Within the next decade, a new transit group wants to make the bus the go-to transit option in the D.C. area
Earlier this year, the Washington Area Bus Transformation Project — which is backed by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority — released a draft strategic plan with a variety of short and long-term goals and strategies for improving the D.C. region’s bus network.
“The national capital region is adding 40,000-60,000 jobs and households each year,” the group said in its strategic plan. “But its transportation system is struggling to keep pace, leading to some of the longest commutes and worst traffic congestion in the nation.”
Potential ways to improve D.C. area buses and thus help alleviate traffic issues were broken into six categories, ranging in complexity and potential cost.
- Ease of use: make simpler, consistent maps, naming conventions, and pricing. Another recommendation would be free transfers between Metrorail service and local bus lines.
- Prioritizing buses on roads: potentially with bus-only lanes and traffic signal priority, though regional coordination will be needed.
- Frequent, reliable, convenient service: overhaul existing routes to create a more efficient system and provide flexible, on-demand transit services for areas not well served by conventional buses.
- Balance regional and local bus systems: develop a 10-year plan to allocate services between bus systems and applicable routes. The plan also includes a recommendation to “revise the cost local jurisdictions pay WMATA for local service to better match the actual cost to provide service.”
- Streamline back-office functions: most of the recommendations in this category are behind-the-scenes improvements, like consolidating support functions and developing regional standards for bus data collection and analysis.
- Centralizing regional bus networks: form a regional coalition of jurisdictional representatives with authority to implement strategy recommendations.
The bus system has a long way to go if it wants to turn its image around. Since 2012, bus ridership has fallen 13 percent across the region. The project will also require cooperation from the region’s nine bus service providers.
Much of the project also depends on local jurisdictions to implement strategies like restricting parking to facilitate better bus transit. This is why representatives from Arlington Transit and several Arlington County departments are in the group’s technical team and strategy advisory panel.
Meanwhile, most of the technical team and all of the leadership team are WMATA employees.
So far there are no cost estimates for the plan’s recommendations. Allison Davis, a member of the project team, said the price tag will come later in the process.
The project started in September. The group is currently in the middle of a public outreach campaign to sell the public on the idea and gather feedback. At an open house yesterday at George Mason University’s Arlington campus, the room was covered with boards for collecting thoughts on the project and the direction it should take. A survey is also available online.
The plan goes to the Northern Virginia Transportation Authority and the WMATA board this summer for review, with a roadmap planned for development in the fall.
“We’re trying to look at this from a customer perspective,” Davis said. “This [plan] is a tool we have to make better [transit] choices.”
Real Estate Near Crystal City is Hot — “In the 22202 ZIP code — which comprises Crystal City, Pentagon City, Aurora Hills, Aurora Highlands and Arlington Ridge — there are only 11 homes for sale right now, according to Realtor.com. Only three are single-family homes. The rest are condos.” [Washington Business Journal]
Circulator Bus Now Free — Rides on the D.C. Circulator bus are now free indefinitely, Mayor Muriel Bowser announced Monday. The bus line has a stop in Rosslyn. [Fox 5]
Transportation Partners Honored — “On March 19, the Arlington County Board honored 31 local businesses and properties for their dedication to sustainable transportation for employees and tenants, as part of Arlington Transportation Partners’ (ATP) Champions program.” [Arlington County]
Politico Owner Launching New Tech Site — “Robert Allbritton, the executive chairman of private equity firm Perpetual Capital and publisher of [Rosslyn-based] Politico, is preparing to launch a global technology news site, the latest sign of growing investment in tech coverage across American journalism.” [NBC News]
Nearby: Halal Butchery Opposed in Alexandria — “Though city staff and Alexandria’s planning commission recommended approving DC Poultry Market’s application, dog lovers showed up to the Alexandria City Council’s March 16 meeting to object on olfactory grounds (‘My dog can smell when there’s a cookie down the block,’ one resident said) and on proximity to poultricide (‘Knowing that my dogs may be walked by a business that holds chickens in a windowless room before their throats are slit while fully conscious does not make me feel that my dogs are in a safe environment,’ another said).” [Washingtonian]
Flickr pool photo (originally published in 2016) by Kevin Wolf
Arlington is gearing up to ask for millions in I-66 toll revenue to fund a series of changes along Lee Highway, including the creation of a dedicated bus and HOV lane along the road during rush hours.
The County Board is set to sign off this weekend on funding requests for six transportation projects, totaling $6.9 million, four of which focus on reducing traffic along Lee Highway as it runs from Rosslyn to East Falls Church.
The Northern Virginia Transportation Commission doles out a portion of the revenues collected through the year-old I-66 toll program to localities, in order to help afford road improvements along the corridor inside the Beltway. Accordingly, Arlington is looking for cash for the following efforts along Lee Highway, per a county staff report:
Metrobus Route 3Y Service Improvements — $520,000 per year for five years, total request $2.6 million
This project will increase morning peak hour frequency and provide running time improvements for better on-time performance on the subject Metrobus route that connects the East Falls Church Metrorail Station with the Farragut Square and McPherson Square areas in the District of Columbia via Lee Highway and a short section of I-66 from Rosslyn to the Theodore Roosevelt Bridge.
Intersection Improvements at Lee Highway and Washington Boulevard — $400,000
This project will add a second left turn lane from northbound Lee Highway to westbound Washington Boulevard and provide pedestrian improvements at the intersection north of the bridge over I-66, which is 0.25 miles from the East Falls Church Metrorail Station.
Enhanced Vehicle Presence Detection on Lee Highway — $20,000 per intersection for 15 intersections, total request $300,000
This project will install forward looking infrared (FLIR) video cameras at key intersections along Lee Highway. FLIR technology uses thermographic cameras that improve the accuracy of vehicle, pedestrian, and bicycle detection in all lighting and weather conditions, and in turn improve optimal signal, intersection, and corridor operations and performance.
Design and Construct Peak Period, Peak Direction HOV and Bus-Only Lane on Lee Highway from just east of N. Kenmore Street to N. Lynn Street — $1.5 million
This project would convert the outside lane of Lee Highway to an HOV and bus only lane through pavement treatment, restriping, and signage. The lane would operate eastbound during the morning peak period and westbound during the evening peak period only; at other times it will continue as a general purpose travel lane.
The final project on the list is one that the county initially considered back in 2016 as an effort to prepare for Metro’s “SafeTrack” schedule disruptions, and the new lane would’ve run from Court House to Rosslyn. However, county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet says that lane was never constructed, and the new proposal calls for it to run from Cherrydale to Rosslyn instead.
The county expects a new lane would be particularly impactful along that section of the highway because about “25 loaded buses per hour” drive along it during peak period, and they often run into heavy delays near the highway’s intersection with N. Lynn Street in Rosslyn, according to the report.
In addition to the Lee Highway changes, officials are also hoping to earn $750,000 to add a new traffic light to the Washington Blvd entrance to the East Falls Church Metro station, as well as crosswalks and other pedestrian improvements at the intersection.
Finally, the county plans to ask for a total of $1.3 million over the next three years for “enhanced transportation demand management outreach” along the corridor, educating commuters about public transit and other strategies for getting cars off the road.
The Board is set to approve these funding requests at its meeting on Saturday (Dec. 15), and the NVTC will accept applications through Jan. 16. The organization plans to hand out $20 million in funding across the region through the program next year.
Photo via Google Maps
Another Chase Branch Coming to Arlington — Following its purchase of the former Walgreens in Clarendon, JPMorgan Chase is now planning a second bank branch in Arlington. The new branch will reportedly be located at the northwest corner of N. Randolph Street and Wilson Boulevard in Ballston. [Washington Business Journal]
Preservationists Eye Local Log Cabin — “A retired florist, Cal Marcey is worried over possible destruction of one of Arlington’s remaining log cabins, to which his ancestors have ties. A new owner has purchased the early-19th century Birchwood cabin at N. Wakefield and 26th sts., and the plans — renovation versus teardown — are unclear.” [Falls Church News-Press]
Record Round for Arlington Startup — “Arlington safety and security startup LiveSafe Inc. has raised $11.1 million in fresh funding, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings. It’s the company’s largest round so far and puts its total funding at about $25 million, according to a review of previous SEC filings. LiveSafe did not respond to requests for comment.” [Washington Business Journal]
Business Group Wants Better Bus Service — “A group of chief executives from the greater Washington region says deficiencies in bus service are holding back growth in the region. The region’s bus network possesses valuable assets, including more than 3,800 buses and a growing system of limited-stop service and bus rapid transit lines, but the region hasn’t fully leveraged the potential of the network to help solve its transportation challenges.” [Washington Post, Greater Greater Washington]
Flickr pool photo by Erinn Shirley
(Updated at 5 p.m.) Metrobus has added real-time bus tracking displays to a bevy of its stops along Columbia Pike, one of many changes coming to the corridor’s bus service in the coming months.
The California-based company Connectpoint announced earlier this month that it’s working with WMATA to install the devices, which will display wait times for various buses, route maps and even alerts about service disruptions.
The new screens will be available at stops along the pike at the highway’s intersections with the following roads:
- S. Barton Street
- S. Carlin Springs Road
- S. Courthouse Road
- S. Four Mile Run Drive
- S. George Mason Drive
- S. Glebe Road
- S. Greenbrier Street
- S. Oakland Street
- S. Veitch Street
- S. Walter Reed Drive
The company says it will also install the displays at several stops around Annandale as well, for a total of 24 in all. Metro spokesman Ron Holzer told ARLnow four are already in place as part of a “pilot program” the transit agency is running, with the remaining displays to be installed “in the next two weeks.”
“If the pilot is successful, we hope to deploy signs at all Metrobus stops,” Holzer said.
Arlington transportation spokesman Eric Balliet added that WMATA first installed the technology as part of some long-awaited work to beef up bus service on the pike this summer.
For now, Balliet expects the devices will only display “next bus arrival times” for the Metrobus 16 line, the primary focus of service changes that started in late June.
However, Balliet added that the county “anticipates removing” the devices when it can finalize plans for new bus shelters on the pike. Those have been the subject of plenty of scrutiny over the years, particularly after one stop was revealed to have a price tag north of $1 million.
“The transit stations will include electronic information displays showing all bus services and multimodal options,” Balliet said.
The county put out a request for proposals for those pike bus stops in June, with the goal of starting work on five sometime this winter. Arlington hopes to eventually install 23 of the “transit stations” along the pike.
Photo courtesy of Connectpoint
Metro’s dire warnings about the impacts of track work in the latter half of this month seem to have effectively pushed Arlington commuters onto local bus routes instead — though bike share services didn’t see a similar ridership boost.
With the rail service’s major rebuilding work on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines fading in the rearview, Arlington transportation officials say their data show that both Metrobus and Arlington Transit ridership saw substantial jumps during the construction from Aug. 11 through Aug. 26.
Metro itself recorded an 11 percent dip in ridership over that period when compared to figures from 2017, largely attributable to WMATA’s persistent urging that commuters only use rail service if they had “no other option” for the two-week period. And in Arlington, at least, it seems that commuters weren’t shy about turning to bus options instead.
The Metrobus 3Y line, which runs from stops along Lee Highway to D.C.’s Farragut Square, recorded the biggest ridership surge, according to county transportation spokesman Eric Balliet. He says the county’s initial data show a 97 percent increase in average weekday ridership compared to the weeks prior to the track work starting, shooting from an average of 413 riders each day to 815.
He added that Metrobus’ 38B line, running from Ballston to Farragut Square, recorded a 38 percent increase, with average daily ridership jumping from 3,001 people to 4,136. Balliet noted that the county requested that Metro provide additional service along those lines, as they run along the Orange and Silver stops most likely to be affected by the track work.
As for ART buses, Balliet says the 43 route (running between the Crystal City, Rosslyn and Courthouse Metro stations) recorded a 67 percent increase in average weekday riders compared to a year ago. Last August, the bus service saw an average of 1,022 people on those buses each day; this year, it jumped up to 1,706.
Similarly, he said the 42 line between Ballston and the Pentagon saw a 16 percent jump, from last year’s 1,068 riders per day to 1,241. He attributes those changes to the fact those ART lines “parallel the segment of the Blue Line that was closed during the track work.” Metro shut down service on the line between the Arlington National Cemetery stop and the line’s New Carrollton terminus.
Jim Larsen, the county’s commuter services bureau chief, pointed out that those numbers amounted to increases of anywhere from 599 to 1,000 riders each day between the two bus services.
“Now, if we can only keep them,” Larsen said.
A spokesman for the dockless electric scooter company Bird says the firm also saw “ridership grow consistently this summer as commuters sought new options to avoid delays on multiple lines,” but didn’t provide specific numbers.
The track work did not produce a similar ridership bump for bike-sharing in the county, however.
Compared to the same two-week period a year ago, the number of Capital Bikeshare trips originating in Arlington was “virtually the same, though down just a smidge,” according to Bike Arlington Director Henry Dunbar.
In all, the county’s stations recorded about 17,041 trips during the track work. From Aug. 12-27, 2017 the county saw 17,180 trips, Dunbar said.
Spokespeople for the ride-sharing companies Uber and Lyft did not respond to requests for comment on any ridership changes they observed during the track work.
Anecdotally, it would seem that the Metro construction inspired some commuters to turn to their cars rather than transit options. For instance, some ARLnow commenters mentioned hefty backups on the Key Bridge and 14th Street Bridge to make it into D.C. in the first place.
In all, 73 percent of the more than 1,400 respondents to an (admittedly unscientific) ARLnow poll on the issue said the Metro track work affected their commutes in some way.
Metro was even scheduled to do a bit more work on the Silver, Orange and Blue lines this weekend, prompting single-tracking through Rosslyn. However, it announced today (Thursday) it’d be abandoning those plans.
Arlington Named Top Digital County Again — “Arlington County is the No. 1 digital county in the nation for a third straight year. The Center for Digital Government and National Association of Counties 2018 award recognizes Arlington for its best technology practices in areas of open government, transparency, public engagement, planning, cyber security and operations.” [Arlington County]
Robbery in Courthouse — Two men reportedly robbed the Dunkin’ Donuts on Wilson Blvd in Courthouse yesterday evening. The men demanded money and fled the scene with cash but did not display any weapons during the robbery, according to initial reports. [Twitter]
Kaine to Campaign in Arlington Today — Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) tonight “will host a ‘Neighbor to Neighbor’ community conversation in Arlington to engage Northern Virginia voters on the critical issues facing our country and take their questions.” The event is taking place at the Barcroft Park Picnic Shelter (4200 S. Four Mile Run Drive) at 6:30 p.m.
Britney Spears Touches Down in Arlington — Britney Spears arrived at Reagan National Airport ahead of the kick off of her summer tour. Photos and video show her walking through the terminal with a small entourage. [Daily Mail]
Arlington to Pay to Help Retain Federal Tenant — “Arlington taxpayers will be on the hook for nearly $8 million over 10 years to subsidize a lease that will retain the Office of Naval Research in the county. County Board members on July 14 are expected to approve an incentive package that will keep the federal agency in its current 314,000 square feet of office space in Ballston.” [InsideNova]
Suspect Hailed Cab After Pike Burglary — “A burglar made his getaway from a scene in Arlington by hailing a taxi, according to officials. The Arlington County Police Department said the burglar targeted a business in the 3100 block of Columbia Pike near the Westmont neighborhood at about 10:25 a.m. on Sunday.” [Fox 5 DC]
George Mason Drive Detour — A “small detour” will be in place this weekend on N. George Mason Drive “as crews above remove the old half still remaining from the soon-to-be-replaced Carlin Springs Road Bridge.” [Twitter]
White Ford Bronco Profiled — Prolific local 90s cover band White Ford Bronco is the subject of a newspaper profile that dubs it the “undisputed king of D.C. cover bands.” The profile recounts that “at a recent concert at the Clarendon Ballroom, guys in button-down shirts and Birkenstocks pumped their fists to the chorus of ‘Mr. Jones.'” [Washington Post]
Metrobus Delays This Morning — Metrobus passengers reported delays and missed routes this morning, which WMATA says was the result of “bus operators reporting late to work as part of a collective labor action by their union.” [Twitter, WTOP]
Arlington Transit is prepping 13 new buses to start picking up riders in the coming months.
County transportation spokesman Eric Balliet told ARLnow the bus service received the new vehicles a few months back, and hopes to have three making the rounds before the month is out.
He expects the rest will hit the road as the county continues to beef up bus service in the coming months, likely “later this summer/early fall,” as part of the Transit Development Plan the County Board approved in 2016. That plan is designed to bridge gaps in bus service around the county, particularly along Columbia Pike, where ART and Metrobus just started teaming up to offer enhanced service last month.
ART has also dealt with a series of mechanical issues recently, particularly on some of its older buses, but Balliet says the county is still being cautious in putting these new buses in the field.
The 40-foot-long, natural gas-powered vehicles are the first buses the county has purchased from New Flyer of America, the same company that provides vehicles to WMATA for much of its Metrobus service. Accordingly, Balliet says ART’s service contractor “has been in the process of reviewing the buses for acceptance and training operators and technicians” since the agency got its hands on the buses earlier this year.
In all, the county’s Transit Development Plan calls for ART to expand its fleet “by over 20 vehicles” in total through 2026.
The county projects that these additions and service changes will help it boost ridership by 24 percent over the same time period, though ART’s ridership figures have flagged in recent months, similar to other bus services nationwide.
Photo courtesy of Abigail Wendt
Bus riders along Columbia Pike will see significant service changes starting Sunday (June 24), as part of the long-awaited “premium transit network” planned for the corridor.
Metrobus will soon offer five streamlined routes along the Pike, down from 11, and offer more frequent service across all of those routes, Arlington transportation officials told the County Board Tuesday (June 19).
The changes will move in tandem with some other Metrobus service alterations recently approved by WMATA’s governing board, and bring the county closer to delivering on its promise to improve transit options along the Pike after abandoning the contentious streetcar project four years ago.
“You may not necessarily move through the corridor faster, but you won’t have to wait as long for a bus to take you somewhere, particularly during the peak hours,” said Board Vice Chair Christian Dorsey.
Lynn Rivers, the county’s transit bureau chief, noted that Metrobus will offer 30 additional hours of service across all the different routes on the 16 line, with the ultimate goal of running buses once every six minutes along the most crowded stops on the Pike.
The county has also kicked off the process of finding a contractor to build 20 new bus shelters along the Pike.
Dennis Leach, the county’s transportation director, told the Board that the county started soliciting bids for the project last Wednesday (June 13). By July, he expects the county will know how much each shelter will cost, a key point of interest for Board members after the Pike’s “$1 million bus stops” prompted community outcry years ago.
Yet Rivers believes the more noticeable change for riders right away will be the alteration to Metrobus routes along the Pike. She noted that buses won’t be changing where they drop off and pick up riders, but Metrobus will be tweaking how it describes its various routes to be less confusing.
“The idea was to streamline that to make it easier not just for those who are using it, but also bring more people onto the system,” Rivers said.
Moving forward, the five routes on Columbia Pike will be known as 16A, 16C, 16E, 16G and 16H. Rivers added that 16Y service will still be available as well during peak hours, though only to Farragut Square, and service along the 16X route to Federal Triangle will still be available during peak times as well.
While these changes came as good news to Board members, John Vihstadt did point out that “our communities have been frustrated with the pace” of the county’s work to implement bus service changes along the Pike. Rivers believes this first phase of improvements is the equivalent of starting off “with a bang,” but she did acknowledge there’s lots of work left to be done.
Eventually, the county and Metro plan to offer nonstop bus service between the Pike and Crystal City, and extend the Transitway, or dedicated lane bus service, out to Pentagon City — the latter effort just won some new regional funding as well.
“This is just the beginning of many more phases,” Rivers said.
The new tolls on I-66 inside the Beltway may be steep, but new data suggest they have yet to convince people to turn to Arlington’s public transit options instead of driving.
The rush hour tolls have been in place on I-66 between Rosslyn and the Beltway since December, but a new report by the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission does not show any substantial increase in Metrorail or local bus ridership around Arlington.
The regional transportation planning group’s researchers did find some upticks in express bus ridership in Fairfax and Prince William counties, which benefits from fewer rush hour traffic delays on I-66 post-tolling. Yet NVTC staff stresses that there is currently no clear evidence that the tolls, designed to convince commuters to carpool or turn to public transit to ease congestion on the highway, are having their desired effect broadly.
“While public transportation systems transport significant numbers of commuters from the Washington, D.C. suburbs to downtown, overall transit ridership in Northern Virginia has shown a gradual decline, which is influenced by employer transit benefits, transit service reliability, telework, and real estate development, among others,” the NVTC report reads. “However, new commuter and express bus services supported by the I-66 Commuter Choice [tolling] program have demonstrated stable demand and are expected to grow.”
The group examined ridership data on Metro’s Orange and Silver lines, running between stations west of the Ballston stop and Ballston itself, as well as between Ballston and stations east of it. For the month of February, the NVTC found that ridership increased by about 4 percent from the same month in 2017.
However, staff noted that could be due to the transit system’s recovery from its “SafeTrack” maintenance program, noting that “it is difficult to discern the influence of I-66 tolling from these statistics.”
The NVTC also found that bus ridership in the I-66 corridor declined from a similar time period a year ago, particularly in Arlington. Staff found that Arlington Transit routes along the corridor dropped by a total of 12 percent when comparing February 2018 to the same month last year, and Metrobus ridership in the area fell by 10 percent.
The new tolls helped local bus services run some buses more frequently along the corridor, but the group found declines in ridership on those routes too. For instance, ART started running buses on its 55 route once every 12 minutes during rush hour starting in June 2017, yet ridership fell by 7 percent when comparing February 2018 to February 2017.
Similarly, 2A Metrobuses now run every 10 minutes instead of every 15 during periods of peak ridership — and the route saw a 10 percent drop in riders, the report found.
However, the NVTC noted that bus ridership “declines persist before and after the I-66 tolling,” not only in Arlington in recent years, but also across the region and even the country.
They’re also hopeful that commuters are still taking time to adjust to the beefed up transit options, and are merely taking time to adjust their schedules accordingly.
“The public transportation service capacity added in FY2017 through the I-66 Commuter Choice program has met with stable demand,” staff wrote. “A ramp-up in demand is expected in the coming years.”
File photo. Charts via NVTC.
Metro is making some changes to a handful of its bus routes around Arlington, in a bid to make service more efficient and save a bit of money.
WMATA’s Board of Directors approved a series of changes to Metrobus routes across the region on Thursday (June 14), including adjustments along six routes in the county. All of the alterations will take effect on July 1, and they mark the latest in a slew of recent changes to Metrobus service in Arlington.
The biggest change will be the elimination of the 22B route, which currently runs from the Ballston Metro station to a stop at the intersection of S. Four Mile Run Drive and Columbia Pike in Barcroft.
Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly notes that “alternate service is available on routes 22A and 22C,” and that buses once running the 22B route will be used to provide more service between Pentagon City and Shirlington. Eric Balliet, a spokesman for the county’s Department of Environmental Services, added that the “majority of the 22B is redundant with the 22A and C” and suggested that the change will complement the county’s planned expansion of dedicated-lane Transitway service in Pentagon City.
“The public reaction was neutral, and the change nets $108,000 per year in savings,” Balliet told ARLnow via email.
Another significant change approved by the WMATA board is the truncation of the 10E route, which currently runs from the Rosslyn Metro station to Hunting Point in Alexandria. Now, the route will end at the Pentagon instead of continuing on to Rosslyn.
Balliet said county transit officials have planned on making the change since July 2016, noting it’s redundant with Metro’s Blue Line and some Arlington Transit routes. In all, he expects the change will save about $232,000 each year.
Other changes include increasing the time between buses on routes 7A and 7F between the Pentagon and Shirlington, and a series of changes along Columbia Pike to account for bus service improvements designed to take the place of the abandoned streetcar project. In all, Metrobus will tweak the schedule of buses on routes 16A, 16B, 16C, 16E, 16G, 16H, 16J, 16K, 16P and 16X.
Finally, Metro will rearrange the schedules of routes 4A and 4B between Pershing Drive and Arlington Boulevard, eliminating 4A buses in the middle of the day in favor running 4B buses more frequently.