Friday Question of the Day

by Prince Of Petworth February 14, 2008 at 11:59 pm 29 Comments

I got another great reader submitted Friday question of the day.  It is very simple – why is it that most public transportation runs north to south but rarely can one find public transport that runs east to west?  Brilliant question.  Following is the full question from the reader:

I have another transportation-related pet peeve. I’ve noticed that almost all the bus lines go north-south, just like the metro routes. The Georgia Ave bus follows almost the identical route as the Green line trains. There are also 14th and 16th St buses but nothing that connects the 16th to 18th St area to eastern Columbia Heights or Petworth. It’s a pain to get from Green Line locations like Petworth or Columbia Heights to places on the red line like Dupont Circle and Adams Morgan. Now that all of these restaurants and stores are opening in Columbia Heights, don’t we need an easier way to get between Green Line and Red Line destinations? I would love to see a bus line that links Dupont Circle to U Street and/or Adams Morgan, Columbia Heights and Petworth. It could be an extension of the very popular 42 bus – instead of stopping at Mt Pleasant St & Lamont, couldn’t it continue to Park Rd & 14th and then on to the Petworth metro? Or, is the 42 bus so full already that we need a new route that could follow a more eastern route, starting in Dupont and heading to Logan Circle before heading north.  I think that with the opening of the Target there will be a LOT of demand from from Dupont area residents without cars wanting more easy access without having to deal with changing trains. Meanwhile it would be a boon for green line residents who don’t have easy public transportation access to Dupont and Adams Morgan.”

  • Christina

    Huh. I never thought about that before! But it does seem to be true; I went to http://www.wmata.com and plotted a bus route from my current home to my former home in Adams Morgan. It showed me a route that would involve me heading south on a bus, then walking a half-mile west.

    I think there are plenty of east-west bus routes downtown, on the alphabet streets. But once you get up into our neck of the woods, it’s hard to find any kind of major east-west thoroughfare that cuts all the way through. Perhaps it is just a feature of the way the city is laid out, with a lot of “spokes” radiating from a central point (the Capitol)? I remember going through this problem when I was trying to plot a way to get from Petworth to my office in Bethesda. Military Road was the only logical east-west option.

  • Ed

    How about the H8 bus? It goes right by my house in Petworth and terminates at Mt Pleasant and Park Rd, where you can also catch the 42 bus or if you’re going further West, an H2,3 or 4 bus.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder if this has something to do with why this city is so segregated

  • Nita

    The H4 bus at Columbia Heights is good; it takes you to Cleveland Park or Tenleytown.

  • Susan

    This was my question. It’s definitely possible to change buses or change trains to get between Petworth/Columbia Heights and Dupont, I just find it frustrating that there is no direct route. I usually end up driving or just not going at all. I find the H2 and H8 buses really frustrating…how much demand is there to go between Mt. Pleasant and Catholic University? The H2 bus is even worse – once I had to stand at the corner of Georgia and Irving for 30 minutes after 10pm waiting for the 70/71 bus, it felt totally unsafe and I’ve never taken that route again. Any trip that involves transferring buses is doubly frustrating.

    I agree that the shuttle between Woodley Park and U St had major service issues, but it was a great route that I used all the time. Same for the 42 bus. These are 2 routes that connect lots of businesses, stores, restaurants, and red/green metro lines. Now that Columbia Heights is no longer dominated by empty lots, there will definitely be a need for better direct transportation service to this neighborhood that doesn’t require changing trains or changing buses.

  • 13th Street Resident

    Dupont residents going to the DCUSA ? The 42 drops you off a block or two away. But i think the reason for poor crosstown access (the H2/3/4/8) buses are the only way, is that the ridership numebrs havent been there as much. I think this is changing.

  • Susan

    Yes, the 42 bus drops you off a couple blocks from the DC USA, but why not extend it a couple blocks further to go by DCUSA and the Columbia Heights metro. Even better keep going to the Georgia Ave/Petworth metro. I am not sure how old the 42 bus line is, but I’m pretty sure it pre-dates the opening of the Columbia Heights metro.

    Population density is definitely moving east in DC…would be great to modify bus lines to reflect this.

  • TheNeighbor

    Why can’t we get one of those Circulator busses here?
    A route between say U & 14th or Cloumbia Heights to Dupont would be cool.

  • saf

    The 42 bus line has been in place since the elimination of the streetcars. It follows the old 42 streetcar route. About 15 years ago, it was shortened – it used to go from the stadium to the loop. Now it only goes from Metro Center to the loop. (Note that this has GREATLY improved its ontime performance – for another example of the problems of long bus lines, see the current discussion of possible changes to the 30 buses.) Lengthening that route would be a mistake, as previous performance problems would almost certainly return.

    There also used to be a 46 bus line that ran from the loop to the Kennedy Center. Then they cut it back to Mt P to Dupont. Now it’s gone.

    As rail has come in, bus service has been cut back, routes shortened, routes eliminated… all because people will ride out of their way on rail rather than go direct on bus. We’re reaping the results of that now in terms of less bus coverage and higher fares (as we are forced to use buses as shuttles to rail and pay both a bus an a rail fare.)

  • Anonymous

    E 2/3/4 buses aren’t bad if you need to get from F’ship Hts. to F. Totten. Runs along Missouri/Military and Kennedy. But I guess that’s more for the NOPE folks than the SOPE people.

  • bogfrog

    what do you mean by the “loop” ? Is this at 11th and Monroe?

    I love the suggestion of extending the 42 bus.

    H2, 3, and 4 are excellent buses for my location, but you need to know the schedule. Bus service really thins out at night, e.g. from the Tenleytown Whole Foods east to CH.

  • Anonymous

    I have recently been going from Petworth to Fort Totten to get on the red line. It is a lot easier and less crowded than going downtown to get the red line.

  • iammrben

    I’m inclined to agree with Anon:

    “Anonymous Says:

    February 15th, 2008 at 10:31 am
    I wonder if this has something to do with why this city is so segregated”

    It basically forestalls people from the eastern, less prosperous half of the city trying to come into the western half of the city. Kind of reminds me of Georgetown not wanting Metrorail back in the 60s because it might introduce the riff raff…

  • Anonymous

    I had an african-american professor in law shool (now a judge and in his 70’s) who told the class that he had never been west of rock creek park until he was an adult.

  • “……Georgetown not wanting Metrorail back in the 60s because it might introduce the riff raff…”

    that isnt the reason there is no subway stop in georgetown

  • Anonymous

    The reason for the lack of east-west buses north of U Street seems to be nothing more sinister than the lack of streets along which buses can cross Rock Creek Park. There is a major East-West busline at each of the two major cut-throughs:

    — At Military Road, the E2, E3, and E4 run from Friendship Heights on the city’s western border, all the way to Eastern Avenue, and down to Ivy City.
    — At Porter St. / Klingle Rd. the H2, H3, and H4 lines connect Tenleytown all the way over to Brookland metro (without having to change).

    Other than the tortuous route from 16th Street, via Blagden Ave. and West Beach Road to Van Ness, here simply ain’t anywhere else to cross the park.

    South of the park, a bunch of bus lines run down U Street and connect Woodley Park and points east along Rhode Island and Florida Avenues, and a couple reach down through Capitol Hill to Anacostia. Short of cutting more roads through the park, I’m not sure what can be done to increase the number of East-West lines.

    A different issue, of course, is the inefficiency of DC’s bus service, which is sometimes breathtaking. I’m sure a good deal of that has to do with the general contempt of the government for poorer citizens (who often cannot afford the more expensive Metrorail), but I also think the service might be better funded (and potentially more efficient) if drivers made passengers actually pay the fare, instead of merely glancing uninterestedly as passengers waive dog-eared transfer coupons of several months vintage.

  • saf

    Bogfrog – sorry, I forget not everyone calls it that any more. The loop in Mt Pleasant is the old trolley turnaround loop. now a bus turnaround loop. There used the be a bar right there, also called “The Loop.” (In the space that is now Marx Cafe.) It’s just north of Lamont St, on the west side of Mt Pleasant St,

    Also, I disagree on the buses segregating the city. Rock Creek Park does that – with so few crossing places, it forms a natural divide.

    And finally – go read “Great Society Subway” if you still believe that Georgetown kept out metro for socio-economic reasons.

  • Susan

    Racial patterns probably did play some role though, at least in diminishing demand for east-west transportation routes (I am sure there are also many elderly Georgetown residents who have never been to Petworth!), but there’s also the physical barrier of Rock Creek Park, and probably also just old school urban planning which focused mainly on getting commuters in and out of downtown for their jobs (and at a time when most jobs were downtown and not in the suburbs). Metro may be maxed out on how many people will use public transportation for work commuting (though increasing residential construction around metro stops will increase this), but I think there’s a lot of untapped potential in making mass transit appealing for shopping, dining, and entertainment. The Circulator is a good step in this direction…

  • Anonymous

    Not to pick a fight but I’ve always been told that was the reason. What have you heard?

  • Susan

    Found a posting on an urban planning blog:

    Georgetown never blocked Metro stop


    Conventional wisdom says that the Washington DC Metro was supposed to go to Georgetown (after all, it barely misses it between Rosslyn and Foggy Bottom), but NIMBY residents in the 1970s blocked the station, fearing that the subway would bring inner-city (i.e. black and Hispanic) people out from poor neighborhoods to commit robberies. The anticipated crime spike around transit lines never did occur in other neighborhoods and cities, and now the people of Georgetown regret their earlier opposition.

    I’ve heard that story from DC residents and seen it written online many times. But it’s not true. Wikipedia points us to Zachary Schrag’s book The Great Society Subway, which debunks the myth:

    In fact, although Georgetown residents did oppose a transit station, their attitude was essentially irrelevant, for a Georgetown station was never seriously considered. While it would have been possible to build a subway line to Georgetown, it would have been difficult. (Page 155)

    According to the book, two major obstacles prevented a Georgetown station. First, the corner of Wisconsin and M, which would have been the sensible location for a station, is so close to the river that a station in a river-crossing tunnel would have been too deep at that point, and highway planners had no interest in a bridge. In addition, routing the Metro to Georgetown would force tunneling under private property, which is much more complicated, both for the engineering challenges of underpinning buildings and for the legal issues.

    ….see more on the site…

  • ZetteZelle

    During the morning rush hour, the #62 bus is combined with the #68 for a single route that starts at the Takoma metro, runs down 5th to Kansas, Kansas to Georgia, and then down Sherman Ave. to 13th to Federal Triangle. It drops me off at Logan Circle, and then it’s a fairly easy walk to my job at Dupont Circle. It’s a really great way to get from Petworth to Dupont/Logan (and even Georgetown, if you pick up the G2 at Logan). Unfortunately, the morning rush hour is the only time these two routes combine–at all other times, you need to switch buses at the Petworth metro, completely eliminating the convenience of the route.

    Apparently, both the 62 and the 60 (which runs along Upshur to NH and Fort Totten) used to go all the way from Petworth to downtown, and now they end at the Petworth metro. The old-timers on the 62 tell me that there was community protest about the splitting up of these bus lines, but WMATA wasn’t responsive.

    –I also strongly disagree with the original poster’s complaint that the Georgia Ave buses run a route identical to the Green Line. Among other things, the Georgia Ave. buses end at a Red Line station.

  • Christina

    Duh, Rock Creek Park…I didn’t even think of that. Yes, that is probably the main reason we don’t have a lot of east-west bus routes.

    We could have a better system than we do, though. Some of my friends have never been on a Metrobus, would never use a Metro bus. Why? It’s not like the Metro trains are so clean and efficient these days, and a bus is certainly likely to get you closer to where you want to be. But you do have to have a bit of geographical knowledge, whereas with a metro stop there’s a big ol’ map right in every station.

  • Susan

    ZetteZelle – you are totally right that the Georgia Ave bus connects the Green Line with the Red Line at Silver Spring… I was just focusing instead on getting from Petworth/Columbia Heights to Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle by a direct route not involving changing trains or changing buses. I’ve used the Georgia Ave bus to get home from Silver Spring and it’s very handy. I was just thinking about the trip from Gallery Place to Petworth when I wrote that comment about the bus and the train following the same route. Thanks for pointing this out.

  • Not sure about the bus lines, but the Metro is obviously set up for one main reason: to get suburban commuters in and then out — the spider shape.

    Compare that to the NY subway, which is designed more for people living within the city than outside it.

  • verse

    There is also the H1 bus which runs only during the early morning hours. It originates at Brookland, comes down Columbia Rd via Michigan, stops at Dupont and Foggy Bottom and terminates at “Potomac Park” ( E and 18th st.s NW). But this bus literally does not run after 9, 9:30 in the morning. Except for 2 hours starting a 4pm. Anyone know how to research the history of routes? I’d bet this route goes back to being used by servants and other poor working class going to their early morning duties and then to return in the late afternoon / early evening … i mean, essentially, thats still what it is, that’s how i use it anyways. However i have reason to travel that ways during non-working times as well. Couldn’t they make this a all-day route?

  • DC Liz

    I love the H1, and it’s definitely packed in the morning. I get on at Columbia and Georgia, and off at Foggy Bottom. It’s faster than Metro and I always get a seat, but people who get on between 16th St and Dupont Circle generally have to stand. I would love it if WMATA extended it as an all-day route. The S1 and L1 have essentially the same schedule terminating at Potomac Park, and also run only at rush hour.

  • bogfrog

    verse, DC Liz:

    Yes, I’ve noticed H1 on the map, but also its limited hours. Could be a great service to expand. How do we petition for something like this?

  • Alice

    I grew up in Petworth and moved to Congress Heights (by choice–much more house for the money!) a few years ago. I a native Washington. The metro layout is simple: look for the Web site of the trolley museum; they have an old streetcar map there. The bus lines pretty much follow those. Here’s the link: http://www.dctrolley.org/dctrolleymap.htm.

    Sorry you guys think I’m riff-raff; I guess I live on the wrong side of the city now, even though I make way more than the area median income and own a house with a HUGE front, side and back yard.


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