DDOT is moving forward with many exciting transportation projects that will improve DC, from bike lanes to streetcars. However, their plans for these projects fail to also consider the vital task of making our existing bus service more efficient.
There are a few key places where lots of buses use a single street, and get slowed down by traffic. According to data from WMATA, the number one such area is H and I Streets between Pennsylvania Avenue and 15th Street. That’s the the key crosstown bottleneck created when Pennsylvania Avenue and E Streets were closed to traffic.
DC has plans for a K Street transitway, but K Street can’t also handle the 32, 36, 37, 39, 42, 43, G8, L2, S2, S4, P17, P19, W13, X2, 3Y, 11Y, and 16Y (am I missing any?) that use H and/or I Streets crosstown. If DC does the K Street project, it’ll be even more important to accommodate buses on parallel streets during the construction as well.
We’ve been writing about the importance of bus priority treatment for years now. Speeding up buses is the biggest opportunity to both help riders and restrain the growth of transit operating costs. Unfortunately, despite WMATA’s dogged promotion of the concept, so far it has encountered little response from many local DOTs.
DC should embrace bus priority. DC has the highest public transportation mode share in the region and a very congested downtown. Metrorail is at capacity in the core. The faster DC residents can get to jobs, restaurants, or sporting events by transit, the more people can work or shop downtown and spend money. The more commuters from other states get there smoothly by bus, the lower the wear and tear on streets and the more competitive DC employers become.
DDOT should be eager to put bus lanes on every downtown street where buses run and make riding downtown by bus almost as fast as by Metrorail. However, buses get scant attention from DDOT’s Action Agenda.
This omission becomes a particular problem when DDOT plans projects on key bus streets without considering all modes. The proposed cycle track on I Street, in particular, could foreclose the opportunity for a bus lane.
The current plan places the bike lane on the south side of the one-way westbound street and moves all loading to the north side. Buses can’t use the south side, and a future bus lane on the north side would mean no loading on I.
Maybe they can coexist. Maybe DDOT can make the rightmost travel lane a bus lane and put in bus bulbs, while trucks pull across the bus lane to load. Maybe there are other solutions. From talking to folks at DDOT, however, it doesn’t appear this was even considered. The bike people aren’t talking to the transit people. They haven’t formulated a more comprehensive downtown mobility plan. They’re just putting in facilities wherever there’s room. We shouldn’t plan our streets based on a “land grab” of who can snag the curb lane before the other division gets around to it.
At Thursday’s public meeting, WABA’s Henry Mesias said they actually prefer a bike lane on M Street. The bicycle master plan calls for lanes on L and M Streets, not I and L. M Street is longer in both directions, provides a route past busy Mount Vernon Square, and could connect to the 9th Street lane. I’ve put in some calls, but DDOT hasn’t yet explained why they chose I over M.
There’s another excellent candidate for an east-west bike route: Pennsylvania Avenue. The portion past the White House is already in effect an enormous cycle track. Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House is underutilized because its many lanes now just dead-end at 17th. DDOT could create a cycle track on Penn, past the White House, and then connecting to the 15th Street lane, potentially a lane along New York Avenue toward Mount Vernon Square, and the existing bike lane on G.
Here’s a potential strategy for crosstown mobility:
Purple: Cycle tracks. Blue: Existing bike lanes. Red: K Street Transitway.
Orange: Bus lanes that also allow bikes, or bus lanes as well as bike lanes.
I’m excited DDOT is pursuing these innovative projects. When we discussed K Street, I pushed hard for DDOT to start considering crosstown cycle tracks on parallel streets. We shouldn’t delay all projects a year just to ensure there’s a detailed plan. At the same time, there should be such a plan. For now, it can be a rough vision, and then we should turn it into a real plan. With individual divisions planning transportation projects without context and without talking to the other divisions, all we get is chaos and the danger of bad choices.