Despite renewed calls to build one as soon as possible, a dedicated bus lane will not be built on one of D.C.'s most congested commuter routes until 2016 at the earliest, a top official at the District Department of Transportation said.
Residents, transit advocates, and Metro have called for DDOT to build a rush hour, bus-only lane on 16th Street Northwest between Columbia Heights and downtown Washington. Ward 3 Council member Mary Cheh added her voice in a budget report released this week, recommending DDOT “dedicate funding… to conduct a study on the feasibility of installing a bus-only lane on 16th Street.”
The current traffic pattern routinely leaves Metro’s S line buses crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic, especially during mornings going downtown. Because buses cannot efficiently pass through the corridor before restarting their route, they are frequently filled to capacity and forced to bypass stops, leaving behind frustrated commuters who have a choice of waiting for another jammed bus or spending a lot more on a cab to get to work on time.
Metro has added more and longer buses to the traffic mix on 16th Street Northwest, where both the population and bus usage have exploded in recent years. The District and Metro are studying a traffic signal prioritization program that will allow buses to get consecutive green lights. But supporters say a bus lane is the only long-term solution to move commuters more efficiently through the busiest bus corridor in Washington.
“We think there is some turmoil in the Department of Transportation over all with some people leaving and a lack of focus. We are hoping this will encourage them to make this a priority,” said Council member Cheh, referring to her budget recommendation.
Cheh’s budget report faults DDOT’s “difficulty in spending federal funds to improve bus service. In 2010, DDOT received $12.3 million in federal TIGER grant funds for bus priority improvements along six transportation corridors in the District. Four years later, little progress has been made and 79% of the funds remain unspent."
Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s associate director of planning, policy, and sustainability, said the agency has completed an internal study of the feasibility of a dedicated bus lane for 16th Street and now is preparing to embark on an environmental study that will determine the extent of possible construction.
Because of the time-consuming nature of the process, Zimbabwe ruled out a bus lane being constructed either this year or in 2015. He said 2016 would be possible, depending on the findings of the environmental study. If extensive construction involving widening the roadway is necessary, a bus lane project may not be realized until 2017 or later, he said.