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Bowser To DDOT: Move Faster On 16th Street Bus Lane Study

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Overcrowding on Metro's S line has added urgency to calls for a bus lane on 16th Street.
Kishan Putta
Overcrowding on Metro's S line has added urgency to calls for a bus lane on 16th Street.

D.C. Council member and Democratic mayoral nominee Muriel Bowser is asking the District Department of Transportation to move quickly on studying the installation of a rush hour bus lane on 16th Street Northwest from Columbia Heights to downtown D.C.

Bus lane supporters, including D.C. Council member Mary Cheh, have renewed calls in recent weeks for DDOT to complete its studies and begin constructing the bus lane in one of the District’s busiest commuter routes. DDOT has responded by assuring them the agency is studying the issue but that construction would not start until 2016 at the earliest.

In a letter to DDOT’s interim director Matthew Brown, Bowser points to the rapid growth in bus ridership on Metro’s S line since 2009.

“We know ridership has grown 25 percent in the past five years to a total weekday ridership of 21,000. As a result, 50 percent of commuters in the corridor now travel by bus using just 3 percent of the vehicles,” Bowser said in her letter.

“While there are certainly key issues to address in terms of design, traffic, parking and pedestrian safety, I urge DDOT to quickly complete the necessary impact analysis and public input process so that it may make a final recommendation,” Bowser said.

Studies completed in 2009 and 2013 recommended a rush hour bus lane on 16th Street Northwest. DDOT is planning to conduct an environmental study next.

In response to Bowser’s letter, DDOT spokesman Reggie Sanders responded, “We continue to study this issue.”

Dupont Circle ANC commissioner Kishan Putta has been lobbying public officials, including Council member Bowser, for months to pressure DDOT to act with greater urgency.

“Please, DDOT. Show the public you are actually moving on this,” Putta said.

Putta, who regularly surveys S line riders on 16th Street, said commuters cannot wait for 2016 or 2017 for a dedicated bus lane.

“Riders have not been able to get to work on time. The congestion is horrible. The buses sometime come in bunches of six at a time,” said Putta, who said the best solution is to allow the S line to pass through the corridor faster in a bus lane.

Metro has already added more and longer buses to the route, but traffic congestion — especially going downtown in the morning — slows them down. DDOT and Metro currently are studying a traffic signal prioritization system that would allow S line buses to get consecutive green lights.

On April 30 Putta testified before Council member Bowser’s committee on economic development, urging her to contact DDOT.

"Will you please send a letter to DDOT asking them to move forward with this study? DDOT says they are juggling priorities and we understand that,” Putta testified. “After all the community support for this, they need to show forward movement. It is not a lot of money to do this study. It’s a matter of prioritization.”

Bowser had been lukewarm to the idea of bus lanes on 16th Street. In January she said she did not think it would work but made clear she was not commenting on any specific bus lane proposal.

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