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Circulator changes might address Webb's Mall traffic concerns

Circulator bus

Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) Wednesday wrote Mayor Adrian Fenty and the National Park Service, asking them to fix traffic problems on the National Mall

"Particularly during the springtime, the increased presence of school and tour buses in the Mall area often brings traffic to a halt, reducing both the quality of life for area commuters and our visitors' experience," Webb writes. "It is not unusual for my constituents to spend more than one hour trying to pass through the Mall area on a spring afternoon."

It, of course, rankles District residents (such as myself) when federal lawmakers suggest that the city can't handle its own business. That said, Webb's letter was very polite, addresses a real problem, and concerns an area of undeniable federal interest.

Still: The city government has done quite a bit under Fenty to improve the transportation options on the Mall -- and it's the federal government, NPS in particular, that might be the bigger obstruction to improvements.

Take the city's $1 Circulator buses. They've been a great hit across the city, and they would go a long way to draw tourists and others out of their cars and motorcoaches, easing traffic. But Tourmobile, a private concern, holds an exclusive contract with NPS to run bus service on Mall thoroughfares -- a service for which it charges as much as $27 a head. The Circulator service is left to operate on Constitution and Independence -- still convenient to Mall tourists, but much less visible. (See this typically exhaustive Greater Greater Washington post for more details.)

So perhaps Sen. Webb could note to NPS that a lower-cost bus option might help matters?

There is hope: Tourmobile's exclusive contract is soon to expire, and there is hope that whatever succeeds it would include a cheaper option. John Lisle, spokesman for the city transportation department, says his agency, which operates the Circulator, is "currently working with NPS to refine our service offerings on the Mall."

The bulk of Webb's letter, however, concerns the scores of tour buses that double-park and clog roads around the Mall. But the city hasn't been standing still on those issues, either.

The GGW item quotes city planning director Harriet Tregoning saying that city hoped to establish satellite bus parking at 5th and I streets NW, where a stalled hotel project has left an empty lot that likely won't be used for years. But a federal grant that the city applied for, Tregoning said, didn't come through.

So again, here's where Webb comes in: Earmark, perhaps?

UPDATE, 8:15 P.M.: DDOT Director Gabe Klein issued the following statement in response to Webb's letter: ""We concur with Senator Webb that this issue should be addressed. DDOT provides policy and parking information to tour bus companies via our motor carrier master plan, as well as tour bus and trucking associations. We continue to partner with other District agencies, the private sector, as well as National Park Service (which has jurisdiction over this area on the National Mall) regarding ways to locate additional parking for the influx of tour buses that come to the city, and this continually updated information is available on our website. The issue is with compliance from the tour bus companies, and enforcement from the jurisdiction responsible when rules are not followed. It's a careful balance to encourage tourism and the use of buses vs. automobiles, while enforcing bus idling and illegal parking laws."

File photo by Kevin Clark/The Washington Post

By Mike DeBonis  |  June 16, 2010; 2:31 PM ET
Categories:  The District  
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Seriously, It rankles you because a federal lawmaker has pointed out the obvious, that the traffic congestion around the National Mall is out of control and it needs to be addressed??

Posted by: SaysEye | June 17, 2010 8:13 AM | Report abuse

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