We interviewed candidates for DC mayor and competitive council races for the April 1 primary, and recorded the conversations on video. We will be posting the videos for each subject area and each race over a few weeks. See all of the interviews here.
Left to right: Muriel Bowser, Tommy Wells, Vincent Gray, Jack Evans, Andy Shallal. Images from the candidate websites.
Bus priority, bus lanes, Bus Rapid Transit — people have long talked about doing more to make our busy bus routes better. The draft moveDC citywide transportation plan now calls for some bus lanes. Dupont ANC Commissioner Kishan Putta and the Coalition for Smarter Growth are specifically campaigning to get elected leaders to support a lane. Where do our mayoral candidates stand?
Tommy Wells is unequivocally for bus lanes, and made a case that tries to appeal not just to transit riders but to drivers who might not benefit. (He likely focused on this because I specifically asked in my question how to build a bus lane when some drivers will feel they are losing out.)
Of course I would go for the dedicated bus lanes. If we’re successful in getting people to walk more and use public transportation, there will be more room for cars. The only hope our local residents have is in creating a multimodal city, so we get more people that have a choice out of their cars.
The amount of parking we have in the city is fixed. For the most part, the amount of lanes and roadways is fixed. So we can’t say, let’s widen 16th Street, because we have front yards there, sidewalks there.
We are adding jobs at a record rate. If people drive down 16th Street from outside the District, then someone who is car dependent on 16th will never be able to get there. The only way is making it faster if you take public transportation.
Wells also had general criticism for the anemic pace of bus improvements in the city.
We’ve not been making improvements in public transportation with buses. It’s really the last thing they do. They’ve had money for over 4 years to - signal prioritization — which means when a bus comes up to a light, it turns green. It’s about as basic a technology as possible. And they’re a bunch of Neanderthals — not to insult Neanderthals. ... It’s ridiculous that we can’t expedite bus transportation through the city. The money is there, the technology is there.
Mayor Vince Gray briefly talked about how he agrees with the idea of bus lanes (and it’s his transportation agency that’s put them in the moveDC plan), though he pivoted to talking primarily about bicycles.
I think buses continue to be an important transportation modality. ... Many people use buses as their preferred way of ... getting from one place to the other. I think having, for example, some express lanes that move buses quickly from one place to the other is an important way to go.
I think ultimately, though, having ways in which people can get to where they want to get to because they have amenities and conveniences and work close to where they are instead of having to use vehicular transportation, is a good approach. Getting people more acclimated to using bicycles. Having more bicycle lanes.
We’ve got to get everybody adapted to the idea that bicycles are an increasingly important way of people getting around in the city. Not everybody has bought into that yet, and that’s going to take time as well.
We now have the most robust bicycle program in America. We have well over 20,000 people who are part of our bikeshare program. Others are coming here now to learn about us so they can emulate the bikeshare program. We’re increasingly putting residential opportunities in places where they didn’t exist heretofore, so that folks can then have a better opportunity to walk to the amenities, to walk to work, and not have the need for vehicular transportation.
Muriel Bowser is generally open to the idea of a bus lane, but would need to see specific proposals. Speaking about the 16th Street concept, which runs through her ward, she said,
I don’t know [about the lane], and I’ve said this before, and I know you had a series on your blog about 16th Street and dedicated bus lanes. There’s been really no proposal that’s been presented to me about what that would look like for 16th Street.
Let me just say more generally that I think we have to, yes, where it makes sense we should have bus lanes. Where it doesn’t make sense, have priority signalization for buses. Anything that will move buses more efficiently will help.
What I’ve been very impressed with over the last several years is we got express bus service on 16th Street and on Georgia Avenue. The success of that MetroExtra bus has been tremendous. So give it a special bus, give it limited stops, you make it more comfortable and convenient, and guess what? People will ride the bus.
Now imagine if they can also get there faster. So I think that wherever possible, we need to prioritize bus travel across the city. We know in many ways it’s more efficient. We can’t put a Metro stop everywhere. We can’t put a streetcar everywhere. But we can look at the changes in demand and react pretty quickly with bus service. ... I’m very committed to making sure we have high-quality bus service in DC.
Jack Evans, having recently met with Putta and other proponents, is supportive of a 16th Street lane, provided the right design can be worked out:
What you’d have to do is a comprehensive study of 16th Street. ... I think it’s a good idea that we do figure out how to get a dedicated bus lane. Now, you wouldn’t do it all the time. You’d have to figure out rush hour how to do it. Maybe eliminate parking, which I think is gone on some parts of the 16th Street. Maybe run the bus lane down the center or on the side. But there’s a way of making it all work for everybody. And I think that given the amount of transportation on 16th Street, it’s something we absolutely must do. We just have to figure out how to do it.
Finally, Andy Shallal likes the idea of bus lanes, especially as an alternative to streetcars, which he is not very enthusiastic about. (More on that in the next post.) He said, “I think it’s a great idea, I do. It certainly is a lot more effective than having to put trolley cars. So yes, absolutely, having dedicated lanes for buses is a great idea.”
Also, the Coalition for Smarter Growth will kick off its campaign for the lane with a happy hour on Wednesday, March 12, 6-8 pm at JoJo Restaurant and Bar at 16th and U.
You can watch this whole portion of my interviews with each candidate below.