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Transit


Proximity to transit has always been good for DC real estate, even 150 years ago

Today, DC area real estate revolves around proximity to Metro. But transit-oriented development is nothing new here. 150 years ago, owners of boarding houses used access to the city's omnibus lines to appeal to antebellum urbanists.


1854 Line of Washington omnibuses. Photo from the DC Public Library.

This ad appeared in the Daily Evening Star on June 26, 1854. That year, three omnibus lines ran throughout Washington, serving the Capitol, Georgetown and the Navy Yard:

HOUSES FOR RENT.—I have for rent several new convenient houses, with lots of two acres of ground attached to each, situated on a new street parallel with Boundary street, running along the top of the ridge west of the railroad where it leaves the city, a little more than a mile north-easterly from the Capitol.
These houses have from seven to ten rooms each, including a kitchen, with several closets and cellar, woodsheds and a stable, and pumps of excellent water near at hand. The situation is beautiful, overlooking the railroad and a large portion of the city, and having the Capitol in full view. The approach to them is by H street, Delaware Avenue, and M street, graded and graveled. The soil of the lots is generally good, and capable of being made very productive.

An omnibus now runs twice a day between these houses and the President's square, by way of M street, Delaware avenue, H street, 7th street and Pennsylvania avenue; leaving the houses at about half-past eight o'clock, a.m., and half-past two p.m.; returning, after brief stands at the War, Navy and Treasury Departments, the Centre Market, General Post Office and Patent Office.


Daily Evening Star ad from June 26, 1854 mentions proximity to omnibus line.

Like today's Metro, the omnibus was a regular source of commuter headaches. An 18-year-old Samuel Clemens chronicled his disappointment with the city's mass transit system in February of 1854:

There are scarcely any pavements, and I might almost say no gas, off the thoroughfare, Pennsylvania Avenue. Then, if you should be seized with a desire to go to the Capitol, or [somewhere]else, you may stand in a puddle of water, with the snow driving in your face for fifteen minutes or more, before an omnibus rolls lazily by; and when one does come, ten to one there are [nineteen] passengers inside and fourteen outside, and while the driver casts on you a look of commiseration, you have the inexpressible satisfaction of knowing that you closely resemble a very moist [dish-rag], (and feel so, too,) at the same time that you are unable to discover what benefit you have derived from your fifteen minutes' soaking; and so, driving your fists into the inmost recesses of your breeches pockets, you stride away in despair, with a step and a grimace that would make the fortune of a tragedy actor, while your "onery" appearance is greeted with "screems of laftur" from a pack of vagabond boys over the way.

Such is life, and such is Washington!

This post is excerpted from the book "Mark Twain in Washington, D.C.: Adventures Of A Capital Correspondent". Also, this post originally ran in 2013, but since the history hasn't changed, we're sharing it again!

Transit


Metro is pushing ahead to cut late-night service with three unsatisfying options

We first heard about Metro's hope to permanently cut late-night service in July. Now, Metro has released three specific scenarios to cut late night service, but it offers still few specifics on why it's necessary or what alternatives there can be.


Photo by Howard Ignatius on Flickr.

At the regular WMATA Board of Directors meeting on Thursday, Metro staff will ask for formal approval to hold public hearings to cut late-night service. This is a legally required step before Metro can make any service cuts.

In July, we heard an initial proposal to end service at midnight Monday to Saturday and 10 pm on Sundays. Following public outcry, Metro has devised two other options, which staff estimate will harm about the same number of riders.

According to the presentation for Thursday's meeting, if the board approves public hearings, public comment would be open from October 1 to 24 with a public hearing on October 17. The board could vote to cut service in December, and the new hours would take effect next July.

The presentation also says Metro will take public input on ways to extend bus service to meet some late-night riders' needs, but offers no specifics.

Metro does need more maintenance, but is this necessary?

These closings will give Metro 8 to 8½ more hours a week when the system is closed, which will allow for more track work. It's certainly true Metro needs to catch up on track work, and single-tracking constrains workers too much so they can't get as much done.

Beyond the urgent safety-related fixes, Metro could use track time to fix lighting in stations (which requires closing the stations), installing cables for cell phone access in the tunnels, and much more, said General Manager Paul Wiedefeld when a few Greater Greater Washington contributors and I spoke with him recently.

However, what this proposal does not explain is why closing the entire system at once is necessary. Why not, for instance, pick one line per weekend to close at night? Heck, if they need more track time, it might even be fine to close a line for the entire weekend.

Surely the track workers can't be on every line at once.

Wiedefeld said he worries this would be too confusing for riders. Instead of knowing the system was closed, they would have to keep track of which lines are open. Plus, already low late night ridership would be even lower without the opportunity to transfer between as many lines.

I'm still not persuaded. Metro certainly could devise clear infographics to communicate, and if it made the closures really simple, such as one line (or a set of lines that overlap) per weekend, it could work.

We shouldn't armchair quarterback Wiedefeld's difficult job, but cutting late night service permanently will force a lot of people to give up on Metro and end the aspiration for it to offer a comprehensive alternative to driving. Many late night workers and entertainment patrons, especially those who live far from their jobs and destinations, will be stuck, as Tracy Loh explained this morning.

Riders should have more information before public comment and hearings

Maybe a one-line-at-a-time closure is worse for other reasons, but the board should ask about this and other options that don't give up on service entirely for parts of the day. They should ask for this before the proposal goes to public hearings.

The presentation also suggests adding late-night bus service, but has no specifics. I hope the planners are hard at work on devising the best ways to serve the most people without Metrorail. But it seems that riders will have to comment on the rail proposals without seeing what alternatives exist.

How about lengthening the temporary SafeTrack closure to give time to really figure out these alternatives before, not after, committing to permanently cut service? Because permanent is a big deal. Riders deserve to have all the details and a fully baked plan first.



Transit


I don't care what some people say: DC has great transportation options.

SafeTrack is pretty much Exhibit A when it comes to how frustrating the transportation options in the Washington region can sometimes be. But as my recent move to Orlando reminded me, problems like SafeTrack are somewhat of a luxury—you have to have a rail network to even have them. My message to the DC region: it's really not so bad!


X2 Bus. Photo by Elvert Barnes.

In the Orlando region, there's a fixed route bus system and new commuter rail line that provides reliable service for millions in Central Florida. And I just happen to live and work in a more transit-accessible area than I did in DC. But that is uncommon. Wait times between buses and trains are often an hour, and real-time traveler information isn't available throughout the entire system.

I recently spoke to some Greater Greater Washington contributors about my newfound appreciation for what DC does so well, asking if there's anything here that they're particularly thankful for. I really liked what Alex Baca had to say:

Metrobus arrives on time, consistently, and the frequency on the notable crosstown lines (90, X2, S buses, 50s) blows many, many other systems out of the water. I left DC for San Francisco and am now in Cleveland (car-free!). In both cities, it is a struggle to find a bus that arrives when it's scheduled. I know that the switch from NextBus has caused some consternation as far as real-time arrivals, but at least DC's buses arrive when their paper schedules say they will.

I was in New York recently and a friend warned me that "the buses aren't like DC here," so I would have to give myself a 15-minute window for my bus from Prospect Heights to Williamsburg, in case it was early or late. In Cleveland, the bus that stops outside of my apartment (a "high-frequency" line on a major route to downtown) is routinely four (four!) minutes early and only runs every 15 minutes—when I first moved here, I missed the bus several times and waited a whole headway for another, which, of course, was often late.

I left DC in 2014 but am back as often as I can be. I always, always take Metro from National or MARC from BWI, then Metro and Metrobus as needed. Often, I'm lucky to have a bike, but sometimes I don't. I don't want to undercut WMATA's problems with Metro, but even as a hot mess it's a better system than most other cities in America have to offer, and I will say that I was utterly miserable biking for both transportation and recreation in San Francisco, a city that is ostensibly one of the country's most bike-friendly. BART's role as a commuter system is even starker than Metro's. I rarely used it to get around the city in the way that I used Metro, just to get to the airport and the East Bay.

DC's transportation is comparatively incredible across the board. This is a great thing. It's also a depressing indicator of the state of transportation in the US.

In a word, Alex is right.

The Washington region has tons of options, from bikeshare to trails. Wait times between buses aren't bad when you compare them to other cities, and we've got apps that give us real time information. We've also got good wayfinding.


Capital Bikeshare in action. Photo by fromcaliw/love.

Capital Bikeshare adds to its 370 stations monthly, it seems. In just a few years, the system could have nearly 500 stations.


The Metropolitan Branch Trail. Photo by TrailVoice.

Bike commuting is easier with the region's extensive trail network, linking downtown to the suburbs. When Metro closed for a day in March, the MBT experienced a 65% increase in cyclists. That's a testament to how easy it is to bike in the area.


Wayfinding. Photo by Dylan Passmore.

Across the District, blue signs point you towards neighborhoods, Metro stations, and other points of interest. A person new or unfamiliar to an area can find their way to the Smithsonian museums or the zoo pretty easily.

Tell us your thoughts: what have you seen or experienced while traveling or living elsewhere that made you particularly thankful for the region's transportation network?

Bicycling


College Park recreated Paris's "bus stop of the future" on the cheap

Four years ago, Paris made headlines for its bus stop of the future, a bigger and better bus stop with amenities like bikesharing and a book-sharing library attached. Now College Park has a bus stop with some of the same amenities, but using inexpensive, off-the-shelf pieces.


College Park's bus stop of the future. Photo by BeyondDC on Flickr.

Paris' bus stop of the future

In 2012, Paris's transit agency tried out a luxurious new bus stop design. In addition to the normal sign, bench, and shelter, the stop had electric bikes, bookshelves, wifi, and stylish architecture. It looked great and it made waiting for the bus more enjoyable, but it was expensive and took up a lot of space.

Paris' concept was a neat idea, but wasn't ultimately practical for mass production.


Paris's bus stop of the future. Image from RATP.

But some of the ideas from Paris's attempt make sense. Locating a bikeshare station next to a bus stop makes it convenient for more people to use both. And book-sharing can be a nice amenity, if it's easy and inexpensive to manage.

College Park's version

Enter College Park, where rather than design a custom building, the city simply added some of those components to an existing bus stop using their standard off-the-shelf pieces.

They started with a normal bus stop sign and shelter, then added a standard mBike bikeshare station. To help with maintenance, the city chained a bike tire pump to the station sign.

For the library, they staked to the ground a Little Free Library, a pre-fab wood box for people to take and give away free books. There's no librarian and no library cards; it runs on the honor system, and relies on people donating as many books as they take.


A similar Little Free Library in California. Photo by Michael R Perry on Flickr.

The stop is at the corner of Rhode Island Avenue and Muskogee Street, in front of the Hollywood shopping center, just one block south of College Park's first protected bikeway. The stop serves Metrobus lines 81 and 83, which are among the busier lines in Prince George's County.

It's no grand Parisian bus station, but that would be overkill. For a bus stop in a relatively low-density suburban area, it's pretty darn nice.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Exit Metrobus using the rear doors and more station name signs! These are two more MetroGreater finalist ideas.

Last week we announced the MetroGreater finalists and opened voting. Between now and August 26th, when voting closes, we want to tell you more about each finalist idea. Today's featured finalists: a campaign to exit Metrobus using the rear door and more station name signs for Metrorail.


Photos by pinelife and mirsasha on Flickr, respectively.

Exit through the rear doors: A campaign for improved Metrobus egress

There were many MetroGreater submissions that offered improvements to boarding and disembarking from Metro. One of those ideas is a campaign to encourage Metrobus riders to exit the bus from the rear doors. It became one of the finalist ideas.


Photo by pinelife on Flickr.

Here's the original submission:

Customers should exit MetroBus using the rear doors when possible. This will expedite the onboarding/off-boarding process at bus stops because onboarding customers in the front will not need to wait for off-loading customers coming out the front door.

The message to "exit from the rear" can be messaged through on-bus advertisements, pamphlets, social media, etc. The Portland, OR, are TriMet has instituted and marketed this policy for years and it is quite successful.

This proposal will significantly reduce the average wait time at bus stops for customers onboarding and off-boarding.

Alex L. submitted this idea and notes that "getting people to exit through the rear door might sound like a minor change (and it is!), but it's an important issue that transit planners and academics actually think about." Alex shares how surprised he was when he moved here, after living in many other cities, to discover "that DC bus riders are just as likely to exit through the front doors than through the rear doors. How could a population that has so perfected the behavioral norm of 'stand right, walk left' on Metrorail escalators be so indifferent about "enter front, exit rear" on Metrobus?"

Seattle's brochures and New York's recorded announcements are two examples Alex offered for how Metro could roll out such a campaign here in the Washington region.

Tells us what you think about this idea by voting at MetroGreater.org. Or, share your thoughts in the comments section below.

More station name signs

Another finalist idea focused on more signage to help passengers traveling by rail know which station they're arriving at.


Photo by mirsasha on Flickr.

Here is the original submission:

Right now, it can be difficult to see from inside the train what stop you are at. We should have more signs to the station so people in a train car can see what station they are stopped at.

I think we should have more signs on the wall, saying the name of the station. The pillars with station listings only use two sides--the other two could say what the stop is. You can print out giant stickers and put them on the pillars. Even if you can't do the wall signs, the pillars should be cheap and easy.

Several commenters support Hester G.'s idea. Amanda says "Great idea! I want to vote for more station name signs." Rick also thinks this is a "great idea and a no-brainier. Especially with cars packed to the brim and packed station platforms, more station name signs are definitely needed."

What do you think? Would more station name signs improve the experience for Metrorail riders? Vote today at MetroGreater.org!

And, ICYMI, check out the two finalist ideas we profiled yesterday.

Transit


Here are the MetroGreater finalists! Vote for the gold now!

The Olympics may be in full swing in Rio de Janeiro, but we've got our own nail-biting competition going on here in the Washington region. Here are the 10 finalists for the MetroGreater contest, to devise quick ways Metro can improve the rider experience. Which are your favorites?


Photo by Asten on Flickr.

People submitted over 1,300 ideas to improve the rider experience on Metrorail, Metrobus, or MetroAccess. Eligible ideas are ones that Metro could implement in six months or less and for no more than $100,000.

The MetroGreater jury met last week and selected an exciting slate of ten finalist ideas. From bus to rail, art to parking, we think you'll find at least one idea you think should be the MetroGreater winner.

Starting next week, we'll feature finalist ideas in Greater Greater Washington posts to tell you a bit more about each. In the meantime, take a look at the finalist ideas below, then cast your vote!

More direct priority seating signsMore station name signs
Install split stanchions in trainsCompass rose decals at station exits
Kojo on Metro: Recorded rail announcements by local personalitiesExit Metrobus using the rear door campaign
System map decals for ceilings of rail carsFeature local artists' work in stations
Make the sign post maps more color-blind friendlyReverse commuter parking passes

Congrats to our finalist submitters: Mathew F. of Washington, DC; Hester G. of Cheverly, MD; Peter D. of Arlington, VA; Ryan W. of Washington, DC; Janet S. of Alexandria, VA; Jennifer S. of Chevy Chase, MD; Robert B. of Falls Church, VA; Diana B. of Dunkirk, MD; Alex L. of Washington, DC; and Dennis E. of Bethesda, MD!

Cast your vote by Friday, August 26

Voting is open and you can cast your vote starting today at MetroGreater.org! Anyone can vote, but only once, between now and 11:59 pm next Friday, August 26th.

To vote, you'll rank the finalist ideas. You can rank all 10, or just your top choice. Votes will be tallied using the instant-runoff voting system. That means we will eliminate entries that get the fewest votes and apply those votes to the next-highest one that's still in the running. Instant runoff voting is used to elect legislators and presidents in Australia, India, and Ireland.

Honorable mentions

The jury also identified 12 honorable mentions. These are ideas which the jury really liked, but for one reason or another could not be implemented safely, successfully, in six months or less, and for no more than $100,000.

Some are ideas which Metro staff really liked and could work on in the future with the luxury of more time and/or money, and we hope they will. Others are actually being done already.

We will be following up with more detailed information on the reasons each of these could not be finalists in posts on Greater Greater Washington after the voting ends.

What about the rest of the ideas?

As we've kept you updated on the MetroGreater contest process, several commenters have requested that we share more than just the 10 finalist ideas. In addition to the honorable mentions above, you can now see the semifinalists here, and can see all of the submitted ideas here.

Prizes

Thanks to Metro and its business partners, the grand prize winner, the remaining 9 finalists, and the people who submitted "honorable mention" ideas will receive a prize!

The grand prize winner will receive a paperweight made from a piece of historic Metro rail removed during SafeTrack as well as a personalized $100 SmarTrip card. Additionally, he or she will get to choose two packages of experiences donated by the Reston Association, Extraordinary Alexandria, Pike & Rose, Spy Museum, National Building Museum, Washington Capitals, Arlington, Big Bus Tours, Washington Wizards, the Washington NFL team, and Downtown DC.

Finalists will each get to choose one of the remaining packages and will also each receive a $25 SmarTrip card.

People who submitted one of the honorable mention ideas will each get a token of appreciation from WUSA9, Metro, Rockville Town Square, Main Street Takoma, or the Smithsonian Zoo.

You make Metro greater

Thank you to everyone who submitted an idea! Whether your idea made it through to the final stages or not, your participation demonstrates riders' commitment to making Metro greater.

Transit


If Metrobus asked me to redesign its info brochures, I'd make them look like this

I've lived in DC and used Metrobus here for 14 years. I'm also a designer, and I have a few ideas about how to make the bus timetable brochures clearer for people using them to understand the system.


Metrobus brochures could included a map like this to give riders a sense of where they are even if they've never heard of the specific places.

Some of the brochures' most important information, like where bus lines run and which bus stops have Metrorail stations nearby, isn't shown at all. And if you aren't familiar with the bus line numbers or street names, you won't have the context you need.


Mockup from the author based on the original Metrobus brochure.

While many people have smartphones to get their information in other ways or know what apps to download, visitors to the city often don't. And many low income travelers either don't have a smart phone nor money for data plans.

Here's my new design:

I designed a new brochure that I think would help readers know where they are even if they don't understand the geography of the District.


Redesigned Metrobus brochure by the author.

In short, I think Metrobus brochures should give users a visual understanding of where they are rather than assume riders know street or neighborhood names and that they should provide further information on how they can connect with Metrorail.

Do you see any other ways to make my new brochure better? If you have ideas, post them in the comments!

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