All Aboard!

February 1, 2013

I’m freakishly good at guessing plot twists. (Just ask my husband how annoying it is to watch TV with me.) But when I walked into a meeting about problems with the 16th Street S-bus line on Monday night, I never suspected what was about to go down.

Well, that’s not exactly true. I figured I’d hear a bunch of complaints from residents about how frustrating it is to wait for a bus only to see it roll right by because it’s crammed full of passengers. Apparently, that can happen seven or more times during a single morning rush hour for folks living in the Columbia Heights/U Street/Dupont corridor.

My other prediction? We’d hear from Jim Hamre, WMATA’s director of bus planning, that providing any more service would require money he simply doesn’t have. There are already 55 buses per hour ferrying passengers on 16th Street — it’s just that with 20,000 riders a day, it’s the busiest line in the city.

The evening started playing out as expected, and then suddenly, unlike these people standing at their bus stops every morning, we were getting somewhere.

Several people recommended taking a few buses off of the normal route, which extends all the way from Silver Spring to downtown, and sending them off on a Circulator-ish spin between Irving and K streets. Just that little bit of dedicated service on the most crowded stretch during the 8 o’clock hour would improve things, said Kishan Putta, the Dupont ANC commissioner who organized the meeting.

That wouldn’t be possible, Hamre explained, because putting in a bus line demands a designated parking space nearby for the driver to take breaks. No parking, no dice.

At that, every ear in the room perked up. Earlier suggestions had been creative but pretty impractical: reconfiguring seats to allow for more standing room, stationing Metro personnel at each bus stop to ensure proper passenger flow, having drivers announce repeatedly, “Move to the back!”

“If we got you that spot, you’ll get us a bus?” Putta asked. He’d heard correctly. With a handshake, he and Hamre confirmed the deal, and Putta promised to seek out suitable real estate.

The hourlong meeting didn’t solve the problem. Probably the only issue more vexing to Putta’s constituents than the S buses is parking. (“Nobody gives up parking for no reason,” he admits.) And although so many residents want a bus to stop to give them a ride, fewer people are going to welcome a big, smelly bus to loiter outside their front door.

But a night that I thought would be a dead end became a way forward. If all the people exasperated by the S bus situation work together on this, I’d guess the long waits could finally be over.

Vicky Hallett is a MisFits columnist and the Fit editor for Express.
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