Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Shirlington


Simplify Shirlington-Pentagon bus choices

On paper, travelers between Shirlington and the Pentagon have more than 160 buses per day in each direction to choose from. In reality, however, it's difficult to know about and take advantage of these options.

Shirlington bus station. Photo from Arlington VA.

The location of the Shirlington Transit Center bus bays and the fact that two separate operators serve the route, without a combined schedule, hinder passengers' full use of the choices available.

A little restructuring can save passengers from having to remember multiple schedules and know which bus bay to go to depending on when they arrive at the transit center.

Metrobus routes 7A/C/E/F/Y, 22A, 25A/D and ART route 87 serve the I-395 corridor, connecting downtown Shirlington to the Metrorail network. The 7A and 25A are express, taking 6-9 minutes to travel directly between these two stations. The 22A makes a few stops before getting on I-395, resulting in a travel time of about 12-14 minutes. The ART bus takes a local route that takes about 23-27 minutes, meaning that for Pentagon-bound passengers it is usually advantageous to wait for the next Metrobus than take the ART 87.

At Shirlington the 7 and 25 buses are located at Bus Bay C while the 22A is located at the farthest possible point away, bus bay A:

Because these buses travel through the transit center in opposite directions, it's not possible to locate them all at the same bay. But placing them at adjoining bays A & E or B & C would make a lot more sense. A passenger wanting to go directly to the Pentagon would not have to dash around the station to the far end to catch the other bus.

It would be difficult to arrange the bays any more rationally at Pentagon station. There, four adjoining bays, Upper 3, 4, 5, and 6, serve the Shirlington routes. Riders have to be astute to note the alternate buses arriving and knowledgeable of their various options. ART bus locations are not shown on this map, which appears to be somewhat out of date.

While WMATA posts station bus stop maps for rail stations such as the Pentagon, ART's site had a better graphic and includes the Shirlington transportation center map as well.

Because there are several routes that serve these two points, many riders probably only learn over time that they have several options. There is no combined point-to-point schedule of the 160+ buses per day that would make this information easy for passengers to have, hold and use.

Also, since NextBus treats each bus bay as a separate stop, it doesn't effectively serve these customers, who don't care what bus number they get onthey just want to get between these two points as quickly and easily as possible.

There are other cases where a rearrangement of bus stops at the Pentagon would help riders: e.g., the 29 and 17 buses both serve some of the same parts of Annandale, but are located on separate levels at the Pentagon. Similarly, the 25 and 8 buses share parts of Alexandria, but are located far apart at the Pentagon. Passengers are forced to choose one bay or the other, which may frustrate them if circumstances (like a late bus) work against them.

A programmer could probably create a simple smartphone app using NextBus data that would combine the Shirlington and Pentagon bus stops (or other highly-used point-to-point locations), which would be quite useful to these passengers.

These simple changes and enhancements would cost little or nothing, but would get more riders to their destinations quickly and easily. If transit agency planners and managers were to imagine themselves in the shoes of their customers, these kinds of improvements could be more obvious.


Pocket schedules could make bus riding easier

Many bus riders take a single bus for most trips. In fact, many bus riders travel between the same two stops for many trips. A simple, printed, point to point schedule, listing the departure and arrival times for each of the two stops, could be a powerful tool for those riders.

Sample Westover pocket schedule.

One example of an area that could benefit from pocket schedules is the Arlington neighborhood of Westover. It's a mile east of the East Falls Church Metro and 1.8 miles west of Ballston. A group of neighborhood shops anchors the neighborhood, including the Lost Dog Pizza Deli, Lebanese Taverna and Ayers Variety Store, among others.

The #2 Metrobus runs directly through the center to both Metro stops. The majority of riders I've seen take the bus to Ballston and then transfer to Metrorail or stay in Ballston. Since almost all riders are going from one place to a single other place, they could benefit from a simple, easily accessible and usable pocket schedule.

Arlington Transportation Partners, which provides transportation information throughout the county, stocks schedules and maps in one of the local establishments. The #2 Metrobus schedules get snatched up immediately, while the other schedules and maps tend to languish
longer. However, almost all of the information in that schedule is extraneous to most of these users. All they really need to know is when the bus is going to Ballston and when it's returning.

If designed to be the size of a business card folded once, it would easily fit in a wallet. There's no need for a map or other destinations or really anything else. It would serve most of the people who might ride the bus to or from the Westover area. It's so easy, it might lure people who pick up one of these schedules at the ice cream shop to consider taking the bus.

There are certainly dozens of these nodes that directly connect two locations together and are highly used. Obvious ones include Shirlington-Pentagon and Shirlington-Ballston. Especially now that Arlington has built their nice, new Shirlington transit center, easy pocket schedules would be a great boon for users. There are several different routes that serve these points, so having a concise, combined schedule would simplify information and make it more accessible.

One of the big barriers to people riding the bus is they don't know when it comes and schedules can be hard to figure out sometimes. NextBus is one tool to help with that, but it doesn't tell me when I can get back. It also doesn't help me with, say, tomorrow. The WMATA web site can, but a pocket schedule like this requires no computer, no smart phone, no Internet connection and is probably way faster than any of those. It can sit in a pile on the counter of a coffee shop and be tucked in a wallet and used immediately.

I imagine there are scores, if not hundreds, of these highly used node connections. Would it make sense to print all these individual pocket schedules? Maybe not a bad idea. By being enterprising, this might be a good way to get more people on the buses while partnering with local businesses. Why not get a local business to sponsor the schedules to offset the costs? They could pay for the printing (which could be really cheap), and it would be a relatively low-cost advertising vehicle where they would get a little space on the pocket schedule for their marketing message. It's highly geographically targeted marketing, since the only people who would be interested in that particular pocket schedule are those who travel to or from that one location.

Like the invisible tunnel, this is the sort of low-cost or no-cost measure that could help the system run better. Intelligently done, these simple little pocket schedules could be provided for free (both to passengers and for Metro) to thousands of riders and make riding the bus much easier.


Arlington's Smart Growth Journey: Neighborhoods

Arlington has a remarkable diversity of neighborhoods. Clarendon is one of the most successful, lively, mixed-use parts of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor. Shirlington is demonstrating that you can have Smart Growth even without Metrorail. And in much of the county, even just a short distance from Metro stations, are many quiet single-family neighborhoods.

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