DC's first red bus lane, on Georgia Avenue. Image by BeyondDC licensed under Creative Commons.

Greater Greater Washington has teamed up with the organization DCST to advocate for better transportation in DC (and Rosslyn). I can now announce what we're going to be working on: Making buses great, streamlining the curbside usage in business districts, and planning for new technologies of the future, such as autonomous vehicles. I'm excited about it!

DC Sustainable Transportation (DCST), formerly DC Surface Transit, is a nonprofit organization initially created to advise the DC government on the then-new Circulator. Its board, which includes nine of DC's ten Business Improvement Districts, the Rosslyn BID, NCPC, and the Federal City Council, decided to broaden the group's mission and team up with GGWash to move transportation issues forward.

I'm now serving as DCST Executive Director, and in that role, led the group in conversations about the issues they want to focus on. Here's what we've concluded:

Make buses great

This is the biggest one. Subways are terrific, but super expensive to build (and to maintain). Buses are a fantastic mode of transit that carry huge numbers of people in our region, but they can be far greater than they are today. Here are some of the key ways:

Bus priority: Why can't we have a bus network in all eight wards of the city (and Arlington and for that matter all over the region) with lines that function like rail: you go to one of a set number of spots and within a short time, a vehicle comes to pick you up. It follows a route fairly reliably and speedily (and safely), not taking twice as long or more at rush hours, just like a train (when they work, of course). It can work. Let's make it work.

Bus routes & brands: What's the difference between the Circulator and a nearby Metrobus? Often, not much. Branding matches which government agency runs a bus, not what kind of service it provides. Other cities do that differently. Also, WMATA GM Paul Wiedefeld has suggested holistically redesigning the Metrobus network in a similar way to what Jarrett Walker has done in Houston, Columbus, and elsewhere, consolidating routes but providing more frequent service (more like a rail network!)

Bus garages: If you're going to run some buses, you need somewhere to store them and fix them. Right now, the Circulator maintenance facility is a) grossly inadequate, which is why the Circulator's performance has been terrible, and b) controlled by First Transit, the contractor who runs the Circulator, which limits who can bid on running the service. DDOT is doing a procurement process to get land for a new garage which the District will control, and hopes this will help get the Circulator on the right track (lane?)

Meanwhile, WMATA has been saying for many years that it'll need a new garage in the future as the Northern and Western garages on 14th Street and in Friendship Heights need to be rebuilt. Rebuilding in place may be possible, but the Northern garage cannot currently accommodate 60-foot articulated buses, and those have to deadhead (drive empty) all the way from DC's southern border in the morning, and back again at night.

Manage curbside space

In dense, mixed-use areas, there's intense competition for stopping vehicles at the curb. We've got bus stops, car parking, and occasional taxi stands. But today, more and more people are taking ride-hailing services, which spend more time stopping at curbs loading and unloading people than before. People are buying more of their goods online, which means more USPS, UPS, and FedEx trucks stopping at curbs to deliver more packages.

All of this adds to traffic congestion; for instance, I often travel on 19th Street NW around M Street in the mornings, and often two of the three lanes are taken up by delivery trucks along both curbs (which could all fit on the same side if only they'd coordinate). How can we better use our curb space? There have been some studies done in the Golden Triangle area, and Rosslyn is embarking on one of their own. DCST will be helping get some changes from study to reality.

Plan for the future

One day, autonomous vehicles will be a part of our urban environment. How soon isn't clear, but there's consensus that it's coming.

What does this mean for cities? As Zipcar's founder wrote, they “will improve our cities, if they don't ruin them.” Or, as David Roberts recently wrote in Vox, “Unless we share them, self-driving vehicles will just make traffic worse.” Let's make sure that when the technology comes, it's going to bring the benefits its cheerleaders hope for and avoid the problems its detractors fear.

Of course, since full automation in cities could still be decades away, we need to keep improving mobility with the technology we have—like buses; and prioritizing road space for buses and vans today can easily segue into prioritization for shared AVs one day.

Meanwhile, we already have (chaperoned) autonomous sidewalk robots delivering food, and more uses of autonomous vehicles will be coming even before the day when kids no longer learn to drive.

And more

These aren't the only transportation issues DCST will work on. There will be various smaller things coming up from time to time, especially more localized issues for various neighborhoods and BIDs. They also won't be the only transportation issues you'll see on Greater Greater Washington. For instance, you might notice that Metrorail and proposals for a sales tax for WMATA aren't on this list. That means DCST won't be spending a lot of time organizing around that, but we sure plan to partner with others who are trying to.

Most of all, GGWash has always been and remains a community-driven website, meaning many other people volunteer to write articles about what matters to them, in transportation as well as other areas. Our contributors who focus on Metro will keep doing that; our biking and walking contributors can keep talking about the many important biking and walking issues. And DCST will likely team up when there are valuable opportunities to do so.

Want to stay up to date as we get working on these issues? Fill out the form below to get on our email list and/or follow our brand-new Twitter account, @dcstcoalition. Want to help out? Get in touch.


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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.