Muriel Bowser speaks at a candidates' forum. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post) Muriel Bowser speaks at a candidates’ forum. (Michael Williamson/The Washington Post)

Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser is calling for bus service improvements on 16th Street NW, and is urging the District Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of a dedicated bus lane in the busy corridor.

In a letter to DDOT, Bowser asked the agency to “quickly complete the necessary impact analysis and public input process” to make a final recommendation about the bus lane. Bowser does not say whether she would support the bus-lane option, but in the letter dated May 23 she says something must be done to address the increasing demand for bus service on the route.

The S line buses, traveling from Silver Spring to downtown Washington, serve one of the top three busiest Metrobus corridors. Ridership has grown by 25 percent in the past five years, to its current weekday ridership of 21,000.  About half of the morning commuters in the corridor travel by bus.

Bowser, a D.C. Council member who won the Democratic mayoral nomination in April, joins other officials and civic leaders who have recently stepped up pressure on DDOT to focus attention on the corridor’s chronic problems: crowded buses, bus bunching and delays.  In a recent report, the D.C. Council Committee on Transportation and the Environment urged DDOT to address the bus commuting challenges on 16th Street, to study the feasibility of a dedicated lane and partner with Metro to examine other possible improvements such as off-board fare collection.

For years, riders have complained about congestion that causes frequent delays and buses that are often too full to pick up more passengers. Riders, smart-growth advocates and Metro officials have been advocating for a dedicated bus lane, saying it will help buses move along faster.  Metro officials say buses often travel at less than 10 mph. In recent years, Metro has added buses and increased capacity with larger buses.

In the letter to interim director Matthew Brown, Bowser asked for a recommendation regarding the bus lane before work starts on the Military Road bridge project. She also urged DDOT to make progress on setting up a signal priority program in the corridor. DDOT has been working to install a traffic signal system that will give priority to buses at some intersections, which should make it easier for them to stay on schedule.  But it is unclear when that system will be in place.

Although Bowser  has not said whether she would support a bus lane, some 16th street bus riders and advocates say they are glad she supports getting the feasibility study done.  Metro and DDOT issued a report in 2009 that recommended bus lanes in the corridor while DDOT issued its own study last year, recommending a peak-hour bus-lane from Arkansas Avenue to H Street NW.  D.C. Transportation officials say further study is necessary to determine if a bus lane is the right choice.

“As the District continues to grow, so too will demand for these S Routes.  If this problem persists, transit riders will switch to other, less efficient transportation modes, causing further traffic problems in an already congested corridor,” Bowser wrote. “Overwhelming demand for bus service on the 16th Street corridor is a good problem to have.  We must ensure that it is met with increased supply and a higher quality of service.”