Better bus service part of Fairfax plan to clear gridlock

By Ashley Halsey III
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, December 6, 2009

Traffic engineers can throw out more numbers than the New York phone book when it comes to calculating solutions to resolve rush-hour congestion.

Their equations of cars per hour, lane-miles traveled and optimal flow are about as confusing to the layman as calculating the trajectory needed to send a rocket to Saturn.

Here's one that just about anybody can understand.

A bus is about 40 feet long and can seat 40 people during rush hour. A car is about 15 feet long, and the vast majority carry just one person during rush hour.

Now picture two lanes of the Capital Beltway in morning rush hour.

Traffic is moving slowly with each vehicle five feet from the next. One lane is all buses, each carrying a full load of passengers. The other is all cars, each carrying just the driver.

One mile of the bus lane: 4,693 people on their way to work.

One mile of the car lane: 264 people on their way to work.

A bit simplistic, you say? Perhaps, but you don't need a rocket scientist to calculate that if everybody took the bus, traffic congestion would go away.

What you do need -- to relieve just some of it -- is more buses and better service.

That is what Fairfax County traffic officials propose to supply. In an exhaustively articulated 10-year plan, the county's Department of Transportation lays out, with 688 pages of maps and text, a plan for integrating improved bus service into an overall strategy that includes enhancements to highways and other mass transit.

"It is impressive work," said Stewart Schwartz, executive director of the Coalition for Smarter Growth and a proponent of mass transit. "It's one of the most detailed and analytical reports I've seen. This is just what Fairfax needs to do for its future growth."

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