A new MetroExtra bus route could connect the entire Rhode Island Avenue corridor between downtown DC and Mount Rainier for the first time. Unfortunately, there isn’t any funding yet.

The proposed MetroExtra G9, based on this map from WMATA. Click for an interactive map.

At a Bloomingdale Civic Association meeting Monday night, WMATA unveiled a proposal for a route that would run along the Rhode Island Avenue corridor from downtown DC to Mount Rainier with a single-seat ride. Today, this can’t be done without changing buses at least once, a holdover from DC’s original transit system planned and built over 80 years ago.

The proposed MetroExtra route G9 is an outcome of the latest of several studies of major bus corridors, this one encompassing the G8 Metrobus, which runs between Michigan Park and Farragut Square, and the 80s, which run between the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station, College Park, and Calverton. (This study does not appear on the Metrobus Studies Website yet.)

The route would make more limited stops than the other bus routes along the corridor, stopping at about every half-mile. It would give residents of Ward 5 and Mount Rainier more frequent and more direct service to downtown, and offer them quicker connections with other major bus routes, such as the 70s, 90s and 80.

Today’s bus routes are a legacy of DC’s old streetcar

Today, most buses along Rhode Island Avenue follow routes set decades ago, when DC and its travel patterns were very different. A look at the 1958 map of the DC Transit system shows the 82 streetcar line, which went to Branchville (now part of College Park), followed its own right-of-way in Prince George’s parallel to the B&O (now CSX) railroad tracks that now host MARC’s Camden Line. From there, it turned south off of Rhode Island Avenue onto 4th Street NE, cut through Eckington onto New York Avenue, then south on 5th Street NW into downtown.

Today’s P6 bus roughly traces this part of the old streetcar route. There were also E2 and F2 buses that came east on Rhode Island Avenue from downtown: the F2 took 9th Street NW, as does today’s G8, and the E2 went around Logan Circle and took 15th Street NW. Both of these buses turned north from Rhode Island Avenue onto 4th Street NE into Edgewood and Brookland, right where the 82 streetcar turned south.

Section of the 1958 DC Transit map showing Rhode Island Ave and 4th St NE. Reprinted map available at the National Capital Trolley Museum.

Today, the G8 and P6 buses do the same thing. But there’s still no bus route that continues on Rhode Island Avenue west of 4th Street NE. As a result, those traveling from Mount Rainier or Ward 5 into downtown must either transfer from the 81, 82, 83 or 84 bus to the Red Line, or take the P6 or walk about 1900 feet under the railroad overpass to get the G8 at 4th & Rhode Island NE to continue west.

The G9 route, as proposed, would terminate at Mont Rainier’s former streetcar turn-around. WMATA should consider extending it further north into the rapidly developing Hyattsville Arts District, or perhaps to Route 1 and East-West Highway, where the new Whole Foods will go, or even into downtown College Park. This would make it more of a regional connector that, if it ran frequently enough, might attract a few more commuters out of their cars on this congested portion of Route 1.

It is unclear whether the proposed G9 bus would, like currently operating MetroExtra routes, only run during the day on weekdays and possibly Saturdays, or if it would be a more round-the-clock operation. That will likely depend on the level of funding that is available.

But it is good to see WMATA planners thinking outside the box of historical patterns of bus service to come up with a more sensible service along one of DC’s major arteries.

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College (BA) and George Mason University (MA, Transportation Policy), he is a consultant and writer on transportation, travel, and sustainability topics and a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable mobility and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.