City unveils 16th Street bus lane project

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Local bus riders have something to look forward to: more efficient service along the often-clogged 16th Street NW corridor.

The District Department of Transportation (DDOT) just released preliminary designs for improving service and reliability on 16th between H Street and Arkansas Avenue, a route that serves over 20,000 riders daily. The agency held an open house July 30 to share details on the project, which calls for establishing rush-hour bus lanes, removing dozens of parking spaces and adding priority “queue jumps” for buses, among other fixes.

“This is the culmination of eight to 15 years, depending on where you start counting,” said Sam Zimbabwe, DDOT’s chief project delivery officer.

The agency intends to finalize designs next year and implement them in 2020. The improvement plan comes after various studies and public meetings by both DDOT and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.

In the past, challenges have surfaced in the form of historic  preservation concerns and parking issues. Zimbabwe said the latest proposal “deals with all of those issues,” while the changes “will still save minutes off your trip.” Planners estimate a two- to three-minute time reduction along the full length of the study area.

A dedicated southbound bus lane during the morning rush hour will be in place from Arkansas Avenue to U Street and from M Street to I Street, with the southbound bus lane in effect all day for the section between Irving and Fuller streets. During the nighttime rush hour, a dedicated northbound bus lane will be in place from I Street to M Street, from P Street to U Street, and from Irving Street to Arkansas Avenue.

The gaps in coverage led Mount Pleasant’s advisory neighborhood commission to lament in the lead-up to the July 30 presentation that the latest plans won’t deliver the promise of a rush-hour bus lane along the full length of 16th Street south of Arkansas, resulting in less dramatic time savings.

The DC Department of Transportation held community engagement events last year at several bus stops along the 16th Street corridor as part of the planning process. (Photo courtesy of the DC Department of Transportation)

Combining a few basic themes, the new design will create “no-left zones” at multiple intersections and consolidate several existing bus stops. Bonus design elements will include a concrete loading dock at 16th and Irving to make it easier for wheelchairs and pedestrians to avoid dirt and mud.

The design seeks to minimize the risk of traffic collisions and jams, common problems with 16 Street’s current setup. The proposed solution: extend bus zones so when buses pull over at stops, they will no longer block traffic.

“Queue jumps will give priority to buses before other traffic,” DDOT planner Spring Worth said in her presentation. Queue jumps are specialized road markings at traffic signals that will allow buses to have a head start over cars.

To accommodate these changes, the city plans to remove 33 parking spaces along 16th Street. In addition, 23 spaces that are currently permitted during midday hours will be removed, though they will remain available for parking overnight and on weekends.

Public feedback has been heavy since the beginning of the project, and “never really stops,” said Zimbabwe, so residents still have time to share opinions.

“I’m excited but it’s a little underwhelming,” said DC resident Garrett Hennigan, who attended Monday’s open house. “If the goal is to speed up the buses carrying a lot of people, we are just seeing a lot of reasons why bus lanes can’t be done.”

Other open-house attendees were eager to see the fixes implemented so that transit riders aren’t delayed by congestion along 16th Street.

“There’s not too much you can do when buses are sitting in traffic,” said Dale Chism, a Columbia Heights resident. “It seems like this will free up more time and make it easier.”

For more information, check out full project details at 16thstreetnwbus.com.

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  1. […] Department’s chief of project delivery, Sam Zimbabwe, may be in high spirits. He told The DC Line that the decision was the “culmination of eight to 15 years” of work “depending on where you […]

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