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Buses on Bacon Still a Problem

Leslie Douglas, who leaves her office at 18th and I streets in time to reach Henry Bacon Drive at about 5 p.m. each weekday, was among many readers who wrote in to say that the buses are back. "It is consistently a disaster trying to get through that area each afternoon," Douglas wrote.

These are the tour buses that bring visitors to the Lincoln Memorial area each day. Only they're not supposed to be there on Bacon Drive when Douglas and the other letter writers are on their way home.

Bus on Bacon.jpg Bus stops and so does traffic during the Tuesday rush period on Bacon Drive. (Robert Thomson)

"They chronically block the right lane near the new "visitors center" -- yesterday there were 4 of them lined up -- and traffic is forced to use the left lane only," Douglas said. "This, of course, backs traffic onto Constitution Avenue and thus the domino-theory begins. There were no police anywhere in sight."

We talked about this problem last fall on the blog and in my Dr. Gridlock column in The Post, so I went back out to check. First I saw that the signs on Bacon are the same. Buses are barred from unloading and loading on the outbound side of Bacon Drive between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

It's a logical rule, because those on the hours when homebound commuters are turning left onto the two lanes of Bacon Drive to reach the Lincoln Memorial circle and the Memorial Bridge. Virginia-bound cars fill up those two lanes under normal circumstances, but the presence of a stopped bus is enough to create a rush hour chokepoint.

Constitution Traffic.jpg When buses stop, gridlock results at Constitution and Bacon. (Robert Thomson)

What I saw on Tuesday, between 4:45 p.m. and 6:15 p.m.: About a half dozen buses pulled up to the unloading zone in the right hand lane and discharged passengers, near the National Park Service cafe. Some would unload passengers, then drive off and return later to pick up passengers.

It wasn't the same scene as last fall, when as many as five buses would be parked in that zone, waiting for their passengers to return after a visit to the Lincoln or Vietnam memorials. But one stopped bus is good enough for a pretty extensive tieup. The intersection of Constitution and Bacon goes into gridlock. Not only is the outbound traffic heavy onto Bacon Drive and 23rd Street, but also there is plenty of inbound traffic coming over the Roosevelt Bridge.

We need the National Park Service to enforce the rules that help balance the interests of tourists and commuters.

(Separate situation, but same effect on commuters: There also were plenty of cars still parked during afternoon rush at the meters on the outbound side of 23rd Street north of Constitution. That's just not right, them tying up that lane.)

The other issue we've talked about in this area is the traffic at the Lincoln circle, so I watched that too. The two lights there, one at Bacon and the other at 23rd, seemed to be handling the vehicle and pedestrian traffic pretty well. This of course, is cherry blossom time, so there were plenty of people on foot. Pushing the walk sign button gets the pedestrians 20 seconds to cross.

ped crossing sign.jpg
Walkers get 20 seconds to share Bacon. (Robert Thomson)

From where I was standing, it looked like the best bet for an outbound driver on Constitution would be to skip Bacon and go up one block, to make the left turn onto 23rd Street. That would avoid the buses and the need to go through the extra light at the circle. Traffic on the section of 23rd that parallels Bacon was always flowing pretty smoothly during the time I watched on Tuesday. But I don't do this day after day, as some of you do. What other factors are involved in making the best of that outbound commute?

By Robert Thomson  |  April 4, 2007; 8:04 AM ET
Categories:  Commuting  
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Can pedestrians use 23rd st to get from Constitution to the Lincoln Memorial yet? That area has been torn up for a really long time, but I haven't been by there since last fall.

Posted by: Steve | April 4, 2007 12:02 PM | Report abuse

Are any of those buses or cars actually getting ticketed?

Posted by: Andy | April 4, 2007 1:17 PM | Report abuse

I see multiple busses parked there every day. One day last week a Park Police vehicle pulled up on the lawn across the street to wave the busses on but the officer never got out of his car. Once the busses pulled away he left the scene. Wouldn't you know it, not even 5 minutes later two more busses pull up.

I would think that there is a lot of money to be made ticketing these busses. When they park there they manage to back up traffic on C0nstitution, 21st, 19th, and even 17th street (although 17th is generally a mess anyway).

The laws are already there, but once again it comes down to the fact that nobody in DC seems interested in enforcing them.

Posted by: Jon H. | April 4, 2007 1:25 PM | Report abuse

Jon H. is correct. Every afternoon, multiple busses park on Henry Bacon Drive. They are not loading or unloading passengers - usually the driver appears to be napping. I have never seen any attempts at enforcement.

Please publish names and numbers of who we can call to get something done.

Posted by: VA Commuter | April 4, 2007 2:11 PM | Report abuse

It seems that this week there has been a real drop-off in traffic and parking enforcement, period. Where are the orange-shirted people who direct traffic at some of the busier intersections? Why were there still parked cars blocking the right-hand lanes on Constitution after 5 pm? (usually the tow trucks nab'em between 4 and 5) Isn't it obvious that this week, of all weeks, there needs to be some extra attention to order?

By the way, I've noticed that the buses on Bacon follow a predictable pattern. You never see them sitting there on cold or rainy days. But let there be one nice day, and they're back. I wish the cops would pick up on this.

Posted by: acorn | April 4, 2007 2:48 PM | Report abuse

First off, thank you thank you Dr. Gridlock for continuing to bring light to this problem.

The tour buses are a BIG problem. Traffic in the area of Bacon/23rd/Constitution gets better during the colder months, but then every March/April it goes back to status quo: buses parked in the curb lane of Bacon illegally during rushhour with no enforcement in sight. Is it the National Park Service or DCPD or both that have the authority to enforce the regulations in this area? Last week, there was a DC police cruiser idling in the curb lane on 23rd Street AMONGST the illegally parked buses at 5:00pm. I was walking by and paid careful attention to what was going on. In the 15-20 minutes I watched, the officer did not appear to be writing any tickets or enforcing any laws, instead he was speaking to one, and then two, of his colleagues. I find this inexusable. Maybe they were talking about enforcement of parking regulations in this area, but I truly doubt it.

Dr. Gridlock, please give us the names of folks we can speak with to get something done. The city of DC could be making millions annually from the owners of the tour bus companies. This is a recurring problem almost anytime of year; yesterday was no different than any other day.

Now if someone could just explain to me why we need all the traffic lights around Memorial Circle that clog traffic; they certainly don't alleviate it. Memorial Bridge use to be one of the quickest and least known "escape points" from DC to VA; these traffic lights bog down car traffic to no end. The same goes for the series of traffic lights on Independence Ave/17th St on the western end of the Kutz Bridge.

Posted by: Anonymous | April 4, 2007 2:50 PM | Report abuse

Can anybody spell anymore? It's buses; busses are kisses. Geeze, people!

Posted by: STick | April 4, 2007 3:55 PM | Report abuse

OK, the buses parking illegally along Henry Bacon Drive reminds me of the "Illegal Immigration" issue, i.e., what part of the word "Illegal" do you NOT understand?

Posted by: SoMD | April 5, 2007 2:46 PM | Report abuse

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