DDOT lays out ‘action plan’ for 16th Street NW; no bus lane for now

August 11
 (Luz Lazo/The Washington Post).
(Luz Lazo/The Washington Post).

The D.C. Department of Transportation has a plan for 16th Street N.W., one of the city’s busiest bus corridors, and also among the most congested.

At least for the near future, that plan doesn’t include a bus lane.

DDOT says before any bus lanes are installed, the agency plans a transit priority study to “examine various alternative approaches for improving transit along the 16th Street NW corridor, including examining the potential for bus lanes.”

The study will start next year, will be done with public input, and will take about a year to complete, DDOT said.

Because Metrobus carries more people than cars do during the peak hours — and as many as 21,000 people daily— public transit advocates have lobbied for a bus-only lane. They say giving buses exclusive right of way would improve their performance and speed up the travel times for transit users.

But DDOT has decided to wait on the bus lane.

The agency says its 16th Street Action Plan, however, provides some improvements.  Metro last month announced the addition of larger buses to the corridor starting this month to to relieve crowding and accommodate rising ridership.  DDOT is also considering extending the rush hours in the corridor by up to an hour in each direction. This will affect parking, but the additional time would make it possible for  buses to move in more quickly during the late morning and evening.

During the rush hour, buses in the corridor sometimes move at speeds of less than 10 miles per hour, according to Metro.

As part of the plan, DDOT says it recently completed a signal optimization timing plan for 44 signals along 16th Street, which led to travel-time savings. The agency is also working with Metro on a traffic signal priority program that would allow buses the green light, which could speed bus travel.  That program, however, is not likely to begin until next summer.

“As the District continues to grow, we think 16th Street NW can be a model for improving public transit and maximizing  our large roads so that they can efficiently move people and support healthy neighborhood life,” the agency said in a blog post that lays out the plan.

Kishan Putta, a candidate for city council and longtime advocate for bus improvements along 16th Street, said he worries about the time studies will take.

“Too bad they decided against a pilot-test of dedicated bus-lanes which work so well in other cities and used to exist on 16th Street as well,” Putta wrote in his Facebook page Monday.  Some riders, advocates and Metro support a rush-hour transit lane for 2.7 miles between Arkansas Avenue and H Street NW.

When and if a bus lane is ever installed, it won’t be the first time the corridor has had one. According to Metro before there was Metrorail, in the 1960s and ’70s, the city had about 30 miles of bus lanes. In 1962, the city’s first transit lane was installed on 16th Street N.W.,  extending for about two miles from H street to Florida Avenue, according to Metro.  Other popular transit corridors including 14th Street, Georgia Avenue and H and I Street also had bus lanes. See this old photo Metro found from a transit lane in 14th Street.


Bus Lane on 14th Street next to the National Mall in the early 1970s (WMATA)

DDOT’s proposed long-range transportation plan, moveDC, identifies 16th Street as a potential place for dedicated bus lanes, but transportation officials say it could be years before one is installed. The agency says it needs to do a more in-depth assessment of the potential benefits to bus riders and the impacts on parking and traffic configuration.

“DDOT believes a formal, in-depth analysis of parking, loading, traffic, operations, emergency access, pedestrian and vehicular safety, and other technical aspects should be conducted as the next step in improving 16th Street bus service,” DDOT director Matthew Brown said in a June letter to council member and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser.

For more details about the 16th Street NW Action Plan, see DDOT’s post.

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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