Monday, April 6, 2009

So, How About That Circulator?

For anyone who has followed our rantings around here for any length of time knows, we've been advocates of more improved transportation options along the 14th Street corridor. And, godblessit if we didn't get just that recently with the debut of the new Circulator line.

In my previous post on this topic, I had advocated for some forward-thinking initiative as part of the 14th Street streetscape project (set to begin, oh, 2-10 years from now) with the installation of streetcar tracks along 14th Street to link McPherson Square with Columbia Heights and Adams-Morgan.

I still think that a more robust streetcar system is a good solution as part of a comprehensive long-term transit plan for the central part of the District. But until that day gets here, we have been blessed with the next-best thing: a Circulator line that (and this is a first for the Circulator family) actually runs like the Circulator was intended to run. That is, a limited-stop streetcar-mimicking low-cost transit option.

Last week, when the line made its debut, I took it out for a test drive. I walked down to the stop at 14th and P streets, where I waited approximately 4 minutes for a bus to arrive. The Circulator then shot up 14th street, passing not one but two 50-line buses on its way to U Street ("bunching" seems to be a problem that Metrobuses will have, forever and ever). Within less than 6 minutes I was in Columbia Heights, and in about 12 I was in Adams-Morgan. In less than 20 minutes, I was exiting the Circulator in front of the Woodley Park Metro station, where I promptly rewarded myself with a trip to the Chipotle.

And all that for $1. That, I would posit, is PRECISELY how the Circulator was designed to--and should--function. And the route is smartly designed, too. It hits all the major central city neighborhoods--downtown, Logan, U Street, Columbia Heights, Mt. Pleasant, Adams-Morgan--but does so in only five stops. Bloody brilliant, I must say. As anyone who knows me knows, my single biggest gripe about riding the Metrobus system is the unfortunate tendency to make stops along every block--and thus miss every light. With a few exceptions, my typical Metrobus excursion was a frustrating and nausea-inducing ride. But the Circulator smartly takes care of that.

Alas, it's not a perfect system. Emboldened with what I deemed to be Circulator perfection, on the following evening I headed out again, this time with a plan to head up to Columbia Heights to do some errand running at Target. It took me a little longer to catch the bus this time, but still within the "every 10 minutes" window. The trouble arose when i attempted to head back home. I ended up waiting in front of the Columbia Heights metro stop for nearly 20 minutes before giving up and hoofing it back home (I could have taken Metro, but I have a "thing" about one-stop Metro rides). Of course, no sooner do I do this but a Circulator drives by me, followed in short succession by a second one. Oh well. Guess they aren't immune from the bunching issue either.

Still, I would imagine that over time they will work the kinks out of the line, and in time it will become one of the most important transit fixtures in our neighborhood. Hopefully, it will also serve as a model for existing and future Circulator lines in terms of route development (as anyone who has ever travelled along the K Street line can attest, it's frequently as frustrating a ride as a Metrobus).

So, what has your experience been? What positive/negative comments do you have regarding the new Circulator line, and transit options in the neighborhood in general? Please share them in comments.

Also, for those who are into this sort of thing, David Alpert from Greater Greater Washington has put together a really neat map (I call it "public transit map porn") showing the Metro system along with the existing Circulator lines--check it out below. As it shows, finally, we're starting to get some connectivity throughout all of the central DC neighborhoods.

6 comments:

scottahb said...

Great post - I haven't had a chance to ride the circulator yet, but I've seen plenty of them in the CH area. For the most part, they seem to be running okay.

I also have a thing with 1-stop metro rides! I'd rather walk.

Brandon said...

I'm glad it ran like it's supposed to! About time there was a good public transportation service in that part of Washington, DC.

Alex said...

I've had a chance to ride it and thought it was great- love the limited stops. I don't like the end of the line however, I think once you get to K street it becomes quite awkward. It doesn't seem like a viable route for someone from 14th and P to the McPherson Square Metro (not that I do that, but it *should* be an option I think).

cameronsmith said...

That Circulator is going to change my life. I've taken it a couple times now up to the top of Adams Morgan, and it is so amazing. They come so often, they are brand new, the bus drivers are so friendly, and it takes me where I want to go!
14th Street is certainly growing up...

U St Soapbox said...

I miss the mini grateful dead bear bus.

Roland said...

Yo I also saw these videos about the new Circulator buses. They're hilarious. The one about the pansies is shot at Garden District, which is at 14th and S.....
http://www.youtube.com/circulatortube