Wednesday, July 15, 2009

DC Seeks to Fast-Track Buses, Increase Bike-Sharing Program

The 14thandyous want to like Metrobuses. Trust us, we do. But all too often, we find ourselves having highly unsatisfying rides--herky-jerky (or downright maniacal) bus operators, poorly-timed buses that arrive in bunches, and too many stops that frequently lead to rides taking so long that one could practically have walked to one's destination in that time.

Still, given the rapid expansion of the District's population and that of the surrounding area, and the fact that the planning and construction of new Metro line can take decades, the best hope for improving public transportation throughout the region is by improving the bus system--which is precisely what Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments is attempting to do.

According to a WaPo story this morning (registration required), the District is looking to grab some stimulus money--up to $300 million of it--in order to upgrade bus service throughout the region. Two lines that flow through the center of the city--the 16th Street S line, and the 70 line down Georgia Avenue--would be among the recipient lines of the improved service.

According to the story, streets with lines targeted for improvement under the new system would "have dedicated bus lanes, enabling buses to bypass intersection congestion, or electronic devices that would regulate traffic signals to favor approaching buses. At the heart of the system would be a radically restructured K Street between Ninth and 23rd streets NW...[Twelve] other roadways that currently carry 80,000 bus riders a day in the District, Virginia and Maryland would be modified with special lanes and priority signal controls to speed bus passage."

The system would be in place by 2012.

This makes so much sense it's almost inconceivable that it was proposed by the District government in the first place. A focus on the improvement of bus transit in this city is long overdue, and the implementation of a plan so broad in scope here would place the District squarely at the forefront of U.S. cities when it comes to robust rapid bus networks.

It is interesting that, particularly with the 14th Street streetscape project set to get underway within the next couple of years and the pace of development here, that 14th Street was excluded from those arteries that would benefit from this improved service. Although, the presence of the recently opened Circulator line does lessen the disappointment somewhat.

Interestingly, buried within the story was this nugget:

"The proposal also seeks federal funding to provide 1,600 bicycles to be made available for public use at 160 bike stations in the District, Alexandria, Arlington County, Silver Spring and Bethesda."

Whoah. That would be a reference to DC's bike sharing program, SmartBike, which seemed only recently to be destined for continued mediocrity for the foreseeable future. This proposal, should it come to pass, would increase the number of shared bikes thirteen fold, and would create 150 new bike kiosks throughout the region--most importantly, expanding the program from central DC to the entire District and close-in Maryland and Virginia regions.

No word on what role current SmartBike management company ClearChannel would play under this arrangement, but with the amount of federal dollars being proposed a third party management firm may not be required.

This move, too, would further the District's standing in the country as one of the few truly revolutionary transit-oriented cities (and still the only one with a public bike sharing program). Bravo, we say.

According to MWCOG's press release on the subject, the total cost of the project is nearly $700 million, although expectations are that the current figure will be decreased in order to ensure that all components of the project could be completed by 2012--a requirement for projects receiving federal ARRA funds.

Though the approval and completion of this project is by no means a certainty, the fact that so much effort and thought have gone into it--and that regional officials are even thinking at this level--is certainly cause for optimism.


Anonymous said...

"This makes so much sense it's almost inconceivable that it was proposed by the District government in the first place." - LOL!

Ron C. said...

Great article. I moved here nearly two years ago from NYC, and at first didn't hesitate to jump on a city bus to head up to Columbia Heights or Downtown, almost always on the 14th Street bus. The best I can describe the experience would be that it was like Mr. Toad's Wild Ride at Disney World (especially whirling around Thomas Circle). The Circular buses are a huge improvements, and the bike program great. Looking forward to more improvements to the various means by which those of us who choose not to have cars in the city get around.

Anonymous said...

any word on how we can get dedicated lanes of traffic for... bikes?

Brandon Green said...

Excellent news (and might I add it's about time)!

Anonymous said...

The focus and a plan on buses is long overdue. You are correct. Not only have buses been absent on the agenda of our leaders, but our media and now our bloggers have long snubbed buses, as evidenced by your turned up nose assessment on the quality of their rides. What do you want? A limo to meet you at your door? I am in full agreement however that the number one problem of the bus system is that they do not come CLOSE to arriving on time, no matter what their silly surveys say. They just do not stick to the schedule. (I’ve heard from one or two bloggers and one or two commenters that the ride is, as you say, herky jerky, and sorry, that’s just trifling. They’re BUSES. And there have been some tremendous improvements as well, which you don’t acknowledge. Improvements that annoyed me somewhat because as always I think the focus should be on improving reliability, not these little other things. And any money going to seat re-upholstery is money taken away from improving the reliability of the system. At least the way I see it.)

Bloggers’ focus on SmartBike is good I guess, but biased towards those under 45.

Mr. Other Upper NW said...

"What do you want? A limo to meet you at your door?"

Hah, far from it. I think I was pretty clear with what I felt would be improvements to the bus system. As you mention, having them arrive on time would be a good start. Also, having them make fewer stops, and repositioning the stops so that they occur AFTER, rather than BEFORE, traffic lights makes sense.

As far as the "tremendous improvements" that have been implemented, short of the installation of a couple of limited-stop lines and the re-emergence of NextBus, I'm at a loss to identify what these "tremendous improvements" consist of. Flashier buses? Benches at bus stops?

Your implication that I and others have "turned up our nose" at the bus implies a snobbishness that, at least for us, is nonexistent. I simply have not found the bus to be timely way to get around the central part of the city. It would seem that the city agrees with that assessment.

Anonymous said...

The tremendous improvements I was referring to were the new buses which do have much much more comfortable seating - and many now run on natural gas. And yeah, bus stops. It seemed that you were complaining about such things - comfort. (While to me, that is secondary to reliability.) After initially disposing of the old time buses with the super comfy seats and getting ones with hard seats, they're slowly going back to much more comfortable seating. Buses have gotten more comfortable.