DC's first red bus lane, on Georgia Avenue. Image by Nicole Cacozza.

Over 49,000 people who ride the bus on H and I Streets NW past the White House could see their travel sped up by 30-50% with a bus lane. Another 40,000 would see travel time drop by 15%.

These are the conclusions from the District Department of Transportation's “Downtown West” study, which considered a bus lane on H Street and a protected bikeway on Pennsylvania Avenue west of the White House. The bus lane would be “contraflow,” meaning buses that now drive east on H and west on I (each one-way streets) would be able to go both ways on H.

Image by DDOT.

DDOT planner Megan Kanagy presented an overview of the study recommendations to Foggy Bottom's Advisory Neighborhood Commission 2A Wednesday night.

Between those buses and the ones that use adjacent K Street, there are 30 separate routes, and fully one-fifth of all the people who ride Metrobus, around the whole region, travel on these three key streets. But they are congested—particularly I, which has only 4 lanes while H has 5. Buses on I in the evening rush travel at an average of only 3.6 mph between 15th and 17th streets NW.

The area around H and I streets on the Metrobus system map. Image by WMATA.

The study considered a bus lane on H and moving some I Street buses over to H: the 32, 33, 36, 30N, 30S, 37, X2, D6 (and moving the eastbound D6 from K to H), 80, 16Y, and 3Y. Those buses serve 49,000 people a day in that area, and riders there would see their travel times cut 30-50% in this area. And people who don't use the lane benefit too: bus riders on routes staying on I, which number 40,000, would see a 15% boost. So would drivers.

For Pennsylvania Avenue, a great bikeway

Once upon a time, Pennsylvania Avenue between Washington Circle and the White House was a major artery that continued past the White House to New York Avenue and 15th Street. Now, since Pennsylvania Avenue is closed to traffic (and, nowadays, more and more often to people walking and biking too), it's way, way wider than it needs to be for the cars it carries.

Big opportunity!

The study recommends adding a protected bikeway on each side of the street, one for each direction. Between the bikeways and the motor vehicle lanes would be a planted area with trees, “green infrastructure” (the planted areas that double as stormwater collection pools you've been seeing around the District on many newly-redone streets), possible cafe seating, etc. “Bulb-outs” at the corners would push the sidewalk out to give people a shorter distance to cross.

Image by DDOT.

Where there are bus stops, the road would have a “floating bus bulb” where the bus stop is wholly in between the bikeway and the motor vehicle lanes. That way, instead of people blocking the bikeways when a bus arrives and/or cyclists riding through crowds of bus riders, people could cross the bikeway to the bus shelter and be able to board the bus without conflict.

Image by DDOT.

If all that isn't enough, there's still room to widen the sidewalks a total of 8 feet.

These changes would leave traffic at most intersections relatively unchanged. The corner of Pennsylvania and I would get less congested. The only thorny spot is where Pennsylvania, 19th, and H come together; a new phase in that signal would become necessary to let westbound buses enter Pennsylvania.

Image by DDOT.

Also, the plan suggests a double right turn lane from Pennsylvania eastbound onto 19th; engineering practice is to not also allow people to cross at a crosswalk at the same time as a double turn lane, so there would have to be separate phases for that, the study presentation says. DDOT will be analyzing this intersection more thoroughly in the engineering phase.

What's next?

This won't get built tomorrow (unfortunately!). This is a planning study. It considers the various possibilities and models the pros and cons. DDOT has concluded that building the bus lane on H and a bikeway on each side of Pennsylvania is the best of the options, and the impact would be good for people overall.

Next, there needs to be a preliminary engineering analysis to work out all the details. How can buildings on the north side of H, including a hotel and various buildings with parking garages, get vehicles across the lane? Which buses will use it? Where would the bus stops go? Are the lanes wide enough? Are there any safety issues to solve? Property owners and the general public will have many more chances to participate and voice any concerns.

After preliminary engineering comes final design, where engineers create the detailed construction documents. Finally, there's building the thing.

Support the lanes!

DDOT needs to hear public support for these changes if they're to become reality. There are always some people who don't want anything to change. Planners need to hear from folks who will bike or ride the bus, or drivers who are excited about the idea of I Street traffic getting lighter thanks to the bus lane.

There's an important public meeting Thursday evening, July 20, 6:30-8 pm. The meeting is at GWU Funger Hall, 2201 G Street NW, Room 222. If you can't make it, send a comment to DDOT planner Megan Kanagy using the button below. If you comment, we'll also keep you apprised as the project proceeds.

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.