Metro and D.C. transportation officials need to show they’ve made the most of 16th Street


Metrobus passengers ride down 16th Street. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
Robert Thomson
Columnist March 8

Buses have to be a big part of the solution to the traffic problem on lower 16th Street NW. They carry a big part of the commuting public, and they do it in a tiny portion of the vehicles on the street.

There are so many buses on this route that the schedule — if they could stick to the schedule — would have them arriving at stops about every 90 seconds. Yet the buses can’t keep up with the demand from commuters, and the street still is jammed with traffic.

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. View Archive

How can the buses on the S Line be made more effective? The search for solutions reflects some of the common dilemmas in urban travel and can pit neighbor against neighbor.

Bus lanes on a portion of 16th Street may help many travelers, and they are frequently discussed, but they would not come without consequences.

Some in the communities along this corridor would prefer other options.

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

It’s true that Mondays through Fridays, buses are often too full to stop and admit new passengers by the time they reach my block on 16th Street NW near U Street — especially after about 8:15 a.m. While I am not currently using the bus on a daily basis, I do see this overcrowding and the lack of a sufficient number of buses as a much bigger problem than traffic congestion leading to bus delays — at least for this portion of 16th Street.

Your column [Dr. Gridlock, Feb. 27] reported that Dupont Circle Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Kishan Putta has raised concerns about this overcrowding and the bus shortage on the southern part of the route. I recently signed up for Metrobus e-mail alerts and have noticed that the congestion and delays seem to occur much north of the U Street stop.

Further, my experience does not conform to the statement of Metro Assistant General Manager Jack Requa that “There really isn’t much more room to put more buses on the street.” It seems to me that more buses are desperately needed, so everyone who needs a ride can get one without a long wait in rush hour!

Given all this, I don’t understand the utility of a dedicated bus lane on 16th Street, especially as rush-hour parking restrictions already preclude parked cars on the southbound side in the morning and the northbound side in the evenings. In addition, at least between U Street and the circle at Massachusetts Avenue, there are only two lanes in each direction — so using one as a bus-only lane would most likely make the remaining lane impossibly congested.

An additional concern is that your column hinted at lost parking spaces if dedicated bus lanes were put in place. Given the existing rush-hour restrictions, that would be a real hardship to those of us who live in the area between U Street and Massachusetts Avenue.

After all, when we take the bus or Metrorail to work or other appointments, many if not most of us need to park our cars safely and legally on the street.

And with the continued development of new residences in the area, it has already become increasingly difficult to park at all hours seven days a week, despite enhanced residential parking (zone sticker holders only) on many blocks.

Moreover, with street cleaning now back in effect for nine months, we also cannot leave a car parked for an entire day on certain blocks on Mondays and Tuesdays. Losing the ability to park on the northbound side of 16th Street starting at 7 a.m. Monday through Friday will make life even more difficult and stressful.

I write in hopes that the idea of dedicated bus lanes along 16th Street will be fully explored before any decisions are made that will further burden area residents. Dedicated lanes will do nothing to relieve bus overcrowding. Watching the bus go by in its dedicated lane will not help us get where we need to go!

— Ronnie J. Kweller, the District

Bus lanes make a lot of sense in theory, but we don’t have much practical experience with them in the D.C. region. Much of it comes from opening up some shoulders for commuter buses at rush hours.

There are other things we can try that have less impact on the street profile: Get more supervisors out on the route to address complaints that less-than-full buses are bypassing stops. Intensify supervisors’ efforts to get buses on schedule despite the congestion. Use signal priority technology to keep buses on time as they pass through a series of intersections.

Those fixes are easy to implement compared with installing bus lanes. That’s not just a matter of engineering. It’s also a matter of D.C. politics, in which travelers and residents press for their own interests.

The 16th Street corridor is a logical place for a premier transit system. But Metro and the District Department of Transportation need to show they are squeezing the most capacity out of the existing resources.

Dr. Gridlock also appears Thursday in Local Living. Comments and questions are welcome and may be used in a column, along with the writer’s name and home community. Write Dr. Gridlock at The Washington Post, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or e-mail drgridlock@washpost.com .

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