Drivers frequently blocked the H Street bus lane in front of the White House, our Blitz showed. Image by Joe Flood licensed under Creative Commons.

On August 21, approximately 30 volunteers took positions along the new H and I Streets NW bus-only lanes to get a sense of how often other vehicles block them. They recorded nearly 300 violations using the How’s My Driving app during the morning and evening rush hour periods.

The project, which we dubbed the Data Informed Bus Lane Blitz, drew inspiration from the Data Protected Bike Lane Project, in which 70+ volunteers fanned out across DC in May and captured 700 bike lane violations. This time around the action was prompted by Rebecca Watson, a How’s My Driving (HMD) user and regular bus rider.

Watson generally loves the new H/I Street NW bus lanes, but has seen enforcement decrease and violations increase since the bus lane pilot started in June. She reached out to the HMD team requesting some kind of collective action to highlight the bus lane issues she sees every day—and the Blitz was on!

Tracking “the Blitz” in real time

Throughout the day, the real-time dashboard tracked the project’s collective progress.

We found that 26% percent of vehicles reported had an outstanding parking/speed camera citation. This phenomenon aligns with the 31% of vehicles with outstanding citations associated with the over 12,000 HMD app submissions reported since it began beta testing in January.

For the Blitz, the average citation value was $148, and the highest single vehicle total was a whopping $7,700!

Diving into the data

Bus lane violations captured were fairly evenly split between AM/PM rush with 148 violations and 141, respectively. But with a look at violations split out geographically and by vehicle type (ride-hail/taxi, private, commercial), a clearer story around bus lane violations begins to emerge.

Two blocks accounted for 43% of all violations captured throughout the Blitz—1500 H Street and 1700 I Street.

1500 H Street NW is directly in front of Lafayette Park (i.e. the White House). Of the 67 violations captured on 1500 H St, 51% were ride-hail/taxis, and our volunteers stationed there observed ride-hail (Uber/Lyft) vehicles picking up and dropping off tourists (sometimes the same vehicle multiple types!) This also explains why the majority of this block’s violations were in the afternoon, as opposed to morning rush.

1700 I Street NW doesn’t have as clear a story to tell, but is pretty much the center of downtown DC. Again, this block had a greater than 50% share of violations for ridehailing/taxis.

Taxis are allowed to drive in the lanes, but they can’t pick up or drop off in them. The highest volume of violations came from taxis and ride-hailing vehicles at 46%, but a simple count violations by vehicle type doesn’t tell the whole story.

By looking at violations by vehicle type and vehicle status (loading, standing, and parked), another dynamic develops. Commercial vehicles have the largest share of parking violations, while private and ride-hail/taxis an increasingly higher share of loading and standing violation.

So while ride-hail/taxis had over double the number of individual violations, each commercial vehicle violation was likely more impactful. A commercial vehicle loading has a very different connotation than a taxi loading in terms of likely durations.

The actual impact

In order to try to visualize the actual impact, How’s My Driving app co-founder Daniel Schep put together this time-lapse animation of all 289 bus lane violations.

Some key assumptions:

  • All parking and commercial loading violations lasted 10 minutes
  • Standing violations lasted five minutes
  • Private and ride-hail/taxi loading violations lasted one minute

Using the same assumptions, now let’s see what percentage of time each bus lane block was blocked by violations as a percentage of total effective bus lane time.

As expected, 1700 I Street NW and 1500 H Street NW are still the most problematic blocks, with both being blocked nearly 65% of the time the bus lanes were in effect for the day. Interestingly, they switched positions with 1700 I Street NW having more parking and standing violations compared to 1500 H Street NW.

The biggest takeaway: All those “just a minute” violations really add up, to the point where the bus lanes are blocked a least a third of the effective hours for the majority of the blocks we monitored as part of the Blitz.

Lessons learned

With the bus lane pilot officially ending September 2, it will be interesting to see what changes, if any, DDOT will make. The bus lanes are great, but there is room for improvement.

Based on data we collected from the bus lane blitz and collective observations made by volunteers throughout the day, here are our top three recommendations for DDOT:

  1. Block-by-block improvements. 43% of bus lane blitz violations were captured on just two blocks (1500 H and 1700 I). Improving lane infrastructure on just those two lanes may have a disproportionately positive impact .
  2. Less confusing hours. I can’t tell you how many drivers I saw park their cars and try and feed the meter when the bus lanes were in effect. Continuous effective hours for the bus lanes like 7 am-7 pm M-F and better signage would go a long way.
  3. Better infrastructure. Options include beginning or middle of block flex posts or double white lines like on the Georgia Avenue bus lanes (photo below) to make it more clear that merging in and out of the lane is not appropriate.

Image by Rachel Maisler.

To receive updates on future similar actions and the How’s My Driving app in general, sign up to beta test or follow the app on Twitter.

Mark Sussman is a DC resident and urban mobility advocate who has been a bicycle commuter in DC for over 12 years. Mark is the co-founder of the "How’s My Driving" app, a revolutionary new tool that facilitates quickly report dangerous driving behavior. When he’s not traversing the Washington region in search of the area’s best disc golf course (DC proper has zero!), you can find him on Capitol Hill.

Rebecca Watson is a current resident of Adams Morgan, having formerly stayed in Columbia Heights and Arlington. She currently works for a contractor that monitors and evaluates programs for the government. In her spare time she reads books on bicycle infrastructure and walkable urban design, and likes running around the city to find old police call boxes.