Despite having two million fewer people, our region used to have 60 miles of bus lanes. It’s time to revive them.
Bus Lane on 14th Street next to the National Mall in the early 1970s
Did We Really Have That Many Bus Lanes?
Yes. In the 1960s and 70s before Metrorail was built, Washington and its surrounding inner suburbs relied heavily on its bus system to get around, with very frequent service on a number of major streets. According to our records (linked at the bottom of this post), the first bus-only lane was installed in 1962 on 16th Street NW in DC, generally between H Street NW and Florida Avenue NW [DDOT Fact Sheet, p. 6]. This was followed by dozens of miles of rush-hour and full-time installations, as shown in the map and table below. Streets in red indicate bus lanes that were implemented as of 1976, while streets in black and blue represent bus lanes that were planned but, to our knowledge, never put in place.
In parallel with the proposed 2040 Metrorail network, we have identified 25 regionally significant corridors that merit high-capacity surface transit by 2040. Depending on the corridor, high-capacity surface transit can be provided more efficiently and effectively by modes other than Metrorail.
The best transit systems in the world are comprised of large networks served by multiple modes. In the National Capital Region, due to the growth and dispersal of activity centers, the high demand placed on Metrorail, and the realities of transit funding, expanding the transit network needs to occur by expanding transit on the region’s roads and highways not just by Metrorail. Metrorail is not and cannot be the best mode for every corridor because the vast majority of corridors do not have the land use, density and ridership to support it.
But don’t despair! There are plenty of other high-capacity modes such as bus rapid transit (BRT), light rail (LRT), streetcar, and enhanced bus that can provide:
- all day service;
- large, comfortable vehicles; and
- lower capital and operating costs than Metrorail.
Regionally Significant High-Capacity Surface Transit Corridors as part of 2040 Regional Transit System Plan
Categories: RTSP BRT, bus, capacity, Light Rail, Metrorail, planning, plans, priority, rail, ridership, RTSP, Streetcar, studies, travel patterns
Priority treatments speed up buses, which saves everyone time and money, uses street space most efficiently, and attracts development.
Bus priority projects, such as those begun through the regional TIGER grant and included in the Metrobus Priority Corridor Network Plan, will improve travel times, increase service reliability, and attract thousand of new riders once fully implemented.
But let’s step back for a moment. Why are these improvements needed?
Average AM Rush Hour Bus Speeds (Nov. 2009)
Photo of New York City bus lane violation.
This picture of a bus lane in New York City shows how easily bus priority treatments can be violated without enforcement mechanisms in place. Traffic control officers, bus-mounted cameras or self-enforcing contra-flow lanes can help ensure that street space dedicated to buses is available for them to use. Bus priority is a hot topic here at PlanItMetro.
Metro has released the final technical report of the H and I Streets Bus Improvements Study, making a compelling case for traffic management improvements and bus lane alternatives in the region’s most heavily traveled bus corridor.
Congestion on I Street caused by bottleneck at 17th Street, creating long queues backing up to 15th Street.
DC’s downtown core is a vibrant community, with 380,000 jobs today and significant residential and retail development in the coming decade. While growth will transform the core and create opportunities, it is likely to increase the burden on the transportation network that is already strained by the closure of Pennsylvania Ave.
Today, all users—drivers, bus passengers, pedestrians and bicyclists—experience congestion during peak periods. Besides high-volume traffic in the corridor, the constant friction among buses, vehicles and delivery trucks further aggravates travel experience. For bus passengers, the current corridor congestion severely affects travel time and service reliability—a short bus ride on I Street from 13th St to 19th St could take more than 10-15 minutes during rush hours.
Metro and DDOT collectively launched the H and I Streets Bus Improvements Study last year to explore bus improvements on H and I Streets NW in the downtown core, the region’s most heavily traveled and most productive bus corridor. The study investigated traffic management improvements and bus-only lane options with the objective of providing reliable and efficient bus service and alleviating Metrorail core congestion through innovative surface transit improvements.
The technical report is available for download (PDF) and posted on Metro’s Planning and Development webpage.
Four bus improvement options developed for analysis, as described and illustrated below: Read more…
During the morning rush hour, Metrobus carries 50% of all of the people traveling on 16th Street NW towards downtown DC, despite using just 3% of the vehicles. However, it still gets stuck in traffic.
It will come as no surprise to regular riders of the Metrobus S1,2,4 (PDF), or MetroExtra S9 (PDF), but ridership has grown tremendously in recent years on 16th Street, from just over 16,000 riders per weekday in 2008 to about 20,500 this year. To keep pace, Metro has added lots of new service, most notably the S9 limited stop service in 2009.
In fact, Metro has added so much rush hour service on lower 16th Street that buses headed towards downtown DC now operate more frequently than any transit service in the region, including Metrorail, with buses arriving an average of nearly every 90 seconds.
A new dedicated busway along “the widest street in the world” has reduced friction between buses and cars, but created some new friction between preservationists and government officials in Buenos Aires.
Median contraflow busway along Av 9 de Julio.
I just returned from my honeymoon in Buenos Aires. One of the first things I noticed while exploring the downtown “micro center” was a four-lane contraflow busway along Av 9 de Julio, often referred to as the widest street in the world.
Av 9 de Julio is literally a block wide — check out this jaw-dropping photo — with 7 traffic lanes in each direction in the main roadway and an additional 2 lanes of access road, also in each direction. Up until recently, buses traveled in the access lanes, conflicting with cars and pedestrians. A new four-lane busway facility was recently constructed along the center of this massive avenue. The facility is well lit, attractive and fast: the bus travel time down the three-kilometer roadway is expected to drop from 60 minutes to 20. Read more…
Mary Hynes, a Metro Board Member, sat down with the Region Forward team to answer a few questions about the region’s biggest challenges, how Metro can help the region meet the goals in Region Forward, and how citizens can get involved. In addition to her role at Metro, Ms. Hynes is an Arlington County Board Member and the Chair of the Council of Governments’ Region Forward Coalition, the public-private group leading the effort to implement COG’s vision for the region’s future.
Q: What do you think are the region’s biggest challenges?
Mary Hynes: “The economy is a big challenge. We are still figuring out ‘the new normal’ with the federal government. The issues of housing and how people move efficiently around the region are also critical. It’s critical that we understand how housing and multimodal transportation options fit into the bigger picture of achieving a thriving region built of individual vibrant communities – one that is also attuned and committed to meeting the social equity requirements of our diverse, sustainable region.”
Q: How does Metro help us meet our Region Forward goals?
Mary Hynes: “The Metro Board made a decision when considering how to frame its new strategic plan to key off of Region Forward. We – my colleagues on the Metro Board and Metro’s professional staff – looked at what regional leaders had done with Region Forward—the goals they had set—and said “Metro can be the catalyst that enhances regional mobility and convenes stakeholders to ensure a successful, integrated regional multi-modal system”. We worked with the Transportation Planning Board at COG to make sure Momentum and the TPB’s Priorities Plan are aligned. It wasn’t hard because, in fact, there is regional consensus on the next set of transportation moves the region needs to make.
It’s an exciting time to be participating with COG and Metro. It’s a remarkable moment because people share the same vision. Leaders across the region have learned the same lessons. So the time is right! Just as regional leaders did 50 years ago when planning Metro, we all must lock our arms, commit to a funding plan, and move forward together.”
Read the full interview!
Federal TIGER Grant-funded bus priority projects are moving forward, setting the stage for the Metro 2025 Priority Corridor Network.
In 2010, a local consortium of agencies including WMATA was awarded a $59-million Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) Grant for bus priority in the Washington Region. The National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board (TPB) is the primary project manager and recipient of the of the grant, and TPB staff provided a briefing of the status of the implementation of the TIGER projects (PDF). This post provides a summary of the projects in which Metro is engaged, as well as a history of the TIGER grant award to the region.
Construction of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway, from May 30, 2013. Source: TPB.
When will you see projects being built?
Portions of Momentum are already being executed, meaning that elements in this strategic plan under Metro’s control are already in implementation mode. Engineering work is well-underway to support some of the immediate and near-term investments and innovations to carry the system to the year 2025. Some of the projects and their dates of completion or anticipated completion include the following:
Metro’s staff and Board are already laying the financial underpinnings to execute the strategic plan. In 2013, the Board approved Metro’s multi-year capital and operating budgets. While continuing laser-like focus on safety improvements and the rebuilding of the existing system, the FY 2014-2019 Capital Improvement Program (CIP) includes a number of significant investments that lay the groundwork for the implementation and execution of Metro 2025, which is described in the following section and later in this document.