Bus improvements urged along 16th Street NW

 


Bus riders wait at a bus stop on 16th Street and U Street NW. Most mornings, riders are left behind by crowded buses. (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post).

The D.C. Department of Transportation must focus on the bus commuting challenges along 16th Street NW,  a D.C. Council report says.

One of the three top bus corridors in the District, 16th Street is home to bus stops crowded with frustrated riders. Traffic congestion causes frequent delays and buses often are too full to pick up more passengers.  Riders, smart-growth advocates and Metro officials have been advocating for a dedicated bus lane.

Now, the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment says the city’s transportation agency should study the feasibility of a dedicated lane and work with Metro to examine other possible improvements such as off-board fare collection.

“Rush hour congestion on 16th Street continues to increase, and bus service has slowed exponentially in recent years,” says a committee report that issues recommendations on the proposed 2015 budget. DDOT has suggested that the implementation of a signal prioritization program in the corridor and increased parking enforcement can help address the congestion problem, the report says.

A 2013 DDOT study of the corridor recommends a peak-hour transit lane in the corridor, extending 2.7 miles between Arkansas Avenue and H Street NW. The bus lane has potential to increase transit travel speeds by 30 percent, that study says.

Council member Mary M. Cheh  (D-Ward 3), chair of the transportation committee, said at a recent forum about better bus service that ridership growth on 16th Street presents a greater reason for finding solutions to the travel challenges in the corridor.  Although more buses have been added to the S Line in the last couple of years, the addition of hundreds of new riders in recent months means buses continue to be crowded, forcing drivers to leave passengers behind at bus stops.

“The problem is only going to grow because as you know we are growing,” Cheh said. “It is only going to be more and more urgent that we provide effective, efficient, adequate bus service for the people who want to use it.”

The committee report, dated May 15, says the council committee is “disappointed” by lack of “identified funding to improve bus travel on 16th Street” in Mayor Vincent Gray’s (D) proposed capital budget.

Metro and D.C. transit officials say they are working to implement several improvements in the corridor. Metro is working with DDOT to set up a signal priority program on 16th Street.  The traffic signal system will give priority to buses at some intersections, which should make it easier for them to stay on schedule.  Metro officials say they also are looking at adding longer buses and increasing the number of buses during the peak hours. But the problem is that buses are too often stuck in traffic, Metro officials said. Metro already has 42 bus trips in the corridor in the 8 a.m. hour. That’s one bus every 85 seconds.

Cheh said funding is not the problem.  DDOT received $12.3 million in federal grants in 2010 for bus priority improvements along six transportation corridors in the District, including 16th Street. According to the committee report, 79 percent of the funds remain unspent.

“There is money, there has to be will and there has to be plans that we can implement,” Cheh said.

Luz Lazo writes about transportation and development. She has recently written about the challenges of bus commuting, Metro’s dark stations, and the impact of sequestration on air travel.
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