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16th Street Service Changes Proposed by WMATA to Speed Busses Get Mixed Reactions

Accompanying images can be viewed in the March 2016 issue PDF

By Anthony L. Harvey

The District’s Department of Transportation (DDOT) preferred plan for improved Metro bus service on the 16th Street line’s S1, S2, and S4 bus routes received qualified support from the Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commissions (ANCs) at two recent meetings of the two bodies. Dubbed the “preferred alternative,” the plan was one of three alternatives proposed at community meetings prior to a final meeting on January 21, 2016, held at the Jewish Community Center at which time a sparsely attended audience received a presentation of DDOT’s recommended alternative. Several Mt. Pleasant and Foggy Bottom residents were also present.

Eight or nine bus stops would be eliminated and the lines would terminate at McPherson Square or Franklin Park rather than at the Mall (10th Street & Constitution Avenue) or Potomac Park and the State Department — this with a nod to the S9 express route that runs from Alaska Avenue to 13th and I Streets.

However, in the final version of the “preferred alternative” DDOT wisely withdrew the draconian truncation of the S1, S2, and S4 routes that would have eliminated the final stops noted above, but strenuously proposed the addition of a reversible fifth lane down the center of 16th Street between “below W Street” and Scott Circle.

DDOT’s recommended alternative focused on those provisions — several of which were in all three alternatives in some form or the other — which would facilitate maximized speed in moving commuters down 16th — and a concomitant assertion that more busses would then be available for use by weekday rush hour commuters. This, together with off-board fare payment, all door boarding, and preferential computerized traffic light software for buses, would speed buses through intersections and streetside bus stops, thereby reducing travel time from the Silver Spring station to the end of the 16th Street line’s routes by, at best, estimates of four to five minutes.

After an extraordinary amount of community input and a DDOT explanatory presentation, the Adams Morgan ANC considered a lengthy resolution crafted by ANC Commissioner Alan Gambrell, with the Commission adopting several amendments to the measure. It then voted 6-1 to adopt the measure, thus formally endorsing the DDOT “preferred,” or “recommended alternative” plan.

This ANC resolution expresses support for peak hour bus lanes and peak hour parking restrictions; off-board fare payment and all door boarding; automated parking enforcement; a turn lane separator at W Street; traffic signal optimization for buses; and the improvement of pedestrian and bicyclist safety through a DDOT reconfiguration of the complex Columbia Road, Harvard and Mt. Pleasant Streets intersection.

The resolution, however, expressed opposition to limited service stops and truncated routes for the S1, S2, and S4 bus lines; the removal of mid-day parking on 16th Street (this, however, was two months before DDOT backed away from that provision); and the specific removal proposed by DDOT of the V Street bus stop. The resolution further recommended that DDOT conduct a review process/study two years after implementation of the “preferred alternative” plan.

The Dupont Circle ANC conducted a far shorter deliberation on the matter at its February, 2016 meeting, with the Commission voting affirmatively on a resolution adopting DDOT’s “preferred alternative,” noting the reversible fifth lane running through Dupont Circle as well as the plan’s preservation of 16th Street parking during off-peak hours.

This resolution asserted that the plan would “result in increases in level of service and reliability, and a reduction in travel time . . . and the opportunity to introduce new innovations to the [16th Street] corridor including transit signal priority, headway base services, off-board fare payment, and all door boarding.” The resolution also noted that “DDOT has responded to community feedback and has eliminated the truncation of the 16th Street route at Franklin Square.” Thus, the Commission concluded, “DDOT should continue to design the recommended alternative” while at the same time weighing the risks to pedestrians crossing five lanes of traffic from south of  W Street to Scott Circle.

The Dupont Circle Citizens Association (DCCA), however, was far less fulsome in praise of the “recommended alternative” in its resolution on the DDOT plan. While its letter to the ANC crafted by DCCA President Robin Diener expressed the association’s support for the elimination on all parking on both sides of 16th Street during rush hours, the extension of rush hour to be from seven to 10 a.m. southbound and between four and 7:30 p.m. northbound, and the abandonment of route truncations as originally proposed, it articulated strong opposition to the creation of five lanes of traffic with a reversible center lane as being unsafe, impracticable, and detrimental to the historic viewshed.

DCCA also stated its opposition to the elimination of eight stops along the 16th Street line. This, Diener asserted, “would reduce accessibility, limit service options, discriminate against handicapped and elderly riders, and not add significant improvements to travel time.”

At the earlier JCC community meeting, Mt. Pleasant residents were especially eloquent in voicing their opposition to the proposed elimination of bus stops at Newton and Lamont Streets, noting the heavy use of the two Lamont Street stops by patrons of the busy Mt. Pleasant branch library, and that of the Newton Street stop by students, teachers, and staff of nearby Bancroft School and by visitors and staff to the Stoddard Baptist Nursing Home. Users of the northbound L Street stop also voiced their opposition.

In subsequent correspondence to The InTowner, Lance Salonia, who serves on the DCCA and Dupont Circle Conservancy boards, observed, “The elephant in the room last night [at the Dupont Circle ANC meeting regarding the proposed fifth, center lane] was the induced demand [from motorists] that will occur to use our neighborhood as a pass through, the speedier and more efficient this lane becomes. I think DCCA [also] got the message across, though, that the ANC is here to represent our interests and those of our livable, walkable, sustainable community, and not those of the commuters just traversing through.”

Salonia passed on the American Public Transportation Association’s standards for “designing bus rapid transit running ways” (bus lanes).  These stipulate running ways  “12 feet wide preferred, with 10.5 feet ‘constrained’ bus lanes.”  He noted that “there also needs to be a 2-foot gutter beside the curb, and what is going unmentioned is that the buses will be traveling in ‘regular’ lanes during non-rush hours, which I’d suspect would still need to be at least the minimum width of 10.5 feet just to accommodate the bus.” This, however, is not what DDOT is proposing; the agency calls for no curbside gutter and no 12-foot-wide bus lanes (it will have to narrow lanes to squeeze in the new fifth center lane) — raising immediate concerns about sidewalk safety and historic district tree canopies in the tree box areas adjacent to the curb.

DDOT concluded the January 21st, final meeting by announcing that further design and implementation of this 16th Street bus line enhancement will now become the responsibility in DDOT of the planning group that developed the circulator and H Street, NE streetcar design and implementation projects — with, of course, the participation of WMATA and the Federal Highway Administration.