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Premium Bus Service Planned for Columbia Pike, Dedicated Lanes to Be Studied

ART busPremium bus service will be coming to Columbia Pike, and Arlington County is studying the possibility of establishing dedicated bus lanes as part a series of transit improvements.

That’s the message from County Manager Mark Schwartz, who spoke at a County Board meeting yesterday afternoon.

More than a year in the making, since the Nov. 2014 cancellation of the Columbia Pike streetcar project, the new transit plan for Columbia Pike will include bus service that’s “fast, frequent, reliable, easy to use, comfortable,” Schwartz said.

“Staff has identified several features that could be part of premium bus service on the Pike that would be similar to the Metroway service already operating in Crystal City,” Schwartz told the Board. “We are looking at near-level boarding platforms, traffic signal priority for buses, and the possibility of creating locations with dedicated bus lanes, along with other innovations.”

Near-level boarding, as depicted in the photo above, makes for faster boarding and shorter stops. The infrastructure to allow it is in the works, as Arlington County already has a plan to build 23 new, enhanced transit stations along Columbia Pike. The stations are expected to cost about 40 percent less than the infamous $1 million “Super Stop” prototype at the corner of the Pike and Walter Reed Drive.

Off-board fare collection (photo via Arlington County)Other considerations to make bus service faster include include off-board fare collection — so riders can pay for their fare before the bus arrives — and traffic signal prioritization, which would allow green lights to stay green until a bus passes.

More frequent service and simpler route structures — including limited stop and express service — are also being considered, as are new connections to Crystal City and the Skyline section of Fairfax County. The new service would be provided by specially “branded” buses with “comfortable and attractive amenities.”

Though it would require state approval and potentially costly acquisition of Right-of-Way, dedicated bus lanes are currently being studied by county planners.

One of the most lethal criticisms of the streetcar plan was that it would operate in mixed traffic without dedicated lanes. The county is studying the possibility of dedicated lanes for at least portions of the Pike — potentially allowing buses to make stops without blocking a lane of car traffic, for instance.

Dedicated lanes are part of the Metroway Bus Rapid Transit service that’s being implemented in Crystal City.

“Premium bus service would build on transit improvements already underway in these corridors. Columbia Pike, Pentagon City and Crystal City are among the most transit-rich areas of Arlington, with the Pike’s 600 bus trips carrying more than 17,000 passengers each weekday,” the county said in a press release.

The new Pike bus service plan will be included in the county’s state-mandated Transit Development Plan. Arlington will be conducting public outreach on the plan over the next couple of months. It’s expected to be ultimately approved by the County Board in May.

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