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Photo: An actual bus running in the Route 1 transitway

This bus is not in service. But it is running in Alexandria’s Metroway BRT corridor, presumably on a test run. It’s pretty exciting to see the region’s first BRT so close to starting.

The BRT opens for real on Sunday, August 24.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 12th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, transportation



DDOT’s 5-point plan to improve 16th Street buses

DDOT isn’t yet willing to install a bus lane on 16th Street, but the agency is moving forward on a host of other improvements, and will study a bus lane next year.

The 16th Street bus line is bursting at the seams. It carries more than half of rush hour trips on 16th Street. But the buses are slow, and they’re so full that riders in the city’s close-in neighborhoods often can’t board.

Advocates have been pressuring for bus improvements on 16th Street since 2010. ANC Commissioner (and District Council candidate) Kishan Putta has championed the cause. Now, DDOT has adopted a 5-point plan to fix 16th Street.

Here are the 5 points:

Already complete: Signal optimization pilot program: In July 2014, DDOT retimed 44 of the traffic signals along 16th Street to improve their efficiency. After a few weeks of results, it appears to have sped up traffic (including buses). DDOT will continue to evaluate the results the rest of this summer.

August 2014: More articulated buses: Metro will reshuffle its bus fleet, to provide more long “accordion” buses on 16th Street. WMATA will move the articulated buses currently running on the Y series in Maryland to the 70 line in DC, then move the articulated buses currently on the 70 line to 16th Street. The Y series will have shorter buses, but they’ll come more often.

Fall 2014: Longer rush hour operations: DDOT is considering extending the hours of rush hour parking restrictions on 16th Street, to keep more travel lanes open up to an hour longer in each direction. That will keep two lanes open to moving traffic, including buses.

Mid 2015: Transit signal priority & full optimization: By mid 2015, DDOT will expand its signal optimization pilot program to the entire corridor, and install new software that instructs traffic signals to hold a green light a few seconds longer if a bus is about to pass through an intersection. That will speed up buses along the route, so they’re less likely to have to stop at red lights.

2015-2016: Bus lane study: Beginning in 2015, DDOT will begin a comprehensive study of transit improvements along 16th Street, including the potential for bus lanes and other long-term construction projects. The study will take about a year to complete, meaning 2016 is the earliest DDOT could install bus lanes.

None of these 5 points are new. DDOT has been working on them all for some time. But it’s good to have them listed all in one place.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 11th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, transportation



Build protected transit lanes using cycletrack bollards

Simple plastic bollards and slight changes to lanes are enough to turn a regular bike lane into a cycletrack. Could the same trick work for bus lanes?


Bollard-protected bus lane in Washington state. Image from Zachary Ziegler on Vine.

DC’s 7th Street and 9th Street curbside bus lanes are famously dysfunctional. Cars use them at will, and pretty much always have. But it doesn’t have to be so.

The same tricks that work to protect bike lanes can also work to protect transit lanes. Plastic bollards, also known as flexposts, send a strong message to car drivers to stay out. The Virginia Department of Transportation even uses them on highways.

Flexposts on a Dulles Toll Road bus lane (left) and the Beltway (right).
Beltway photo from Google.

Generally speaking, the same complications would exist for bus lanes as exist for cycletracks. Adding bollards takes up a couple of extra feet, parking for cars has to move a lane away from the curb, and you have to find a way to accommodate cars turning at intersections. But mixing zones and other clever solutions have solved those problems for cycletracks, and could work for bus lanes too.

And flexposts aren’t the only cycletrack lesson we can apply to bus lanes. Red paint helps transit lanes the same way green paint helps bike lanes.

Green means bike, red means transit. Bus lane photo from NYDOT.

No matter how many special treatments like bollards or red paint an agency applies, median transitways will still function better than curbside transit lanes. Median transitways eliminate the right turn problem altogether (left turns are less common), and puts the transit lanes out of the way of parked cars, or cars pulling over to pick up or drop off passengers.

But median transitways take up more road space, because the medians have to be wide enough for stations. They simply can’t fit on all streets. Where that’s the case, tricks like these can help curbside transit lanes work better than the 7th Street bus lane.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

August 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, lightrail, streetcar, transportation



Still waiting on Silver Line Phase II, Loudoun got a transit improvement of its own this summer

When Phase II of the Silver Line eventually opens, it will carry passengers to two stations in Loudoun County. But that’s still a few years away. In the meantime, Loudoun is already sprucing up transit with more buses and improved park-and-rides.

On June 30, the Virginia Department of Transportation opened this snazzy new canopy at the Dulles North Transit Center, a bus depot near the future Route 606 Metro station.


Photo by VDOT.

July 29th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bus, transportation



The DC region lost 60 miles of bus lanes. It’s time to get them back

Prior to 1976 the DC region had at least 60 miles of bus-only lanes, with even more proposed. This map shows where they were.


On the map, the red lines show existing bus lanes as of 1976. Blue and black lines show proposals that never materialized. The network reached throughout DC, Northern Virginia, and into Maryland.

Unfortunately, all the bus lanes were converted to other purposes after the Metrorail system was built.

It’s no coincidence or surprise that some of the old bus lanes were on the same streets where they’re now proposed again, like 16th Street and H and I Streets downtown. Those are natural transit corridors, with great need for quality service.

Will we ever get this system back? The region is off to a good start, with moveDC’s 25 miles of proposed transit lanes, and the upcoming Crystal City Potomac Yard Transitway. But the 60-mile system from the 1970s shows we still have a lot of work to do.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

July 7th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, maps, transportation



Bike racks inside a bus? Speeds up loading, but trades capacity

On San Antonio’s Primo BRT buses, cyclists bring their bikes inside the bus rather than lock them to the front. This speeds up loading and unloading, but reduces Primo’s overall passenger capacity.


Bike racks on Primo bus in San Antonio. Photo by Stuart Johnson on Flickr.

Primo carries about 6,000 passengers per day, compared to over 20,000 per day on DC’s 16th Street line. So for Primo, the speed versus capacity trade-off tilts to speed.

In DC, our busiest bus lines generally won’t have that option. Although it may make sense in some places, like Montgomery County’s proposed BRT network.

For DC’s more crowded lines, where we cannot justifiably sacrifice limited bus capacity to bikes, rail’s greater spaciousness is an increasingly important advantage. With longer vehicles, we get both the speed advantage and the capacity advantage.

Of course to really speed up buses or trams, give them a dedicated lane. But even in places where that’s not practical, improvements like longer vehicles, more doors, interior bike racks, and off-vehicle fare collection can make a difference, regardless of mode.

June 17th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, streetcar, transportation



MoveDC plan proposes more cycletracks, transit, and tolls. Will it actually happen?

The latest draft of DDOT’s citywide transportation plan, moveDC, calls for a massive expansion of transit and cycling facilities throughout the District, plus new tolls on car commuters. If the District adopts it, the plan will become one of America’s most progressive.


The moveDC plan summary map. All images from DDOT.

DDOT released the latest version of moveDC last Friday, launching a month long public comment period in anticipation of a DC Council hearing on June 27. Following that, the mayor will determine any changes based on the comment period, with final adoption anticipated this summer.

What’s in the plan

Amid the hundreds of specific recommendations in the plan, three major proposed initiatives stand out:

  • A vastly improved transit network, with 69 miles of streetcars, transit lanes, and improved buses, plus a new Metrorail subway downtown.
  • A massive increase in new cycling infrastructure, including the densest network of cycletracks this side of Europe.
  • Congestion pricing for cars entering downtown, and traveling on some of DC’s biggest highways.

Transit


Proposed high-capacity transit network (both streetcars and bus). Blue is mixed-traffic, red is dedicated transit lanes.

The plan proposes to finish DC’s 22-mile streetcar system, then implement a further 47-mile high-capacity transit network that could use a combination of streetcars or buses. That includes 25 miles of dedicated transit lanes, including the much requested 16th Street bus lane.

Although the proposed high capacity transit corridors closely mirror the 37-mile streetcar network originally charted in 2010, there are several new corridors. In addition to 16th Street, moveDC shows routes on Wisconsin Avenue, both North and South Capitol Streets, H and I Streets downtown, and several tweaks and extensions to other corridors.

The plan endorses WMATA’s idea for a new loop subway through downtown DC, but explicitly denies that DC can fund that project alone.

MoveDC also shows a network of new high-frequency local bus routes, including Connecticut Avenue, Military Road, Alabama Avenue, and MacArthur Boulevard.

Bicycles

MoveDC also includes a huge expansion of trails and bike lanes, especially cycletracks.


Proposed bike network. The pink lines are cycletracks.

Under the plan, DC would have a whopping 72 miles of cycletracks crisscrossing all over the city. From South Dakota Avenue to Arizona Avenue to Mississippi Avenue, everybody gets a cycletrack.

Meanwhile, moveDC shows major new off-street trails along Massachusetts Avenue, New York Avenue, and the Anacostia Freeway, among others.

Tolls for cars

Congestion pricing is clearly on DDOT’s mind, with multiple proposals for new variable tolls in the plan.


Proposed downtown cordon charge zone.

The most aggressive proposal is to a declare a cordon charge to enter downtown in a car. This idea has worked in London and has been discussed in New York and San Francisco, but so far no American city has tried it.

Meanwhile, some of the major car routes into DC would also be converted to managed lanes. Like Maryland’s ICC or Virginia’s Beltway HOT lanes, managed lanes have variable tolls that rise or fall based on how busy a road is.

MoveDC proposes managed lanes on I-395, I-295, New York Avenue, and Canal Road.

What will the council think?

DDOT has produced a very strong plan, but is it going anywhere? The DC Council will discuss moveDC on June 27, at which time we’ll find out if the same people who pulled the rug out from under streetcar funding are interested in progressive policy-making, at least.

Even if DC does adopt this plan, whether the council will actually provide the funds necessary to build it is anybody’s guess.

Correction: An earlier version of this story reported the DC Council will approve or deny this plan. Authority to approve it actually rests solely with the mayor.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

June 2nd, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, government, lightrail, master planning, metrorail, roads/cars, streetcar, transportation



DC is great at green-means-bike, but rotten at red-means-bus

DC is adding green-painted bike lanes left and right, which is great news, but the District is way behind other cities in another type of painted pavement that’s beginning to sweep across America: red-painted bus lanes.

Red-painted bus lanes in New York (left) and San Francisco (right).
Photos from NYDOT and Reddit user freedenizen.

The idea behind red-painted bus lanes is exactly the same as green for bikes. It’s a clear signal for car drivers to stay out, so there’s no excuse for illegally driving in a non-car lane. San Francisco even uses dashed red paint to indicate where cars are allowed to cross bus lanes, exactly how DC uses green dashes for crossings.

In addition to New York and San Francisco, red-painted bus lanes will also soon pop in Seattle and Chicago.

Why not here? For one, obviously, DC doesn’t have many bus lanes. Plans for bus lanes on 16th Street and H & I Streets are stalled, and although the K Street Transitway is moving forward as part of the crosstown streetcar, there’s no opening date in sight.

But DC does have one bus lane on the ground right now that could benefit from red paint. 7th Street NW in Chinatown, directly in front of the Verizon Center. 7th Street has signs and pavement markings indicating it’s a bus lane, but it’s never enforced, and so many cars use the lane that you’d never know they’re not supposed to be there.

If DDOT is serious about keeping the 7th Street bus lane then red paint could be a way to make it work. If not, paint is still worth exploring on 16th, H & I, and K, if bus lanes there ever actually happen.

May 15th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bike, BRT, bus, transportation



Why a bus lane might help cars too, in one simple picture

This is what 16th Street looks like on a typical weekday morning. Good luck navigating it, as either a bus rider or car driver.

Streamlining this mess of buses with a transit lane could speed up traffic for everyone.


Bus bunching on 16th Street. Photo by Kishan Putta.

More than half of all people traveling on 16th Street at rush hour use the bus. It’s DC’s most successful bus corridor. But that success comes with a down side: There are so many buses that they bunch into bus traffic jams.

That’s a problem for both bus riders and car drivers. Instead of being able to catch a bus every two minutes, transit riders have to wait a long time for a clump of several buses to arrive all together, almost like a single long train. Most of the buses are full, but eventually one near the end of the “train” may have enough room for more passengers to board.

That’s inefficient, slows down the line, reduces overall capacity, and adds unnecessary operating expense.

And it’s just as bad for car drivers. Imagine being stuck behind that clump of buses in a car. That’s a traffic jam, no two ways about it.

And this is why a bus lane on 16th Street could potentially help everyone. If that bus traffic jam can be streamlined into a bus lane, buses will move faster and stay better organized, and cars won’t have to contend with roaming clumps of disorganized buses spilling into every lane.

Theoretically DDOT should be able to add a bus lane without sacrificing any car lanes. But even if sacrificing a car lane is necessary, that still may improve car traffic simply by virtue of eliminating bus jams.

It’s worth trying.

 Cross-posted at Greater Greater Washington.
 
 
 

May 1st, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: BRT, bus, roads/cars, transportation



DC buses should be better; let’s talk about how


Overcrowded bus.
Photo by dcmaster on flickr.

More and more people are riding the bus in DC. That’s great, but it’s also straining the system to its limits. Experts from DDOT and WMATA will discuss how to make buses work better for more people at a free panel on Wednesday evening.

Buses come every couple of minutes on WMATA’s busy 16th Street line. But it’s not enough. Rush hour passengers often watch bus after bus pass by, too jam packed to allow even one more person on board. Other lines face similar problems, or soon will.

What can we do? Simply adding more buses may not work, because there are so many buses already on 16th Street that they bunch together, forming long pseudo-trains where multiple buses all come at the same time. Even if the last bus is empty, bunching like that slows down the entire line for everyone; waiting passengers wait longer, and moving buses move slower.

Meanwhile, WMATA’s central DC bus storage barn doesn’t have any extra room for new or bigger buses, so even adding more articulated buses would be difficult, expensive, and take years of planning.

Streetcars could increase capacity, but they’d take even longer to implement. And they work better for shorter trips on commercial streets anyway, as opposed to the longer commute trips common on 16th Street.

Bus lanes are a possibility, but repurposing car lanes for transit takes a lot of political courage. So far leaders in DC haven’t been willing to take that leap.

What’s left? What can we do? Or can longer buses or bus lanes actually work?

Come to 1701 16th Street NW on Wednesday from 6:00 – 8:00 pm to hear experts weigh in. Panelists include DC Councilmember Mary Cheh, WMATA’s head bus planner Jim Hamre, DDOT transit planner Sam Zimbabwe, and former New York City Director of Transit Planning Joseph Barr.

RSVP with the Coalition for Smarter Growth.

April 29th, 2014 | Permalink | {num}Comments
Tags: bus, events, transportation



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