Photo by Greenbelt Alliance on Flickr.

Electronic displays at bus stops, more dedicated bus lanes, bus priority at traffic signals, a new express bus route, and more improvements are all on the way, according to representatives from DDOT and WMATA.

At a forum last week hosted by the Coalition for Smarter Growth, DDOT Associate Director for Policy, Planning and Sustainability Karina Ricks revealed a host of exciting initiatives the department is undertaking, including:

  • Installing electronic information displays inside District bus shelters, including estimated next bus arrival, directions to the nearest Zipcars and Capital Bikeshare stations and nearby bus stops, traffic and road construction alerts, and even a list of nearby restaurants. Look for a demonstration of this technology at DDOT headquarters soon!
  • Studying the conversion of the curbside lane in both directions on Georgia Avenue around Howard University into dedicated bus lanes, combined with tougher enforcement and penalties for violating motorists.
  • Giving buses passive traffic signal priority on many routes.

Ricks described frequent complaints DDOT gets from drivers who see Pennsylvania Avenue’s bike lanes largely empty while traffic clogs the other lanes. She admonished cycling advocates to work just as strongly to defend (and encourage use of) existing bike lanes as in calling for new ones.

Ricks also outlined the three laudable policy objectives that guide DDOT:

  1. To make walking the mode of choice for trips of 1 mile or less, and biking the mode of choice for trips under 3 miles. A short-term goal is to have 12% of commuting trips done by bicycle by 2020 (the number is currently only 3%, though this does not include recreational and infrequent cyclists).
  2. To prioritize transit expansion and enhancement, making transit competitive with driving in terms of travel time, cost, convenience and reliability.
  3. To minimize traffic congestion and promote efficient vehicle operations.

At the same forum, WMATA Bus Planning Director Jim Hamre pointed to the popularity of express routes such as the 79, which has been extended to all-day running from 6 am to 7 pm to keep up with demand, as a reason to explore more such opportunities. He said overall trip times on the 70s line have been cut by 25% on average.

Hamre explains ridership patterns. Photo by Andrew Bossi on Flickr.

Hamre gave an overview of changes and studies WMATA has already undertaken, and described a few significant bus service improvements that will happen very soon:

  • The December introduction of an express X9 bus on the District’s H Street-Benning Road corridor, connecting Capitol Heights to the heart of downtown.
  • Replacing the 13A and 13B buses, looping between downtown DC and Crystal City, with extensions of the 17F and 17E to Federal Triangle.
  • Restructuring Metrobus routes serving Greenbelt to better cover the community and improve reliability.
  • Hiring a full staff of service managers, redefinition of the roles of existing managers, incorporation of better real-time data monitoring, and personality evaluations for new bus operators. Driver cameras in new buses are used in coaching operators on better navigating their routes and treating riders courteously.

In addition, WMATA is completing a study of the K6 (New Hampshire Avenue from Fort Totten to White Oak through Takoma Park and Langley Park), and will soon release recommendations, including to run limited-stop service from Fort Totten to Northwest Park.

Overall, Hamre said, more TIGER capital funding would be helpful in making speedier bus service a reality.

Ricks admitted that the need for speedier bus service on K Street NW is still a big issue that needs to be tackled, and expressed hope that the National Capital Planning Commission (which hosted the forum) might help in this.

As has oft been repeated here, your involvement in public decisionmaking — by attending forums, responding to surveys, writing letters, and commenting on GGW and other sites — is key. As Hamre summed it up, “We need rider engagement.”

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.