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Transit


Muriel Bowser calls for "Vision Zero," more equity, Metro investment, and new task forces for transportation

On the heels of the release of David Catania's detailed platform, his rival for mayor, Muriel Bowser, has put out her own platform. Here are key parts of the transportation section.

Road safety: Muriel will lead the District's effort to join other cities like San Francisco, Chicago and New York in adopting "Vision Zero," a transportation safety approach that focuses on key areas including engineering, education, enforcement, and policy formulation, to eliminate dangerous behavior on our roadways, in all communities.


Photo by Tommy Wells on Flickr.

Transportation equity: From Capital Bikeshare and the Circulator to the DC Streetcar, the District continues to invest in innovative efforts to link our vibrant neighborhoods. Unfortunately, some efforts and policies have failed to address the needs of certain neigh­bor­hoods, particularly in underserved parts of the District.

Muriel Bowser will designate a senior District Department of Transportation (DDOT) official to be the agency's Transportation Equity and Inclusion Officer. This official will ensure that the agency's policies and plans address the needs and concerns of all residents, particularly those in the District's most underserved communities. This official will also coordinate with other agencies to ensure that all city services include accessibility as a priority.

Bus service: Muriel Bowser will continue to focus on strengthening options for residents that utilize Metrobus by improving transportation services provided to individuals with disabilities, adding capacity to underserved transit corridors, and encouraging the use of dedicated lanes, traffic signal priority, and real-time arrival screens at stops.

Metro: While Metro continues to be one of the highest quality transit systems in the United States, it faces ongoing challenges due to a lack of dedicated funding. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will seek additional investments from local, regional, and federal partners to ensure that the system's infrastructure can effectively serve the region's needs today and into the future.

Streetcars: District residents have been rightfully concerned about the [streetcar] project's excess costs and delays. As Mayor, Muriel Bowser will lead a comprehensive assessment of the DC Streetcar project to learn from missteps made, correct planning and operational deficiencies by reforming the District's procurement apparatus, and responsibly and confidently move forward with an expansion of streetcar service in a way that meets the needs of District residents and visitors.

Bicycle infrastructure: Muriel Bowser will continue efforts to expand bicycle lanes throughout the District to ensure that bicyclists have a safe space to ride and pedestrians and drivers alike have more predictable streets and traffic patterns.

Muriel will also expand the Capital Bikeshare program to more neighborhoods, including those that have been historically underserved by public transit, increase educational outreach to promote bicycle safety, and dedicate the appropriate resources to complete the Metropolitan Branch Trail (MBT).

Parking and congestion: While the District is committed to long-term strategies that make it easier to travel the city without a car, many District residents continue to rely on their cars as a primary mode of transportation.

Muriel Bowser will create a Parking and Congestion Task Force to identify and recommend legislative and regulatory solutions to ease congestion and address the long-term parking needs and concerns of District residents and visitors. (e.g. accommodating parking near city churches).

Governance: Muriel Bowser will convene a cross-agency team of government officials to review the District's model of transportation governance, with the goal of identifying potential savings and/or efficiencies that could be realized by increased collaboration or consolidation.

Innovation: Muriel Bowser will encourage and promote transportation innovation by convening a working group comprised of transportation policy experts, thought leaders, inventors, and local residents, to identify efficiencies and technologies that can be utilized to expand and improve transportation access [w]ith a broad focus to include mobile application advances, roadway design, and the expanded use of electric vehicles, among other things.

Traffic cameras: Recent studies have shown that the [Automated Traffic Enforcement] program has resulted in fewer collision-related fatalities and injuries, and it has reduced speed-related traffic collisions across the District, even as the city's population has increased. Nonetheless, a recent Office of Inspector General report found that the program needs to be re-focused on public safety, with less emphasis on potentially unfairly profiting from District citizens.

Muriel Bowser will improve the administration of the program by preserving the utilization of speed enforcement cameras deployed in a manner that is supportable by data showing a reduction in driver speed and an increase in pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist safety.

In the platform, Bowser also says she wants to "appoint an experienced, energetic, innovative leader to run DDOT," which echoes one of Adrian Fenty's leadership practices of trying to find outside-the-box choices to run agencies. In his cabinet picks, including for DDOT, Mayor Gray tended to just elevate a number two or other insider at many agencies.

How do you think this compares to David Catania's platform?

Transit


Red paint keeps drivers out of San Francisco's bus lanes

San Francisco is a crowded city with great transit ridership. To prioritize buses and streetcars over cars, they've set aside dedicated lanes for years. But now to send a signal to drivers to keep out, they've painted some lanes red. The data shows it's working wonders.


Church Street, south of Market in San Francsico. Photo by the author.

This is Church Street, a north-south street that carries trolleybus line 22 and the Muni Metro light rail J line. The central transit-only lanes have been there for several years. But they were only painted red in the early months of 2013.

Less than two months later, San Francisco's transit operator, SFMTA, reported that travel times on the 22 and the J were down 5% and on-time performance for those lines had increased 20%.

That's a big improvement for the some 15,000 riders who use these lanes each day. Especially considering the painted lanes only stretch for three and a half blocks.

Painting the lanes red sent a signal to drivers that "bus lane" stenciled on the pavement didn't seem to send.

Building on the success of the Church Street red lanes, SFMTA has been rolling out more red paint across the city, and has plans for still more in coming years.

New York has also been painting the town red with lanes for its Select Bus Service. Other American cities, including Seattle and Chicago have plans to introduce red lanes in the near future.

While the Washington region doesn't have very many bus lanes today, there's been talk of installing more. But they'll only work if drivers stay out.

Red paint, much like the green paint DDOT is now using to mark bike lanes at conflict points, could go a long way to keeping DC's bus lanes free of scofflaw motorists.

Transit


Richmond will have BRT by 2018

Bus rapid transit will come to Richmond in 2018. The long-planned Broad Street BRT project won a federal TIGER grant this week to cover half its cost, allowing the project to move forward into final design and construction.


Rendering of Broad Street BRT. Image from the Greater Richmond Transit Company.

Broad Street is Richmond's most successful transit corridor, and main bus spine. It runs through or near most of Richmond's densest urban neighborhoods and most important central city hubs. It's the natural place for rapid transit.

The BRT project will run from the Willow Lawn shopping center in suburban Henrico County, through Virginia Commonwealth University and downtown Richmond, all the way to Rocketts Landing on the city's east side.

It will use a mix of dedicated curbside bus lanes and a median busway through the busiest sections of the central city, with mixed-traffic operation on either end.


Map of Broad Street BRT. Original image from the GRTC.

Projections say the BRT line will carry about 3,300 riders per day. That's low compared to the standards of a transit rich metropolis like DC, but it's huge for a place like Richmond, where there are only about 35,000 total daily bus riders in the entire region.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Photo: An actual bus running in the Route 1 transitway

This bus is not in service. But it is running in Alexandria's Metroway BRT corridor, presumably on a test run. It's pretty exciting to see the region's first BRT so close to starting.

The BRT opens for real on Sunday, August 24.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Transit


DDOT's 5-point plan to improve 16th Street buses

DDOT isn't yet willing to install a bus lane on 16th Street, but the agency is moving forward on a host of other improvements, and will study a bus lane next year.


Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

The 16th Street bus line is bursting at the seams. It carries more than half of rush hour trips on 16th Street. But the buses are slow, and they're so full that riders in the city's close-in neighborhoods often can't board.

Advocates have been pressuring for bus improvements on 16th Street since 2010. ANC Commissioner (and District Council candidate) Kishan Putta has championed the cause. Now, DDOT has adopted a 5-point plan to fix 16th Street.

Here are the 5 points:

Already complete: Signal optimization pilot program: In July 2014, DDOT retimed 44 of the traffic signals along 16th Street to improve their efficiency. After a few weeks of results, it appears to have sped up traffic (including buses). DDOT will continue to evaluate the results the rest of this summer.

August 2014: More articulated buses: Metro will reshuffle its bus fleet, to provide more long "accordion" buses on 16th Street. WMATA will move the articulated buses currently running on the Y series in Maryland to the 70 line in DC, then move the articulated buses currently on the 70 line to 16th Street. The Y series will have shorter buses, but they'll come more often.

Fall 2014: Longer rush hour operations: DDOT is considering extending the hours of rush hour parking restrictions on 16th Street, to keep more travel lanes open up to an hour longer in each direction. That will keep two lanes open to moving traffic, including buses.

Mid 2015: Transit signal priority & full optimization: By mid 2015, DDOT will expand its signal optimization pilot program to the entire corridor, and install new software that instructs traffic signals to hold a green light a few seconds longer if a bus is about to pass through an intersection. That will speed up buses along the route, so they're less likely to have to stop at red lights.

2015-2016: Bus lane study: Beginning in 2015, DDOT will begin a comprehensive study of transit improvements along 16th Street, including the potential for bus lanes and other long-term construction projects. The study will take about a year to complete, meaning 2016 is the earliest DDOT could install bus lanes.

None of these 5 points are new. DDOT has been working on them all for some time. But it's good to have them listed all in one place.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Build protected transit lanes using cycletrack bollards

Simple plastic bollards and slight changes to lanes are enough to turn a regular bike lane into a cycletrack. Could the same trick work for bus lanes?


Bollard-protected bus lane in Washington state. Image from Zachary Ziegler on Vine.

DC's 7th Street and 9th Street curbside bus lanes are famously dysfunctional. Cars use them at will, and pretty much always have. But it doesn't have to be so.

The same tricks that work to protect cycletracks can also work to protect transit lanes. Plastic bollards, also known as flexposts, send a strong message to car drivers to stay out. The Virginia Department of Transportation even uses them on highways.


Flexposts on a Dulles Toll Road bus lane (left) and the Beltway (right). Dulles photo from Dan Malouff. Beltway photo from Google.

Generally speaking, the same complications would exist for bus lanes as exist for cycletracks. Adding bollards takes up a couple of extra feet, parking for cars has to move a lane away from the curb, and you have to find a way to accommodate cars turning at intersections. But mixing zones and other clever solutions have solved those problems for cycletracks, and could work for bus lanes too.

And flexposts aren't the only cycletrack lesson we can apply to bus lanes. Red paint helps transit lanes the same way green paint helps bike lanes.


Green means bike, red means transit. Bike lane photo from Dan Malouff. Bus lane photo from NYDOT.

No matter how many special treatments like bollards or red paint an agency applies, median transitways will still function better than curbside transit lanes. Median transitways eliminate the right turn problem altogether (left turns are less common), and puts the transit lanes out of the way of parked cars, or cars pulling over to pick up or drop off passengers.

But median transitways take up more road space, because the medians have to be wide enough for stations. They simply can't fit on all streets. Where that's the case, tricks like these can help curbside transit lanes work better than the 7th Street bus lane.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


The DC region lost 60 miles of bus lanes. It's time to get them back

Prior to 1976, the Washington region had at least 60 miles of bus-only lanes, with even more proposed. This map shows where they were.


Image from WMATA.

On the map, from PlanItMetro, the red lines show existing bus lanes as of 1976. Blue and black lines show proposals that never materialized. The network reached throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and into Maryland.

Unfortunately, all the bus lanes were converted to other purposes after the Metrorail system was built.

It's no coincidence or surprise that some of the old bus lanes were on the same streets where they're now proposed again, like 16th Street and H and I Streets downtown. Those are natural transit corridors, with great need for quality service.

Will we ever get this system back? The region is off to a good start, with moveDC's 25 miles of proposed transit lanes, and the upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. But the 60-mile system from the 1970s shows we still have a lot of work to do.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


DC lost out on $22 million by dawdling on bus priority

Back in February of 2010, it looked like projects to cut down on bus delays were imminent. Our region had received federal stimulus grants to make bus service better and reduce delays. But four years later, they still haven't gotten done.


Photo by hamster! on Flickr.

We've been frustrated at how low a priority DDOT seems to place on bus service and projects to streamline it. DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, who oversees transportation, and her staff are similarly "disappointed," "frustrated," and "displeased," according to the committee report on the budget.

The report takes DDOT to task for inaction on the projects. It points out that they were estimated to save $5.6 million a year, so if DDOT had actually completed the projects, it could have saved $22 million by now. (And, with a more significant project like a full bus lane on 16th Street, DC could save even more money.)

The money was part of the TIGER grant program in the federal stimulus package, aimed at getting the economy moving quickly by funding "shovel-ready" projects that could create jobs immediately. For the District, the US Department of Transportation approved funding for some queue jump lanes, real-time bus displays at busy stops, and signal priority, along 16th Street, Georgia Avenue, H Street/Benning Road, Wisconsin Avenue, and along two routes from Potomac River bridges to downtown, 14th Street and 18th/19th Street.

Cheh's report points out that "In 2010, DDOT received $12.3 million in federal TIGER grant funds for bus priority improvements along six transportation corridors in the District. Four years later, little progress has been made and 79% of the funds remain unspent." The report lists these budget figures for each line:

Project NameNumberTotal AllotmentsCurrent BalanceOperating Savings
14th St. Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF088$3,717,346$2,526,732$1,000,000
16th St, NW Bus PriorityAF083$565,000$463,060$1,000,000
Georgia Avenue Bus PriorityAF084$3,685,598$3,097,680$300,000
H St./Benning Rd/ Bus PriorityAF085$154,000$153,863$400,000
TR Bridge to K St. Bus PriorityAF087$3,853,057$3,205,962$900,000
Wisconsin Ave. Bus PriorityAF086$345,000$276,018$2,000,000
Total$12,320,001$9,723,315$5,600,000

The idea of a bus lane on 16th Street gets particular attention from Cheh (and DDOT's inaction, particular scorn):

[T]he Committee remains displeased with the absence in the Mayor's proposed budget of identified funding to improve bus travel on 16th Street. Traffic congestion and bus ridership on 16th Street continue to increase. Although signal prioritization and increased parking enforcement may provide temporary assistance, the District must consider all possible options to remedy this issue.

The Committee recommends that DDOT work with the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) to conduct a comprehensive study regarding the potential implementation of a bus lane on 16th Street and other possible service improvements, such as off-bus fare collection.

In their responses to oversight questions, DDOT officials explained what hadn't been done yet, without really explaining why it has taken so long. For the signal priority, it has taken local governments many years to agree with WMATA on what technology should go on the buses and the signals. DDOT is transferring the real-time screens over to WMATA.

Bus lanes on a few blocks of Georgia Avenue have gotten through design and are starting procurement "late this spring"; the construction will happen over a year after the contract is awarded (which can sometimes take a while), but will definitely happen before fall 2016, the final deadline for spending the money.

Besides spending millions more than necessary on bus operations and forcing riders to spend more time traveling, DDOT could be hurting its chances to get future federal grants by taking so long.

When the first TIGER grants came out, there were rules letting USDOT reallocate money from jurisdictions that didn't spend and create jobs quickly to those that did. Then-DDOT Director Gabe Klein talked about being ready to snap up some of that money. Instead, the agency he once headed has become one of the laggards.

Transit


A bridge closure suggests how bus lanes could affect traffic

Skeptics of Montgomery County's proposal to put bus lanes on major roads fear it could make traffic worse. But a road closure on Route 29 to repair recent storm damage might offer a glimpse of our possible future.


Image from SHA.

Two weeks ago, a torrential rainstorm flooded Route 29, also known as Columbia Pike, on a bridge where it crosses Northwest Branch in Silver Spring. This isn't the first time the bridge has flooded, and soon after, Maryland State Highway Administration closed the heavily damaged right lanes from Southwood Avenue to Lockwood Drive. Last Monday, it began making repairs, which will last until the end of May.

Montgomery County's Bus Rapid Transit plan envisions a line on Route 29 between Burtonsville and Silver Spring, which is already one of the region's busiest transit corridors, with 40 buses an hour during rush hour. Along most of the corridor, buses would have their own lanes, though we don't know if they would be on the curb or in the median, or if there would be a a reversible lane or lanes in both directions.

In any case, creating bus lanes would mean closing a lane to cars, which some residents in nearby Four Corners are vehemently opposed to. Thanks to last month's storm, we now get to see what closing a lane on Route 29 to general traffic might be like.

I've driven and taken the bus through the affected area a few times, including in evening rush hour. And there is some congestion, especially where drivers have to merge from three lanes to two. But the real test is what happens after people adjust to the new traffic pattern.


Traffic on Route 29 after a flood in 2010. Photo by the author.

Studies have shown that taking away street space, often predicted to cause traffic mayhem, can actually reduce congestion as people find alternate ways to get there. Since the closure began, I've experimented with different routes. I've taken the bus at times of day when I would normally drive because there would be less traffic. Meanwhile, the sidewalks are still open, and I've noticed more people walking or biking to and from Trader Joe's across the bridge.

That may not seem like a big deal, but it only takes a 5% reduction in traffic to cause a 10 to 30% increase in traffic speed, meaning only a few people have to change their behavior in order for everyone to have a faster trip. It also explains why major highway closures around the country, like Carmageddon in Los Angeles, didn't cause the traffic they were anticipated to.

Of course, this isn't a perfect trial. The buses still have to share the remaining two lanes of traffic with everyone else. Unlike other, larger highway closures, there isn't a campaign directing drivers to other routes or beefed-up transit service. And unlike a road washout, a bus lane will give drivers another travel alternative to choose from instead of simply taking away street space.

But if Route 29 travelers can handle losing a lane for a few weeks, when the bridge is repaired, we might be able to do another trial with an actual bus lane.

Transit


16th Street will get another bus upgrade, but only a dedicated lane will really fix it

Metro has added more buses to the 16th Street "S" line, but ridership just keeps rising, the buses are crowded, and they're seriously bunching. A dedicated lane is the best solution, say WMATA planners, but in the meantime, they're going to add articulated (or "accordion") buses along the congested corridor.


Photo by Kishan Putta.

At a forum on bus service Wednesday organized by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre said that Metro will put standard-size buses on the Y line, on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, in order to shorten the headways. That will free up some articulated buses for 16th Street.

(Technically, Hamre said, the articulated buses from the Y will serve the 70s line on Georgia Avenue in DC, and the "artics" which ply the 70s line now, which are based at the Northern Bus Garage on 14th Street, will now run on the S line. The Northern artics are older, so Georgia Avenue in DC will enjoy newer buses. The artics moving to 16th Street are slated for replacement next year.)

These steps could make a small dent in a big problem, but Hamre and others argued that only larger steps such a dedicated bus lane and signal priority will really make the buses move smoothly and better serve the massive numbers of riders along 16th Street.

Hamre also pointed out that DC had a dedicated bus lane on 16th Street in the past, but it and other bus lanes were removed when Metro opened. At the time, people believed that the then-new system would reduce the demand for bus service. (And perhaps it did for a time, but now it is crowded too, and many people don't live right near Metro.)

Joseph Barr from Parsons Brinkerhoff was also part of the forum, and talked about his experience with buses in New York. He cautioned that there is no perfect solution or checklist, but some small changes can go a long way. New York added some bus lanes and shortened dwell timesthe time the bus sits at a stopby adding kiosks at some stops so riders could pay before boarding.

Barr said that DC could use an off-bus fare system more efficiently than New York, since there are already better fare systems like the SmarTrip card to speed the boarding process. Sam Zimbabwe from DDOT said this was a good idea, provided it does not block limited sidewalk space or obstruct riders boarding the bus.

Everyone agreed that the bus service on 16th Street is so popular that has become very frustrating for riders. Metro, working with a limited fleet of buses, is trying to find small steps, but 16th Street really needs more significant changes to improve bus service. That requires some good planning and, most of all, political will.

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