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Creative Fixes for Bus Line

The Metrobus line with the highest ridership runs between Friendship Heights in upper northwest Washington and the District's far southeastern border, carrying about 20,000 riders a day.

30s bus Metro photo (2).jpg A stop on the 30s Line. (Metro photo)

The routes along Wisconsin and Pennsylvania avenues that make up the 30s Line can be as long as 14 miles, and despite the high ridership, the buses are slow and the schedules unreliable. Metro has looked at this problem before, but no action resulted. The obvious solution was to break up the lengthy line into shorter routes, but that wasn't popular with people who depended on the bus to take them farther than the proposed cutoff for their segment.

A better idea: Since June, Metro has been with the District Department of Transportation and with many of the people who actually ride the buses to reorganize the service. Planners held community meetings and listened to what riders had to say.

They found the top three issues for riders were bus bunching (you wait a long time, then three buses in a row pull up to your stop), unreliable schedules and crowding. Those are pretty typical concerns among bus riders, but they become exaggerated on a long line that passes through more than 130 traffic signals in the congested heart of the Washington region.

The planners are going to tell a Metro board committee on Thursday morning that they want to do three things with the 30s Line: Maintain long distance service, add two limited stop services during rush periods and create some neighborhood connector routes supporting the main line. Three routes on the line would be eliminated: the 30, 34 and 35.

Metro staff will ask the board to review the service plan and approve two public hearings on it, which probably would be held in March. If the Metro board winds up giving final approval to the plan in the spring, the enhanced service could start in July, about a year after the planning started. [See Post map of route.]

And it isn't just about having more buses. The plan also calls for improved supervision along the line, so that managers will know about and respond to delays. Customer communication is a high priority. Drivers will be trained to handle the routes they'll be driving.

This program is likely to increase the Metrobus budget by $400,000, which would be picked up by the District Department of Transportation, just as it supported the Metro Extra limited stop buses that improved service along Georgia Avenue.

It's not only a promising plan but also a promising way of managing a transportation problem. "What do you need this bus to do?" James Hamre, a Metro senior planner, asked an audience of riders back in July, as the project got underway. I hope this works. It sure would be nice to extend this kind of thinking throughout the transit system.

By Robert Thomson  |  February 13, 2008; 10:30 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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I use the 30 all the time. These are good suggestions. I might add some. Turning the two inside lanes along Penn between Barney Circle and the Capitol (for starters) into separated, bus-only lanes and allowing for bus priority at lights using special transmitters. The first suggestion may require getting new buses with doors on both the left and the right.

Posted by: VC | February 13, 2008 12:31 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: Good thoughts, VC. I know just very generally that the District Department of Transportation has been studying the possibility of placing dedicated bus lanes along various roads across the city to support a bus rapid transit system. (K Street downtown has been discussed for years as a possibility for a rapid bus line.)

Issues include the cost and the impact on other traffic.

Priority signaling for buses also gets talked about. The Metro Extra limited stop buses on Georgia Avenue have equipment that would allow the drivers to extend their green time. The issue there -- as it always is with changing signal times -- is what impact it would have on the cross traffic.

Posted by: Robert Thomson | February 13, 2008 12:54 PM | Report abuse

I think these are all great suggestions. I like VC's suggestion too.

I have a couple of my own:

1) This will surely make some heads spin, but I will say it anyway: How about allowing Metrobusses to operate on E Street between 15th and 17th Streets? Security would have to be very tight, and maybe this route would only operate during peak periods. But surely there is a difference between allowing certain vehicles, which can be pre-inspected for security concerns and can even allow Secret Service special agents to ride the busses, than allowing unrestricted general traffic. Capitol Police and WMATA seem to have arranged for Metrobuses to travel through Capitol grounds, perhaps the same could work for the White House grounds. Probably not going to happen, but I figured I'd toss it out there anyway.

2) Create an "alternate route" which some buses would take: instead of traveling on K Street and Wisconsin Avenue, these busses could head up 22nd/23rd to Massachusetts Avenue to Wisconsin Avenue. That would allow Upper Wisconsin Avenue riders faster access to downtown by bypassing the worst of the congestion in Georgetown. Georgetown is well served by busses, including the Circulator busses, so it wouldn't be like people couldn't get to Georgetown anymore.

3) Signal Priority: Doesn't need to completely pre-empt the normal phasing, but just allowing buses to extend a green by 5 to 10 seconds or get an early green by 5 to 10 seconds can make a huge difference in bus timing without much difference in cross traffic. Especially if you give the cross street a few extra seconds of green the next cycle to "make up" for taking green time the previous phase.

Posted by: Woodley Park | February 13, 2008 1:24 PM | Report abuse

Why not have a jitney (non-fixed-route) service with smaller mini-buses (Dodge Sprinter) along these routes.

They could even employ a demand-responsive approach where the riders would request transportation via SMS and the minibus would pull up to their stop displaying the user's last name or frequent passenger ID on a display in the windshield.

This has been used successfully in Liverpool, England and other places (Texxi, etc.)

Jerome Wiley Segovia
DNC Member
Metro area resident

Posted by: Jerome Wiley Segovia | February 13, 2008 2:26 PM | Report abuse

I second Woodley Park's second idea (no pun intended): There should be at least a few buses during morning and evening rush that bypass Georgetown via Mass Ave.

Posted by: Matt | February 13, 2008 4:38 PM | Report abuse

amen, woodley park. and seriously, there's no reason that all auto and bus traffic (we could ban trucks) shouldn't be allowed on e street.

it's so far from the actual white house, that any concerns about a car stopping and being used as a bomb is ridiculous. as much as i'd like to see pennsylvania avenue reopened as well, i know that won't happen, and i understand that its proximity to the white house is more of a problem.

but e street is a long way away, and its closing has RUINED traffic patterns downtown.

Posted by: IMGoph | February 13, 2008 10:33 PM | Report abuse

I wrote Metro asking for an express bus on the 30 lines in 1992 back when I lived in Georgetown. Guess they finally read my letter.

I took the 30 from Georgetown to Capitol Hill every day. On a good day this was a 30 minute trip, on a bad day an hour. I walked the three miles more than once and it was an hour, so you bad day in the bus was the same as walking.

It really was annoying though. My colleague drove a similar route utilizing Rock Creek to Maine to the Freeway and was in the office everyday within 10 minutes of leaving home.

Metro bus--for those who don't have cars--not an alternative to cars.

Posted by: Andrew | February 14, 2008 6:46 AM | Report abuse

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