you.

Your idea for limits permits sounds fantastic. On paper. In the real world, it wouldn't work. Take a look at the tour buses. See how many of them are from non-local states. Do you think Congress wouldn't respond if their tour bus operators are effectively told they can't come to DC with their tour groups? Your comparison with taxi cabs fails b/c tax cabs are a totally DC-regulated business; tour buses are not. The open loop means your permits scheme wouldn't work b/c there would be lots of buses that would lose out, that would ignore the scheme, or that would complain to their Congressional representatives and demand action.

by Fritz on Jun 17, 2010 3:11 pm • linkreport

TimK, thank you for all of the information in your comments. I work near the Mall, so I see lots of tour groups, and lots of tour buses, but I have no idea how the system works (or doesn't work), and I would love to have a proper explanation. David Alpert ought to ask you to write something about tour group operations <--hint.

by Miriam on Jun 17, 2010 3:35 pm • linkreport

@Fritz

I totally understand these ideas are pie-in-the-sky. But considering that it's a member of Congress who's demanding that something be done, maybe Congress won't complain as much if the city actually does try to take some forceful measure? In any event, it's all up to the NPS anyway (or at the very least their buy-in and participation) so anything the city does on its own is largely inconsequential.

by Adam Lewis on Jun 17, 2010 3:45 pm • linkreport

@ Adam Lewis:

Jim Webb is complaining that something needs to be done about the double-parking and idling buses. He's right. And DC has existing enforcement mechanisms for dealing with that. I don't think he's advocating the city suddenly ban tour buses from certain areas (although Congress or the Capitol Police did just that around the Capitol) or coming up with some permitting scheme that will offend out of state tour companies.

I like the idea of the buses parking in areas and - gasp! - forcing tourists to walk around more. I'm sure the street vendors would love having more potential customers.

I also wish tour companies would deviate from the orthodoxy and take their tour groups to lesser-known historical/cultural sights like the Abe Lincoln cottage, the Fredrick Douglas home, Ft Stevens, the Arboretum, Congressional Cemetery, etc. On the one hand, additional neighborhoods would be subject to tour buses and hordes of tourists. On the other hand, they would see more of the city's offerings other than the usual monumental core - and they could spread their dollars to other businesses in the city.

It's a shame the city doesn't have a more coordinated effort when it comes to tourism.

by Fritz on Jun 17, 2010 4:51 pm • linkreport

This is one daily Metrorail commuter who cringes at the thought of tour groups primarily using Metro to get around town. A mob of eighty students, armed with Farecards not Smartrip cards, each spending 15 seconds trying to figure out how the faregate works, can make a station nearly impassable.

The rail system's escalators, fare machines, faregates and car doors aren't well suited to groups of more than a handful of people, causing stress for the tour groups and delays for everyone else.

Rail can be part of the picture, but it can't handle all the demands of group tours.

Now, if the Park Service would tear up the Tourmobile contract and allow city or Metro buses to circulate closer to the Mall and Tidal Basin, with simple daypasses available for purchase in bulk, then maybe TimK could accommodate his clients and still park the tour buses in central lots for the bulk of the day.

by c5karl on Jun 17, 2010 5:16 pm • linkreport

The problem is that walking on the mall is really boring, long and unprotected (from the sun). its 2 boring, slow, unprotected miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln. I don't reccommend it to anyone. Last time I had visitors who insisted on going to the mall we took a segway tour. Otherwise I try to convince my visitors to take a bike. I completely understand why people want to take a bus.

by Bianchi on Jun 17, 2010 5:19 pm • linkreport

Now, if the Park Service would tear up the Tourmobile contract and allow city or Metro buses to circulate closer to the Mall and Tidal Basin, with simple daypasses available for purchase in bulk, then maybe TimK could accommodate his clients and still park the tour buses in central lots for the bulk of the day.

This would be good.

by MLD on Jun 17, 2010 5:20 pm • linkreport

@JB:
It is offensive that you feel that everyone visiting the Nation's Capital is lazy, fat, and waddles. Guess what? They're the ones paying the federal portion of Metro, DC govt, etc. They've got just as much a right to use the mall as you do.

@TimK:
Thanks for bringing a reasonable outlook to this post. You sound like you're great at your job.

by mch on Jun 17, 2010 5:23 pm • linkreport

i think the photo in the post is illustrative of the importance of keeping people from walking and biking anywhere near The Mall. it's impossible to move cars/trucks/buses when you're trying to move pedestrians/cyclists at the same time. walkers and bikers are too slow -- we need to move people at a high rate of speed to allow as many people as possible to see the Brandenburg Gate, or the pro-Apartheid South Africa statue, or whatever it is Reagan set up for us.

if we were to actually allow walkers and bikers to take to The Mall, there's not telling what mayhem might come our way.

i say 'Bravo!' to the people maintaining our National Mall/Defense as people-free as possible -- especially cyclist-free. if there's anything more detestable than a person on a bike, looking like a scene out of Alien, I'd like to know what it is.

cheers, mates. good on ya! may our mall remain as pedestrian- and cyclist-free as possible forever-more!

by Peter Smith on Jun 18, 2010 3:33 am • linkreport

Here's a question: How do New York, Boston, Philly, Chicago, San Fran and LA deal with the bus loads of tourists they get?

Any good ideas from there?

by Jasper on Jun 18, 2010 12:10 pm • linkreport

Here's a question: How do New York, Boston, Philly, Chicago, San Fran and LA deal with the bus loads of tourists they get?

Any good ideas from there?

Shouldn't a US senator be able to figure such things out himself?

by Jasper on Jun 18, 2010 12:11 pm • linkreport

As a former tour director, I echo what TimK has been saying. Moving a group of 40 tourists around the city is different than two or three individual tourists. What applies to individuals doesn't necessarily apply to groups. (These groups, by the way, almost always include older family members or faculty members in addition to the hordes of tweens, and as we all know, a group can only move as fast as the slowest member.) The nature of the tour itself is that these folks pay a lot of money to be here for a very short time. They want to see as much as they can while here. However, just taking care of the basics will easily eat up three to four days, which is the average tour length. Of course the majority of the visits are done in the monumental core (as demonstrated by the post earlier showing the Flicker set geotagged by tourist versus local). It usually is the case that the bus will drop off somewhere in the Mall area and then depart for Maine ave or elsewhere for several hours. Actually, I remember being constantly surprised at what the drivers did with their time (driving well outside town to gas up, make minor repairs, buy supplies, etc.). But other visits involve - Arlington Cemetary, Embassy Row, the zoo, the cathedral, Mt Vernon, etc. We try to arrange for these visits to be first thing or at the end of the day, but it's not always possible. So while a day or two of mostly moving around on foot is possible, in fact, the norm, there are definitely times when having the bus close by is necessary. I'm sure bus drivers would love an official parking area downtown and would be happy to use it. But where is the land for such a thing?

There is already, I believe, a requirement for tour bus operators to display a permit allowing them in the city. It costs money, I don't know how much. This price is already built into their costs, which of course are passed on to the ultimate customer.

by Josh S on Jun 18, 2010 1:00 pm • linkreport

@Jasper; you are forgetting that a very large percentage of the tour buses are school kids, which is very different than the tour mix of the other cities. They have a very specific agenda (see capital, wh, washington monument, lincoln, jefferson and maybe smithsonian) and have control issues.

by charlie on Jun 18, 2010 1:53 pm • linkreport

I hate tour buses as much as the next Washingtonian. I hate when they jump red lights, block the crosswalk, make illegal rights on red. I hate it when I'm walking AND when I'm driving. But, I get that the buses are necessary for school groups and etc. So, lets make more designated parking for them -- my first suggestion is get rid of the tacky T-shirt and junk food vendors in the west side of 15th across from the Commerce Department. Make that dedicated bus parking/drop-off pick up. Now, there are too often double parked buses next to the crap vendors and they are blocking the VA commuters on their way home.

Next, Senator Webb, if you want DC traffic to flow more smoothly for your commuting constituents, 1) tell them to start using transit; 2) have VA pony up more money to improve that transit and 3) commuter tax? Why should my tax dollars be spent making life easier for VA commuters? I'd really like some of that tax money to be used instead to slow down the speeding PG county commuters who are turning my residential neighborhood along 13th street NW in to an unsafe raceway.

Thanks.

by Lynn on Jun 18, 2010 2:18 pm • linkreport

@Jasper:

I also do tours in New York. It's a whole lot easier to do it up there. Where in NY you can pick up/drop off in numerous places, in DC you only have a handful. That creates choke points where numerous buses have to get to the same place and spend 3-5 minutes loading.

Also, as charlie alluded to, the mix of tours is different. My DC tours are overwhelmingly middle school (and quite a few grade schoolers). NY is largely high schoolers. I can tell a high school group to stay with a buddy and meet me at Rockefeller Plaza. That's harder to do with younger kids.

Especially eighth graders, who combine to the rebelliousness of a high schooler with the street skills of a fifth grader.

by TimK on Jun 18, 2010 2:25 pm • linkreport

@Lynn

Yes, yes a thousand times yes. Those vendors on 15th are the bane of my existence. Officially, if we're going to visit the White House, I'm supposed to drop off there. But, as every freaking spot is taken up by vendors, I say screw it, let's drop off on H ST north of Lafayette Park. If I'm going to risk a ticket for double parking, I might as well do it close to where I'm going.

by TimK on Jun 18, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

@ charlie, TimK: Interesting. I had no clue the mix of visitors was so different. I would have guessed that kids just go to the nearest huge city for a school trip.

Am I also wrong assuming that most bus tourists are coming from the surrounding states here? VA, MD, DE, WV, NC, SC, PA, NJ, NY, perhaps CT? That's what roughly seems to be a decent tour car radius. From much further they'd start to fly.

I guess I have a hard time seeing kids form Maine coming to DC in stead of NY and kinds from NC going to NY in stead of DC.

On the other hand, I've taken my co-students by bus from the NL to Spain and my high-school stuffed us on a train to Rome. Hmmmm. Lots to think about.

BTW: Space for tour buses. There is quite a bit of space between the Jefferson Memorial and the Golf Course. I know the local NPS HQ sits there, but with a bit of good will, it should be possible to make a large (and nicely priced) bus parking there.

by Jasper on Jun 18, 2010 6:41 pm • linkreport

Jasper:

While I would say a large chunk of my business comes from a 8 hr drive radius, I have a large number of fly-ins as well. I have an Oregon group that I enjoy that visited annually until they got hit with the recession. There is a huge number of California groups that make it as well.

Obviously, the cost is much higher and it tends to be a higher income group that takes a flight.

I also get a sizable number of groups that drive through the night and meet me at 8 in the morning. Supposedly they sleep on the bus (ha!) and we do a full day of touring. Poor kids are wiped by noon and we're often trouping around the Memorials at 9 pm.

Also, take note around the Mall for the next tow weeks. You're going to see hundreds, if not thousands of Florida Safety Patrol fifth graders running around. I'm not sure of the mechanics of the program on the Florida end, but they ship them up by the bus load in June. I understand we have twelve arriving Monday with more to follow.

by TimK on Jun 18, 2010 11:06 pm • linkreport

@ TimK: Yeah, I've done those through the night bus trips. Ugh. And you're supposed to be fit the next day. Hell no.

Anyway: You are giving a perspective that's missing here on GGW: That of tourists and the tourism industry. Not that it's my blog, but it might be worth considering for you and David A if you cuold write an occasional piece on tourism in this area. Clearly, there are plenty of issues.

Unfortunately, since we're mostly locals, we tend to have an attitude of "Yeah, tourists, we'll take you money, now get out of the way", which always bugs me a bit, because it's rather arrogant to claim this city only for locals. We should move to backwater Wyoming if we don't want tourists around. On the other hand, I'd like to kill those ignorant tourist fools who stand on the left of the (working) escalators in metro.

Similarly, we can all whine about buses being big and obnoxious, but they are a good form of transportation. Certainly better than everyone coming individually by car or flying from short and medium distances. Buses are a form of transit, and we're supposed to support that right?

Anyway, lots to think about. And a perspective worth hearing of.

by Jasper on Jun 19, 2010 10:22 am • linkreport

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