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Bus-only lanes set to open April 17 in Arlington

This new bus stop at 33rd & Crystal will open on bus-only lanes on April 17. (Photo courtesy of Arlington County)

New bus-only lanes will open in Arlington County this month as part of the region’s experiment with bus rapid transit.

Arlington officials say the county’s 2.25-mile portion of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway is ready to open April 17. The five-mile route connects the Crystal City and Braddock Road Metro stations.

Arlington’s bus lanes bring to completion a project viewed a testing ground for a bus system that uses dedicated transit lanes to more quickly and efficiently transport people. Alexandria’s portion opened in August 2014 and has since experienced significant ridership growth, officials say.

Arlington will add just under a mile of transit-only roadway and 1.5 miles of on-street dedicated transit lanes that will be effective during the morning and evening rush hours. That means that on Crystal Drive and Clark Street, north of 26th Street, buses will have exclusive use of a lane from 6 to 9 a.m. and from 3:30 to 7 p.m. The stretch of bus roadway will run from the Alexandria line to 26th Street.

Along with this opening, Metro is extending its Metroway service to Pentagon City.  Metroway was introduced when Alexandria’s bus lanes opened as the region’s bus rapid transit brand.  Moving forward, Metroway buses that now travel between South Glebe Road and 26th Street will operate on the new bus lanes. The transit agency said it will also extend its morning and afternoon short trips to operate between Reed Street in Potomac Yard and the Crystal City Metro station.

Arlington Transportation Director Dennis Leach said the biggest shift in the county is that buses that are now sharing streets with the general traffic and often stuck in congestion will now have their own travel lanes.  Some bus routes with Arlington’s transit system, ART, will also benefit from the new bus lanes. Those include the ART 43 and ART 92, serving Crystal City.

“We expect a much more reliable service and faster service,” Leach said.

Officials expect not only time savings for riders, but also more efficient and attractive service that could potentially draw more passengers.  So far officials say the bus lanes in Alexandria have been successful, leading to increases in the number of bus users in the area. Metroway daily ridership was about 1,670 in February, up by about 300 since the service launched. Other bus routes, including Metrobus 9A, that connects Huntington to Pentagon, maintains a robust daily ridership of nearly 3,000.

For both Arlington and Alexandria the transitway complements the Metro system, providing an easy bus connection to the Pentagon City and Crystal City stations in the north end and to the Braddock Road station in the south end of Alexandria.  The route would also run near the infill Metro station that Alexandria is planning in the growing community at Potomac Yard.

Metro adds the proposed Potomac Yard station to its rail system

It was also planned to support the redevelopment efforts at Potomac Yard where plans call for more residential, commercial and office development, along with space where people can walk, bike and access transit.

“Having high-quality, reliable transit is essential to making sure that these neighborhoods form well and don’t produce a lot of additional traffic,” Leach said. “We need to provide the transit and we need to give them high quality experience so that it is an attractive way to commute and travel for other business.”

Metroway buses serve 15 bus stops on the route.  This Metro map shows the route alignment:

If you drive in the area, you will need to pay attention to new signage and be careful not to drive in the bus-only lanes.  Police will be in an outreach and education mode to get drivers acclimated to the change during the first 30 days after opening, but will start issuing $200 fines to violators after that grace period.

Bus service will run every six minutes during the peak hours and all the bus stations are equipped with real time arrival information and high platforms that allow level boarding. In the future, officials envision adding other features such as an off-board payment system and ways to allow passengers to board using all bus doors.

The new bus lanes will open after a series of setbacks that pushed the opening about a year.  Officials attributed the delays to bad weather, longer waits for permits, and construction issues such as poor soil conditions.  The county was also forced to redesign the station roofs after it couldn’t find a supplier for the size and type of roof panel needed in the transitway station design.