The 16th Street buses that carry about 21,000 bus commuters on a typical weekday are getting a dedicated transit lane.
The D.C. Department of Transportation is embarking on a $6 million investment to the Northwest corridor, beginning with design of the rush hour bus lane as early as this spring, city transportation planner Megan Kanagy said. The agency has $2 million in hand to begin the implementation of a plan laid out in a recently released study of the corridor. The bus lane, along with other changes to the road infrastructure and transit services, is expected to help reduce the chronic crowding, delays and bus bunching that ail the route.
“This corridor carries so many people by bus that we really need to start making some changes,” Kanagy said.
Besides a bus lane, the plan also calls for an off-board payment system and an all-door entry system on the street’s S-Line buses to reduce dwelling times at the bus stops. There will be some consolidation of bus stops, an expansion of the rush-hour parking restrictions, an extension of the center reversible lane from Arkansas Avenue to K Street and the installation of a fifth lane from W Street to O Street and from K Street to H Street.
The improvements could benefit thousands of commuters in a corridor where buses are often stuck behind traffic traveling at speeds of less than 10 miles per hour. If the plan is carried out, 16th Street NW could become a testing ground for the type of improved bus service that transit advocates and riders say would make Metrobus more efficient and attractive to commuters. Transportation officials also see it expanding to other busy bus lines like those on Georgia Avenue, 14th Street, and H Street.
But the plan comes with some tradeoffs.The lane could save nearly six minutes of travel time during the morning commute for some southbound buses and the same for the northbound traffic in the evening, but general traffic would see modest increases in travel time. The addition of the reversible bus lane will keep two lanes for general traffic, but delays could increase by about two minutes during the evening the commute.
“There is no easy solution here, but we try to improve bus travel times while also maintaining operations for other vehicles on the roadway,” said Kanagy, who oversees the project.
Transit advocates, including Metro, have long advocated for bus lanes as a solution to the chronic problems. The transit agency also has argued that it makes sense to give bus riders the dedicated lane because more people ride on buses than in cars during rush hour. Although the District doesn’t have significant stretches of bus-only lanes right now, it did in the 1960s and 70s before Metrorail was built. Metro says there was dozens of miles of rush-hour and full-time bus lanes, including one that was installed in 1962 on 16th Street NW between H Street NW and Florida Avenue NW.
Now that DDOT has completed the planning and conceptual design, advocates say it’s time to move forward with bringing that bus lane back. DDOT projects that could be accomplished in two to four years. The agency has funds in the current fiscal budget to begin implementation, but it has yet to determine a funding source for the remaining $4 million it needs to carry out the plan within the next six years.
“They have money for it and they should spend it. Lets do this as quickly as we can,” said Kishan Putta, a community activist who has been pushing for the transit lane for the past three years.
A former neighborhood advisory commissioner who rides the S-Line to work in downtown, Putta said the current problems of the corridor, such as crowding and delays, have only discouraged transit use. Still, investments in limited-stop service, the addition of longer buses and more frequent service, have also boosted ridership.
“When I first started working on this people were abandoning the bus for taxis and Ubers,” he said. ” People rely on the bus and if we don’t do something soon we will lose them to other parts of the city or other modes of transportation.”
DDOT says it will implement the plan in three phase. Within the first 18 months, it will implement some short-term improvements to traffic operations such as extending rush hour times in the corridor. The parking restrictions will be enforced 7 to 10 a.m. instead of 7 to 9:30 a.m. In the evening, it would extend the restriction from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Kanagy said this change could take place this year. DDOT will continue efforts on the transit signal priority program, prohibit parking between L and M streets during the p.m. peak hours, and will coordinate with the Department of Public Works to adjust sweeping time restrictions on side streets.
Kanagy said the agency is working with Metro on more short-term transit changes and a plan on how to implement an off-board payment system and automated enforcement of the bus lane. The city is looking at New York’s off-board fare collection system and it’s “select bus service” on 10 routes that features transit lanes and other features planned for 16th Street.
The bus lane would come in two to four years, as part of the second phase. Under DDOT’s proposal, buses would have a southbound dedicated lane from 7 to 10 a.m. and a northbound one from 4 to 7:30 p.m.
DDOT would consolidate some bus stops to save buses time. Eight bus stops could be potentially eliminated: southbound stops at Newton, Lamont and V streets; and northbound at L, Q, V, Lamont and Newton streets.
The study focused on a 2.7-mile stretch from Arkansas Avenue south to H Street NW, a section an earlier study noted as optimal for a dedicated bus lane.