Buses along 14th Street. Image by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Buses that run along 14th Street NW are among the busiest in the city, and they’re often crowded and painfully slow. To better serve the skyrocketing residential and business population on the 14th Street corridor, WMATA has considered adding bus service that would run down 14th while only making a few stops.

The 14th Street corridor is bursting with new businesses and new residents— many of whom don’t own cars — but transportation services haven’t kept up. The 14th Street buses (the 52, 53, and 54) are slow, stopping three times more often than the S9 buses that run down 16th Street. There is a limited-stop bus line that runs on 14th Street-- the DC Circulator-- but it veers west at Columbia Heights. 

Back in 2012, WMATA studied this problem and proposed MetroExtra Route 59. The new line would run down 14th but only stop at major bus stops, rather than all of them, in order to make the trip faster and more predictable. Planners call that a "limited-stop" route. The idea has been on the shelf since its inception, but if it happened, here’s how it would work:

Where would the 59 run?

Right now, many buses on 14th only go as far north as Colorado Avenue. Others only make it to Buchanan Street, missing nearly half of 14th Street. The DC Circulator line has the same problem. People traveling to the northern end of 14th Street get fewer buses, all of them slow. The 59 would give them a new, faster option.

These are where the MetroExtra59 would  stop. Image by Peter Dovak used with permission.

Route 59 won’t serve my stop. Does that mean I’ll get worse service while everyone else gets to enjoy this fancy new bus?

Your service won’t get worse. The 59 bus would be a supplement, not a replacement, for current local service along the line. Your bus would often be less crowded because of the new route; you’d be more likely to get a seat and your bus would move faster because of less time spent on people having to move back before the bus can run.

Your stop could, however, be relocated slightly. WMATA is considering moving some local stops to the far side of the street, meaning that buses would clear an intersection and then stop, rather than stopping before the intersection. That would make your service faster too since you wouldn’t miss as many lights.

Would the fare be higher? Would the 59 operate all day or just during rush hour?

The 59 would cost $1.75, same as all DC bus fares. It’ll debut as a rush-hour-only service, with additional service coming in phases until it’s full time.

Would the 59 affect parking?

It might. There’s a possibility that some bus stops would be lengthened so that local buses can pull over completely to let the 59 buses pass them. Several dozen parking spaces between Aspen and Monroe Streets NW could be eliminated.

Another thing to consider when thinking about parking is that these buses would help keep new residents from needing to bring cars to the neighborhood. The new service might cut a parking spot or two on certain blocks, but it would also reduce the number of cars looking for spots by a lot.

Really, the 59 could make make parking easier than it would be if the bus line doesn’t happen.

But WMATA is careful to explain that the bus stop lengthening is only a possibility – the service could still exist, and would still make a difference, without it.

Is there existing opposition to the 59?

At this point, nobody has come out in opposition to the MetroExtra Route 59 plan. The real enemies of the project are bureaucratic inertia and budget constraints. The service improvements are expected to cost $1.2 million in the first phase, a pretty small amount considering the size of WMATA’s budget. It’s not much, but it does mean the mayor or DC Council would have to put the money into the budget and pay for it.

Karrye Braxton is an ANC commissioner from ANC 4A (which covers Brightwood, 16th Street Heights, Shepherd Park, Crestwood, Colonial Village and North Portal Estates). She works for inclusive business and community development in DC and the world. Karrye believes in honoring the past by building a better future. She lives in Brightwood or 16th Street Heights, depending on which map you’re using.

Elizabeth Glidden is an American Cancer Society Patient Navigator at GW Hospital. She is a strong proponent for better and more efficient public transportation options for DC residents. Elizabeth and her husband are proud, car-free residents of Columbia Heights.