Between traffic jams, parking problems, and service disruptions on the Red Line, traveling along Wisconsin Avenue can be difficult. Filling the gap in Metrobus service between Bethesda and Friendship Heights could give travelers another alternative.

There is no Metrobus service (shown in red and blue) between Bethesda and Friendship Heights. Map from WMATA.

Today, the 30 Metrobus line on Wisconsin Avenue in DC ends at the city line in Friendship Heights, two miles south of Bethesda, because that’s where the preceding DC Trolley line originally ended. There are a lot of Metrobuses that go to Bethesda, but none of them go down Wisconsin Avenue. And the Ride On buses that do go south on Wisconsin stop and turn around at Friendship Heights. 

As a result, riders traveling between Wisconsin Avenue and Bethesda or Medical Center must switch to the Red Line or Ride On, waiting as long as 20 minutes to do so.

Montgomery County is looking at building a Bus Rapid Transit line along Wisconsin Avenue to Friendship Heights. After some recent experiences riding on Wisconsin Avenue, I now understand the support for extending it further south.   

I have started taking the bus from my home in Bethesda to M Street on weekends when I have no tight schedule. Twice this past week, I chose to take the Wisconsin Avenue bus on weekdays because of salty roads and the prevailing general logistics of where I was one day.

Recently, I attended a 6 pm event at Georgetown University that let out at 8 pm. In the past I’d always taken Metro home to Bethesda and driven my car to the university. On this occasion I was already downtown, so I took the bus. It was getting home that was the challenge.

I got to the stop on Wisconsin Avenue around 8:15 pm and ended up waiting 15 minutes for the bus. When it arrived shortly after 8:30 it was packed full, and people were standing in the aisles. I managed to get a seat because someone whose stop was coming up decided to stand. 

It was a long haul up Wisconsin because the crowded bus meant that it stopped at nearly every stop.  When we finally reached Friendship Heights, everybody disembarked. Some people got on the subway.

The rest of us had to transfer to a Ride On bus to get farther up Wisconsin Avenue. It was a 15 minute wait. I was getting off at Wisconsin and Bradley Boulevard. So, the final mile of my journey was going to take me at least 20 minutes. My trip home from Wisconsin and N Street took me nearly 90 minutes. Next time, I’ll drive. 

The next night I had a dinner date at Tenleytown. Again, I decided to take the bus because the stop is very near where I live and I knew there would be friends there who would drive me home. I assumed incorrectly that since it was rush hour, buses would come frequently.

I waited 15 minutes for the Ride On bus that dropped me off at Friendship Heights. I ended up waiting 20 minutes for the Metrobus to complete the second leg of the trip to Tenleytown. Five WMATA buses came into the station and promptly went “Out of Service” while I was waiting.

In all, starting at 6pm, I did not reach Tenley until 7pm. It should not take an hour to go two miles down one of the region’s busiest corridors at rush hour. 

Now, I could have taken the Metro, but it was a very cold night and the bus stop is much closer. And, to be frank, Metro is becoming too expensive and I want to use less expensive modes of transport. 

Eliminating the forced transfer between buses and transit agencies at Friendship Heights would have taken as much as 20 minutes off of my trip. I don’t care if Friendship Heights is the border between the District and Maryland. And I don’t care if that’s where the streetcar historically stopped.

If the 30 Metrobuses went all the way to Medical Center, they would be more effective in relieving crowding on the Metro and the roads. Even better, a Bus Rapid Transit service with dedicated lanes would encourage more people to leave their cars at home or to avoid the rush hour crowds on the Red Line. 

Perhaps, then, Wisconsin Avenue will be known less for bad traffic and parking headaches and instead for positive things such as “record number of bus riders this year.”

Tracey Johnstone is a recovering political pollster who is completing a dissertation on Russian economic reform. She is also secretary of the Action Committee for Transit. She has lived in downtown Bethesda since 1996, and previously lived in Toronto, Moscow, and Alexandria (before the Metro).