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Transit


An "Abe's to Ben's" Circulator could connect tourists to DC neighborhoods

The National Park Service plans to create a new Circulator route around the National Mall. NPS and the city could also improve transit options to nearby neighborhoods with a line from the Mall to Foggy Bottom, Dupont Circle, and U Street.


Our proposal for the "Abe's to Ben's Circulator." Click for an interactive map.

The Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) for Foggy Bottom and Dupont Circle have voted to ask NPS and the city to consider such a route, which we have nicknamed the "Abe's to Ben's" or "A to B" route.

The planned Mall Circulator route, which NPS plans to fund in part with revenue from new parking meters along the Mall and in West Potomac Park, is an excellent beginning and will improve transit accessibility to some of DC's most popular attractions.

At the same time, the route, which goes east-west along the Mall to and from Union Station, doesn't give tourists an easy path off the Mall and into the neighborhoods to support our local businesses.

More than 4 million tourists visit the Vietnam Memorial and the Lincoln Memorial, two of the most popular landmarks, each year. But the area still has poor transit service, with little Metrobus service and the nearest Metro station ¾ of a mile away.

Our proposal

The "Abe's to Ben's" line would begin at the triangle in between 23rd Street NW and Henry Bacon Drive, by the Lincoln Memorial. The bus would then travel north along 23rd Street and provide service to the State Department, Columbia Plaza, and George Washington University's main campus before meeting up with the Blue and Orange lines at the Foggy Bottom-GWU Metro station at 23rd and I Streets.

From there, it would proceed up New Hampshire Avenue and around Washington Circle to the southern entrance to the Dupont Circle station on the Red Line. It would continue around the circle to 18th Street and travel north to U Street before heading east to the U Street Metro station, the Green and Yellow lines. It could then end near the African-American Civil War Memorial (linking Park Service sites at each end) or Howard University.

This Circulator route would improve transit connections for both residents and tourists, providing a one-seat ride between the Mall, downtown, and mid-city neighborhoods. It would provide a direct connection to all 5 Metro lines, a crucial reliever of core Metro capacity and an alternative during service disruptions.

It would also restore bus service on the east side of Dupont Circle which ceased two years ago when Metro re-routed the L2 away from 18th Street. With this proposal, all of the bus pads that were installed as part of the streetscape project on 18th just a couple of years ago can serve a purpose again.


An L2 bus (formerly) stops on 18th Street. Image from Google Street View.

What about other routes?

DDOT's 2011 Circulator master plan envisions extending the current Rosslyn-Dupont route to the U Street and continue the National Mall route up 23rd Street and over into Georgetown by way of Pennsylvania Avenue.

There are better ways to expand service. An extension of the Mall Circulator into Georgetown would be redundant with the 31 Metrobus, but with less utility since the 31 serves the entirety of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor up to Friendship Heights.

Extending the Rosslyn-Dupont route, on the other hand, raises issues about service reliability and neglects to serve Foggy Bottom and the National Mall. The current route already must traverse congested L and M through Georgetown and the West End.

Our proposal introduces a more direct, less traffic-choked connection to the Blue and Orange lines for Dupont and mid-city residents, while implementing service in areas of Foggy Bottom that don't have good transit service.

Our proposal isn't perfect. We're not transit professionals; we're community activists looking to improve connectivity between our neighborhoods in a way that reduces automobile dependence and hopefully serves many of the city's goals.

We know, for instance, that there many not be enough demand for Circulator service on the National Mall at 11 pm on a Saturday, but there may be a lot of demand in U Street and Dupont Circle. We also would love to extend this route proposal farther east to Howard University, with its transit-dependent student population. We welcome suggestions as to how to resolve these, and other, potential dilemmas.

Next steps

Tonight, February 25th, DDOT will hold its semi-annual forum on the Circulator, where members of the public can comment on future service. This is a critical opportunity to ask agency officials to consider our proposal.

Despite the long road and uncertainty that lies ahead, we feel that this idea is one worth sticking with and fighting for. It would benefit residents, workers, and tourists alike, while providing benefits for local businesses and inducing additional tax revenue for the District.

Now that the National Park Service has changed the rules of the game, it's time to examine the opportunities, and provide better transit options for everyone.

Events


Events roundup: Events to keep you warm

The polar vortex is back, and so are your chances to talk about DC's proposed zoning update, buses in the District and Montgomery County, housing in Arlington, and more at events around the region.


Photo by Mr.TinDC on Flickr.

It's time for the Circulator: The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is hosting its Semi-Annual Circulator Forum this Tuesday, February 25.

The discussion will likely cover the planned National Mall route, a potential fare hike, and a 2014 update to the Circulator's longer-range plan. The forum is 6-8 pm at Eastern Market's North Hall, 225 7th Street SE. If you can't make it, you can send comments to Circe Torruellas at circe.torruellas@dc.gov or call 202-671-2847.

After the jump: speak up on King Street bike lanes and DC's zoning update, learn about bus rapid transit in Silver Spring, glean wisdom from Arlington housing officials, and take a walk to see the negative implications of a proposed highway in Montgomery County. Plus, don't forget about our happy hour in Alexandria this Thursday!

Big meeting for King Street: Alexandria's Traffic and Parking Board, which decided to defer bike lanes on King Street, will discuss the issue once again tonight at the council chambers in Alexandria City Hall. WABA says it's an important meeting and there will be a lot of "vocal and motivated" opponents. The meeting starts at 7:30 and you have to sign up by 7:45.

Final zoning update hearing: A snow day forced the DC Office of Zoning to reschedule its planned hearing on the zoning update for residents of wards 1 and 2. The meeting, which is the last of the series, will finally take place starting at 6 pm this Wednesday, February 26 at the DC Housing Finance Authority, 815 Florida Avenue NW. If you are a ward 1 or 2 resident who wishes to testify but has not signed up, please click here.

Rapid Transit open house: Montgomery County planners are working on a bus rapid transit (BRT) network to improve accessibility and mobility throughout the county. Join Communities for Transit and the Coalition for Smarter Growth on Wednesday, February 26 from 6:30-8:30 pm for a brief presentation on how the system is an opportunity to move people and connect communities, even as population and congestion rise. A collaborative discussion and questions are welcomed.

The event (and refreshments!) are free but RSVP is recommended. The meeting will be held at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

Join us for happy hour this Thursday: Greater Greater's monthly happy hour series heads to Old Town Alexandria this Thursday, February 27, with cosponsors CNU DC. Come share drinks, snacks, and conversation with us at the Light Horse, located at 715 King Street between Columbus and Washington streets, from 6 to 8 pm. The Light Horse is a 15-minute walk from the King Street Metro station, but there are also a number of bus and Bikeshare connections as well.

Hear neighborly advice from Alexandria: If you're not at the happy hour, also on Thursday the Montgomery County Planning Department hosts housing officials from Alexandria in part two of its Winter Speaker Series. Mildrilyn Davis and Helen McIlvaine will talk about about how Alexandria has redeveloped blocks of public housing into mixed-income communities and built affordable housing alongside new public buildings.

The APA National Capital Area Chapter is co-hosting this event, which is free to the public. It starts at 6 pm in the Montgomery County Planning Department Auditorium, 8787 Georgia Avenue.

Learn about law and planning: That's not the only forum APA-NCAC is cosponsoring on Thursday. The National Capital Planning Commission is hosting a panel discussion with area planners about how the laws of our region's many jurisdictions and levels of government shape our planning. That's 6-7:30 pm at NCPC, 401 9th Street, NW Suite 500.

Walk and talk about Midcounty Highway's future: Over the summer, the Montgomery County Planning Board received 237 comments from the public about Midcounty Highway or M-83, a proposed highway between Montgomery Village and Clarksburg, 228 of which were in opposition. This Saturday, March 1, you can join the TAME Coalition (Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended) in Montgomery Village for walking tours, to see exactly what the proposed highway would damage or destroy.

The tours start at South Valley Park, 18850 Montgomery Village Avenue, and end at Montgomery Village Avenue. You can choose to tour either the wooded area or the non-woods area that would be affected. Registration begins at 12:30 pm, and the tours will go from 1:30-3:30 pm. You can park at South Valley Park near the ball field, next to Watkins Mill Elementary School.

Events


Events roundup: It's the final countdown

This week brings your last chance to testify on DC's proposed zoning update, your first to learn about parking meters on the National Mall, and your second to discuss north-south streetcar implementation.


Photo by thisisbossi on Flickr.

Speak up or be left out: Hearings this week will be your last chance to speak out on the proposed changes to DC's zoning code. The final code will have important implications for parking minimums, corner stores, accessory dwelling units, and more. Residents who wish to testify in person must do so at the meeting for the ward where they live. If you have not already signed up, visit the Coalition for Smarter Growth's sign-up center for assistance. The times, dates, and locations for this week's meetings are below the jump.

Also after the jump: proposed redesigns for MLK Jr. Memorial Library and Franklin Park, an update on stopping M-83 in Montgomery County, and the second series of public meetings on the North-South DC Streetcar study.

Here's when the final DC zoning update meetings will be held. (The meeting for wards 5 and 6 already took place last Saturday.)

  • Wards 1 & 2: Thursday, February 13 at 6:00 pm, DC Housing Finance Authority building, 815 Florida Avenue NW.
  • Wards 3 & 4: Tuesday, February 11 at 6:00 pm, Woodrow Wilson High School Auditorium, 3950 Chesapeake Street NW.
  • Wards 7 & 8: Wednesday February 12th at 6:00 pm, Department of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE.
Paid parking for a Circulator?: The National Park Service has plans to install multi-space parking meters on the National Mall, which could make more spaces available and discourage commuter parking, encourage public transit use, and fund affordable transportation options, including a Circulator. To learn more, join park staff tomorrow, Tuesday, February 11 at the NPS Capital Region Headquarters, 1100 Ohio Drive SW. The meeting begins at 6 pm in the cafeteria.

Stopping M-83: Montgomery County residents who oppose the M-83 highway can learn more about efforts to stop it this Tuesday, February 11. Join the Action Committee for Transit as they host Margaret Schoap, of the Coalition for Transit Alternatives to Mid-County Highway Extended, at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place.

MLK revamp: The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library is slated for renovation. The architects of the renovation proposals will present their proposals this Saturday, February 15 at 10 am in the library's Great Hall, 901 G Street NW. You can also stream the presentations live on YouTube or in a Google Hangout.

Dedicated lanes for North-South streetcar?: DDOT is hosting a series of public meetings next week to discuss the planned route for a north-south streetcar line. One big question is whether the planned route will include dedicated lanes. The meetings are:

  • Tuesday, February 18 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs, 1100 4th Street SW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 10 am-12 pm, MLK Library, 901 G Street NW.
  • Wednesday, February 19 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Banneker Recreation Center, 2500 Georgia Avenue NW.
  • Thursday, February 20 from 3:30-8:00 pm (presentations at 4:00 and 7:00 pm), Emery Recreation Center, 5701 Georgia Avenue NW.
A friendlier Franklin Park: The National Park Service will present concept design alternatives for the restoration and transformation of Franklin Park next Wednesday, February 19. The concept design alternatives were developed based on desired park uses and programs prioritized from both public comments submitted to NPS and feedback received at a meeting last fall. The public meeting will be held from 6 to 8 pm at the Hilton Garden Inn, 815 14th Street, NW. To learn more about the Franklin Park project, visit its website here.

Events


Events roundup: Parking and zoning and budgeting, oh my!

Over the next two weeks, you can learn about plans for transit on I-66 and for meters on the Mall, speak up on WMATA's budget and the DC zoning update, and see a play with us in Arlington.


Photo by F Delventhal on Flickr.

Come see Clybourne Park with us: Join us to go see Clybourne Park, an award-winning play about gentrification in Chicago, this Sunday, February 9. We'll have an open discussion with the show's director, the cast, and some GGW contributors after the show.

The show begins at 2:30 pm at the Thomas Jefferson Community Center, located at 125 South Old Glebe Road in Arlington. The theater is about a mile from the Ballston and Virginia Square Metro stations and accessible by Metrobus routes 10B, 23A, 23C, and 4A, or ART route 41. Purchase tickets here.

Talk about parking meters on the Mall: The National Park Service has plans to help fund a new Circulator bus route by adding parking meters to free parking on the National Mall. On February 11, NPS will hold a public meeting to discuss the parking meter proposal at the NPS National Capital Region Headquarters Cafeteria, at 1100 Ohio Drive SW beginning at 6 pm.

See the future of White Flint: Montgomery County wants to transform Rockville Pike from a suburban strip to a new downtown. Hear how the county's working with property owners, local businesses, and residents to make it happen during a lunch talk with Lindsay Hoffman, executive director of community organization Friends of White Flint.

The event is this Wednesday, February 5 from 12:30 to 1:30 pm at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW. The talk is free, but you need to register.

Last chance to speak out on DC's zoning update: The last round of public hearings on a rewrite of DC's 50-year-old zoning code begin this Saturday, February 8 and continue throughout the week. Interested in testifying? Attend the meeting for your ward and speak your mind. The hearings are first come, first served, so be sure to sign up early. The Coalition for Smarter Growth has a guide for signing up here.

The ward-by-ward schedule is below:

  • Wards 1 & 2: Thursday, February 13 at 6:00 pm, DC Housing Finance Authority building, 815 Florida Avenue NW.
  • Wards 3 & 4: Tuesday, February 11 at 6:00 pm, Wilson High School Auditorium, 3950 Chesapeake Street NW.
  • Wards 5 & 6: Saturday, February 8 at 9:00 am, Dunbar High School Auditorium, 101 N Street NW.
  • Wards 7 & 8: Wednesday February 12th at 6:00 pm, Dept. of Employment Services, 4058 Minnesota Avenue NE.
Tell Metro how to spend its money: Metro is looking for feedback for their next round of improvements. Next on their list: eight car trains, station upgrades, and priority corridor bus routes. There are still four chances to come out to one of their public hearings, where you can learn about Metro's current projects and then provide suggestions on those projects or anything else on your mind.

The schedule of remaining hearings is below. All meetings begin at 6 pm with an information session, followed by the hearing at 6:30 pm:

  • Monday, February 3: Matthews Memorial Baptist Church, 2616 Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE in DC, two blocks from Anacostia (Green Line).
  • Tuesday, February 4: Montgomery County Executive Office Building, 101 Monroe Street in Rockville, two blocks from Rockville (Red Line).
  • Wednesday, February 5: Arlington Central Library, 1015 North Quincy Street in Arlington, three blocks from Virginia Square (Orange Line).
  • Thursday, February 6: Metro headquarters, 600 5th Street NW in DC, two blocks from Gallery Place-Chinatown (Red, Green, and Yellow lines).
You can visit WMATA's website for more info, including how to register to testify and how to submit written comments. Can't make the hearings? Provide your comments through this online survey.

Improve transit options on I-66: The Virginia Department of Transportation is exploring options to improve transit on I-66 in Fairfax and Prince William counties. They will be holding a public meeting to talk about the results of their recent environmental impact study and share ideas and suggestions for transit improvements. The second and final meeting is tomorrow, February 4 Wednesday, February 5 at 6:30 pm. It will be held at the Wyndham Garden Hotel, at 10800 Vandor Lane in Manassas.

Parking


Park Service plans to put parking meters on the National Mall and use the money for a Circulator

The long years of having no public bus, or only an expensive $27 Tourmobile, to get around the National Mall may soon come to an end. The National Park Service is now planning to fund a Circulator bus route in part through adding parking meters on the Mall.

The meters will be the multi-space kind and will go along the roads under NPS control and which allow parking. They will charge $2 an hour, likely including weekends and holidays, according to news reports.

Today, all of that parking is free. In many areas, like Constitution Avenue, workers in nearby buildings show up early and grab the spaces all day. That might be a good deal for those people, but it doesn't help anyone reach the Mall and isn't the best use of the spaces.

This has been in the works for years. For a long time, the Tourmobile was the only option to get around the Mall. NPS had a long-standing exclusive contract which prohibited any other transportation service.

That meant that when DC first launched the Circulator bus, it couldn't use the internal roads on the Mall. Nor would NPS allow any signs on the Mall pointing visitors to the buses.

In 2011, the Park Service terminated its contract with Tourmobile, and began talking with DC officials to create a Circulator route. DC wasn't ready to launch it back in 2011, but this year they are, and NPS is now getting ready to add the meters.

There is a public meeting at 6 pm on February 11 to discuss the plan.

Development


Freddie Mac downsizing is an opportunity for Tysons

While much of Tysons Corner is slated to become a new urban center, parts of the area will remain disconnected office parks for the foreseeable future. By planning for future demand and leveraging rising property values, Fairfax County can encourage more investment in the area and provide new public amenities, like improved transit.


Freddie Mac's campus in Tysons. Photo by the author.

Last week, President Obama announced that the federal government may try to reduce its support for mortgage company Freddie Mac, headquartered in Tysons Corner. If Freddie Mac eventually downsized or consolidated its operations, they might sell their 37.8-acre campus on Jones Branch Drive, far from Tysons' core or the Silver Line.

This may not happen for years, if not decades. By then, it may not be as desirable a location, especially when the Silver Line opens and Tysons begins the transition to a more urban, walkable place. But a land sale could be an opportunity to bring one of its largest office parks in line with the larger vision.

Freddie Mac's campus contains just 800,000 square feet of Class A office space. When built in 2002, it had a very desirable location: direct access to the Dulles Toll Road and adjacent to the Westpark transit center, served by 6 Fairfax Connector routes. It's also close to the new Jones Branch Drive exit on the new 495 Express lanes.


Map of Tysons with Freddie Mac and Jones Branch Drive from the Tysons Comprehensive Plan Amendment and edited by the author.

By 2025, much of the land around the four future Tysons metro stations will be substantially developed. The street grid will still be discontinuous, and each of the station areas may act as a discreet hub, similar to Reston Town Center. But the area will have enough density to justify its own internal transit needs, perhaps even exceeding the capacity of bus service.

Meanwhile, the office parks of North Tysons, where Freddie Mac is located, may have filled in with some residential development. But it still won't have direct access to transit, nor is it covered by the design guidelines of the Tysons Comprehensive Plan, which guides the redevelopment of Tysons. Freddie Mac's property will be very valuable, but the current zoning and allowable density prevents major redevelopment from occurring.

In order to take advantage of this site's potential, two things need to happen. First, Fairfax County should rezone the property for higher density and mixed-use development to fit with the larger vision for Tysons Corner. Second, the county should start planning for high-quality transit service to North Tysons that can not only support future redevelopment, but be financed by it as well.


Street section of light rail on Jones Bridge Drive. Image from the Tysons Comprehensive Plan Amendment.

The Tysons Comprehensive Plan refers to a light rail circulator that would serve parts of Tysons Corner that are far from the Silver Line. The estimated cost of a 2.5-mile light rail line along Jones Bridge Drive between the future McLean and Spring Hill Metro stations (via a future bridge over Scotts Run) is about $60 million.

This assumes that Jones Bridge's existing right-of-way could accommodate a new rail line. Let's take a worst-case scenario and say the county would need an additional $40 million in right-of-way. For approximately 200,000 square feet of land, that comes out to a very conservative $8.8 million per acre.

With a floor-area ratio (FAR) of 3.0, Freddie Mac's 37.8 acres could easily support 5 million square feet of development. (To compare, the property's current FAR is about .5, and the maximum FAR allowed in downtown DC is 10.) If the county rezoned the property, they could also levy a special tax as was done for rezoned properties associated with the Silver Line, or to cover school and public safety improvements.

At the current assessed price per square foot, a fully built-out development on this property would have assessed value of $2.1 billion, generating $23.1 million in taxes to Fairfax County and $2.1 million in special taxes each year. The county could initiate a bond using the special tax as backing that could pay for all capital costs associated with the light rail.

Is this all pie in the sky? Of course, as is the case with all long-term planning, everything over the course of 20 or 30 years is an assumption based on reasonable estimates created from a past history. If Tysons' critics are right, it may struggle to get development activity going, and vacancy rates could be high enough to undermine the marketability of such a land transfer. If that were the case, the above scenario would not be necessary.

So far, that's not the case. Land sales in Tysons have garnered a lot of private interest, especially for large corporate campuses. If those trends continue, Freddie Mac could sell their property to a developer in the future, and the county as well as taxpayers could really benefit. It would also be a step towards creating a new type of infrastructure in Tysons, giving more options to commuters, workers, shoppers, and residents.

What the sprawl history of Tysons has taught us is that if you don't plan for the future, you are destined to end up with a disconnected mess. Instead of leaving the Freddie Mac property to deteriorate or hoping for a new corporate tenant, Fairfax County needs to plan their next steps and leverage future changes to the benefit of Tysons and the county.

Transit


What's the best iPhone bus tracking app?

After the "NextBus" iPhone app disappeared last year, bus riders found themselves searching for a new app to track the locations of buses. Since then, a host of new apps have appeared to fill the void. But is there such a thing as the "perfect" app for iPhone owners?


Image from the author's phone.

I tested 4 iPhone apps to see which one made it easiest to find bus information: NextBus by Cubic, DC Next Bus by Junebot, BusTrackDC by Jason Rosenbaum, and iCommute DC Lite by AppTight, the reincarnation of the previous NextBus application.

Three of these apps are available for free from the iTunes Store, while NextBus's is actually a website whose shortcut you can place on your home screen.

These apps' user interfaces fall into two categories: map-based and text-based. The map-based apps make it easier to find bus stops, and they are handy when you aren't sure where the nearest bus stop might be or the buses that pass through. However, map-based apps are more difficult to use in spots with many bus stops close together.

Meanwhile, more experienced bus riders who already know the location of bus stops or which bus route to take may prefer a text-based app. You can quickly filter through unnecessary information to get prediction times for a specific route.

Some apps have other regional bus systems besides Metrobus, such as Circulator, Ride On, and ART, while many don't.


Left: BusTrackDC. Right: DC Next Bus.

Map-based apps

Both map-based apps, BusTrackDC and DC Next Bus, automatically find your location on a map in relation to surrounding bus stops. They use standard map pins to represent bus stops; you can see what routes serve each pin by tapping on them.

This works well except in areas with numerous bus stops and routes in the same area, such as Silver Spring or downtown DC. The map pins are so close together it becomes frustrating to obtain information on the intended bus route, let alone the direction.

Meanwhile, on both apps I sometimes got "No Prediction" for various bus routes, but if I touched a different bus stop location farther down the street along the same bus route, I could get a timed prediction. DC Next Bus has the option to turn on Ride On data but says that it's unreliable, while neither app provides DC Circulator information.

Text-based apps

The two text-based apps, iCommute DC Lite and NextBus, are designed differently. Users of the defunct "NextBus" app, will find the interface of iCommute DC Lite very familiar, since the creators of the old NextBus app built iCommuteDC Lite.

If it's confusing that one app called NextBus went away and its developers now call the app iCommute DC Lite while there's another option called NextBus by Cubic, you're not alone. It's because there were 2 companies called NextBus which had split apart years ago. The one that ran the real-time predictions on the WMATA site (also called "NextBus") provided data to the other; the 2nd one licensed it to the people who now make iCommuteDC.

The relationship ended, the app died, and the developers rebuilt the app with a new name and a data feed direct from the first NextBus company, which around the same time was bought by Cubic, maker of the SmarTrip system and other transit technology.


iCommute DC Lite.

iCommuteDC Lite gives you two ways to view information: you can see stops nearby your current location, or pick a specific agency and then a route from that agency. This app supports many transportation agencies, including Metrobus, DC Circulator, ART, and CUE.

If you select stops based on your location, the app only displays a route number and not which operator the route corresponds with.


NextBus by Cubic.

Nextbus by Cubic has a simpler, more readable format, using the whole screen to display the bus routes nearest you. Once you select a route and desired direction, the app opens up a map with the real-time location of each bus along that route, something none of the other apps do.

This app also provides alerts to current problems or delays with each transit provider. It also works outside of the DC Metro area, providing bus information on the Charm City Circulator, Collegetown Shuttle, JHMI Shuttle, and the University of Maryland shuttle buses in Baltimore. However, this app only shows systems that contract with NextBus/Cubic, which means Arlington ART and Ride On don't appear.

During testing, I encountered times when the NextBus by Cubic app had predictions for some Metrobus lines, while other apps returned "No Prediction." All of the Metrobus data ultimately comes from the same transponders on the buses, so it should be identical, but since NextBus/Cubic is WMATA's vendor, if any errors creep into the WMATA API then they might affect all apps but not NextBus.

WMATA spokesperson Brian Anderson says that a March data feed included some incorrect stop ID numbers, which can affect apps that use a particular method of accessing stop IDs. Anderson was able to confirm that one specific example I sent over, for the 96 bus in Adams Morgan, was a consequence of this problem. He said WMATA staff are working to correct the data and coordinating closely with developers to help them with any problems.

NextBus by Cubic's data isn't perfect, either. At one point, for example, the Metrobus S2 and S4 routes didn't appear even while standing at an S2/S4 stop on Colesville Road in downtown Silver Spring. The well-known problems with "ghost buses" and other common errors in the actual predictions will also affect all apps.

Which app should you use?

All four apps have their strengths and weaknesses. You may want to install more than one, and can use a text-based app when you know what bus you want and a map-based app when you don't.

Especially for experienced riders, NextBus by Cubic is hard to beat for usability. Its text-based interface is easy to read, quick to filter information for all operators, and offers more bus systems than the other apps. It also sometimes returned predictions when the others did not.

Riders who use multiple bus systems may also need more than one app. If you want to ride the DC Circulator, BusTrackDC or DC Next Bus won't help you. NextBus by Cubic has the greatest number of bus systems, but not ART and Ride On.

Have you tried these apps? Which one do you find most useful for your daily commuting needs?

Transit


Circulator will go to Mall, bus priority gets funding

The DC Circulator bus will add service to the National Mall by 2015, and Mayor Gray has added funding to the budget to improve bus service elsewhere in the city, Mayor Gray and Councilmember Mary Cheh just announced in a press release.


Photo by JLaw45 on Flickr.

The Circulator service would not be the same as the old loop around Constitution and Independence Avenues, which DC discontinued in 2011. That line ran without any cooperation from the National Park Service (NPS), which wouldn't even mention it on signs, claiming that their concession contract with the Tourmobile prohibited even telling people about other, cheaper forms of transportation.

When NPS terminated the Tourmobile contract and updated its concession agreements to be more flexible, officials began working with DC to prepare for Circulators that could offer transportation within NPS land and to and from adjacent neighborhoods.

Multiple sources have said that the District expects to get much of the operating funding for the Circulator from the National Park Service and/or Mall visitors. A Circulator on the Mall primarily benefits tourists, though with easy transportation to and from nearby neighborhoods, it could also help encourage tourists to spend some money at local shops and restaurants.

That funding might come from Circulator fares, parking meters on the Mall (where on-street spaces are now free and thus usually nearly impossible to get), or other sources. Specific details are not yet public and, based on the press release, may not be yet worked out between DC and NPS.


Circulator Phase 1 expansion. Image from the Circulator plan.

This is the diagram of proposed Circulator routes from a recent plan from DC Surface Transit, the public-private partnership that runs the Circulator. According to the press release, funds in the coming fiscal year will fund planning the actual routes, which might or might not be the same as some of these.

New fund supports bus priority around the city

In addition, Gray has added a $750,000 annual capital fund to support projects that improve bus service and reduce delays. This could presumably fund dedicated bus lanes, queue jumpers, signal priority, off-board fare payment or other projects that make buses a quicker and more appealing way to travel.

DC won a TIGER grant way back in 2010 to improve buses on several corridors, but 3 years later we've seen few if any changes. According to an email forward to me from DDOT, they are planning to use the money to optimize traffic signals downtown and install backup traffic signal power.

The TIGER money will also fund 120 real-time digital displays in some bus stops, "some minor bus stop improvements on 16th Street, Wisconsin Avenue, and Georgia Avenue," and "some bus stop safety features" on H Street and Benning Road, the email says. For a grant which was supposed to fund "shovel-ready" stimulus projects in the immediate term, though, it's taken quite a long time.

Finally, DDOT is working on a short bus lane on Georgia Avenue between Florida Avenue and Barry Place, a spot where buses get significantly stuck in traffic.

There is also an ongoing WMATA study looking at potential bus lanes on H and I Streets in the area north of and around the White House. This would be a more complex project, but it's important for DC to take some big steps that speed up buses significantly, in addition to small and easier steps like new signals.

Neighborhoods still benefit from performance parking

Another new fund creates a pool of money for neighborhood improvements in areas that adopt performance parking. The original performance parking law dedicated some of the extra money to neighborhood-specific projects, and around the ballpark, it has already funded new trash cans, benches, bike racks, and signs for a historic heritage trail.

Gray's budget eliminated the dedicated funding, but to make up for the loss, this new fund will let neighborhoods with performance parking still have some say in local fixes. This fund will have $589,000 for the rest of this current fiscal year and $750,000 a year in future years.

Transit


Don't forget about buses

Mayor Gray's budget puts serious money behind building the streetcar, but makes little mention of bus service. The mayor has demonstrated a clear and very welcome commitment to transit; to truly achieve his goals of boosting transit ridership, DC needs to improve its bus service as well.


Photo by Mr. T in DC on Flickr.

The streetcar is not for every neighborhood

Streetcars have advantages over buses. They also have costs, including financial ones: streetcars cost more than buses. Streetcars also can't deviate around double-parked delivery vans or reroute to another road because of construction.

Other cities' experiences have shown that streetcars do attract more "choice riders," people who might not otherwise take transit, and also attract people and businesses to a corridor in a way that buses don't. Because of their economic development power, we should be able to pay much of the cost out of the extra taxes from the development we get from streetcars, and/or through direct "value capture" programs that make those who benefit economically pay some of the cost.

Still, streetcars aren't going to be especially fast. They will often be slower than buses. And in many parts of DC, where economic development isn't the goal and capacity isn't the problem, building a streetcar isn't always the answer. What we can, and must, do is make buses a more appealing mode of transit.

We need a great "frequent bus network" as well

Imagine if you could walk to certain spots in any neighborhood, wait in a comfortable location with real-time screens, and know that within a short time, a vehicle would come take you along one of several high-capacity routes that lead to other adjacent neighborhoods and across the city.

Metrorail does that now. Some of the limited-stop Circulators and Metrobus Express routes do as well. We can gain a lot of mobility for residents by adding to the number of high-frequency routes, making them even more frequent, and helping residents know about the routes by publishing "frequent network" maps that cover both the Circulator and certain Metrobus routes.

These routes all would come often enough, including nights and weekends, and run late enough that people who live nearby could choose not to own cars, use the routes (or bike or walk) for most trips, and have backup options like Zipcar, car2go, Uber, and taxis when necessary.

Where should DC invest in bus?

DC can expand and improve its frequent bus network in two ways: create new frequent routes, and make existing frequent routes faster.

New routes can be Metrobus routes or Circulator as long as they run frequently, 7 days a week, and late into the evening. Last year, a panel of residents, business leaders, and officials created a Circulator plan which lays out places for several of these routes.


Proposed Circulator expansion.   Phase 1   Phase 2 Phase 3

Most immediately, the plan suggests extending the Dupont-Rosslyn Circulator to U Street. There's no good, direct transit right now between U Street and Dupont, and it also would create a direct link between U Street and Georgetown.

Beyond adding routes, DC can speed up existing routes. There are many spots where buses spend a lot of time in traffic. In places, buses are frequent enough that they could get their own lane, at least at peak times. WMATA and DDOT have been collaborating on a study of bus lanes on H and I Streets past the White House.

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Buses using H and I (and K), plus traffic counts. Image from WMATA.

Elsewhere, maybe a short "queue jumper" lane would help buses bypass a tough spot. Or retiming signals could help buses spend less time waiting for a turn. Or buses could get signal priority to hold yellow lights long enough for them to pass.

When the Circulator turns left from Connecticut onto Calvert after leaving the Woodley Park Metro, it has to make a tough left turn, and WMATA bus planners have said this is a reason they don't send the 90s buses to Woodley Park. Could this intersection give buses a short, special phase to go right from the curb to Calvert?

We don't have a lot of studies or analyses of where the buses get most delayed. This hasn't received a lot of attention from DDOT in recent years. Mary Cheh tried to put money in the budget for DDOT to work on bus projects or have staff focusing on bus priority, but nothing has really happened yet.

It's long past time to get moving on buses. Mayor Gray has set an ambitious goal that 50% of trips take transit by 2032. Building streetcars will help DC get there, but streetcars are one piece of the transit puzzle. Buses are the other biggest piece. For many neighborhoods and many corridors, they are the right piece, as long as we work hard to make them desirable options, as they can be.

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