Image by DDOT.

This Monday, January 8, riders boarded the first 59 bus, a new limited-stop bus service for the 14th Street NW corridor. This will speed trips on the busy route and add capacity by running more buses. Mayor Muriel Bowser was there to celebrate this new service, which was the culmination of months of organizing and advocacy.

Neighbors saw a need, and organized to meet it

The 14th Street corridor has seen tremendous growth in recent years. It is home to more than 80,000 residents and 14,000 businesses, and it’s a major thoroughfare for residents and workers traveling north and south along the center of the city.

Infrastructure and transit were just not keeping up with this growth, and by December of 2016 a group of neighbors and Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) commissioners began organizing to do something about it. It was clear early that there were a number of solutions for the corridor that could (and should!) be implemented, but we quickly identified one that seemed like a quick and easy improvement: adding a faster limited stop bus line.

DC Mayor Muriel Bowser rides the 59 bus on Monday. Image by DDOT.

Fortunately for us, this idea had already been studied by the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) a few years back, but at the time there was not enough political will to give the project legs. We thought we could change that.

Over the next several months, volunteers wrote blog posts explaining the proposal and over 750 signed a petition in favor of the service. Neighbors lobbied their councilmembers, and quickly we were able to win support and commitments from key officials.

Simultaneously, a unique effort was underway from a wide array of ANC commissioners all along the route. In a show of unprecedented cooperation and coordination, commissions all along the proposed 59 route passed matching supportive resolutions in favor of the service. The breadth and speed of this support helped build a lot of momentum.

As Mayor Bowser commented in her press conference in March of 2017, when riders, councilmembers and ANC commissioners are all pushing for the same thing, you pay attention.

We saw this through to the end, and now the 59 is here!

After the Mayor promised the funding in her budget, advocates continued to watch carefully during the budget process to ensure the money stayed. It did, and now 6 months later DDOT followed through, and the 59 is operating between the Takoma and Federal Triangle Metrorail stations every 15 minutes during weekday rush hours.

At the inaugural press conference on Monday, Bowser said, “Safe and reliable public transportation makes it easier for residents to get to work, school, and beyond. The 14th Street corridor has seen substantial economic development and growth, making it one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the District. As the District continues to grow, we’re going to continue finding ways to make it easier for our residents to share in our prosperity.”

This was a great effort that has left a tangible and lasting effect on our city. Whether you signed the petition, testified at a hearing, or simply have swiped your card on the new 59, thank you for your support and your work.

As commissioner Zach Teutsch (4C05), a key leader to this effort, wrote previously:

“In a city rapidly attracting affluent new residents and with a growing tax base, it’s essential to use that money to invest in making all District residents’ lives better. The 59 bus would shorten commutes, improve the environment, reduce congestion, improve public health, and help our city grow. These benefits will accrue to longtime residents and newer residents, young and old, and those of all races. Those are just the kind of investments DC needs.”

Help us celebrate this 59 this week by sending us your pictures, or by tweeting with the hashtag #59bus. Happy riding.

David Whitehead was the Housing Program Organizer at Greater Greater Washington from 2016 to 2019.  A former high school math teacher and a community organizer, David worked to broaden and deepen Greater Greater Washington’s efforts to make the region more livable and inclusive through education, advocacy, and organizing. He lives in Eckington.