Posts about Buses
It's been 5 years since Montgomery County first started talking about a countywide Bus Rapid Transit network, but the County Council could vote on the proposed 81-mile system in two weeks. While the latest round of revisions are good, will councilmembers resist calls from a few residents to cut BRT routes in their neighborhoods?
The draft Countywide Transit Corridors Functional Master Plan designates future transit corridors and recommends how to allocate space on our major roads for them. While business, civic, activist, and environmental groups say planning for transit will reduce traffic and support future growth, some residents are fighting to block the plan.
Councilmember Roger Berliner, who sits on the council's Transportation and Energy committee, emphasized that it's only the beginning of a longer conversation. "This is a predicate for future action," he said. "Just like when we put the Purple Line in our master plan, we said, 'Hey, this might be a good idea.'"
Committee backs away from detailed recommendations
Committee members Berliner and Hans Riemer voted to keep all 10 lines in the system, but made several changes to a draft the Planning Board approved earlier this year. But third committee member Nancy Floreen, who says she's "not an advocate" of the plan, voted to shorten several or remove several lines, as recommended by council staff.
The latest recommendations for BRT. Red are corridors with at least one dedicated lane, blue are mixed-traffic, and purple are sections to be determined.
The committee voted to remove specific recommendations about how to give buses their own dedicated lanes, whether by widening roads or repurposing existing general traffic lanes. This is probably the most important feature about BRT because it makes the service faster, encouraging more people to use it. But it's also the least popular with neighbors, and some of the proposed configurations had issues.
Instead, the plan will say where buses should have their own lanes, but not how to do so. This is probably a good thing, because the county would really have to do more detailed engineering work that's beyond the scope of this plan before understanding the costs and benefits of different lane configurations. As before, about 70% of the network would run buses in some form of dedicated lanes.
Resisting calls to shrink the network
Councilmembers were split on whether to continue a BRT line along Route 355 between downtown Bethesda and Friendship Heights, which neighbors in Chevy Chase West and Somerset have vehemently fought. Councilmember Hans Riemer voted to keep it in, while Nancy Floreen voted to end the line farther north, at Grosvenor. Berliner, who represents the area, voted to study it further. Unless the full council decides otherwise, it won't be in the plan.
But the committee did vote to put dedicated lanes along portions of University Boulevard in Four Corners and Route 29 south of New Hampshire Avenue, resisting vocal opposition from neighbors. Route 29 is already one of the region's busiest bus corridors, with 40 buses per hour during rush hour, and would serve the proposed White Oak Science Gateway, a research and development center that's already attracting international attention.
On Georgia Avenue, the committee backed away from giving buses dedicated lanes between downtown Wheaton and 16th Street, citing "severe congestion consequences" if any of the 6 or 7 lanes were given over to transit. But councilmembers did keep the lanes south of 16th Street, in case DC decides to extend its proposed Georgia Avenue streetcar to Silver Spring.
In some areas, committee members recommended alternative or multiple routes for each line. In Germantown, they suggested detouring buses off of Route 355 to serve Montgomery College and the proposed Holy Cross Hospital. And in White Oak, they suggested keeping buses on Route 29 instead of turning onto Lockwood Drive to reach the White Oak Transit Center. Both options are in the plan, but each one is a tradeoff between a more direct route and one that serves the most people or destinations, but takes longer.
The committee also strengthened recommendations for Bicycle Pedestrian Priority Areas, which require additional pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure to make it easier for people to reach BRT stations and other destinations without a car. While the original plan simply named 26 areas where this should happen, the committee also called for lower speed limits and prohibiting right turns on red, among other suggestions.
This bus can't stop short
If the council votes to approve the plan November 26, detailed work can begin on specific corridors. Maryland is already working on the Corridor Cities Transitway and studying BRT on Veirs Mill Road and Georgia Avenue. Montgomery County also wants to start working on BRT for Route 355, Route 29, and Randolph Road, says transportation director Art Holmes.
Many skeptical residents have questioned whether the multi-billion dollar cost of building out a BRT network is worth it and worried about how it might affect their neighborhoods or their individual commutes. The debate has often become bitter and vitriolic, and many opponents weren't always civil.
But as our region continues to grow, our neighbors are looking to BRT as a way to give people more transportation options at a lower cost than building rail. Alexandria will open its first BRT line next year. Prince George's and Fairfax counties are also studying BRT, and Howard County Executive Ken Ulman has expressed interest in it as well.
A plan like this is uncharted territory for Montgomery County, and the debate we've had over the past 5 years shows it. But we've already made it this far, and hopefully councilmembers will make sure this bus doesn't stop prematurely.
A version of this post appeared on the Friends of White Flint.
Every day 33 bus routes converge on H and I Streets in downtown DC, making it the busiest bus corridor in the DC region. According to a WMATA report, a contraflow bus lane on H Street would dramatically improve travel times for both transit riders and car drivers.
At peak times, one bus per minute travels along H or I. At off-peak, it's a bus every two minutes. Today, all those buses mix with car traffic on both H and I Streets, which slows them down. Meanwhile, all those buses make several stops to pick up and unload passengers, which slows down car traffic trying to use the same lane.
Moving all the buses to H Street, which is less congested, and giving buses in the westbound direction a separated lane, would speed up both modes.
Since H Street is one-way going east, westbound buses would need a contraflow lane. There are no contraflow bus lanes in the DC region today, but they do work well in other cities around the US.
In its report, WMATA also studied bus lanes on both H and I Streets, as well as a traffic management alternative that wouldn't provide bus lanes, but would optimize traffic signals for buses. All the alternatives improved bus travel, and all of them either improved or maintained current car travel. But the H Street contraflow alternate provided the best combination of benefits, for relatively low cost.
Ultimately DC owns these streets, so the decision to actually implement bus lanes on them rests with the District, not WMATA. But Metro's report could push DDOT to begin its own study process.
Seems like a good idea.
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
During the morning rush hour, Metrobus carries 50% of all of the people traveling on 16th Street NW towards downtown DC, despite using just 3% of the vehicles. However, it still gets stuck in traffic.
It will come as no surprise to regular riders of the Metrobus S1,2,4, or MetroExtra S9, but ridership has grown tremendously in recent years on 16th Street, from just over 16,000 riders per weekday in 2008 to about 20,500 this year. To keep pace, Metro has added lots of new service, most notably the S9 limited stop service in 2009.
In fact, Metro has added so much rush hour service on lower 16th Street that buses headed towards downtown DC now operate more frequently than any transit service in the region, including Metrorail, with buses arriving an average of nearly every 90 seconds.
And these buses move a lot of people. A recent analysis found that at the maximum load point, at rush hour into downtown DC, Metrobus services combine to carry about half all the people through the corridor with just three percent of the vehicles and using only eight square feet of available street space per person. These statistics are all the more impressive considering that buses currently have no priority over cars to improve travel times and reliability, leaving riders stuck in traffic.
By allocating roadway space on 16th Street based on the highest capacity and most efficient modes, dedicated bus lanes could allow bus speeds to increase, improving the travel times for riders. That could attract new riders, further increasing transit mode shares in heavily traveled corridors like 16th Street.
Fortunately, Metro is working with the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) to develop a new transit signal priority system for 16th Street that will help buses communicate with traffic signals and improve reliability and travel times. Metro will also work with DDOT to investigate the potential for exclusive bus lanes through the development of Metro 2025.
You can also provide your comment on exclusive transit lanes and other priorities through the District's Move DC Plan, which will map out surface transit improvements like these as a part of a long range transportation plan for the city.
Crossposted on PlanItMetro.
Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.
The Seattle region has two enhanced bus services, or Bus Rapid Transit "lite" systems, RapidRide and Swift. Built for a few million dollars per mile, both services are compelling examples for urban and suburban transit agencies looking to provide better, more sustainable travel options at a low cost.
RapidRide buses in a BAT (Business Access & Transit) lane. Photo by the author.
While falling short of "gold-standard" Bus Rapid Transit, both services provide a significantly better service than local buses for a relatively small cost. They also both went from concept to reality in a very short time period, and are experiencing major ridership gains over previous service, demonstrating a high return on a modest investment.
Launched in 2010, RapidRide is a new level of bus service with four different lines in King County, which includes Seattle and adjacent communities. It offers several important improvements over local bus service. Buses come frequently: at least every 10 minutes during rush hour and 15 minutes off-peak, and run 24 hours a day. The stops are spaced further apart (every ½ mile on average), and have comfortable, covered waiting areas with real-time arrival screens.
To reduce delays, riders pay off board and enter the bus through three wide doors. King County Metro, which runs RapidRide, also implemented transit signal priority along the routes, extending the length of green lights so buses don't have to wait. The buses are spacious and articulated, meaning they can carry more people, and have free wi-fi on board.
For about $2-4 million per mile depending on the line, King County Metro built RapidRide for far less than a typical BRT line. Part of the reason is because the agency purchased no additional right-of-way and didn't have to move utilities or otherwise reconstruct the road. RapidRide falls short of full scale BRT because only about 20% of the routes have dedicated lanes. In those areas, buses use BAT, or Business Access and Transit lanes, where drivers are able to enter the curb lanes to make right turns.
RapidRide apparently doesn't work for everyone. My cousin, who lives in nearby Southworth, says RapidRide replaced a local bus route he used to take to downtown Seattle. The new service doesn't serve his destination anymore, so he doesn't take it.
But it's clearly working for more people than the lines it replaced. RapidRide's four lines have seen a 56% jump in ridership over local bus service on the same routes, or about 6,000-10,000 daily riders, depending on the route. King County Metro plans to add two additional lines next year.
Meanwhile, in Snohomish County north of Seattle, Community Transit's new Swift BRT service has reduced commuting times and increased bus ridership for very little cost since it opened in 2009. Swift's one BRT line connects King County to Everett, 30 miles from downtown Seattle, along Route 99, a suburban highway lined with strip malls and some dense residential neighborhoods.
About one-third of the line has BAT lanes, while the rest runs in mixed traffic. Swift takes advantage of many BRT features including limited stops, enhanced stations, off-board fare collection and multiple door boarding, transit signal priority, and frequent service. Instead of hanging their bikes outside the bus, cyclists can roll their bikes on and hang their bikes up on an interior rack, reducing delays at stops.
We heard from Swift project planner June DeVoll, who told us about some ambitious goals Community Transit set and achieved. For one, the agency went from concept to implementation in just four years, while many transit projects remain in study phases for years or even decades. In addition, planners wanted to minimize "dwell time," meaning how long the bus is stopped at the station, to 10 seconds.
While the whole line is not in dedicated lanes, Swift planners have implemented many key features that have cut the trip time 73 to 54 minutes compared to the old local bus service. As a result, 4400 riders board Swift each day, and ridership continued to increase even after budget cuts forced Community Transit to end Sunday service. For just $1.87 million per mile, the time savings and ridership gains are impressive.
So far, the parts of RapidRide and Swift I saw didn't show a ton of new transit-oriented development. Nevertheless, planners have created new land-use plans for the corridors and apparently many developments are on the way, including one newly-opened apartment building in West Seattle that features a real-time arrival screen for RapidRide in the lobby. The more permanent the infrastructure and high-quality the service, the more development patterns will respond.
Swift and RapidRide may not feel like "light rail on rubber tires," like Los Angeles' Orange Line BRT. But given the significant ridership gains of both systems, residents clearly appreciate the improvements. With limited federal funding and tight budgets, these systems provide compelling examples for the DC region, showing what modest investments in bus service can achieve in a short period of time.
Railvolution conference. While there, they'll offer a series of short posts about their experiences.
Seattle has a lot of interesting transportation infrastructure. Among the most interesting is the Seattle Transit Tunnel, a 5-station subway that forms the core of the city's transit network.
It started off as a bus-only subway, but became a joint bus/rail tunnel when Seattle's Central Link light rail line opened in 2009. Each station is different, but one, Pioneer Square, would look particularly at home in DC:
Cross-posted at BeyondDC.
As part of its proposed service changes, WMATA may end the 96 Metrobus at Woodley Park, instead of its current terminus at Tenleytown. While this may make the line more reliable, it could also inconvenience riders and make the bus system less coherent.
Today, the 96 runs between Capitol Heights and Tenleytown. Planners say that ending it at the east end of the Duke Ellington Bridge, two blocks east of the Woodley Park Metro station, will make the line less susceptible to traffic delays, increasing its reliability. A new bus, the 98, would replace the missing segment, traveling between Tenleytown and U Street, while the 97 between Capitol Heights and Union Station would stay the same.
The 90-series buses have used the old streetcar turnaround at the eastern end of the Duke Ellington Bridge for years. In general, it works well as a piece of transit infrastructure. It has a layover facility for drivers and space for buses to pull out of the roadway.
Cutting the 96 at Woodley Park exacerbates the disconnection between Cathedral Heights, Woodley Park, and Adams Morgan. Many riders who may want to transfer between the bus and the Red Line, or who just want to go to Woodley Park or Upper Northwest will be stranded on the wrong side of the bridge.
The only routes that complete the connection between the Ellington Bridge and the Woodley Park Metro station are the 96, the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square Circulator, and the Metrobus X3. However, the Circulator doesn't go to Upper Northwest, and the X3 only runs during rush hour.
The transit system as it currently exists. The 96 would cut short where the high-frequency 90/92 line does today.
If WMATA wants to shorten the 96, it would make more sense to end it at the Woodley Park Metro station, or at Wisconsin Avenue, home to the National Cathedral and the 30-series buses. A timed transfer at the turnaround between the 96 and 98 would work in theory, but it would be difficult for WMATA to make it reliable. After all, the traffic problems that cause 96 to have delays now would still hit the new routes.
Cutting the 96 at the streetcar turnaround will make neighborhoods east and west of Rock Creek Park even more disconnected than they are today. While the turnaround has served its purpose for decades, WMATA should examine ways to bring the 96, as well as the other 90-series routes, across the bridge to Woodley Park.
This week, learn about DC history and historical food, go for a walk around Tysons to learn about the Silver Line's impact, learn why power lines and parking spaces matter to affordable housing, and support Montgomery County's proposed BRT system.
Mayor Williams talks about gentrification: One of the most consequential figures in Washington's revitalization over the past dozen years has been former Mayor Anthony Williams, current Executive Director of the Federal City Council. Williams will "discuss changes in Washington's urban landscape and the history of gentrification in D.C. neighborhoods" at the Historical Society of Washington's annual meeting. That's tonight at the old Carnegie Library, 801 K Street NW at 6pm. For more information or to RSVP, visit the society's website.
After the jump, speak out at public hearings for Metrobus and learn about historic restaurants in DC.
Learn about DC history: In the early 1970s a collection of academics started a conference to share the latest research on Washington's national and local history, network with each other, and overall advocate for a greater appreciation of the city's history. This year marks the 40th Annual Conference on DC Historical Studies, with presentations on a diverse range of topics including alley life, Home Rule, the War of 1812, archaeology, and the latest in mapping technology.
The conference kicks off Thursday evening, November 14th with an opening lecture at George Washington University from Kate Masur, Associate Professor of History at Northwestern University, author of An Example for All the Land: Emancipation and the Struggle over Equality in Washington, D.C. Two dozen sessions then run Friday, November 15th and Saturday, November 16th at the Carnegie Library with a series of walking and bus tours offered Sunday, November 17th.
And edible history, too: John DeFerrari, GGW contributor and proprietor of the popular blog Streets of Washington, follows up his first book this fall with Historic Restaurants of Washington, D.C.: Capital Eats. The book is the first of its kind, a comprehensive survey of the city's restaurants from the early days of its first taverns to the rich flowering of ethic restaurants that came in the late 20th century.
DeFerrari will talk about his new work at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library's Washingtoniana Division on Tuesday, September 24th at 7:00 pm. The event is free, but don't come hungry!
Improved Metrobus service? This week WMATA is holding public hearings to allow the community to weigh in on potential changes to several Metrobus routes. GGW contributor Matt Johnson's written about some of the proposed changes for buses serving Dulles and BWI and between National Harbor and Alexandria. All routes being reviewed are open for discussion at any of the public hearings.
The open houses will begin at 6pm, with the public hearings starting at 6:30pm at various locations throughout the region. Visit Metro's planning blog to find out which routes are being reviewed and the location closest to you.
View Tysons from the ground up: Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth for a walking tour of Tysons and learn more about the impact the Silver Line is already having on development and urban form. The tour will also include a discussion on how to preserve streams, manage stormwater, and explore the future of bicycling and walking in the areas.
The tour is Saturday, September 21 from 10am to 12pm and will start near the future Spring Hill Metro station, located near the intersection of Leesburg Pike and Spring Hill Road. Visit the Coalition for Smarter Growth for more information and to RSVP.
Better affordable housing: Join the Arlington County Housing Division (CPHD) and the Virginia Tech School of Public and International Affairs for a discussion on Affordable Housing on September 19th from 6:45pm to 9pm at George Mason University. The discussion will feature a panel that discusses the impacts of various elements on affordable housing. The panelists include Dr. Michael Manville from Cornell University and local developer Mark Silverwood. To RSVP for the event click here.
Sit down for BRT: Next week on September 24th and 26th, there will be two public hearings on the County's 82-mile proposed Bus Rapid Transit system. Join the Coalition for Smarter Growth and other transit advocates to show your support for the plan by attending the public hearings before the County Council. For more details, visit the CSG webpage.
As always, if you have any events for future roundups, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Buses running on city streets can get stuck in traffic, move slow as molasses, and bunch up. New, dedicated infrastructure is hard to fund and build. But could we use freeways to provide express bus service?
Our freeways provide ready-made, grade-separated, fast infrastructure that could be redeemed for express buses and regular bus service, too. There are three ways to approach the freeway bus system. One is the bus pad, which places the stops along slip lanes at each interchange. Golden Gate Transit (GGT), in the San Francisco Bay Area, uses this system extensively in Marin County.
Another is the bus expressway, which mixes buses with other high-occupancy traffic and places stops either at overpasses or in the median. King County Transit in the Seattle area uses this system. A third way is the center-running bus rapid transit system, which dedicates lanes exclusively to buses.
We'll look at each of these types, but today, let's start with the bus pad. Even though they force buses to take the slow lane, using bus pads results in a service that flies compared to buses on city streets.
GGT's system is something of a historical accident. When Highway 101 was being built, someone realized this would lock out those who used to take buses along the old Redwood Highway, which 101 would replace. So engineers added bus-only slip lanes and a bus stop at each exit, giving Marin County the closest thing to bus rapid transit in the Bay Area.
Despite running on a freeway, the buses can be slow. The average speed, excluding time spent on surface streets, rarely peaks above 30 miles per hour. Local buses average 19 miles per hour between Novato and the Spencer Avenue bus pad, a distance of 20 miles.
Skip-stop express buses do the same run at 30 miles per hour, though they top out at 48 miles per hour when traffic is particularly clear. Both locals and express buses spend 7 minutes laying over at transit centers along the route, which cuts a few miles per hour from their average.
This may not seem too rapid at first, but in the world of public transit this is actually quite speedy. Metro averages 33 miles per hour, and New York's subway only averages 18.6. Compared to the often-miserable speeds of buses on city streets, which rarely top 10 miles per hour, this is rapid transit.
But unlike rapid transit, most of the infrastructure is already built. All one needs is a safe way for a bus to service a bus pad at a preexisting interchange or exit, and a safe way for riders to get to the pad. Diamond interchanges are easiest to service, as a bus just needs to exit the freeway, pick up passengers at the pad, then continue forward to reenter. Others, like cloverleaf interchanges, require a bit more but typically there is enough space to accommodate the bus pad's slip lane and stop.
Though cheap and fast, the bus pad has a number of downsides. Foremost, the passenger has to wait at the edge of a freeway. It's hot, polluted, loud, windy, dry, and terrifically unpleasant. The walk to the bus pad might not be so attractive, either, as freeways are notorious for turning their neighborhoods into moonscapes.
Transfers can be a pain, too. One bus pad in Marin requires a quarter-mile walk through that moonscape and across an overpass to transfer from the freeway to surface streets.
Freeways are not conducive to transit-oriented development, either, which would otherwise be a natural outgrowth of a high-speed rapid bus line running through the city. Though this is a problem bus pads share with other busway designs, the unpleasant and difficult transfers further limit the scope and attractiveness of transit-oriented design.
Finally, buses serving bus pads don't make use of HOV lanes, as they need to stay in the far-right lanes. That means they can still get stuck in traffic and delayed. Shoulder bus-only lanes can help, but it still exposes them to traffic at exits. At commute time, this can be especially frustrating for riders.
One way to limit these problems is to eliminate the slip lane and place the bus stop at the top of the off-ramp. Buses would exit the freeway, service the stop, then jump back on. While this exposes the bus to stoplights, if a bus-only shoulder continues along the exit, the bus could still bypass congestion and serve much more comfortable and accessible stops.
Under this structure, transfers to surface routes could be as close as the adjacent corner. If coupled with a bus-only shoulder that extends along the ramps, buses could bypass the traffic entirely.
Unfortunately, many of DC's freeway interchanges are tortured things, squeezed into odd geometries and designed to allow the most options for exiting vehicles. They may not have space for a slip lane and bus stop, or may not have an easy way for an exiting bus to immediately return to the freeway. For areas with the most potential, such as the Southwest Freeway and I-66, interchanges would need to be completely re-engineered.
Moving the stops to the middle of the freeway while keeping buses mixed with traffic offers a way around that problem. It also allows them to take advantage of high-occupancy lanes, improving reliability and speed. We'll talk about this design, the bus expressway, next time.
- Metro maps out loop line between DC and Arlington
- The reason cyclists love green bike lanes
- More roads won't solve traffic on I-95 in Northern Virginia
- Ask Congress to give DC self-rule on building heights
- Alexandria board rejects King Street bike lanes
- It's fine to not build parking at Tysons Metro stations
- DC sports spaces give short shrift to girls