5 years after launching the Circulator bus service, few would disagree that DDOT has created a compelling service and brand.  But success creates its own problems.

Now everyone wants the Circulator in their neighborhood, and many want a stop within a short walk of their home.  Catering to every such request could dilute the service and the brand. Already, the different routes serve different purposes, with the Mall loop filling a very different niche than the route through Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights.

While catering to loud or connected residents sometimes passes as inclusion in local government, DDOT has instead launched a more comprehensive planning process.  They want to crowdsource the mission and goals of the Circulator.  They want the Circulator to be your idea. 

What do you think the future mission of the Circulator should be?  You can let DDOT know at their online Circulator survey, or simply through comments to this post.  All features of the service are up for grabs, so don’t hold back.  And feel free to think creatively.  Here’s what a Circulator Advisory Panel of ANC reps had to say.  And here are a couple possible Circulator goals and objectives, many of them overlapping, to prime the pump.  Let the brainstorming begin!

Connecting activity centers in DC:  While Metrorail and Metrobus do a good job getting riders into and out of the city, we don’t have direct, efficient transit between many activity centers in DC.


Connecting activity centers.

This was the original goal of the Circulator.  However, most Circulator routes go through downtown, so there’s lots of potential to directly connect more activity centers.

What this would mean:  This goal could mean more routes connecting Activity Centers, including local routes (like the Dupont-Georgetown-Rosslyn route starting Sept 1) and cross-town routes (connecting major NW activity centers with NE/SE activity centers such as Catholic University, H Street, Minnesota Avenue, and DHS/St Elizabeths).  Local routes could use smaller buses.  As more activity centers develop throughout the city, Circulator routes can be added to support and manage density growth in those areas.

Getting tourists off the Mall:  Tourists want to see monuments that are far away from each other, and they want to see more of our city than the Mall, but are faced with a subway that provides underground views or a MetroBus service that can be confusing for the uninitiated.  Like the goal of connecting activity centers, connecting tourist centers to each other and to other parts of the city is of particular interest to DC residents interested in economic development and reduced congestion and smog.  Furthermore, the only solution to the land grab on the Mall is to connect the Mall to other activity centers that could host future monuments and museums.

What this would mean:  This goal could mean more promotion of Circulator service in hotels, subway stops and tourist locations, as well as a possible takeover of the tourist bus contract with the National Park Service.

Make buses an attractive option to boost bus ridership:  The Circulator has attracted many riders who would otherwise have never taken the bus.  This is good for everyone.  DDOT has accomplished this with the convenience of 10 minute headways, routes that are easy to remember because they connect activity centers (and are named as such), comfortable buses, allowing unfolded strollers, pleasant drivers and good marketing. 

What this would mean:  This goal could mean extended hours of operation, improved marketing for older residents and to families with young children, investment in comfortable bus stops with bus bulb-outs and bus rapid transit initiatives (see below).

Leverage DDOT’s management of the streetscape to deliver faster buses:  It’s difficult for Metrobus to deliver faster service, because they are not in control of the intersection signaling, dedicated lane creation and enforcement, bus bulb-outs and other streetscape features that expedite bus traffic.  DDOT can more easily push for this in its routes because all the streetscape decisions and bus decisions are made under the same roof, though they could also work more closely with WMATA to speed existing Metrobus routes. 

Currently, only one of the Circulator routes, the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan/Columbia Heights/McPherson Square route, is a limited stop route, with stops at activity centers only.  This goal would also lower Circulator costs to maintain 10-minute headways significantly.

What this would mean:  This goal could mean dedicated bus lanes with enforcement along Circulator routes, intersection signal prioritization along Circulator routes and limited stops along all Circulator routes.

These obviously aren’t mutually exclusive, and this list is just the beginning.  So, what are your ideas for the Circulator?

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Ken Archer is CTO of a software firm in Tysons Corner. He commutes to Tysons by bus from his home in Georgetown, where he lives with his wife and son.  Ken completed a Masters degree in Philosophy from The Catholic University of America.