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Transit


DC Circulator is such a great brand it's expanded to Ohio

Earlier this year Columbus, Ohio launched CBUS, the Columbus Circulator. It's a special overlay bus route running along the main street through the city's densest, most urban neighborhoods. It comes every 10 minutes, has a low (actually free) fare, and limited stops. Sound familiar?

Oh, and here's a photo:


Photo by Darius Pinkston on Flickr.

Look familiar? That sweeping line, the destinations labeled on the side, "CIRCULATOR" in a modern sans-serif font right in the middle. It looks nothing like Columbus' standard bus livery, but it is all very reminiscent of the DC Circulator.

In fact, Ohio transit advocates had the DC Circulator in mind during planning for CBUS.

Columbus isn't alone, either. "Circulator" is spreading as an increasingly common brand choice for short-distance, high-frequency buses in mixed-use areas, especially near DC. There's a Bethesda Circulator, a Tysons Circulator, and a Baltimore Circulator.

Just how far will this brand spread?

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Budget


Cheh funds 11th Street Bridge Park, trees and recreation for Ivy City, and an Upper Northwest pool

Transportation chair Mary Cheh has released her serious budget proposals today, and has added funding to design and build a park on the piers of the old 11th Street Bridge, give the neglected Ivy City neighborhood new trees and a recreation center, and more.


Artist's rendering of the 11th Street Bridge Park.

Tomorrow, Cheh will propose that her committee amend Mayor Gray's proposed transportation capital budget to add $2 million to design the bridge park in Fiscal Year 2015, followed by $12.5 million across FY2016 and FY2017 to build it. That will cover half the cost; bridge supporters plan to raise the other half from private sources.

Under Cheh's plan, $300,000 will go to fix up streetscapes at Eastern Market, while $1 million over two years will pay to extend Ivy City's sidewalks and include treeboxes. That neighborhood, in an industrial part of the city, has no tree boxes on most of its streets, and therefore no street trees.

Instead of a tour bus parking lot, as the Gray administration proposed last year, Cheh's budget will fund a recreation center on that site (which costs almost $9 million). Rec centers in Chevy Chase, Edgewood, Hardy (in Foxhall Village) and Hillcrest get more money as well, as does the Therapeutic Recreation Center in Ward 7's Randle Circle.

The budget includes $500,000 to finish design for Franklin Square (but funding to actually help build the new park is yet to come in the future).

Roads will also get more money: repaving and repairs to roadways get a boost of $321,000 for each of the eight wards in FY2015. That's in addition to the mayor's capital budget which gave each ward's road projects about $5.2 million over six years. Ward 8 also got an extra $1.3 million from Gray, and Cheh's amendment moves it from the operating budget to the capital budget.

Finally, Cheh is funding a new outdoor pool to go somewhere in Ward 3, which residents have been campaigning for. Critics note that Ward 3 has one of the top public indoor swimming facilities in the city, at Wilson High School, but proponents say that indoor swimming isn't the same, and besides, the ward should have more pools.

Cheh's proposal also will fund some Ward 3 school and library projects: the Cleveland Park library, Palisades Library, Murch Elementary and Watkins Elementary renovations, and also the Capitol View library in Ward 7. It's not unusual for each ward councilmember to pop a few ward-based projects into their respective committees' budgets.

Where does this money come from?

A lot of the money comes from the South Capitol Street Bridge project. It current includes a swing span so that ships can access the Washington Navy Yard, but that was only opened 4 times in the last 8 years.

The Coast Guard has reportedly told DDOT that it is probably fine with not replacing the swing span. And, according to Cheh's committee director Drew Newman, they feel that if the federal government really wants a swing span anyway, then federal money should fund it. (DC is building the South Capitol bridge with local dollars, not federal transportation funds.) The change will save up to $140 million.

Cheh is also moving some streetcar money to later years, because DDOT has built up a surplus of almost $100 million in its streetcar accounts, and won't need some money in the capital plan until later on, according to Cheh's staff's analysis.

Circulator fares freeze, and commuter rail gets a plan

In the operating budget, not much is changing from Mayor Gray's very pro-transit budget. Cheh will freeze Circulator fares at their current level of $1 for at least one year, so that DDOT can engage with the public about whether the fares have to rise.

Another $500,000 will pay to create a Comprehensive Rail Plan. DC does not control MARC, VRE, Amtrak, or CSX, but there needs to be a unified plan about how to help grow commuter rail service in, out, and through DC. The tracks and stations at Union Station, L'Enfant Plaza, and the Long Bridge over the Potomac will need changes to make this possible, and since those facilities are in DC, the District can play a leadership role. The Committee of 100's Monte Edwards has been lobbying for planning around commuter rail, and he's absolutely right. Cheh agrees.

The Committee on Transportation and the Environment will hold its mark-up tomorrow. The other members, David Grosso, Kenyan McDuffie, Jim Graham, and Tommy Wells, could seek to introduce other amendments as well, though typically these budget proposals already reflect requests and negotiations between the councilmembers.

Events


Events roundup: Better buses on a budget

Talk about how to make bus service better, have a drink with Greater Greater Washington readers, and much more at this week's events.


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Better buses in DC: There's long been talk about ways to make bus service better in DC, but some, like rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street, still haven't become a reality. On Wednesday, April 30 from 6-8 pm, a panel will discuss proposals for better bus service and what it takes to make them happen.

Speakers include Mary Cheh, DC councilmember and transportation committee chair; Joseph Barr, former Director of Transit Development in NYC; WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre; and Sam Zimbabwe, Associate Director of Policy, Planning, and Sustainability at DDOT. The forum is at the Chastleton, 1701 16th Street, NW. RSVP here.

After the jump: A happy hour in Bethesda, a walking tour of Falls Church, a chance to learn about biking with kids, and more.

Circulator pop-up meetings: There are still three chances to give DDOT feedback about the DC Circulator. As part of the system's Transit Development Plan update, there is a series of pop-up meetings to discuss the current system as well as future routes. Here are the remaining ones:

  • 14th and U St NW: Tuesday April 29 3:30-6:30 pm, Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St NW)
  • Anacostia: Thursday May 1 3:30-6:30 pm, Anacostia Metro station
  • Georgetown: Saturday May 3 12-3 pm, M St NW & Wisconsin Ave NW
GGW happy hour: Also this Wednesday, join Greater Greater Washington, CNUDC, YIPPS, and guests from the Montgomery County Planning Department for a planning-and-drinking gathering where you can learn about the Bethesda Downtown Plan. The happy hour is 6-8 pm on April 30 at Tommy Joe's, 4717 Montgomery Lane, in Bethesda.

Tour of East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours continue this Saturday, May 3 with a look at East Falls Church. Come hear about the history of the neighborhood and learn what's being planned to make the area more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Bike with the family: Do you have kids? Are you interested in learning how to safely bike with them around the city? The third annual "ABCs of Family Biking" event is Saturday, May 3, 11-2 at Capitol Hill Montessori at Logan.

Family biking experts will show parents what equipment they might need, and local bike shops will have some for sale. Parents can try out equipment on a special obstacle course and can also trade or sell each other gently used equipment. WABA instructors will teach free classes for parents and kids to bike alone or together. And you can get in practice for Bike to School Day, Wednesday, May 7!

Open houses for Montgomery zoning update: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses resume on Tuesday, April 29. Planning staff will be available to discuss the updates. The full open house schedule is below:

  • April 29: Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring (5-8 pm)
  • May 1: Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville (6-8 pm)
  • May 5: UpCounty Regional Services Center, Germantown (6-8 pm)
  • May 6: B-CC Regional Services Center, Bethesda (6-8 pm)

Events


Events roundup: Urbanism, past and future

Learn about the history of urbanism nationwide, then give input on downtown Bethesda, the DC Circulator, Courthouse Square and more. See how the past influences the future in Shaw and East Falls Church. All this and more at events this week and beyond.


Photo by ehpien on Flickr.

Two happy hours this month! Instead of having one Greater Greater Washington happy hour this month, we're cosponsoring happy hours around two interesting and informative events.

Tomorrow, come hear Greater Greater Washington contributor Ben Ross talk about his new book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism, with a happy hour afterward.

And next Wednesday, join us, CNUDC, YIPPS, and guests from the Montgomery County Planning Department to learn about the Bethesda Downtown Plan while enjoying a drink.

Ben Ross' talk starts at 5:30 pm on Tuesday, April 22 at APTA headquarters, 1666 K Street NW. After the talk, head over to The Meeting Place (1707 L Street NW) for the happy hour at 6:30.

The following week's Bethesda planning-and-drinking gathering is from 6-8 pm on Wednesday, April 30 at Tommy Joe's, 4717 Montgomery Lane, in Bethesda.

Discuss pedestrian safety: Join the Alexandria Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Committee for a lecture and discussion on pedestrian safety. Hillary Poole, Alexandria's Complete Streets Coordinator, will talk about design concepts that make streets safe for walkers, bikers, and drivers. The discussion is 6:15-7:30 tonight, Monday, April 21, at the Nannie J. Lee Rec Center, 1108 Jefferson Street in Alexandria.

Tour Shaw and East Falls Church: The Coalition for Smarter Growth's walking tours resume with two great ones this month. On Saturday, April 26 from 10 am-noon, see how new development is bringing a renaissance to the historic Shaw neighborhood in DC. And on Saturday, look at ways the area around East Falls Church Metro could become more walkable and bikeable. Space is limited so RSVP today!

Envision Courthouse Square: Arlington County is considering plans for transforming Courthouse Square into a town square. The second community workshop is Wednesday, April 23 from 7-9 pm at the Key Elementary School, 2300 Key Boulevard in Arlington. Help develop an action plan for the area to help make it a vibrant public destination.

Circulator pop-up meetings: DDOT is looking for feedback from current and future riders of the DC Circulator to shape the system's Transit Development Plan update. They are holding a series of six pop-up meetings to discuss the current system as well as future routes. Here is the complete schedule:

  • NoMa: Tuesday, April 22, 3:30-6:30 pm at NoMa/Gallaudet Metro (M St. NE entrance)
  • Southwest: Thursday, April 24, 3:30-6:30 pm at Waterfront Metro
  • Capitol Hill: Saturday, April 26, 12-3 pm at Eastern Market Metro
  • 14th and U: Tuesday, April 29, 3:30-6:30 pm at Frank D. Reeves Municipal Center (2000 14th St NW)
  • Anacostia: Thursday, May 1, 3:30-6:30 pm at Anacostia Metro
  • Georgetown: Saturday, May 3, 12-3 pm at M St NW & Wisconsin Ave NW
Open houses for Montgomery zoning update: The Montgomery County Planning Department's zoning update open houses begin this Tuesday, April 22. Interested in asking questions or providing feedback? Planning staff attend to discuss the updates. The full open house schedule is below:

  • Rockville: Tuesday, April 22, 6-8 pm at Rockville Memorial Library
  • Wheaton: Thursday, April 24, 6-8 pm at Wheaton Regional Library
  • Silver Spring: Tuesday, April 29, 6-8 pm at Park and Planning Headquarters, Silver Spring
  • Burtonsville: Thursday, May 1, 6-8 pm at the Marilyn J. Praisner Library, Burtonsville
  • Germantown: Monday, May 5, 6-8 pm at Upcounty Regional Services Center, Germantown
  • Bethesda: Tuesday, May 6, 6-8 pm at Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, Bethesda

Government


Mary Cheh wants to break up DC's transportation agency

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) has gotten too large and unwieldy to carry out all facets of its mission, says DC Councilmember Mary Cheh. Cheh has introduced a bill to reorganize transportation-related functions, create some new agencies, and abolish one.


Cheh's proposed reorganization. Image from Councilmember Cheh's office.

Cheh, who chairs the council committee that oversees DDOT, says there is precedent for slicing large agencies into smaller ones. Before 1998, all transportation-related functions were part of the Department of Public Works (DPW).

The Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) was formed that year by splitting off driver and car licensing-related functions. Then, in 2002, DDOT was created. Finally, the District Department of the Environment split from DPW in 2006.

Cheh feels that it's time again for a too-large District agency to split into several. She has proposed a possible set of changes, below. But her staff emphasize that this isn't the only possible approach. More than the specifics, they want to put out one option for discussion, and foster a broad conversation about what to do.

The current version of the bill would make a few significant changes.

Centralize parking functions in one place. Today, three separate agencies handle parking issues. DDOT determines parking rules and posts signs. But officers who work for DPW are the ones who actually write tickets. If someone contests a ticket, it's the DMV that reviews the case.

This creates significant confusion when DDOT policymakers want to solve one problem, but information can get lost when trying to get DPW ticket-writers to focus in that area, and DMV hearing officers might interpret rules entirely differently. The bill would form a new agency, the Department of Parking Management, to handle all of these matters: policy, enforcement, and adjudication.

Establish a new transit authority. Cheh says that DDOT seems unable to really manage transit planning amid all of its other responsibilities, and groups like the Downtown BID have been complaining that DDOT does a poor job of with and coordinating with them about transit.

In many cities, the transit system is its own authority with a separate board. Cheh's bill would create such an authority for DC. That authority would supervise the Circulator and DC Streetcar, and be the point of contact between the District government and WMATA. It would also handle taxicab policy (see below) and "multimodal planning," but Cheh's proposal is not clear on what exactly that means.

To govern this authority, the mayor would appoint four members to a board, including a chair. The directors of DDOT and the Office of Planning, the DC Chief Financial Officer, and the councilmember who oversees transportation would each serve on the board or designate staff members to represent them.

The board would also include the head of DC Surface Transit, a private nonprofit made up of various local Business Improvement Districts, the convention authority Events DC. DC Surface Transit was involved in pushing to launch the original Circulator. The organization now helps market the Circulator, advises DDOT on operations and routes, and is advocating for the streetcar program.

Cheh's staff say that a transit authority, versus just an agency, could also be more transparent about transit planning than DDOT has been, by having a public board with open meetings. Furthermore, they say they have heard feedback that a separate authority could attract higher-caliber people than a mere government agency.

Abolish the Taxicab Commission. The DC Taxicab Commission has an unusual and, many say, dysfunctional structure. It has a board whose members the mayor appoints and the council confirms, but the chairman of the board also manages all of the agency's staff. Under Mayor Fenty, the Taxicab Commission chairman sometimes just ignored the board entirely. The agency has had problems with transparency and more.

Besides, does it make sense for one agency to only consider issues about taxis completely in a vacuum? Taxis are one of many transportation modes. People often choose between taxis, Metro, buses, driving, bicycling, and more. But having a separate agency make taxi policy means there's usually no overarching thought about how to help taxis fill a void other transportation modes leave, or vice versa.

Cheh's proposal would dissolve the Taxicab Commission. Instead, the District Transit Authority would make taxi policy and set taxi regulations, while the DMV would actually handle the day-to-day of registering, inspecting, and licensing the drivers and vehicles, just as it does for other drivers and vehicles now.

Move trees to DDOE. DDOT's Urban Forestry Administration handles street tree issues. Cheh's proposal would make this part of the District Department of the Environment, an agency that split off from DPW in 2006 to handle environmental protection, energy, and similar issues.

Cheh says there isn't a good reason for tree management to be part of DDOT. It's originally there because tree boxes are part of the roadway area, but there's also good sense in putting trees with the agency primarily focused on the District's environmental quality.

With these changes, DDOT would continue to have:

  • Its engineering arm, the Infrastructure Project Management Administration (IPMA) that builds and maintains roads, bridges, sidewalks, alleys, and other infrastructure;
  • The Traffic Operations Administration (TOA), which handles traffic lights, streetlights, crossing guards, and road safety;
  • The Public Space Regulation Administration (PSRA), with oversight over sidewalk cafés and other private uses in public space; and
  • Some or all of the Transportation Policy, Planning, and Sustainability Administration (PPSA) which devises long-term and short-term transportation plans, and works with communities to devise proposals to improve transportation. The pedestrian and bicycle programs are part of PPSA today, and PPSA is also handling the moveDC citywide transportation plan.
PPSA encompasses what Cheh probably means by "multimodal transportation planning." According to Cheh's transportation committee director, Drew Newman, they are considering a number options for transportation planning, including keeping it in DDOT, moving it to the new transit agency, or moving it to the Office of Planning.

Process

Cheh and her staff want to have a series of conversations on the various proposals, through some combination of public forums and a smaller working group. Based on that, hey might decide to change their recommendation, maybe reallocate which functions go to which agencies, or even decide that something shouldn't get split out and should stay where it is.

The forums will take place in June and July. Cheh hopes to then have final hearings in September, mark up the bill, and pass it at council sessions in late September and early October so that it can take effect by January. That would mean that the next mayor, whoever it is, would appoint new agency heads under this new system.

Is this a good idea?

What do you think about Cheh's plan? Tomorrow, I'll give some of my own thoughts.

Roads


No carmageddon at McMillan, says a study

Redeveloping DC's McMillan Sand Filtration site will not choke neighbor­hoods in new traffic as long as the District follows through on transit plans, says a transportation study from the project team.


McMillan Sand Filtration Site. Photo by IntangibleArts on Flickr.

The most important element: better transit

The study says that it's quite possible to avoid burdening busy roads in the surrounding neighborhoods, as long as planned improvements to transit actually happen. The report says is transit is actually necessary regardless of whether the project goes forward or the site remains fenced off.

In the short run, improving the Metrobus 80 bus line on North Capitol Street, which WMATA has already designated a "bus priority corridor," will help the most. Other bus lines also need improvements that previous studies have identified.

The report also calls for building the proposed streetcar line along Michigan Avenue from Woodley Park to Brookland Metro. If these projects get delayed, he report recommends coordinated shuttles to the Brookland Metro station.

Along with some tweaks to surrounding roads, the traffic will be no worse with the McMillan project than if nothing gets built.

The report also calls for better bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, including completing the street grid through McMillan, multiple pedestrian access points in each building, ample bicycle storage, and space for three Capital Bikeshare stations.


Top: Transit today around McMillan. Bottom: Proposed transit. Images from the report (p. 92 and 97).

Pitfalls remain

While the study demonstrates the redevelopment can move forward without burdensome traffic impacts, it also points to potential problems that the project team will need to take care to address.

There needs to be ongoing pressure on the city and DDOT to move forward on transit. The city has moved slowly to upgrade transportation elsewhere, so project partners need to keep a close eye on progress.

Walking and bicycling conditions on and off the site also need more attention. Busy driveways on Michigan Avenue pose potential new conflict points for pedestrians and bicyclists. As the city reviews this project, it should take every chance to improve access and safety in the area. Also, while it's great to leave space for three Capital Bikeshare stations, the development should pay for at least one.

The transportation plan specifically cites a proposed DC Circulator route from Brookland to Tenleytown, which covers the same ground as the current H buses. Instead of duplicating existing service, DC and Metro could work together to improve existing H bus service. In fact, Metro recently studied the H lines and made several recommendations to make service faster and more reliable through the area.

New traffic signals will help pedestrians and bicyclists, but the added turn lanes and driveways on Michigan Avenue and First Street NW could pose additional barriers and hazards.

The report also recommends incentives to reduce driving, lower vehicle parking ratios, and encourage transit use in later phases. Instead, these efforts should start now.

With a redevelopment as large and controversial as McMillan, it's important to push for the right policy decisions. To voice your support for the right policy decisions regarding the McMillan redevelopment, head over to the Coalition for Smarter Growth to sign up to speak at an upcoming hearing.

Transit


Gray boosts transit in his final budget

In his last budget as mayor of DC, Vincent Gray continued to put funding into the DC Streetcar and also will expand the Circulator.


Likely transit projects in the near future. Map by the author.
Purple: streetcar; red: Circulator; green: Park Service Mall Circulator. Thin lines are running today or under construction. Thick lines represent extensions or new lines being studied.
All routes are approximate and don't include every twist and turn or multiple alternatives.

The capital budget devotes significant money on an ongoing basis to the streetcar. One quarter of all extra revenue above the base estimate for 2015 will go into streetcar construction (assuming future mayors keep it going). Over the next 6 years, that will bring in about $810 million.

DDOT is currently working to finish the H Street-Benning Road line, and planning to extend it east to Minnesota Avenue and west to Georgetown. Another line, which is under study, would go from the Southwest Waterfront to Takoma or Silver Spring, and DDOT is wrapping up a study on how to run a line through Anacostia and over the 11th Street bridge.

The budget also includes operating funds to start running the H Street-Benning Road segment once it is ready.

On buses, Gray has budgeted $56.6 million over 6 years to buy new buses for Circulator extensions:

  • The Rosslyn-Dupont line to U Street and Shaw
  • The Union Station-Georgetown line to the National Cathedral
  • The Union Station-Navy Yard to the Southwest Waterfront
There is $41.2 million to build a new Circulator bus garage, though officials have not decided where the garage would go. $9 million more would pay to refurbush older Circulator buses.

The budget does not, however, include any capital projects to design or build new dedicated bus lanes. This continues DDOT's pattern of indifference toward reducing delays in the city's bus lines.

There is $28 million to clear out the backlog of sidewalk rehabilitations and repairs, and money to fix up more alleys.

While his transportation department has made slow progress on the streetcar and virtually none on speeding up buses, Mayor Gray has shown a sustained commitment to fund transit projects. Will his successor do the same?

Update: It's worth pointing out that the east-west streetcar on K Street will get dedicated lanes for most of the length between Mount Vernon Square and Washington Circle, in the proposed K Street Transitway. Some buses will also be able to use that transitway. However, there are no bus-specific dedicated lane projects, and most designs for the north-south streetcar do not dedicate lanes, though a few do.

Transit


Adding 15-minute Circulator routes would dilute the Circulator brand

What makes the DC Circulator different from "a regular bus"? Is it just that it's red? The lines are a little straighter? Or is the only difference that the DC government controls it instead of WMATA? If DC officials don't have a clear vision, they might wreck the success they've built.


Photo by kyle.rw on Flickr.

The Circulator is a great bus because it runs on short headways of no more than 10 minutes, on easy-to-understand routes that connect key activity centers. You don't have to look at a schedule. You can just know you wait at a stop for a little while and a bus should come. And you can probably keep in your head where the stops are.

Unfortunately, transit planners at the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) are considering adding some Circulator routes with a 12-15 minute headway, Bob Thomson reported. That would be a bad call. Everyone wants the Circulator in his or her neighborhood (here's an example), but they want what the Circulator means. Water it down too much, and it stops meaning much.

In fact, according to Joe Sternlieb, the Georgetown BID director who was deeply involved in the original Circulator when he worked at the Downtown BID, the first proposals were for a bus running every 5 minutes. That changed to 10, and now the Circulator aims for a 10-minute headway but often gaps between buses can stretch much longer.

If there's a place that would support a 12-15 minute Circulator route but not a 10-minute one, DDOT would have to have a very good reason not to just make it a Metrobus route. If every neighborhood had a Circulator route, but some routes ran every 15 minutes, some even more, some not very long hours, then the brand only means it's DC's bus system and not WMATA's, like Ride On or ART. Good bus branding tells the consumer something, not about the government but about the service.

One complicating factor is that the Circulator has a cheaper fare than Metrobus. This is because DC has been willing to spend some money to keep the fares low, but not for the whole Metrobus system. That distorts transit planning, because many communities understandably want a cheap bus.

We need more routes that run frequently, not more routes that don't. The Circulator aims to connect activity centers, but it could be that the Circulator, as a brand, is not for every route in every neighborhood. Maybe we need another brand for a different type of route.

DDOT is also considering taking over "non-regional" bus routes from WMATA, which are routes that don't run in Maryland and Virginia, don't serve large numbers of Maryland and Virginia residents transferring from rail, and don't get any money from Maryland or Virginia. But some of these are low-ridership, low-frequency neighborhood routes. The Circulator wouldn't be the right brand for those either.

Not every bus has to have the same name. Let's have the Circulator keep doing what it does well, and where that can apply elsewhere, do it there also. Let's also expand and improve bus service, but without diluting what the Circulator means.

Transit


After a decade in service, where could the Circulator go next?

As the DC Circulator celebrates its tenth anniversary, planners are weighing options for the system's continued growth. Tuesday evening, they held a public forum at Eastern Market to talk about ways to expand the Circulator and unveiled a new bus paint scheme.


Model Circulator wearing the new "comet" paint scheme parked at Eastern Market. Photo by the author.

Having expanded from two routes to five, the Circulator's core function remains to offer a frequent, reliable, inexpensive link between DC's activity centers and its neighborhoods. Planners are considering 7 possible new routes, which were on display at the forum.

District Department of Transportation officials say the one with the greatest support is a connection between Dupont Circle and U Street, followed by a Dupont Circle-Foggy Bottom link. The proposed "Abe's to Ben's" Circulator between the Mall and U Street could serve both links. The input planners receive will inform the expansion priorities they will recommend this summer.


Image by DDOT.

I see one of Circulator's roles as to fill gaps in the Metrobus network that serve to better connect DC neighborhoods. I, too, cast my top vote for a Dupont-U Street connection, preferably starting by extending the Rosslyn-Georgetown-Dupont route up 18th Street NW and across U Street to Howard University.

My second vote is for an extension of one of the routes currently ending at Union Station north into NoMa, perhaps one way on First Street NE and the other on North Capitol Street. Buses already create congestion near Union Station by using Massachusetts Avenue, E Street, and North Capitol Street as a turnaround. Having a Circulator turn around in NoMa instead helps to alleviate this, while providing bus connectivity to the heart of a rapidly developing area.

It is interesting that DDOT proposes retaking the Convention Center to Southwest route from WMATA, which incorporated it into the Metrobus network in 2011 as Route 74. A DDOT representative explained that, as part of the 70s series, the 74 is considered a "regional" rather than a "local" route, and thus it is cheaper for the District to subsidize as Maryland and Virginia also contribute to it through WMATA's funding formulas.

At the forum, DDOT also debuted a Circulator bus wearing a new exterior paint scheme. Instead of two arcs representing the route map with the names of destinations, the new design has two swooshes that a DDOT representative described as "comets."

On display inside the bus were preliminary drawings by renowned transit vehicle designer Cesar Vergara of an interior for the next generation of Circulator buses. This would make Circulators' interiors more closely resemble those of the newest members of the Metrobus fleet, products of New Flyer.


Preliminary rendering of a proposed interior for new Circulator fleet. Image from Vergara Studio.

DDOT presented a map of the planned National Mall Circulator, which will connect Union Station with the Lincoln Memorial via Madison and Jefferson drives and around the Tidal Basin next spring. The agency sought input on what to include at the stops along this route, like area maps, and lists of nearby attractions, and where one or two-day passes and SmarTrip cards should be sold.


Chart by DDOT.

Circulator's ridership numbers have declined slightly over the past two years compared to the previous two. David Miller, a transportation planner with DDOT contractor Foursquare Integrated Transportation Planning, speculated on the reasons for the dip and offered these hypotheses:

  • Metrobus's service quality has improved, siphoning off former Circulator riders who once perceived Metrobus as a less attractive service.
  • DC residents, particularly young adults, are gravitating towards more flexible car and bike sharing systems, aided by better bicycling infrastructure, for short trips to see friends or go shopping for which they previously used Circulator.
  • Circulator buses are starting to get shabby. The fleet is 10-14 years old and is just now starting to undergo repainting and reupholstery.
So far, surveys of Circulator riders have only covered demographic information, trip purpose and trip type. They have not asked riders to describe why they chose Circulator over other modes, or why they've chosen other modes over Circulator for other trips.


Results of the last Circulator survey. Image by DDOT.

Despite Circulator's branding as a service that connects shopping, dining, and entertainment destinations, a solid majority of riders use it to get to and from work. The average rider is a young adult with at least a college education making less than $40,000 per year. Most riders use Circulator on all days of the week, with pluralities using it daily, and take it round trip.

DDOT will release a final update of the Transportation Development Plan Summary Report this summer, and will hold another semi-annual forum this fall. Beyond that, aside from the spring 2015 implementation of the National Mall Circulator, there is no timeline for implementing any expansions of the system. Once DDOT comes out with its recommendations based on public input, it will be up to DC citizens to convince the Mayor and Council to fund them.

Politics


Ward 1 candidates: Graham is hot on buses, not on streetcars

We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. Here are the discussions about housing with candidates for Ward 1 on the DC Council. See all of the discussions here.


Images from the candidate websites.

Jim Graham, the councilmember for Ward 1, has always been a staunch supporter of bus transit. But he's much less sanguine about DC's plans to build a network of streetcars.

Graham pushed to keep bus fares down when on the WMATA Board, and he proposed the Circulator route that runs from McPherson Square to U Street, Columbia Heights, Adams Morgan, and Woodley Park.

I asked Graham if we should have dedicated bus lanes. He said:

I was very much an advocate for creation of express bus on 16th street and on Georgia Avenue [the S9 and 79 buses]. Both of those happened while I was involved. It's good but there's still terrific bus bunching. ...

Metro/WMATA has always treated the buses like stepchildren. They're kind of assigned to the coal bin of Metro. And it's been a slow process pulling the bus transportation out of that second-class status and into first-class status. We're not there yet. And I think a dedicated lanebecause I think rapid bus makes a lot of sense.

When we compare the cost of rapid bus to light rail, and we compare the problems of light rail to the relative ease of rapid bus, I think it's a very strong case. The notion of light rail running down Harvard or light rail running down 18th Street in Adams Morgan? It's... it's quite a profound change.

Because people forget that streetcars break down. I think nobody remembers that they break down. I rode streetcars in the '50s and '60s and they broke down. And when they broke down there was such a terrific backlog of traffic and congestion as the car had to be pulled away. That's just in the nature of things. Look at the Metro trains!

Not to mention the fact that you've got the trolleys taking up an awful lot of roadway space, and that's going to create other challenges.

"H Street is perfect" for streetcars, he said, in part because it is "very broad." But there's also a debate about whether H Street should one day have dedicated lanes (Charles Allen would like to consider it, while Darrel Thompson doesn't think it would work, for example). Graham said:

I was 12 years on the Metro Board. (I don't want to say too much about that right now.) But I became convinced that if we had really good rapid bus, people would be very happy to use it. And we wouldn't have the enormous cost of capital investment that we have related to trolleys. Trolleys in some ways are sentimental and they're kind of exciting and new. But rapid bus can deliver, and we know plenty of examples where it has delivered.
Nadeau wrote in an email, "I'm fully supportive of a streetcar for Georgia Avenue and excited about the conceptual drawings circulated last week. It's a great opportunity to strengthen a commercial corridor that has largely been forgotten by our current leadership."

As for the 16th Street bus lane, she said in the interview that not only does she think it's a good idea, as Graham does, but she is pushing to make it a reality (unlike, she says, her opponent):

One of the things I'm working on right now is the 16th Street [bus] lane. That was a proposal that came up in 2009, 2010 when Graham was chair of the transportation committee, and it still has not been studied and implemented. ... When that study was done, 30% of all traffic on 16th Street was the bus. And now, it's more than 50%.

Watch the whole discussion with Graham about transportation here, including conversations about car dependence, parking, and pedestrian and bicycle safety.

We conducted the interviews at the Watha T. Daniel/Shaw library and the Gibson Plaza apartments, a mixed-income market rate and affordable housing building also in the Shaw neighborhood. Thanks to Martin Moulton for organizing the space and recording and editing the videos.

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