Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, March 06, 2013

Tactical thinking about DC bus improvements: Part 2, Connecticut Avenue

As mentioned in a January blog entry, "Understanding why Upper Northwest DC residents don't buy into the sustainability mobility paradigm," Upper Northwest DC residents use automobiles much more than they ride transit, walk or bike.   But just like in the core, it varies.  Rowhouse neighborhoods served by subway stations (Petworth, probably Friendship Heights) are more likely to use transit.  And with the addition of apartment buildings to areas around transit stations, like at Petworth and Takoma, transit ridership in those areas has increased as well.

Even so, sustainable mobility use is much more possible for many even if they don't think so, and even if large swathes of this part of the city have sub-standard transit access.

Buses Oxford StreetBasically, the city has four types of bus service. (1) high frequency service on major arterials, like the bus service on 16th Street NW (S bus) or H Street-Benning Road (X bus); (2) neighborhood bus service between various activity centers and transit stations (like the 62 bus between Takoma and Petworth Stations); (3) the Circulator service downtown and in some neighborhoods; and (4) private shuttle services between subway stations and campuses, mostly for the universities like Georgetown and Howard, the Washington Hospital Center, although many federal government agencies run shuttle services also.

To better serve the differing needs of communities, based on transit station proximity, density, and need, I have argued that the city needs to redefine how it provides transit, including the provision of intra-neighborhood service (which will be the subject of post #3 in this series).

In the entry "Making bus service sexy and more equitable," I suggest using double deck buses, at least on certain routes, as a way to rebrand transit service as hip and forward.

After all, a key element of how we think about London (part of its brand) are the distinctive double deck buses there.

While I think it's a pretty short walk to the Friendship Heights Metro Station from Upper Connecticut Avenue, a rapider bus as a double deck bus on Connecticut Avenue, could be in order, to improve transit access and utility in that part of the city. 

Making it a double deck bus would allow for significant rebranding and repositioning, and would provide better service to an underserved area.

Wouldn't using double deck buses, even more than "Bus Rapid Transit" lines, rebrand bus service as super cool?

Double deck bus in Blackpool which prominently markets the bus service as cool--"I'm on the bus."  Image from the Mattybuzz blog.

And with regard to both the previous entry and this one, I like how some of the UK transit operators brand major destinations on various bus routes.  DC did this for the first Circulator line, but the same design has been extended to other routes, even though the destinations on those other lines are different.

These bus lines served by Blackpool Transport on the Flyde Coast brand the separate lines:

-- #1
-- #5

-- #7

The #22 is branded the "Catch 22" bus line, which I think is quite spiffy.  But I think this bus is operated by another firm.
Image from the Blackpool Trams blog.

As far as Upper Connecticut Ave. is concerned, I'd probably recommend two different services, one between Van Ness Station and Chevy Chase/DC-MD border, and one between Connecticut Avenue and the Friendship Heights Metro.

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At 12:15 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

1. Buses are generally the "high-end" transit in Europe, because you get sunlight, less street crime, and better routes.

2. In terms of making it sexy, I do think the routes/frequency are the most useful way to approach it. Do the buses take rich white people to places rich white people want to go? Do the buses do that quicker than driving?

3. A certain level of segregation is useful -- i.e. keeping homeless off the bus.

I've always thought neighboorhood jitneys could be useful as well. (I think there is an ART bus that does that for the lunch crowd)

In terms of branding, we do have a LOT of double deckers in DC and it screams tourist, not cool.

I think one problem with DC is office jobs -- which are the driver in this area -- are so concentrated downtown that it almost always makes sense to drive during off-hours. Or rather it is quicker outside of downtown.

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

in the past you have called this:

Do the buses [transit] do that quicker than driving?

transit's killer app.

When you factor in parking, often the answer can be yes, if we set up transit that way.

2. fwiw, the services you talk about at lunchtime typically are underutilized, but I have frequently written about the need for intra-neighborhood transit services to as you say take people where they want to go without their having to drive (restaurants, supermarkets, subway stations, etc.).

My model for such services is the Orbit service in Tempe, AZ.

That's the subject of the next post in this series. (Maybe tomorrow.)

3. I hope you're wrong about double deck buses not being cool. I think they are still, e.g., the inter-city Megabus service too, despite the association with tourists in cities like DC, Chicago, SF, and NYC.

When I first suggested it, those double deck tourist buses were just entering the DC market (2007-2008).

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At 4:21 PM, Blogger Subcom Ovashins said...

Double decker buses are the absolute wrong-way. It's not about coolness/hipness. It's about quality of service. When buses are running constantly, people use them more because the average wait is 5 minutes - see the success of the circulators. Double-wide/decker end up substantially reducing the number of buses running because they allow more people on just one bus. And that's only important on routes which have 10 minute intervals and are traffic-constrained. The inner suburbs need jitneys of the type that were popular when those areas were first built out - small scale taxi/bus hybrids.

Here's an example. I live in Petworth. If I want to go from Petworth to Glen Echo National Park to go dancing, I can take a full-size bus that runs every hour from Friendship Heights to Glen Echo, and it's invariably empty. Of course, the bus runs late, or the Metro runs late. My average wait is 30 minutes. That's unacceptable. I have to use a car. If the bus was half the size and ran twice as much, riding it would be reasonable. Sadly, I remain disappointed with the current options.


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