Greater Greater Washington

Posts about Bus Lanes

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.

Transit


Why a bus lane might help cars too, in one simple picture

This is what 16th Street looks like on a typical weekday morning. Good luck navigating it, as either a bus rider or car driver.

Streamlining this mess of buses with a transit lane could speed up traffic for everyone.


Bus bunching on 16th Street. Photo by Kishan Putta.

More than half of all people traveling on 16th Street at rush hour use the bus. It's DC's most successful bus corridor. But that success comes with a down side: There are so many buses that they bunch into bus traffic jams.

That's a problem for both bus riders and car drivers. Instead of being able to catch a bus every two minutes, transit riders have to wait a long time for a clump of several buses to arrive all together, almost like a single long train. Most of the buses are full, but eventually one near the end of the "train" may have enough room for more passengers to board.

That's inefficient, slows down the line, reduces overall capacity, and adds unnecessary operating expense.

And it's just as bad for car drivers. Imagine being stuck behind that clump of buses in a car. That's a traffic jam, no two ways about it.

And this is why a bus lane on 16th Street could potentially help everyone. If that bus traffic jam can be streamlined into a bus lane, buses will move faster and stay better organized, and cars won't have to contend with roaming clumps of disorganized buses spilling into every lane.

Theoretically DDOT should be able to add a bus lane without sacrificing any car lanes. But even if sacrificing a car lane is necessary, that still may improve car traffic simply by virtue of eliminating bus jams.

It's worth trying.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Better buses on a budget

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


Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Transit


Here are the busiest bus stops on 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue

The map shows where riders are going on Metro's busy 16th Street, 14th Street, and Georgia Avenue lines, plus a couple of smaller routes in the same part of town.

Every circle on this map is one bus stop. The larger the circle, the more riders get on or off at that stop.


Map from DDOT.

It's a fascinating look at transit ridership patterns in DC's densest corridor. And it correlates strongly with land use.

Georgia Avenue is a mixed-use commercial main street for its entire length. Thus, riders are relatively evenly distributed north-to-south.

16th Street, on the other hand, is lined with lower density residential neighborhoods north of Piney Branch, but is denser than Georgia Avenue south of there. It's not surprising then that 16th Street's riders are clustered more heavily to the south.

14th Street looks like a hybrid between the two, with big ridership peaks south of Piney Branch but also more riders further north of Columbia Heights. 14th Street also has what appears to be the biggest single cluster, Columbia Heights itself.

DDOT produced this map as part of its North-South Corridor streetcar planning. It's easy to see why DDOT's streetcar plans are focusing on 14th Street to the south and Georgia Avenue to the north.

Likewise, this illustrates how a 16th Street bus lane south of Piney Branch could be particularly useful.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Events


Events roundup: Dedicated lanes and growing pains

As we seek safer streets and better transit in the greater Washington area, we encounter some big questions and little battles for how to best accomplish smarter, greater growth. Show up to support the steps we must take to realize this vision at events around the region.


Photo by ep_jhu on Flickr.

Meetup for 16th Street bus lanes: This Wednesday, March 13, the Coalition for Smarter Growth kicks off its campaign for dedicated rush hour bus lanes on 16th Street NW with a happy hour from 6 to 8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar, located at 1518 U Street NW. Dedicated rush hour bus lanes would help to relive overcrowding and shorten commuting times. Most mayoral candidates support the lanes. Do you? You can click here to RSVP.

After the jump: talk about Metro with David and Eleanor Holmes Norton, support bike lanes in Alexandria, get an update on Red Line rebuilding, have some one-on-one time with DC planning officials to discuss the zoning update, learn more about DC's Southwest Ecodistrict, and discuss the impact of Metro Momentum in Maryland.

Metro roundtable with David and Congresswoman Norton: What do we need and what should we expect from Metro as riders in the 21st century? GGW's David Alpert and fellow panelists will explore that topic this Tuesday, March 11 from 6 to 8 pm, at a public roundtable discussion at One Judiciary Square, 441 4th Street NW.

Organized by Congresswoman Eleanor Holmes Norton, the discussion will cover pertinent long-term Metro issues, including ridership, financing, and timeframes for construction, all in preparation for the development of a surface transportation reauthorization bill this year.

Joining David to discuss the future of Metro are General Manager and CEO Richard Sarles; Klara Baryshev, the chair of the Tri-State Oversight Committee; and Jackie L. Jeter, President of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 689. To submit a question for the panel to address, email NortonMetroRoundtable@mail.house.gov and make sure to include your name and address.

Get a Red Line progress report: Next week, hear about Metro's work to rebuild the Red Line from deputy general manager Rob Troup. He'll be speaking at the Action Committee for Transit's monthly meeting this Tuesday, March 11 at 7:30 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. As always, ACT meetings are free and open to the public.

Speak out for King Street bike lanes: Almost 60 percent of residents spoke up for King Street bike lanes at the last Traffic and Parking Board meeting. Now, the issue will go to the Alexandria City Council once again for a public hearing and final vote on Saturday, March 15 from 9:30 am to 12:00 pm at City Hall, 301 King St #2300. The Coalition for Smarter Growth is circulating a petition for those who would like to express their support in advance of the meeting.

Another chance to learn about DC's zoning update: The DC Office of Planning will continue to host open houses on the expected update to the zoning code through Friday, March 28. At each open house, you will have the chance to sit down one-on-one with Planning staff to learn more about the update and have any lingering questions answered. The remaining scheduled open houses are as follows:

  • Tuesday, March 11, 4-8 pm at Petworth Library, 4200 Kansas Avenue NW.
  • Wednesday, March 12, 4-8 pm at Deanwood Recreation Center, 1350 49th Street NW.
  • Friday, March 14, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Saturday, March 15, 10 am-2 pm at Thurgood Marshall Academy PCHS, 2427 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue SE.
  • Friday, March 21, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
  • Friday, March 28, 8:30 am-5 pm at the DC Office of Planning, 1100 4th Street SW, Suite E650.
Implementing the SW Ecodistrict vision: Plans for DC's Southwest ecodistrict envision connecting the National Mall to the waterfront and creating a more sustainable neighborhood and prosperous local economy.

Join speakers Diane Sullivan, senior planner at the National Capital Planning Commission, and Otto Condon, urban design principal of ZGF Architects, at the National Building Museum, 401 F Street NW, on Thursday, March 20 for a lunchtime discussion about next steps of implementation. The event is free but registration is required here.

Talk about Metro Momentum in Maryland: How will Metro Momentum serve Montgomery and Prince George's counties? Join Shyam Kannan, Managing Director of Metro's Office of Planning, the Coalition for Smarter Growth, and local leaders to talk about Metro's plans to serve a growing Washington region, and to learn how you can get involved.

The event will take place Thursday, March 20 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm at the Silver Spring Civic Building, One Veterans Place. Advance registration is requested here.

Politics


A bus lane for 16th Street? Which mayoral candidates agree?

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


Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.

Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transitpeople have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?

Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)

Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we're successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.

The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can't say, let's widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.

We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.

Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We've not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It's really the last thing they do. They've had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritizationwhich means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It's about as basic a technology as possible. And they're a bunch of Neanderthalsnot to insult Neanderthals. ... It's ridiculous that we can't expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.

Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it's his transportation agency that's put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.

I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.

I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.

We've got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that's going to take time as well.

We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We're increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn't exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.

Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,

I don't know [about the lane], and I've said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There's been really no proposal that's been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.

Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn't make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.

What I've been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.

Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it's more efficient. We can't put a Metro stop everywhere. We can't put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I'm very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.

Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:

What you'd have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it's a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn't do it all the time. You'd have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there's a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it's something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.

Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, "I think it's a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea."

Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.

You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.

Wells:

Gray:

Bowser:

Evans:

Shallal:

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