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Rebuilding a Bus Line

Metrobus's 16th Street Line is the third most heavily used in the system, after the 30s Line across Pennsylvania Avenue and the 70s buses that run up and down Georgia Avenue. About 45 of those riders, speaking for many more of the 16,000 who use the route daily, met with planners in a church basement on Tuesday night to talk about how to correct some of the problems troubling the line.


Metrobus route map

Many readers will recognize them: The buses are crowded, the printed schedules for the S1, S2 and S4 don't match the arrival times, and when the buses do arrive they tend to come two or three at a time.

Those complaints were voiced frequently at the meeting in Columbia Heights, but they weren't the only ones. Riders also talked about the design of the buses and the design of the route. Some would like to have bigger buses that accommodate more passengers -- buses with rear doors that open more easily. And they'd like to clear cars from the most congested part of the route, either by banning parking on 16th or creating a bus-only lane. Some want fewer bus stops to speed the trip.

An 8.5-mile trip on the 16th Street Line from Silver Spring to Foggy Bottom can take 55 minutes, or longer during peak travel times. A Metrorail trip would take about 25 minutes during the morning rush.

The buses run into congestion right away coming out of Silver Spring Station on Colesville Road, then they have to work around the 16th Street traffic circle at the D.C. border. Travel eases after that till the buses reach Spring Street and enter Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant before spreading out into the congestion of downtown Washington.

Money is available to make some fixes, as happened last month on the 30s Line. Some of the fixes might be similar. For example, Metro could create a limited stop service for riders traveling longer distances and some shorter routes for people who are going from neighborhood to neighborhood. Metro could keep a route that serves everyone.

Planners from the transit authority and the District Department of Transportation are going to take the ideas they heard last night, combine them with their own and the experience they got working on the 30s Line, then hold another public meeting in September to share their thinking.

By Robert Thomson  |  July 16, 2008; 11:36 AM ET
Categories:  Metro  
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problem is, you can't break this up like the 30s line. you couldn't have a line that goes from silver spring to spring street, and then one that goes from spring street to downtown. doesn't make any sense.

i think taking parking off of 16th street makes sense, or a bus only lane. but good luck getting MPD to enforce that (just look at the lanes on 7th and 9th streets downtown for an example of how well the police keep those lanes for buses and bikes only).

Posted by: IMGoph | July 16, 2008 2:07 PM | Report abuse

From Dr. Gridlock: IMGoph, I agree on both the enforcement problem and the difference between the 16th Street Line and the 30s.

On enforcement, one possible improvement would be to have Metrobus supervisors and District Department of Transportation traffic control officers empowered to enforce lane rules by writing tickets.

One line routing, there's at least the option of creating a limited stop service, with distinctive new buses, like those now running on Georgia Avenue.
Metro could also eliminate a few of the numerous stops through Columbia Heights/Mount Pleasant, which is a very sluggish part of the trip. But is that fair to a community that provides a lot of the bus passengers?

Posted by: Robert Thomson | July 16, 2008 2:24 PM | Report abuse

Can you make it like the NYC express subway service? For example, have limited stops in residential neighborhoods and more frequent stops downtown? Harvard, u st, m st, k st, mcpherson...

Posted by: Elyse | July 17, 2008 1:52 PM | Report abuse

I travel regularly into the District for activities at a non-profit. Because of location and time, mass transit isn't a reasonable option for me. Each time I drive up 16th street I try to drive the 30 mph speed limit. I like the idea that if I just go 30 I'll hit most of the lights green.

Unfortunately this doesn't work. One problem is that the lights don't seem to be timed correctly to match the 30mph speed limit. The other problem is that I'm constantly being passed by more impatient drivers. The bottom line is that I end up behind a long line of other cars and hit every light on red or yellow.

After doing this about ten times I concluded that the right lane is actually hindering the flow of traffic. All those cars passing on the right just means that people are constantly braking and accellerating. To make it worse, the right lane is occasionally blocked by parked cars or a stopped bus. I can't just get in the right lane and make my way up the road.

If you constantly have to switch between a one and a two lane road, you aren't actually adding traffic capacity. The second lane may offer an outlet to bypass a slow vehicle, but it also causes traffic to jam up as cars merge in and out.

The obvious solution is to block off the right lane to traffic. Once you decide to block the lane, you have a choice between using it for parking or dedicating it to another purpose. I think it's reasonable to use it as a dedicated bus lane. That would remove the most common road obstacle and improve the general flow of traffic. It would also greatly improve the reliability and speed of the public bus route, benefitting thousands of riders.

Posted by: A. Driver | August 1, 2008 6:06 PM | Report abuse

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