by Kat Saltzman
Project planning for DDOT’s upper Connecticut Avenue redesign includes changes to bus stops and signals, and a recent public meeting touched on some of the possibilities.
At the January 19th meeting hosted by ANC 3C and the Cleveland Park Community Association, DDOT’s Ed Stollof said the changes would be based on the agency’s Bus Priority Toolbox, a reference that includes 24 “treatments” for bus operations, bus stop infrastructure, bus lane design, and bus integration with bike infrastructure. The strategies listed in the toolbox are based on industry best practices and are intended to improve operations, efficiency, and safety.
Stollof said treatments for bus service along Connecticut Avenue could include stop relocation, transit signal priority, bus rebalancing, and in-lane bus stops. Here’s what those terms mean.
Transit Signal Priority and Stop Relocation
Transit Signal Priority (TSP) is a traffic control strategy that extends the green light or shortens the red light for buses at or approaching an intersection. In the District, TSP is currently in use on segments of Georgia Avenue and 16th Street NW. Transit Signal Priority can be designated for all buses, or it can be programmed to assist buses that are crowded and/or delayed. According to DDOT’s Toolbox, TSP can save buses 5 to 15 seconds at an intersection, depending on the street design.
Bryan Higgs, an assistant professor of engineering at the University of the District of Columbia, says Transit Signal Priority can be a useful tool for moving more people through intersections.
“All [TSP] does is communicates to the traffic signal when a bus is present and then gives that
direction travel priority,” Higgs told Forest Hills Connection. Higgs said in some cases, Transit Signal Priority can be programmed to account for ridership levels. If there are more passengers on the bus than vehicles on the street, TSP prioritizes bus movement.
To maximize the effectiveness of Transit Signal Priority, stop relocation might be necessary. The bus stop would be moved from the near side of an intersection to the far side. This is done to prevent the bus from inadvertently signaling the traffic light while stopping to collect passengers.
Stop Rebalancing and In-lane Bus Stops
Stop rebalancing cuts the number of stops along a bus route. While that can speed service and save riders commuting time, there are concerns that bus stop reductions impede rider access. In Vancouver, for example, neighbors and city councilors expressed frustration when Translink, the regional transit provider, proposed a 40 percent bus stop reduction along parts of one route.
In-lane bus stops, as their name suggests, have buses remaining in a traffic lane rather than pulling in and out of traffic at bus stops. This design can be used to reduce time spent waiting to merge into traffic, and is often integrated into bike lane planning. We’ve previously covered two ways bike lanes and in-lane bus stops can interact (and the ongoing discussions about ensuring the bus stops remain safe and accessible for all users). One is to create an elevated bike path that can be used as both a bike lane and a curb extension/boarding area for bus passengers. The other is a bus island, which serves as the primary boarding area for passengers, with the cycle lane continuing behind it.
What passengers want: bus reliability
While the proposed bus infrastructure changes may improve bus speed, reliability is important to residents and workers who depend on bus service for daily travel. Metro’s recent bus rider surveys found reliability and frequency of service are the top priorities of passengers systemwide.
“You need to be able to go to the bus stop and reliably – when it says so on the timetable – see that it [arrives] within a reasonable amount of time,” said UDC’s Higgs. “If you’re waiting 5 minutes after the time it’s supposed to be there, that’s not reliable.”
Reliability also means getting riders to their destinations on time. “People that are dependent upon public transit – they depend on that for their daily lives, so they have to be at work at a certain time, so they need it to be there at that time,” Higgs said.
Initial meetings on the Connecticut Avenue Reversible Lane Safety and Operations Study highlighted transit operations and reliability as important components of the corridor’s redesign. In March 2021, DDOT indicated that the guiding principles of the project were to improve the quality of life of community members by “providing sustainable, resilient and equitable” modes of transportation through safety measures, the addition of bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, and improvements to transit operations.
However, there has been limited discussion and analysis of reliability along the corridor, particularly between the Chevy Chase Circle and Van Ness neighborhoods, which is serviced only by bus.
Despite significant housing and population density from the apartment complexes on Connecticut Avenue, mass transit between Chevy Chase and Van Ness is limited to the L2 bus, which provides connections to businesses, schools, recreation, and medical appointments as well as to the Metro and to crosstown buses.
Two early mornings in January, Forest Hills Connection talked to passengers waiting for the L2 at two southbound stops in Chevy Chase, DC. Those included students commuting to Burke School and to law school in Van Ness. Some passengers were taking the bus to the Van Ness Metro. At the McKinley Street stop, many of the passengers were transferring from the E4 crosstown line to the L2, and heading to jobs along Connecticut Avenue.
Among the riders FHC spoke with, there was consensus that the L2 provided an important means of transportation along the corridor. While some said L2 bus service was decent, others felt the service was inconsistent.