Local officials are looking to speed up buses along the region's traffic-clogged roads, using various tools from special lanes to new signals at traffic lights that turn green for buses.
A few small projects give buses priority over other traffic already, such as sections of the Dulles Toll Road and Route 29 in Montgomery County where buses can use the shoulder to get around traffic snarls. But they are few and far between.
Now regional transportation officials are capitalizing on a $58.8 million federal stimulus grant to find ways of speeding up buses through slow traffic. They are expecting to soon finalize a deal to buy technology that lets traffic lights and buses communicate. About 80 Metrobuses will get the devices that can turn stoplights green when a bus approaches, according to the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board.
|Tools for speeding up buses|
|Signal priority: About three areas have this technology but many more are slated to get it through a federal stimulus grant. Hardware added to traffic lights and buses communicates as buses approach an intersection, changing the light to green earlier or giving a longer signal.|
|Shoulders: Currently buses are allowed to travel on the shoulders on a few arteries, such as Route 29 in Montgomery County and the Dulles Toll Road, to get around traffic snarls. But the National Capitol Region Transportation Planning Board is convening a task force to look at how to use more shoulders. This can be a cheap solution, requiring only shoring up of asphalt and signs, but has safety risks.|
|Bus lanes: The region has some bus-only lanes on Seventh and Ninth streets in Northwest D.C. and Interstate 66. But the District is looking at adding some on H and I streets while Arlington and Alexandria are building the Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway.|
Separately, a regional task force is being convened to study running buses on more shoulders.
The Crystal City-Potomac Yard Transitway is under construction, likely with the region's first major bus-only lanes.
And Metro and the District are looking into bus lanes for the H and I street corridors, after a study found buses account for 2 percent of the traffic but carry about 40 percent of the people in those corridors during the evening rush hour. Those buses are traveling about half the speed as regular traffic, not including stops.
Metro and Metrobus riders know the problem all too well. The transit agency has been plagued with one of every four buses showing up late, largely because they get stuck in traffic.SClBBut the key is to evaluate how helping the buses will affect other traffic.
"The thinking used to be how many vehicles can travel on the street, now it's how many people can we push through," said Eric Randall, a senior transportation engineer for the Transportation Planning Board.
The region has some of these tools but they haven't necessarily worked well, according to Metro and the District Department of Transportation. The District's bus lanes on Seventh and Ninth streets are not enforced as bus-only lanes, and they sit along some of the busiest sections of the city on a relatively narrow road, making them attractive for cars to jump into.
The region has three locations that give some buses priority at stoplights on Columbia Pike, Georgia Avenue and U.S. Route 1 in Fairfax County, said Metro Director of Long-Range Planning Tom Harrington. But the challenge has been that traffic signals don't match. Twenty-two agencies control local roads and use about five manufacturers for their traffic signal systems, according to the Transportation Planning Board.
But Randall said the new traffic signal technology being ordered is interchangeable, meaning it won't matter which traffic signals are used. Eventually, all new Metrobuses will be purchased with the signal systems installed.