Fre­quent, high-qual­ity bus ser­vice would make transit a bet­ter choice for many more peo­ple.

Faster, at­trac­tive and re­li­able lines would al­le­vi­ate many transit woes

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - The writer is founder of Greater Greater Washington.

Imag­ine be­ing at al­most any ma­jor cor­ner or com­mer­cial cen­ter of the re­gion and know­ing a fast and re­li­able ve­hi­cle will soon ar­rive to whisk you in the di­rec­tion you want to go for a low cost.

Any­one who lives or works near a Metro sta­tion en­joys that kind of free­dom, at least when Metro is work­ing well (sadly, a lit­tle less of­ten these days). But for ev­ery­one not near Metro — in Georgetown, H Street, up­per Ge­or­gia Av­enue, Hill­crest, An­nan­dale, his­toric McLean, Kens­ing­ton or Hy­attsville — this is a dream not yet re­al­ized.

But a cer­tain tech­nol­ogy can pro­vide this: the bus. All it takes is the po­lit­i­cal will to mod­ify our streets and traf­fic sig­nals to make the bus fre­quent, at­trac­tive, re­li­able and speedy.

The for­mula is sim­ple, though it varies a bit from place to place. Take ex­ist­ing cor­ri­dors with pop­u­lar buses and en­sure the buses come fre­quently. Con­fig­ure traf­fic sig­nals to hold a green light or start one early for a bus. Where there’s traf­fic con­ges­tion, ded­i­cate a lane for buses. Help peo­ple board quickly with pay­ment kiosks, fewer stairs and other fea­tures.

Vir­ginia has jumped ahead with the Metroway, a higher-qual­ity ser­vice from Crys­tal City to Po­tomac Yard and Brad­dock Road.

The Dis­trict Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion is study­ing ways to make the 16th Street S line, among the most-used in the re­gion, faster and more re­li­able. Op­tions un­der con­sid­er­a­tion in­clude all-day or rush-hour bus lanes, changes to sig­nals and tech­nol­ogy that would al­low riders to pay the fare while wait­ing for the bus.

In Mont­gomery County, there’s a plan to build a net­work of Bus Rapid Transit lines, mostly in ded­i­cated lanes, on ma­jor ar­te­rial roads. A re­cent task force pro­duced a re­port on ways to im­ple­ment and fund the sys­tem.

Prince Ge­orge’s and Howard coun­ties have their own, very early and very rough bus vi­sions. Fair­fax is study­ing ser­vice on Route 7. Alexandria is study­ing routes around the city.

The big­gest ob­sta­cle? Po­lit­i­cal will.

Buses are some­times den­i­grated as slow, un­re­li­able and the province of only those who can’t af­ford an al­ter­na­tive or of the eco-haughty. This rep­u­ta­tion is fairly earned in many cases, be­cause cities and coun­ties force the buses to sit in the same traf­fic as ev­ery­one else or pull out of traf­fic to stop and then wait to merge back in. Bus stops are of­ten no more than flags on the side of the road and, in sub­ur­ban coun­ties, of­ten at the side of a high-speed thor­ough­fare with­out cross­walks to get to the other side.

As our re­gion grows, how­ever, there is a sim­ple math­e­mat­i­cal truth: The num­ber of peo­ple try­ing to move on our trans­porta­tion sys­tems is grow­ing, but the amount of road­way is not. There isn’t any­where to put those road­ways even if it were pos­si­ble and de­sir­able to add more. Rather, we need to find ways to move more peo­ple in the same amount of space.

If the re­gion builds a ro­bust net­work of fre­quent, high-qual­ity bus lines, transit can be a choice for many more of us. The cur­rent sys­tem of man­ag­ing traf­fic does not work.

Buses have been of­ten used as a foil for those who want to avoid in­vest­ing in transit. But do­ing bus ser­vice well is not cost-free. Sta­tions that make peo­ple com­fort­able while wait­ing, tech­nol­ogy to op­ti­mize sig­nals and pay­ment kiosks cost money. So does pro­vid­ing enough ser­vice that peo­ple can show up and know the wait won’t be too long, as with Metro trains.

It’s disin­gen­u­ous to fa­vor buses as a cost-sav­ing mea­sure but then balk at any cost as­so­ci­ated with mak­ing bus ser­vice bet­ter than the flag on the side of the road.

It’s also disin­gen­u­ous, but com­mon, for public of­fi­cials to scorn transit in­vest­ment, hold­ing out a bus as a bet­ter and cheaper op­tion and then not putting in the hard work of mak­ing that “bet­ter” part come true.

Mak­ing buses bet­ter and build­ing light rail (such as the much­needed Pur­ple Line) or street­cars (which of­fer higher-ca­pac­ity ve­hi­cles in busy cor­ri­dors), and im­prov­ing Metro and fix­ing its bot­tle­necks are not mu­tu­ally ex­clu­sive. But mak­ing buses great, with fre­quent ser­vice, sig­nal pri­or­ity, ded­i­cated lanes and quicker board­ing, is the fastest way to give many more res­i­dents of our re­gion good trans­porta­tion choices and get the most out of the road net­work we have to­day.

We need to move quickly to im­ple­ment the rec­om­men­da­tions from the Dis­trict’s 16th Street study, fund and build Mont­gomery’s Bus Rapid Transit net­work, du­pli­cate the suc­cesses of Metroway else­where in Vir­ginia and start mak­ing sim­i­lar plans in scores of ma­jor cor­ri­dors through­out our re­gion. There is no rea­son to wait.

ASTRID RIECKEN FOR THE WASHINGTON POST

Buses on 16th Street NWin the Dis­trict.

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