New dedicated bus lanes debut next week in a four-block stretch of Georgia Avenue NW, near Howard University.
Operation and enforcement of the new transit lanes from Florida Avenue to Barry Place NW., begin Monday in what would be the District’s first enforceable bus lanes in years, if not decades.
Although it’s a short third-of-a-mile stretch of transit lane, officials say it should help speed up bus travel in what currently is a clogged portion of the route served by Metrobus routes 70 and 79.
“This section had particularly low bus speeds,” said Terry Owens, spokesman for the D.C. Department of Transportation. Owens said the goal “is to improve bus reliability and speeds and subsequently promote increased ridership and improved conditions for the people riding already.”
The 70s line is one of the city’s busiest, carrying about 20,000 passengers from downtown Washington to downtown Silver Spring. Buses in the corridor have high ridership throughout the day. Now the buses will have their own lane from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday trough Saturday, DDOT said.
The bus lanes pilot on Georgia Avenue answers growing calls for prioritizing bus travel in some of the region’s busiest corridors where buses carry a substantial number of commuters yet are often stuck behind the general traffic. Metro, an active advocate for bus lanes, hasn’t had many dedicated lanes since most of the region’s more than 60 miles of bus lanes faded into history after the arrival of Metrorail in the 1970s. The agency currently runs buses on transit-only lanes in Alexandria.
D.C. transportation officials say they hope to use the Georgia Avenue pilot as testing ground for larger future projects. DDOT also is planning to install rush-hour bus lanes along 16th Street NW. The District has bus lane signs on 9th and 7th Street NW, in downtown, but those are not enforced and are used by general traffic.
Besides public buses, the bus lanes will be open to bicycles, taxis with passengers, tour buses, charter buses, school buses, and MetroAccess and emergency vehicles. DDOT said it will add a bright red surface to the bus lanes in the late spring to make them more clearly visible to the driving public.
“Driving in bus lanes is prohibited for all other motorists, unless they are making turns at intersections or driveways,” DDOT said in a statement. When making turns, drivers can enter the bus lane 40 feet before turning.
City officials are urging drivers in the area to obey the regulations, or else face a $200 fine. The fine would also apply to vehicles parked illegally in a dedicated bus lane.
The bus lanes are part of a $6 million streetscape improvements project that dates back to 2007, and also includes new streetscape, accessibility safety improvements, DDOT said.