Transit advocates want bus lanes on 16th Street, and DDOT’s latest MoveDC plans call for them, but at a recent community forum, Ward 4 Councilmember and mayoral candidate Muriel Bowser expressed skepticism that they’re possible.

Here’s how they might be able to work.

Image by the author using Streetmix.

Yes, 16th Street really is that wide

16th Street is 50 feet wide, curb to curb, for pretty much its entire length. But those 50 feet are arranged in three different configurations, depending on the location.

North of Arkansas Avenue, 16th Street has two lanes in each direction with a raised median down the middle. The presence of that median makes this section the hardest to change.

Between P Street and W Street, 16th Street only has four lanes and lacks a median. But it’s still 50 feet wide. The four lanes are just excessively wide.

Between Arkansas Avenue and Park Road, 16th Street’s same 50-foot width is split into five 10-foot lanes. This section is the most informative, and illustrates how a bus lane might fit in.

Two sections of 16th Street. Same width, different lane configurations.
Image by the author using Streetmix.

Flexible lanes are the key

There are many demands on 16th Street. Residents want on-street parking. Drivers want two lanes open for cars in each direction. Transit riders want bus lanes.

Ideally we could accommodate all that on one street and still keep it pedestrian-friendly. But with exactly 50 feet to work with, compromises are necessary.

At off-peak times, both car and bus traffic on 16th Street moves pretty well with just one lane in each direction, leaving the curbside lanes for on-street parking. It’s only at rush hour that more lanes are really necessary.

The solution so far has been to restrict parking at rush hour, allowing the curbside lane to carry traffic at peak times. But north of Arkansas Avenue and south of W Street, where 16th Street is configured with only four total lanes, that solution leaves out a dedicated bus lane.

Using the five lane configuration, however, allows the curbside lane to become a bus-only lane at rush hour, while leaving the center reversible lane as a 2nd general traffic lane. For the most part, everybody gets what they want.

Theoretically, DDOT could apply this configuration to the existing five lane stretch of 16th Street more or less immediately. And although the median north of Arkansas Avenue is hard to change, restriping the four lane section south of W Street should be relatively easy.

And while a peak-period bus lane between P Street and Arkansas Avenue might not be as great as a full busway all the way from Silver Spring to K Street, it would still be one heck of an improvement over current conditions.

Will this actually happen?

Of course, what’s theoretically possible and what’s practically achievable aren’t always the same. DDOT would need to study this much more closely before implementing it.

One potential holdup is that 10 feet is awfully narrow for a bus lane. Usually bus lanes are 11 or even 12 feet wide. But 10-foot lanes seem to be working now between Park and Arkansas, so why not further south as well?

A pilot project on the existing five lane section might help determine if this is a workable configuration. Dupont Circle ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta suggested a pilot project in December. According to Putta, DDOT staff “said they were interested.” That’s certainly encouraging.

As for Bowser, she sent this statement in an email to Ken Archer, who had tweeted about the news:

I never said I don’t support bus lanes. As I recall, I believe I said I don’t think it would work on 16th Street; though I was not responding to any specific proposal. My response was based on my many years of observing traffic patterns on the corridor—but not actual data. I went on to say, which has unfortunately not shown up in your tweets, that signal prioritization is a strategy on the books, with funding that needs to be implemented. As I mentioned to you, I’m happy to review and consider an actual dedicated bus lane proposal that proves to help the most people.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.