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How can DC's third busiest bus line improve?

To determine how best to spend service improvement funds, WMATA and DDOT are jointly studying the performance of every Metrobus line in the District, beginning with the four most-patronized "priority corridors." Among these is the 90s bus line.

The routes of Metrobuses 90, 92 and 93.

Officially called the "U Street-Garfield Line," the 90s route is one of the District's major transit arteries, connecting such neighborhoods as Adams Morgan, U Street, Bloomingdale/Eckington, Capitol Hill and Anacostia.

Like most bus lines in central Washington, the 90s follow an original Capital Transit streetcar route for most of their trips. At 303,032 average total weekday riders in August 2009 (PDF), the U Street-Garfield Line is the third busiest in the Metrobus system behind the 30s (Pennsylvania & Wisconsin Aves. at 395,376 combined) and 70s (Georgia Ave./7th St., at 390,460 combined).

Previous studies on the two busier routes resulted in improvements including the creation of dedicated bus lanes on parts of the 70s route and new express and limited-stop buses on both routes. Now, its the 90s' turn.

As the 90s are one of the bus routes I use most frequently (they pass right in front of my house), I attended one of the "Series #1" public meetings that WMATA and DDOT hosted in May. The meetings were preceded by a survey (PDF of results) conducted of random riders aboard the buses, and also offered online.

Statistics from the study provide a snapshot of 90s riders:

  • 54% of respondents ride the 90s daily, 23% at least once a week.
  • Roughly half transfer to or from another Metrobus or Metrorail line.
  • The average rider waited 7 minutes or less at the stop for the next bus.
  • About half of riders are on the bus between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • The majority of riders are middle-aged.

In terms of the improvements riders desire, what was expressed at the public meetings largely echoed the results of the survey. They are as follows, in rough order of importance to riders:

Add more frequency. The most common complaints from riders were not being able to find a seat on the bus and having to wait too long for the next one. Both of these can be alleviated simply by running more buses, particularly at peak times.

"Bus bunching," where two and sometimes three buses come to a particular stop at the same time, occurs regularly. As long as buses are running every 10 minutes, WMATA can alleviate this by adjusting departures from points of origin as needed based on rider volume and traffic conditions so buses are more spread out.

Add express and/or limited-stop service to the line. This would help with the crowding issue and delays associated with having to make too many stops. The 90s buses stop, on average, every other block for most of their routes. Express service on the 30s and 70s lines has been successful and well-patronized. More than a third of respondents say they would use limited-stop buses on the 90s line.

Give buses priority traffic signaling at intersections and dedicated lanes. The second most common complaints had to do with traffic congestion and traffic lights being too long.

Take steps to improve safety and security. A combined 55% of survey respondents reported being concerned for their security aboard the bus (33% somewhat and 22% very concerned) and 60% were concerned for their safety at the bus stop (23% very). The simplest fix is to build new shelters, improving lighting, and enhance the overall aesthetic appearance of stops. Another option is to have Metro Transit Police officers (uniformed or plainclothed) ride the buses more often.

Improve passenger information at bus stops. The posted schedules at many stops are covered with graffiti, and it is very difficult to fit all the relevant schedules into one 4-sided box hanging around the signpost. Newer bus shelters have full schedules and maps encased in washable glass; this practice should continue. Adding digital NextBus displays at the busiest stops (a la Rosslyn and Shirlington) was also suggested.

Among the more far-reaching ideas discussed at the public meeting was to prohibit parking on 8th Street NE/SE, which forms the core of the 90s route and consists of only one lane in each direction. Buses are often delayed by double-parkers blocking the lane of traffic and by drivers taking time squeezing into a parking space. Drivers are also less able to make space for a bus merging back into traffic after a stop when they have no other lane to go to. Should 8th Street become a streetcar route once again, parking would become even more of a problem.

While it is easy to transfer between the 90s buses and the Green Line, both at U Street/Cardozo and at Anacostia and Congress Heights, it is difficult to connect between the bus and the Red Line at New York Avenue. The southbound 90s stop a block up 2nd St. NE from the north entrance of the Metro station (on the other side of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel), but the closest northbound stop is at Florida Ave. and 3rd St. NE: past the hotel, under the railroad bridge, and across the street to a stop in front of a Burger King. Hence, no survey respondents mentioned connecting to and from the Red Line.

I suggested moving the 3rd St. NE stop to 2nd St. NE and adding a protected crosswalk across Florida Ave. there. Another option is to originate and terminate certain buses (perhaps limited-stop ones) at the New York Avenue station by having them turn onto 2nd St, stop in front of the Metro entrance, then right on N St, and right on 1st St. NE to get back to Florida Avenue.

Of course, the bulk of the 90s route is slated for conversion back to a streetcar line as part of Phase 2 of DDOT's Streetcar Proposed System Plan. But much can be done in the meantime to make Washington's third-busiest bus line more reliable and comfortable.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DCís NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College, he is a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable transportation and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own. 


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don't think that's really average weekday ridership..

by Atrios on Sep 8, 2010 4:26 pm • linkreport

August 2009 seems to be the most recent hard data available. It's probably gone up since. Hopefully August 2010 numbers will be released soon.

by Malcolm Kenton on Sep 8, 2010 4:32 pm • linkreport

According to the data, average weekday ridership is 14430, not 300k.

by Adbeeee on Sep 8, 2010 4:38 pm • linkreport

Some of these suggestions cost money, though it stands to reason they would result in some revenue increase from increased ridership. However express buses are actually cheaper to operate! A faster bus means less labor costs and less buses are required to run the service! Likewise street and traffic light improvements also improve the service and lower operating costs.

by Christopher Parker on Sep 8, 2010 4:45 pm • linkreport

Oh god I ride the 90s. They're fine for the most part, but:

1) They need to have an express route like you said. Ideally for me would be a bus that stops at 18th and Columbia and then at 13th and U with maybe a stop on 16th and U.

2) They need to do layovers at the U Street station, not god damn 14th and U. Countless minutes lost (which add up when you ride it every day) because the neanderthals in charge of WMATA thought it'd be a good idea to have layovers happen at some random stop instead of right at a Metro station.

by Martin on Sep 8, 2010 4:46 pm • linkreport

I'm always suspicious of random rider surveys, although this one doesn't smell funny.

What is the push for schedules vs. "Continuous" service ala Circulator? I find the schedules an exercise in fantasy for most lines. Granted, a circulator every 10 minutes in a fantasy too.

by charlie on Sep 8, 2010 4:58 pm • linkreport

Agreed! The 90s are the only buses I ride regularly, and although the routing is super-convenient, the frequency issues *really* need to be addressed.

It's also perplexing how the buses still somehow manage to bunch up late at night. The *average* frequency of buses along the line is pretty good, but the bunching makes it a real pain to use.

by andrew on Sep 8, 2010 5:12 pm • linkreport

"Among the more far-reaching ideas discussed at the public meeting was to prohibit parking on 8th Street NE/SE, which forms the core of the 90s route and consists of only one lane in each direction. Buses are often delayed by double-parkers blocking the lane of traffic and by drivers taking time squeezing into a parking space. Drivers are also less able to make space for a bus merging back into traffic after a stop when they have no other lane to go to."

On-street parking is not the major issue with Eighth Street NE/SE. The problem isn't so much the people who park on the street there, but the ridiculous timing of the traffic lights that heavily favors east-west traffic. During rush hours, Eighth Street between Florida Avenue NE and Pennsylvania Avenue SE is a parking lot because north-south drivers, including the 90 buses, are allowed 20 seconds, tops, at all traffic light-controlled intersections. This means only about 5-6 cars/buses can get through the lights (and that number goes down if a bus is picking people up/dropping off, or if some idiot is on his cellphone and doesn't realize the light has changed).

Simply re-timing the traffic lights (giving north-south traffic about 20 more seconds at each light) would make a world of difference on that stretch of the 90's route.

by Anon on Sep 8, 2010 5:25 pm • linkreport

The bunching occurs before the turnaround at the Ellington bridge. Unfortunately, busses don't really stop there and respace from what I've noticed. Maybe metro needs to add additional buffer time for busses to arrive there, so they can properly space, or just tell the drivers to leave on schedule.

Another suggestion, rename the 96, it gets confusing since it follows a different route across the bridge.

The 14th st layover is due to the 14th street bus lines that have been there longer than metro.

by m on Sep 8, 2010 5:43 pm • linkreport

express buses are great if they stop close to you.
also, how does an express bus save money? the mains costs are the bus, and the driver, right? that will be the same with an express bus. then there is new signage and new bus maps to be printed. upgrades to the ride guide needs to be implemented. i'm not sure i understand where the savings are.

when the ny ave station opened, there was talk of the 90 buses to route past the entrance. it would be nice for a little more interconnectedness.
now the east bound buses turn down north capitol, left on new york right on florida to bypass that traffic circle that everyone hates.

by bon on Sep 8, 2010 6:59 pm • linkreport

Over the years, I have attended similar revival meetings for the X2 and the D1-8. Nonetheless, the buses still bunch up, and too few of them have a bike on the front that you can ride if the bus is too full.

by Turnip on Sep 8, 2010 8:09 pm • linkreport


Actually, it's weird, because 6th St is a clear, well-timed shot to the north. No similar southbound route exists (11th is arguably the closest). Retiming would be a good place to start, IMO.

by andrew on Sep 8, 2010 9:26 pm • linkreport


Express buses can save money because they have an higher average travel speed due to fewer stops, meaning that you can serve the same line with fewer buses on that route. So if a bus route needs 10 buses instead of 12 per hour, you've just cut a huge cost (labor, fuel,capital)

by AA on Sep 8, 2010 11:13 pm • linkreport


I take 6th when I have to drive home from Virginia (I live in the vicinity of 8th and F NE). It's a bit more well timed, but the timing of the lights could also be improved. I get the feeling that the lights are timed in favor of east-west routes on Capitol Hill to benefit P.G. County commuters.

by Anon on Sep 9, 2010 12:27 am • linkreport

I love the idea of the nextbus posted on the busy bus stops! They work in San Francisco...hope this idea takes off!

by Laura on Sep 9, 2010 6:30 am • linkreport

How feasible would it be to extend one of the 90's across the bridge and terminate it at Woodley Park? It'd give a second connection to the Red Line and there is enough space to lay a 40' bus over since Circulator does it almost every day.

As with the Red Line schedules and running times, the stops at New York Ave should've also been redrawn when that station opened.

by Jason on Sep 9, 2010 8:49 am • linkreport

I've corrected the post to say that the 303K number is total weekday riders, not average weekday riders.

by David Alpert on Sep 9, 2010 9:54 am • linkreport

Separate the schedules so the busses are not running one behind the other. The routes overlap about 75% yet day after day after day I see the 90 and 92 busses one behind the other. And if you miss them you can wait upwards of 30 minutes for the next bus. How about spacing them 15 minutes apart to provide more service over 75% of the route? What a concept!

by Greg on Sep 9, 2010 9:57 am • linkreport

Over the years, I have attended similar revival meetings for the X2 and the D1-8. Nonetheless, the buses still bunch up, and too few of them have a bike on the front that you can ride if the bus is too full.
Are you serious? You think that's what's going on with those bike racks? Is it just me, or has the quality of the discourse on this site plummeted in the past few months?

by rocket on Sep 9, 2010 8:50 pm • linkreport

How about routing either the 90 or 92 through the old 91 route.

If any of you dont remember it traveled from Mclean Gardens regular route to Florida Ave & North Capitol then when straight down N Capitol to Union Station then basically it was the N22/Circulator route to M Street SE

What is the purpose of the 93 at all besides running when the train isnt open it would be easier to just extend the 90 to Congress Hgts via 93 route with a slight change to go into/pass Anacostia Station.

by kk on Sep 9, 2010 9:55 pm • linkreport

Anyone knows whats with the detour in Noma going down North Capitol then along New York Ave since the circle was made on 1st Street/NY / Florida Ave that wmata doesn't say a damn thing about on there site or schedules.

by kk on Sep 9, 2010 9:58 pm • linkreport

Many good ideas, which I will share with the consultants at the final round of public meetings Sept. 21-23 (I'll be at the one on Sept. 21 at 6:30 PM at Sherwood Recreation Center, 10th & G Sts. NE).

@kk -- I was unaware that there was a 91 bus on the route described, but that would be super-convenient for my commute.

@Anon -- The idea of routing certain buses on 4th & 6th Streets NE instead of 8th was suggested. I'm not sure if using the 91 and Circulator routes instead would be any quicker, but it might produce more ridership.

The rerouting of the southbound 90s via North Capitol and New York Ave to avoid the new traffic pattern at New York and Florida was implemented without any prior announcement. I've seen the occasional bus continue straight through the new pattern via 1st St. NE (the eastbound X3 always does), but most go right on North Capitol and left on New York. Unless traffic around the Wendy's is particularly bad, I think the rerouting actually adds time to the trip and worsens congestion on the ramp from southbound North Capitol onto New York Ave (also used by southbound 80 and P6 buses). I will be sure to ask about this at the public meeting.

Overall, I think the new pattern at New York and Florida has worsened traffic rather than improving it, yet DDOT seems to be making it permanent. That's a different issue, though.

If they're going to keep the rerouting in place, why not have them turn left onto N St. NE instead of N.Y. Ave, then stop right at the New York Avenue Metro entrance, left on 2nd St, then right on Florida?

by Malcolm Kenton on Sep 10, 2010 11:07 am • linkreport

@ Malcolm Kenton

WMATA could remove of the bus stop at Florida and P for eastbound buses for a start there have been countless times when I have seen people go to the stop thinking that the bus still serves there.

They could atleast have a bus stop for the 90/92 on North Capitol or New York Ave if thats the permanent route since they got rid of one at Florida and 1st.

As for the New York Ave station I have to know did anyone think of the buses that pass the station before or during construction. The bus stop that is there now by the hotel was not there for atleast the first year the station was open and the stop by the Burger King going northbound is not used by anyone except those going to/from the station the stops before and after have twice the usage.

The 91 was quicker atleast before the shutdown of roads around the Capitol and it provided a way between Union Station and Eastern Market; not sure how it would work today the only problem was it ran at night or early in the morning. I think I still have one of the schedules.

The only people that the NY/Florida Ave circle helps is people who are turning onto NY Ave nothing is solved there but it has created a lot of problems.

by kk on Sep 10, 2010 2:29 pm • linkreport

All these are good suggestions but no one has really addressed the 96 line, which goes all the way up to Wisconsin and Newark St NW. At the moment, not many passengers get on from Newark to Woodley Park, but if the line was extended up to a Metro (let's say Tenleytown-AU) it would provide all sorts of connectivity for area residents. Especially if it were extended Tenleytown, there are plenty of bus lay-over spots that could be used.

by John on Sep 13, 2010 2:51 pm • linkreport

@ John

The 96 could use some I got a suggestion

96 Stadium Armory to Tenleytown or Friendship Hgts

97 U Street to Capitol Hgts run it all the time

by kk on Sep 13, 2010 5:38 pm • linkreport

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