The routes of Metrobuses 90, 92 and 93.

To determine how best to spend service improvement funds, WMATA and DDOT are jointly studying the performance of every Metrobus line in the District, beginning with the four most-patronized “priority corridors.” Among these is the 90s bus line.

Officially called the “U Street-Garfield Line,” the 90s route is one of the District’s major transit arteries, connecting such neighborhoods as Adams Morgan, U Street, Bloomingdale/Eckington, Capitol Hill and Anacostia.

Like most bus lines in central Washington, the 90s follow an original Capital Transit streetcar route for most of their trips.  At 303,032 average total weekday riders in August 2009 (PDF), the U Street-Garfield Line is the third busiest in the Metrobus system behind the 30s (Pennsylvania & Wisconsin Aves. at 395,376 combined) and 70s (Georgia Ave./7th St., at 390,460 combined).

Previous studies on the two busier routes resulted in improvements including the creation of dedicated bus lanes on parts of the 70s route and new express and limited-stop buses on both routes. Now, its the 90s’ turn.

As the 90s are one of the bus routes I use most frequently (they pass right in front of my house), I attended one of the “Series #1” public meetings that WMATA and DDOT hosted in May. The meetings were preceded by a survey (PDF of results) conducted of random riders aboard the buses, and also offered online.

Statistics from the study provide a snapshot of 90s riders:

  • 54% of respondents ride the 90s daily, 23% at least once a week.
  • Roughly half transfer to or from another Metrobus or Metrorail line.
  • The average rider waited 7 minutes or less at the stop for the next bus.
  • About half of riders are on the bus between 15 and 30 minutes.
  • The majority of riders are middle-aged.

In terms of the improvements riders desire, what was expressed at the public meetings largely echoed the results of the survey. They are as follows, in rough order of importance to riders: Add more frequency. The most common complaints from riders were not being able to find a seat on the bus and having to wait too long for the next one. Both of these can be alleviated simply by running more buses, particularly at peak times. "Bus bunching,” where two and sometimes three buses come to a particular stop at the same time, occurs regularly. As long as buses are running every 10 minutes, WMATA can alleviate this by adjusting departures from points of origin as needed based on rider volume and traffic conditions so buses are more spread out. Add express and/or limited-stop service to the line. This would help with the crowding issue and delays associated with having to make too many stops. The 90s buses stop, on average, every other block for most of their routes. Express service on the 30s and 70s lines has been successful and well-patronized. More than a third of respondents say they would use limited-stop buses on the 90s line. Give buses priority traffic signaling at intersections and dedicated lanes. The second most common complaints had to do with traffic congestion and traffic lights being too long. Take steps to improve safety and security. A combined 55% of survey respondents reported being concerned for their security aboard the bus (33% somewhat and 22% very concerned) and 60% were concerned for their safety at the bus stop (23% very).  The simplest fix is to build new shelters, improving lighting, and enhance the overall aesthetic appearance of stops. Another option is to have Metro Transit Police officers (uniformed or plainclothed) ride the buses more often. Improve passenger information at bus stops. The posted schedules at many stops are covered with graffiti, and it is very difficult to fit all the relevant schedules into one 4-sided box hanging around the signpost. Newer bus shelters have full schedules and maps encased in washable glass; this practice should continue. Adding digital NextBus displays at the busiest stops (a la Rosslyn and Shirlington) was also suggested.

Among the more far-reaching ideas discussed at the public meeting was to prohibit parking on 8th Street NE/SE, which forms the core of the 90s route and consists of only one lane in each direction. Buses are often delayed by double-parkers blocking the lane of traffic and by drivers taking time squeezing into a parking space. Drivers are also less able to make space for a bus merging back into traffic after a stop when they have no other lane to go to. Should 8th Street become a streetcar route once again, parking would become even more of a problem. While it is easy to transfer between the 90s buses and the Green Line, both at U Street/Cardozo and at Anacostia and Congress Heights, it is difficult to connect between the bus and the Red Line at New York Avenue. The southbound 90s stop a block up 2nd St. NE from the north entrance of the Metro station (on the other side of the Courtyard Marriott Hotel), but the closest northbound stop is at Florida Ave. and 3rd St. NE: past the hotel, under the railroad bridge, and across the street to a stop in front of a Burger King. Hence, no survey respondents mentioned connecting to and from the Red Line. I suggested moving the 3rd St. NE stop to 2nd St. NE and adding a protected crosswalk across Florida Ave. there. Another option is to originate and terminate certain buses (perhaps limited-stop ones) at the New York Avenue station by having them turn onto 2nd St, stop in front of the Metro entrance, then right on N St, and right on 1st St. NE to get back to Florida Avenue. Of course, the bulk of the 90s route is slated for conversion back to a streetcar line as part of Phase 2 of DDOT’s Streetcar Proposed System Plan. But much can be done in the meantime to make Washington’s third-busiest bus line more reliable and comfortable.

Tagged: buses, dc, wmata

Malcolm Kenton lives in the DC’s NoMa neighborhood. Hailing from Greensboro, NC and a graduate of Guilford College (BA) and George Mason University (MA, Transportation Policy), he is a consultant and writer on transportation, travel, and sustainability topics and a passionate advocate for world-class passenger rail and other forms of sustainable mobility and for incorporating nature and low-impact design into the urban fabric. The views he expresses on GGWash are his own.