DC rolls out the “red carpet” for new bus lanes

A DDOT employee paints a bus lane on May 25. Image by Rachel Alpert used with permission.

In one more week, buses on H and I streets NW past the White House will have their own dedicated rush hour lanes. Over Memorial Day weekend, DC officials started painting the roadways red in preparation.

The lanes will span most of the blocks between Pennsylvania and New York avenues, approximately, and where 70 buses an hour traverse the area at the peak. They'll be active 7-9:30 am and 4-6:30 pm, with parking the rest of the time.

People are pretty excited.

Officials from many DC agencies have been coordinating to ensure the lanes are properly enforced. If people parking "just for a minute," for-hire vehicles like taxis and Uber/Lyft, or others block the lanes, they won't work, like the Rhode Island Avenue "pop-up" lanes that were in effect last year during a Red Line closure but didn't have red paint and weren't widely obeyed. Drivers turning right will be allowed to use the lane just before turning, but can't drive multiple blocks in the lanes.

There both were and weren't a decade of studies for this lane. People have been talking about bus lanes here for at least a decade. An earlier "Downtown West" study recommended "contraflow" lanes, which would travel the opposite direction of traffic, but that idea ran into some obstacles. Rather than doing yet another study, the District Department of Transportation decided to simply launch a pilot, which will extend at least until September 30.

It's part of an effort around bus improvements bringing together DDOT planners including Megan Kanagy, Raka Choudhury, Spring Worth, Haley Peckett, and others at the agency. It's also part of a promise from DDOT Director Jeff Marootian to do more to making actual changes on the ground quickly, see how they work, and adjust from there, rather than having years and years of studies. Advocates on Florida Avenue have been pushing for the same, and DDOT has agreed to install temporary fixes in July while a larger project goes through final design.

This approach can be most successful if elected officials wait to see how things work and let DDOT work out the bugs rather than, as they sometimes have in the past, launching into immediate critcism if drivers complain. We know there's a good chance fixes will be needed after the intiial launch, and almost inevitably will be some complaints. On the other hand, a Washington Post poll found 66% of DC residents supported dedicated bus lanes.

The first rush hour for the new lanes will be Monday, June 3.

Correction: This article originally included the initially-proposed times of 7-10 am and 4-7 pm, but DDOT decided to limit the pilot to only the standard rush hours. Also, it incorrectly listed the date of next Monday.