mild trouble in little china

posted by tom / July 09, 2005 /

I was slightly excited by the announcement of DC's new red buses. It's not that I particularly need more bus service, but their hub is right by our apartment, and it'd at least make it easier to get to Georgetown on my semiannual trip to the comic book store. There's another route, too, going from the convention center south.

But, driving out of the city today to have lunch with my mom, I saw that DC has found a way to make these seemingly innocuous buses a terrible, terrible idea. Namely: dedicated bus lanes on 7th and 9th streets. The crews are out there right now, measuring things, looking confused and blocking traffic in surprisingly inventive ways. It's a little early to tell exactly how it's going to shape up, but as far as I can tell the rightmost lane southbound on 9th and northbound on 7th will be dedicated to buses. At least, that's what I'm taking away from the "BUS ONLY" inscriptions that are being installed as I write this.

I'll admit: for 9th street, this is not an obviously bad idea. It's mostly a one-way street, providing three(ish) southbound lanes. A person who insists on devoting one of these lanes to buses is no doubt deeply troubled, but probably not insane in any clinically diagnosable way (although I do have to note that, assuming 40 foot buses running five minutes apart and at 25 mph a mere 3.6% of available lane space will be used at any given moment).

But 7th street? We're talkin' 'bout 7th street? 7th street? We're talking about seventh street. A street already badly snarled by potholes, MCI center traffic, and clueless tourists. A street with only two northbound lanes, and no left turn traffic signals. This buses-only lane, if actually enforced, guarantees that 7th will become a godawful exercise in waiting for the guy ahead of you to turn left (although I understand it's still legal, I've always considered insisting on turning left to be extremely poor road etiquette). Not only that, but this is a street that already requires drivers to break the law by changing lanes as they cross intersections, due to the way the various left-or-right-turn-only lanes are configured. This bus lane makes that fiasco even worse.

The solution that other cities have implemented is to give buses the center lane, and turn it into a buses-slash-left turn lane -- you only need one bus lane per street, after all, and one left turn lane can be shared by traffic going in both directions. The buses might have to occasionally wait for drivers to turn, but come on -- it's a goddamn bus, and it costs a dollar. What did you expect?


Hey, based on what goes on with the tram lanes in Melbourne, i'm hopeful that this won't be the aweful apocalyptic mess that you fear. What happened there was that the trams used the left lane but any other traffic was free to use it as long as there wasn't a tram bearing down on you. Granted I think that trams are maybe a bit scarier than buses (don't ask me why but I always get the feeling that their breaks don't work very well) but if DC drivers take this approach it could work out beautifully. This way people used to driving in DC will only suffer a minor set back and it will only be the tourists who are caught behind those assholes turning left.

So what the cops should do is ticket anyone holding up a bus in the bus lane but ignore anyone driving in it when there are no buses to be seen, I think DC drivers will get the hint eventually.

Posted by: Julie on July 11, 2005 07:51 AM

That'd make a lot of sense, and I hope you're right. But there are cops stations outside of MCI on 7th all the time, and I've got a feeling that'll put a chill on a reasonable use of the bus lane by non-buses.

Posted by: tom on July 11, 2005 08:49 AM

I love how no one even pays attention to the Bus only lane too. Even making a legal right turn has become almost impossible at 7th and E.

Posted by: Bleu Peter on July 24, 2005 06:56 PM

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