Posts about Bus Lanes
Orange, Silver, and Blue riders: Pain is coming in just a month. DOTs: Get moving on bus and HOV lanes now.
Metro's revised SafeTrack plan is out, and riders along the Orange, Blue, and Silver lines will be suffering much earlier than in the original plan. That may be necessary maintenance, but it'll mean local officials have to move fast to find alternative ways to get people east and west.
The first "surge" is single-tracking from Ballston to East Falls Church from June 4-13. That single-tracking includes rush hours and every other time. There will be fewer trains at rush hour everywhere along the Orange and Silver west of there and the Orange Line east all the way to New Carrollton.
Then, the really big challenge hits June 18, when Metro will shut down the line from Eastern Market to Minnesota Avenue and Benning Road for 16 days, June 18-July 3. This will also mean no trains from Arlington Cemetery to Rosslyn. That means no trains on these areas for over two weeks.
And this won't just affect people traveling on the east side of the region. There will be 54% fewer trains from Eastern Market to Rosslyn during rush hours and 40-43% fewer on the Orange and Silver lines in Virginia.
We'll need bus/HOV lanes and staging parking lots
Based on all the feedback you gave in comments and emails, plus talking to some transportation experts, we think our region's transportation departments need to immediately get together and consider a set of bus and HOV lanes along main arterial roads and bridges along the Orange/Blue/Silver Line corridor.
In addition, the DOTs should find lots that can serve as park-and-rides and slugging staging areas. People could park in these zones and form ad-hoc carpools (called "slugging"), or ride special shuttle buses using the 42 extra buses Metro has available for the surges.
Workers, employers, retailers, and everyone else will have to step up too, to share rides and adjust work hours to keep people getting where they need to go. Still, many people don't have that option and need a way to travel east and west without spending hours in traffic.
We don't have all the answers. The local DOTs have the experts who need to figure out the specifics. Or maybe they have variations on this plan that would work better. But while asking people nicely to please telework or carpool is part of the answer, it's not enough on its own. Some priority for carpoolers and buses is necessary.
There's not a lot of time. But the SafeTrack "surges" won't be permanent. It's not unreasonable to try some meaningful policies in late June to try to keep people moving. Because then in July, the pain will hit Yellow/Blue riders from the south, followed by more single-tracking on Orange/Silver, and then a big Red Line single-track in August.
Ask your local DOTs to get this figured out RIGHT NOW with the form below.
Ask your DOT to act fast
Metro's SafeTrack plan (plus any FTA-mandated changes) will mean weeks with no service, or month-long single-tracking, on big sections of the rail system. Our region will need to help people get around in other ways that avoid crippling traffic. How do we do that?
Most of our major roads are already full during peak periods. Some Metro "surges" will disrupt travel for tens of thousands of people. If even a small proportion of these Metro riders drive alone, we could see major regional gridlock.
While the "surges" won't close the whole system at once, their effects will reverberate throughout the region. Lines with single tracking will see fewer trains overall, and the closures and decreased service will likely push people who connect from other lines to commute some other way. All of this means significant traffic impacts far from any given work zone.
What should the region do?
We talked with a number of transportation professionals for their thoughts. But we'd also like to hear yours. We'll compile a list of promising measures, and we're working with the Coalition for Smarter Growth on a tool for you to reach out to your local DOT and elected leaders to ask them to make it happen. Sign up here and you'll be the first to know when it's ready to go.
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Here are the ideas we heard:
Teleworking is the biggest no-brainer. Many people can telework. But many more cannot. If people who can, do, that would alleviate some of the crunch. But not all.
Bus lanes. A lot of people will switch to the bus. But if they are stuck in traffic, they're not able to get to the ends of their routes and start the next run, effectively cutting down on bus capacity. The bus would also then be an unpleasant way to travel, pushing more people into cars instead, making driving and riding the bus worse, and so on.
The Washington region actually had a network of bus lanes before Metrorail opened. Without the trains, those lanes helped get people in and out of job centers. We need them again.
Walking and bicycling are an appealing alternative people who live close to work. Capital Bikeshare capacity and bike parking are likely to be some of the biggest crunches for bicycling. In Metro-accessible job centers like downtown DC, Silver Spring, Rosslyn, and others, bike corrals could help keep Capital Bikeshare balanced, and help people riding their own bikes find a place to park.
Carpooling can fit more people into fewer vehicles, making more efficient use of the road space we have. Some people may carpool without any prodding. But even more people will carpool if there are incentives to do it, like:
- HOV lanes. On key arterials, one lane could be made HOV for a year. Both buses and carpoolers could use these to get a faster ride, making it more worthwhile to carpool or ride the bus.
- Slugging. About 10,000 Virginians ride with strangers every day. Drivers pick up these strangers to get to use the I-395 carpool lanes, a practice called slugging. There are designated areas for people to park and then find rides.
If DC added HOV lanes on key arterials from Maryland to downtown, Maryland counties could help find places, like shopping center parking lots that go mostly empty on weekdays, to serve as slug pickup areas. The same goes for Virginia routes into DC besides 395.
- Employer incentives. Employers could help people carpool, such as by offering reserved parking, running programs to match people up, or simply trying to structure the work day to make carpooling more feasible. Carpooling has declined as people's work schedules became more irregular; employers can reverse that trend, at least for the year.
- Business incentives. Retail businesses can play a role, too. Restaurants and shops could find ways to offer discounts or specials to people who biked or carpooled.
- Ride-matching services. Existing programs like Commuter Connections run bulletin boards and employer programs to match people to potential carpool or vanpool buddies.
- Apps like Split, UberPool, and Lyft Line already try to match up people to share rides. Carpool lanes would create an even stronger incentive to use them. Or, governments could work with these companies to find other ways to increase the incentive to try them.
Optimize bus routes. Besides (or ideally in addition to) adding bus lanes, there are ways to boost capacity on major bus lines, especially the ones paralleling Metro lines (like the S and 70s buses from Silver Spring to downtown DC, when the eastern Red Line shuts down). Some approaches:
- Add express buses. Metro has a dedicated fleet of 42 buses to add to areas with shutdowns. Local transportation officials are already thinking about how to best deploy these. Other than a direct "bus bridge" between closed stations, some could be new express service on likes like the S9 and 79. A few local buses could switch to express during the shutdown as well.
- Restrict on-street parking. Many DC arterial roads have parking on the non-peak side during rush hour, and on both sides at other times. The road could carry more vehicles without that. But it's best to make the new lane a bus or HOV lane, so that people have an incentive to carpool or take the bus instead of consuming all that capacity with new single-passenger trips.
- Fix chokepoints. Likewise, Metro already knows where the major bus routes waste the most time. Retiming a signal, temporarily removing some parking, or adding an interim turn lane could clear out those spots. Where do you think are the most important places for this?
- Reroute buses that end at a Metro station. For example, the 80s buses on Rhode Island Avenue almost all end at Rhode Island Avenue Metro. But when the eastern Red Line shuts down, then what? Those buses could go downtown—
but will need places to drop off, and bus or HOV lanes (sense a theme?) could ensure they don't spend more time doing so than necessary.
Improve late night bus service. Metro plans to shut down at midnight instead of 3 am. While the number of people who ride Metro at night has dropped as many people switch to ride-hailing services, it's still important to offer an affordable way for people to get home.
- Make a late night map. Metro could publish a special map showing late night bus service, especially the routes that take people between Metro stations. Most people don't even know if there's a bus that can take them from nightlife to their neighborhoods.
- Add late-night service. If some stations get decent late-night traffic but don't have late-night bus service (like more outlying park-and-ride stations), add buses to those spots until 3 am or later.
Where would you implement these strategies? What other ideas do you have? Give your thoughts in the comments.
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It's sad that Metro has gotten so decrepit that months-long shutdowns and single-tracking are necessary. But they are. And kudos to Metro for admitting this and coming up with a detailed plan to fix it.
Honestly, we'd feared the shutdowns would be far worse. This plan seems to concentrate them into as narrow a place as necessary while getting work done where needed (as far as we can tell, anyway).
It's going to be painful for riders, but we'll need to manage, because it's clear that the previous maintenance scheme, of shutdowns just over nights and weekends and bouts of single-tracking, hasn't been working.
As Maryland delegate Marc Korman said on today's NewsTalk with Bruce DePuyt, Metro leaders have to make sure the maintenance that gets done, gets done right. The connectors in the Orange/Blue/Silver tunnel through DC, which caught fire earlier this year and forced the day-long total shutdown, had just been supposedly inspected and repaired. Riders are not going to tolerate having their lines shut down and then learning the maintenance wasn't actually done correctly.
Also, the tracks aren't the only problem for Wiedefeld to tackle. Rail cars have been down for maintenance much more often than they should be, forcing Metro to run lower levels of service than promised. These shutdowns won't fix that. But managers may need to focus intensely on one problem at a time, at least until Wiedefeld can replace some of the poorly performing managers and employees, as he's promised to do.
Hopefully, though, the shutdowns will get Metro back to a place where, at the very least, we can be confident in its safety. That's important.
Jurisdictions have to help
These shutdowns will affect huge numbers of people. According to Metro's presentation, the closure from NoMa to Fort Totten will affect 108,000 people; East Falls Church to Ballston, 73,000; Eastern Market to Minnesota/Benning, 61,000; and on and on. That is, let's be clear, a lot of people.
If they all drive, it will mean massive gridlock. Many will telework or shift their hours and such, but unlike with the one-day shutdown where a lot of people could stay home for a day, that can't work for weeks or months on end.
Buses can replace some service, but if those buses are just stuck in major gridlock, then there won't be enough buses and little incentive for anyone to take them. There will need to be temporary bus-only or HOV-3/4 lanes.
Many more people will be trying to walk and bike, and many jurisdictions can do much better to make sure people feel safe and are safe on these other modes.
It would have been nice for jurisdictions to have started planning bus lanes and other measures long ago, but the shutdown plan is here now and there's no luxury of time. Some areas have 6-9 months to prepare, while others (like Alexandria and southern Fairfax, or northern Prince George's) will be hit soon.
We can't wait for the typical interminable studies. Just as the region made extraordinary changes for the inauguration, this also calls for unusual measures. Local DOTs should make aggressive plans for temporary bus lanes and then try them out, making changes over time to ensure they work.
We want to hear more about the late night
If ending service at midnight is really necessary, then maybe it's necessary, but we'd like to hear more. Does it have to be system-wide? And if it's going to be permanent, as Metro is considering, then we really want a more thorough analysis of the pros and cons.
Paul Wiedefeld has said that Metro will not open early or late for any special events over the next year. There's some sense to that, but some of these special events, like the Marine Corps Marathon, draw huge crowds with little alternate way for many people to get there. We're worried about what the impact will be.
Fretting about the effects of shutting down Metro in the past has led to Metro needing bigger shutdowns now, and so if it's needed, it's needed. But we think the case has to be made in more detail first.
We'll have more on contributor reactions to the late night issue in an upcoming post. Meanwhile, we're planning to organize residents to push for measures like bus lanes. If you agree or just want to find out more, sign up below.
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In the fall, there were two leading options for new transit along Route 7: bus rapid transit or light rail. The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission (NVTC) recently settled on plans to move forward with BRT.
Virginia's Route 7 is a major road in Virginia that connects a number of dense communities that already use a lot of transit. The road is also one of the region's oldest, with some sections dating back to colonial times. It runs through both Bailey's Crossroads and Seven Corners, some of the densest places in Northern Virginia that don't have direct access to a Metro station. Both also have a large number of low-income families, meaning much of the population is pretty dependent on transit.
Route 7 also connects a number of places that are becoming more urban, like Tyson's Corner and Falls Church, along with growing employment centers like Alexandria's Mark Center.
Right now, Route 7 is a fairly straight shot between Alexandria and Tysons. But heavy traffic slows down current transit options, and a connection via Metro isn't nearly as direct, which eliminates the time savings the train usually provides. Better transit for Route 7 would mean quicker journeys between these major and already dense destinations.
Here's the plan for Route 7 BRT
As part of its Envision Route 7 project, an effort to bring better transit to Route 7, the NVTC studied both light rail and simply expanding current bus service. Earlier this month, though, it picked a BRT system that would run from the Spring Hill Metro Station in Tyson's Corner to the Mark Center in Alexandria.
The BRT plan would include more frequent buses and dedicated bus-only lanes. Both would speed up bus trips for people who need or want to take public transportation along Route 7, with less waiting and less time sitting in traffic.
Bus lanes wouldn't be everywhere. In some places, like downtown Falls Church, the road is comparatively narrow and hemmed in by buildings, so new lanes wouldn't fit. But bus lanes will go in some of the places where congestion is usually the worst, like at the Seven Corners interchange.
Other ideas plan to improve the bus stations themselves by making them bigger and more comfortable for people waiting for the bus. This would also include changes that would make it easier to walk to a bus stop from a nearby neighborhood. Another proposal is making sure traffic lights can favor buses via signal priority, which would cut time spent waiting at red lights.
BRT won out for a few reasons, but the biggest was cost
BRT scored well on factors like how it would affect future zoning changes and overall trip times and speed, but the main reason NVTC went with BRT is because it's much cheaper to build than any rail option.
Planners think they can put BRT on Route 7 for between $220 and $270 million. None of that money has been committed yet, so leaders in Fairfax, Falls Church, and Alexandria will have to work together and with the state and federal government to come up with it.
The initial planning considered a few different route options that would require a system to veer off of Route 7 to make some connections easier. For example, a number of people surveyed pushed hard for a connection to the East Falls Church Metro Station, which is about a mile from the road. Another reason BRT won out was that it's easier to be flexible in planning its route.
Opponents often chip away at BRT projects
BRT does face challenges and pitfalls, and those haven't gone anywhere for this project. "BRT creep," for example, is when the product on the road don't exactly match the nice renderings of buses gliding along dedicated lanes because fears of vehicle congestion meant chipping away at project features. Other examples of BRT creep include shortening dedicated lanes or eliminating them altogether, or cutting the frequency with which buses run.
Route 7 near Seven Corners, with enough right of way to fit in some bus lanes. Image from Google Maps.
Another fear is that even when dedicated lanes go in, the desire to maintain a certain number of other travel lanes could mean a roadway that's impossibly wide to cross on foot. An example of that is in Rockville, where a desire to fit BRT lanes in with cars, parking, bike lanes, and wide sidewalks led to a road that is almost hilariously wide.
Is a Northern Virginia BRT network forthcoming?
The region's first BRT system, Metroway, is already running in Northern Virginia between Alexandria and Arlington. That route links growing communities in Potomac Yard and Crystal City to various Metro stations. Alexandria is also planning for BRT along Beauregard Street as well. Further down the line, Fairfax is thinking about transit solutions along Gallows Road between Merrifield and Tyson's Corner, and it may go with BRT.
BRT along Route 7 could link up with all of these services in a variety of ways. Here, the flexibility of buses could be a big help, as some routes may be able to use dedicated lanes or special stations even on different routes.
This is an opportunity where the region could turn the threat of BRT creep into a positive thing. Bus service already runs along Route 7 and there is even an express service. Frequencies on both could be increased (with the express getting all day service) and advertised to potential riders.
Meanwhile other features like bigger stations and dedicated lines could come along gradually. As Seven Corners adds more housing and a street grid, Fairfax could begin painting dedicated lanes and building nicer bus stations. This could also happen towards Alexandria and Tysons as sections of Route 7 come up for redesign.
We're still quite early in the planning stages. Right now, the governments involved need to think about if they're willing to fund the project. But if they can get it done, the project could be a big hit right out the gate since many communities along Route 7 already have what it takes to make up a great transit corridor. They just need the transit to prove it.
Georgia Avenue's bus lanes will run just four blocks, from Florida Avenue to Barry Place. They'll be curbside lanes, with normal bus stops on the sidewalk.
Four blocks is short, but this location is specifically one of the slowest stretches WMATA's busy 70-series bus line passes through. Bus lanes here will speed the entire line.
Just as importantly, this will be a test project for DDOT to study, and to learn about bus lane implementation. In May, crews will add red paint to the roadway to make the bus lanes more visually obvious. By adding the red surface later, DDOT will gather data on whether the red really does dissuade car drivers from using the lanes illegally.
If Georgia Avenue's four block bus lanes prove successful, they could provide a model for the citywide transit lane network envisioned in moveDC. They could also one day form the backbone of a future Georgia Avenue streetcar.
They're short, but they're important.
Get ready for bona fide BRT.
On Sunday the 17th, Arlington will open the second half of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, better known as Metroway. The first half opened in 2014 in Alexandria, and was the Washington region's first foray into BRT.
The new Crystal City transitway section will run from Crystal City Metro south to Alexandria, where it will join the existing busway. It'll be a mix of curbside bus lanes and fully exclusive bi-directional busway.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
An unusual transit system in Australia combines the flexibility of buses with the speed and smoothness of rail. In Adelaide, South Australia, the O-Bahn, a hybrid of a bus and rail system, connects downtown to the northeastern suburbs.
O-Bahn buses drive on fixed guideway bus lanes that steer the buses for the drivers. Once the buses reach the suburbs, they fan out onto conventional streets, eliminating the need for passengers to transfer to other buses. This is the O-Bahn's primary advantage over streetcars and other rail transit.
As these express buses leave central Adelaide on conventional city streets, they cross the city's historic ring park and travel a mile with general traffic until they enter the bus-only O-Bahn. The O-Bahn is a set of concrete running pads set far enough apart to carry the buses' rubber tires. The outward-facing wheels run along the guideway's curbs and steer the bus for the bus driver.
Why not build a normal bus-only road?
The O-Bahn provides a few advantages over a conventional bus lane. The automatic steering means the bus pavement can be narrower, since there's no need to account for driver error. This is important as the buses can reach speeds of 60 mph. The O-Bahn runs through a linear park along the River Torrens and minimizing the environmental impact was a significant consideration when the state government selected the mode in the 1970s.
This slightly narrower guideway will come in handy as the state government extends the O-Bahn through a proposed tunnel under the historic ring park that encircles the central city. A narrower tunnel requires less disruption to the parkland above.
Much like rail, the fixed guideway's construction provides for a smoother ride, but this is only a marginal advantage over an ordinary concrete road.
For more on transit developments in other cities and around the world, check out Greater Greater Washington's articles about Cape Town, Dallas, Hartford, Johannesburg, Oakland airport, San Diego, and San Juan.
It won't appear immediately, but DC took a big step toward speeding up buses on 16th Street by recommending a rush-hour bus lane and a package of other ways to make bus service better.
16th Street is DC's busiest bus line, carrying over half of rush hour trips on the street. Advocates have been pushing for bus lanes there since at least 2010, and DDOT's moveDC plan supports the idea.
A detailed study considered over 30 strategies to speed up bus service in the corridor, including combining some bus stops, letting people pay before boarding, and building either full-time or rush-hour lanes.
According to information DDOT's Megan Kanagy presented at a meeting Tuesday night, DDOT is going with the rush-hour option. From 7-10 am, the curb lane heading south would be for buses only; from 4:30-7:30, it would be the northbound curb lane. The bus lane would extend from Spring Road down to Lafayette Park.
Typical lane configuration in Columbia Heights in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Images from DDOT.
DDOT would further analyze making 16th Street south of U Street, which right now is 4 wide lanes, into 5 narrow lanes so there could be a reversible lane. This would mean a reversible lane during rush hour for this whole stretch (the median north of Piney Branch wouldn't go anywhere).
The peak-hour/peak-direction bus lane would save 2.5 minutes of travel time, the most of all of the improvements. #16thStreetBus—
DDOT moveDC Plan (@WeMoveDC) December 16, 2015
Why not two-way, full-time lanes? One of the study's options created bus lanes in both directions from 7 am to 10 pm. However, the analysis showed that the effect on traffic was just too great, seriously jamming up 16th Street and likely spilling a lot of traffic onto adjacent streets.
Why not midday? Early presentations in this study showed that 16th Street buses also bunch up during the middle of the day as well as rush hours, and the bus is not faster outside rush either. The rush-hour lanes could continue into the day, but that would require forbidding parking during that time.
At previous community meetings, residents expressed a lot of opposition to that idea, which would mean 500 fewer parking spaces all along 16th Street during the middle of the day. While a bus lane would help transit riders, there aren't as many riders then, and DDOT appears to have decided this trade-off isn't worth the fight.
More than just lanes: Besides the rush-hour lanes, the study recommends converting the S1 bus into a limited-stop bus like the S9, and working on technology to let people pay before getting on the bus and (since they've paid) be able to use the back door as well as the front to get on.
Nine bus stops would be combined, where there are multiple bus stops in very close proximity, and some bus stops would get longer shelters to accommodate more people.
According to a handout from the meeting, this lane would speed up each trip along 16th Street by 2 and a half minutes, and the full package of changes would speed up service by 4-7 minutes (7 being for the S1 becoming limited-stop). A few minutes is quite a lot, especially across the 20,000 people a day who use the S buses.
In addition, the study team anticipates the changes will reduce bunching and make the bus trips much more reliable, letting riders count on a more consistent wait time and travel time.
More details will be coming in a meeting on January 21 from 3:30-8:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q. People will be able to stop by at any time to peruse posters showing the options and talk to planners, and they will give a presentation about the study at 4 and 7 pm.
By Spring 2016, a four block stretch of Georgia Avenue near Howard University will feature DC's first red-painted bus lanes.
At a community meeting last night, officials from DDOT announced they will reconfigure Georgia Avenue between Barry Place and Florida Avenue, converting two car lanes to curbside bus lanes, adding a center left turn lane, and improving the sidewalks, bus stops, street lighting, and traffic signals. Construction will begin in mid July of this year, and should wrap up by next spring.
The plan finally implements a concept DDOT planners originally conceived in
2010, as part of a federal grant for a series of bus improvements around the region 2007, as part of the Great Streets Initiative. Until recently, the last anyone had heard of this project was a public meeting back in 2012. But with the federal money due to expire in 2016, it's now do or die for DDOT.
Ride the red carpet
Although it's a short four blocks, this will become DC's most significant bus lane yet. It will feature a bright red surface, providing the same kind of high-visibility as DC's now common green bike lanes.
According to DDOT officials, the red carpet will be the last thing construction crews install. They'll let the bus lane operate for a month or so without it, to form a baseline that planners can look back against later, helping inform the agency about the effectiveness of the red paint.
Bikes and taxis will be allowed to use the bus lanes, and cars will be permitted to enter for up to 40 feet at a time, strictly to make right turns.
Buses already carry about half of all trips on Georgia Avenue. With bus lanes in place, that number could grow even higher.
If only the project were longer than four blocks.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
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