jonetta rose barras: No bus in sight

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OK, now I am really annoyed. The DC Department of Transportation recently announced plans to create rush-hour bus lanes along 16th Street NW between Arkansas Avenue and I Street. Some people may be throwing confetti right now; don’t expect any celebration from me.

The Transportation 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 start counting.”

Mission accomplished.

Actually, it will take as many as 17 years to get the job done. The final design won’t be completed until 2019. Full implementation won’t happen until 2020, according to published reports.

Am I the only person who thinks nearly two decades is a bit long to devise bus lanes, particularly on a street with three southbound lanes in the morning rush hour and three northbound lanes in the evening? Think about the amount of taxpayers’ money that has been spent on designs that landed in the trash can or in some digital graveyard.  Consider the tens of thousands of dollars that surely must have been spent on staff salaries and fees for consultants and contractors.

The amount of government waste can be breathtaking.

Residents along 16th Street, beginning at Arkansas Avenue NW, who will see their parking spaces obliterated, and pedestrians who might worry about the safety factor undoubtedly won’t echo Zimbabwe’s enthusiasm. They probably are preparing to stage their own protests. Their reaction could result in another year or two on an already ridiculous timeline for this hopscotch, ineffective plan for moving traffic and certain people.

Photo by Bruce McNeil

My neighbors and I who live in the section of the Brightwood neighborhood bounded by 16th Street NW — north of the proposed bus lanes — will not be accommodated by this partnership of DDOT and the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority. Middle-class communities frequently are served crumbs in DC, which is why after reading about the plan, I went into a full-throttle funk.

It wasn’t enough insult that Metro established a rush-hour, limited-service bus route (S9) with only a few select stops for folks who live along 16th Street NW from Silver Spring to McPherson Square. Those buses mostly serve Marylanders, who have lost confidence in the Red Line subway but still want to rush to their jobs in downtown DC and want to rush back to their suburban enclaves. Now, the city government and Metro have devised a plan to get mostly millennials to their tech incubators and fancy state-of-the art workspaces with the standing desks.

This is not a shade-throwing moment. But, what must average District residents do to get attention?

I am a huge supporter of public transportation. The city is only 68 square miles. Many neighborhoods are self-contained, with restaurants, fairly decent retail outlets and entertainment venues — except east of the Anacostia River, where some smart development is taking place in several communities. You can walk almost anywhere; a car is superfluous — nevermind that parking can be expensive, even with recent DC Council legislation making it easier to violate traffic laws.

The bus is my favorite way to get around. It is, perhaps, the cheapest method for touring the city, providing a glimpse of the cultural, social and economic diversity and its stark divisions. Board any of the #30 buses, which run from Ward 3 through Georgetown, downtown DC, Capitol Hill and Congress Heights or other communities east of the river. A ride on the E2 or E4 is also a treat.

Friends and colleagues sometime deride me about my unwavering affection for city buses. I believe the District should run its own bus system — although, despite the occasional encounter with a surly driver or two, Metro does a satisfactory job.  

However, when it set up the limited service on 16th Street, the places it chose for those buses to stop seemed indiscriminate. For example, the S9 stops at Sheridan Street NW, but not Fort Stevens Drive NW. If my neighbors or I want to board, we have to walk the extra two blocks. Why are we inconvenienced, given second-class status? Even on Saturdays when ridership is down, the S9 bus flies past us as if we are of no consequence. No one has ever been able to adequately explain the reasoning behind any of it.

Apparently, logic also has escaped the decision around the dedicated rush-hour lanes. Residents in Adams Morgan and Columbia Heights, who helped launched this effort, wanted to smooth and speed the ride along the entire length. Instead they are getting a patchwork that may not even shave five minutes off their commute.

Meanwhile, my neighbors and I will be stuck in two-lane traffic on upper 16th Street in a regular, non-limited-service bus, wondering why everyone else gets the love — even if it’s a one-minute thing.

Just asking.


jonetta rose barras is a DC-based author and freelance writer. She can be reached at thebarrasreport@gmail.com.

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