It won’t appear immediately, but DC took a big step toward speeding up buses on 16th Street by recommending a rush-hour bus lane and a package of other ways to make bus service better.

Photo by truthaboutit on Flickr.

16th Street is DC’s busiest bus line, carrying over half of rush hour trips on the street. Advocates have been pushing for bus lanes there since at least 2010, and DDOT’s moveDC plan supports the idea.

A detailed study considered over 30 strategies to speed up bus service in the corridor, including combining some bus stops, letting people pay before boarding, and building either full-time or rush-hour lanes.

According to information DDOT’s Megan Kanagy presented at a meeting Tuesday night, DDOT is going with the rush-hour option. From 7-10 am, the curb lane heading south would be for buses only; from 4:30-7:30, it would be the northbound curb lane. The bus lane would extend from Spring Road down to Lafayette Park.

Typical lane configuration in Columbia Heights in the AM peak (left) and PM peak (right). Images from DDOT.

DDOT would further analyze making 16th Street south of U Street, which right now is 4 wide lanes, into 5 narrow lanes so there could be a reversible lane. This would mean a reversible lane during rush hour for this whole stretch (the median north of Piney Branch wouldn’t go anywhere).

Why not two-way, full-time lanes? One of the study’s options created bus lanes in both directions from 7 am to 10 pm. However, the analysis showed that the effect on traffic was just too great, seriously jamming up 16th Street and likely spilling a lot of traffic onto adjacent streets.

Why not midday? Early presentations in this study showed that 16th Street buses also bunch up during the middle of the day as well as rush hours, and the bus is not faster outside rush either. The rush-hour lanes could continue into the day, but that would require forbidding parking during that time.

At previous community meetings, residents expressed a lot of opposition to that idea, which would mean 500 fewer parking spaces all along 16th Street during the middle of the day. While a bus lane would help transit riders, there aren’t as many riders then, and DDOT appears to have decided this trade-off isn’t worth the fight.

More than just lanes: Besides the rush-hour lanes, the study recommends converting the S1 bus into a limited-stop bus like the S9, and working on technology to let people pay before getting on the bus and (since they’ve paid) be able to use the back door as well as the front to get on.

Nine bus stops would be combined, where there are multiple bus stops in very close proximity, and some bus stops would get longer shelters to accommodate more people.

According to a handout from the meeting, this lane would speed up each trip along 16th Street by 2 and a half minutes, and the full package of changes would speed up service by 4-7 minutes (7 being for the S1 becoming limited-stop). A few minutes is quite a lot, especially across the 20,000 people a day who use the S buses.

In addition, the study team anticipates the changes will reduce bunching and make the bus trips much more reliable, letting riders count on a more consistent wait time and travel time.

More details will be coming in a meeting on January 21 from 3:30-8:00 pm at the Jewish Community Center at 16th and Q. People will be able to stop by at any time to peruse posters showing the options and talk to planners, and they will give a presentation about the study at 4 and 7 pm.

David Alpert is Founder and President of Greater Greater Washington and Executive Director of DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST). He worked as a Product Manager for Google for six years and has lived in the Boston, San Francisco, and New York metro areas in addition to Washington, DC. He lives with his wife and two children in Dupont Circle. Unless otherwise noted, opinions in his GGWash posts are his and not the official views of GGWash or DCST.

Dan Malouff is a transportation planner for Arlington and an adjunct professor at George Washington University. He has a degree in urban planning from the University of Colorado and lives in Trinidad, DC. He runs BeyondDC and contributes to the Washington Post. Dan blogs to express personal views, and does not take part in GGWash's political endorsement decisions.