Metro has added more buses to the 16th Street “S” line, but ridership just keeps rising, the buses are crowded, and they’re seriously bunching. A dedicated lane is the best solution, say WMATA planners, but in the meantime, they’re going to add articulated (or “accordion”) buses along the congested corridor.
At a forum on bus service Wednesday organized by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, WMATA bus planner Jim Hamre said that Metro will put standard-size buses on the Y line, on Georgia Avenue in Montgomery County, in order to shorten the headways. That will free up some articulated buses for 16th Street.
(Technically, Hamre said, the articulated buses from the Y will serve the 70s line on Georgia Avenue in DC, and the “artics” which ply the 70s line now, which are based at the Northern Bus Garage on 14th Street, will now run on the S line. The Northern artics are older, so Georgia Avenue in DC will enjoy newer buses. The artics moving to 16th Street are slated for replacement next year.)
These steps could make a small dent in a big problem, but Hamre and others argued that only larger steps such a dedicated bus lane and signal priority will really make the buses move smoothly and better serve the massive numbers of riders along 16th Street.
Hamre also pointed out that DC had a dedicated bus lane on 16th Street in the past, but it and other bus lanes were removed when Metro opened. At the time, people believed that the then-new system would reduce the demand for bus service. (And perhaps it did for a time, but now it is crowded too, and many people don’t live right near Metro.)
Joseph Barr from Parsons Brinkerhoff was also part of the forum, and talked about his experience with buses in New York. He cautioned that there is no perfect solution or checklist, but some small changes can go a long way. New York added some bus lanes and shortened dwell times — the time the bus sits at a stop — by adding kiosks at some stops so riders could pay before boarding.
Barr said that DC could use an off-bus fare system more efficiently than New York, since there are already better fare systems like the SmarTrip card to speed the boarding process. Sam Zimbabwe from DDOT said this was a good idea, provided it does not block limited sidewalk space or obstruct riders boarding the bus.
Everyone agreed that the bus service on 16th Street is so popular that has become very frustrating for riders. Metro, working with a limited fleet of buses, is trying to find small steps, but 16th Street really needs more significant changes to improve bus service. That requires some good planning and, most of all, political will.