The week ahead: buses, blossoms, basketball, baseball


Business is likely to be brisk at the Capital Bikeshare station on M Street SE near Nationals Park. (Robert Thomson — The Washington Post)

Monday’s slushy mess is likely to be the worst weather of the week, with conditions steadily improving for commuters, the Capital Weather Gang says. Some of those commuters will be discovering new bus routes and adapting to new schedules.

The Wizards play at Verizon Center on Monday night, and the Capitals play Tuesday night. Thursday and Saturday, Verizon Center hosts the NCAA east regional basketball playoffs. Games at Verizon Center mean extra traffic on the streets in Chinatown and crowding at the Gallery Place Metro station.

The Nationals arrive back in D.C. for an exhibition game Friday.

Street and sidewalk traffic will be building for the National Cherry Blossom Festival, though the blossoms will not reach full bloom this week. Here are some tips for taking advantage of events and avoiding problem areas.

16th Street buses

Metro is adding nine bus runs to the southern part of the 16th Street Line to ease crowding during the morning rush. The 16th Street Line is very popular, which is great. But because the buses start from Silver Spring, they’re already crowded by the time they reach the Columbia Heights and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods. People waiting there can’t even find standing room.

As of Monday, the extra buses will operate from 7:30 a.m. to 9:15 a.m. weekdays beginning at Harvard Street NW. They will make all the southbound stops that the line’s S2 buses make, then turn left on H Street and continue to 14th Street NW. So they also will be designated “S2.”

Many Metrobus changes

Bus commuters also have a new MetroExtra service making limited stops every 15 minutes northbound during the morning rush and limited stops every 15 minutes southbound during the afternoon rush along Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue SE, the 11th Street Bridge and M Street SE, with stops at L’Enfant Plaza and McPherson Square.

This bus, the A9, was part of the South Capitol Street Line, but the route has been realigned between the intersections of South Capitol Street/MLK Avenue and South Capitol Street/M Street.

See a list of the Metrobus route and schedule changes on Metro’s Web site.

Express Connector

Fairfax County just added two routes to the bus service that takes advantage of the new 495 Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway. These Express Connector routes take commuters from Lorton and Springfield to Tysons.

The one-way fare will be $3.65 with a SmarTrip card and $4 with cash. But through April 12, the ride is free.

The county bus service already was operating expresses between Burke and Tysons, using the express lanes. I hope all these routes will become as popular as the 16th Street buses. It’s swell that the express lanes give solo drivers a new travel option, but the new lanes won’t really live up to their advance billing unless they serve transit users as well.

The full schedule for the express buses is on the Fairfax Connector Web site, www.fairfaxconnector.com.

NextBus app returns

The missing app is back. It’s the one that was called NextBus DC, which many Metrobus riders who have smartphones found helpful for tracking arrival times. The new version is called iCommute DC. There’s a “Lite” version for free and an enhanced version for $1.99.

The app has some attractive features. Besides looking nice, it can use your phone’s location service to identify nearby bus stops. But you don’t need an app to use the real-time bus and train arrival system. It’s available on Metro’s mobile Web site, www.wmata.com/mobile. (Whether the bus actually shows up when the system says it will is another matter. Riders have complained about that since Metro adopted the NextBus service.)

Nationals exhibition game

The Washington Nationals play an exhibition game against the New York Yankees at 2:05 p.m. Friday at Nationals Park. Nearest Metrorail station: Navy Yard. See a transportation guide to Nationals Park for the 2013 season.

Cherry Blossom Festival

The National Park Service now predicts a peak bloom around the Tidal Basin for April 3-6. See a walking map of the Tidal Basin.

The annual kite festival is Saturday. Competitions and open kite-flying areas will draw many participants and spectators to the Washington Monument grounds from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. The Saturday date depends on good weather, so watch for updates. Nearest Metrorail stations: Smithsonian and Federal Triangle.

Festival travel tips

Riding Metrorail. The transit authority notes that ridership can spike by 15 percent during blossom season, and the weekend ridership can approach weekday levels. Metro will suspend its weekend track work program through Sunday, April 14. Despite the crowding, taking Metrorail will almost always be better than driving to downtown Washington because of the traffic congestion.

Walking. Smithsonian is the Metro station closest to the Tidal Basin, but it’s jammed at blossom time. If you’re up for a little more walking, get off at L’Enfant Plaza, Federal Triangle or Foggy Bottom. For a great walk in good weather, get off the Blue Line at Arlington Cemetery station and cross the Potomac River on the Memorial Bridge, past the Lincoln Memorial to the Tidal Basin.

Consult visitor maps on downtown streets or the ones posted by the National Park Service around the Mall. Bus shelters often have maps.

Biking. Capital Bikeshare has many bike stations along the Mall. See a map at www.capitalbikeshare.com. You can sign up to be a member for 24 hours, three days, a month or a year, then take a bike from any station. The first 30 minutes of each trip are free; riders pay an additional fee for every 30 minutes.

Riding around the Mall and East Potomac Park is delightful, but bike parking is limited. There is some parking near the Washington Monument and by the Jefferson Memorial.

Parking. Parking near the Tidal Basin during blossom time is extremely scarce, and traffic is heavy. Drivers can park at Hains Point and take a shuttle. Very limited parking for disabled people is available near the memorials.

95 Express Lanes

The conversion of the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95 into high occupancy toll lanes continues this weekend and this coming week. Each night through Wednesday, from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m., the Virginia Department of Transportation plans to close Russell Road in the Quantico area for the placement of steel on I-95 above Russell Road. Through traffic on Russell Road will be directed to a detour. One lane on I-95 North will be closed.

After the Russell Road operation is done, VDOT plans to close the Telegraph Road bridge over I-95 in that area for nine months. Workers will demolish and replace the old bridge.

Falls Church lane closing

Drivers will find the right northbound lane of North Washington Street closed at Jefferson Street in Falls Church through Sunday for work on storm sewers.

Takoma Park work

The Maryland State Highway Administration has begun a resurfacing project on East West Highway between Park and New Hampshire avenues in Takoma Park. The project, which will continue into the fall, is starting with work on the curb, gutters and sidewalk and then will move into road resurfacing during the spring.

Drivers may find lanes closed from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. weekdays and from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. Sundays through Thursdays.

Robert Thomson is The Washington Post’s “Dr. Gridlock.” He answers travelers’ questions, listens to their complaints and shares their pain on the roads, trains and buses in the Washington region.
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