Councilmember Charles Allen submitted the following letter to General Manager Randy Clarke and the WMATA Better Bus Project on its proposed route changes that effect Ward 6 residents:
Dear General Manager Clarke:
For the first time in 50 years, WMATA is proposing a significant and impactful vision for a better bus network that will improve service, reliability, and transit options for the region. Between the proposed modified and new routes, this vision represents a monumental expansion of bus service to better support residents, businesses, and services. It not only has the potential to better connect the region but also will significantly grow ridership and reduce carbon emissions as part of the region's responsibility to meet our climate goals. This is an exciting and laudable effort, and I want to begin by offering you and your team congratulations on all the work so far.
While there is much to be excited about, I am also concerned about the reach of WMATA’s public engagement. In my discussions with residents, Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, local businesses, and community organizations, few were aware of WMATA's proposals and the potential impacts to Ward 6. As a result, I decided to convene a Council roundtable, bring together Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners to offer their commissions’ comments, host a Ward 6-focused Town Hall with nearly 100 participants, and create a resident feedback form, which received more than 120 comments. As WMATA moves to the next phases of the Better Bus Project, improved community outreach in the District at the community level must be prioritized – in particular to current and, importantly, prospective bus riders that have so much at stake in this proposal.
As the Ward 6 Councilmember, I have several specific comments I want to share for your consideration as WMATA incorporates feedback into revised routes and plans:
D6 and Proposed DC100/DC216
The current D6 route is a pivotal connection for students, families, and workers (particularly essential workers) to get downtown. Whether it's the student who needs to get to schools like BASIS, Duke Ellington, or School Without Walls, the worker commuting downtown to Penn Quarter or Freedom Plaza, or the essential worker needing to connect to Union Station and points beyond, the D6 is a vital bus line and connection. Under the proposed plans, the existing D6 would be split into two routes, and the eastern half of the route (the proposed DC216) would see significant changes in its orientation. While there might be benefits to splitting this long east-west route into two distinct routes to increase speed and reliability, I am concerned about the loss of a single-seat ride for riders needing to reach Georgetown Hospital, Sibley Hospital, and other destinations on the western end of the route. But I am most concerned – and I am strongly in opposition – to the change of the route segment from 8th Street, NE into downtown. The shift of this route at 8th Street, NE, to instead abruptly travel north to K Street, NE, and then westward, fundamentally alters and damages a critical bus connection for Ward 6 residents. I ask that WMATA change the proposed route to more closely mirror the current D6 configuration that travels along C and D Streets, NE, through Stanton Park, serves Union Station along Massachusetts Avenue, NE, and continues along E Street, NW.
74 and Proposed DC217
The current 74 route is a critical connection serving the Southwest community and especially residents and businesses located on Buzzard Point. While the new proposed DC217 route continues much of the existing 74 route through Southwest and adds an important extension east of the Anacostia River, I am very concerned that the proposed route eliminates bus service south of P Street, SW, and the thousands of current and future residents who call it or will call it home. I strongly recommend that the proposed DC217 route include service south of P Street, SW, to include the residential buildings, businesses, and jobs and service centers like DC Central Kitchen that are just coming online or will be within the next few years. This part of the District is uniquely situated on a peninsula with river frontage on the east, south, and west, and it is rapidly growing. The configuration and high density make Buzzard Point much less car dependent, but very transit dependent.
E2 and Proposed DC208
The proposed expansion of the E2 route to a new DC208 route has the potential to create new north-south bus connections that connect Union Station and parts of Capitol Hill to Union Market and other destinations in Ward 5. However, there are several concerns that neighbors have highlighted that I believe warrant further attention from WMATA. First are notable concerns about whether portions of the route are permitted under DC Municipal Regulations (see discussion of potential conflicts with District regulations below). I believe WMATA needs to review these regulations. Second, the proposed route on E Street and 3rd Streets, NE would place this route on very narrow blocks with difficult turning radius, rather than staying on more appropriate roadways to arrive at Union Station. If a version of this route moves forward, I recommend rethinking this segment. Third, many residents have expressed concerns about the impact of frequent bus service on historic homes fronting this proposed route. I know that WMATA operates frequent bus service in several historic districts within the District, but I would ask that WMATA investigate and address these concerns directly. Lastly, the route has the potential to better connect students attending Stuart-Hobson Middle School with needed bus service on 4th Street, NE, but I am not aware of any outreach to students to assess their needs nor any coordination with DC Public Schools and the District Department of Transportation (“DDOT”) related to the impacts on the 500 block of 4th Street, NE, during school drop-off and pick-up windows. In its review of this proposed route in the coming months, I believe there are several elements that WMATA must further research, address, and revise.
X8 and Proposed DC220
The proposed DC220 route has the potential to create a significant and new positive north-south connection across Capitol Hill and to better connect neighbors to local businesses on Pennsylvania Avenue, SE, Eastern Market, and Barracks Row. While the loss of connection to Union Station is concerning on this route, it appears that the proposed DC211 would create a reliable option for riders seeking to continue that connection that currently utilize the X8.
The new proposed DC115 could create an important direct east-west connection for Wards 6 and 7 along East Capitol Street. This route largely follows what was proposed to be a new Circulator line that DDOT has chosen not to pursue at this time but has a demonstrated need for improved service. I am heartened to see WMATA take up this service.
The new proposed DC211 route offer the possibility of improved north-south bus connections, but there are two notable concerns. First, the proposed route utilizes the 800 block of 13th Street, NE. However, that block is closed to traffic every Saturday to support the long-running community farmers market, which would require an alteration of Saturday service each week. Second, the proposed route connects from Maryland Avenue, NE, to Union Station via F Street, NE, rather than continuing along Maryland Avenue, NE, turning onto Massachusetts Avenue, NE, and arriving at the same destination. There are some notable concerns about whether this route is allowed under DC Municipal Regulations (see discussion of potential conflicts with District regulations below) and what WMATA believes is the benefit of operating the route on F Street, NE, rather than larger arterial streets. I request that WMATA explore and examine each of these concerns in its analysis and review of this proposed route and share more information publicly.
The new proposed DC219 route is an excellent service addition that will significantly improve neighborhood connections from Fort Lincoln to Hill East to Navy Yard and to Southwest. This new route would create a transformative connection by bus not just between many neighborhoods, but also across multiple stations serving most Metrorail lines. I am in strong support of this proposal and believe it will also attract a large number of new riders to Metrobus.
Potential Conflicts on Capitol Hill with District Regulations
Section 4025 of Title 18 of the District of Columbia Municipal Regulations prohibits bus service on several stretches of District roads, including in subsection 4025.1(b) mandating that “[n]o person shall operate any bus . . . . [o]n 4th Street, N.E., between H Street and Massachusetts Avenue.” This particular provision would impact the proposed DC208 and DC211 routes. While other subsections of this section provide exceptions for WMATA busses to the general prohibition on bus service, this subsection does not, suggesting that the intent was to prohibit busses including WMATA on these stretches. I urge WMATA to examine how these regulations would impact the proposed paths of the DC208 and DC211 routes in Ward 6, as well as any other potentially impacted routes, and provide information about the potential conflict and proposed solutions to me and the public.
Improving Public Outreach
While I certainly appreciate the hard work of WMATA staff in pulling together 50 events in 50 days to share information about the Better Bus Plan, the feedback I have received from even the most well-informed residents suggests that additional outreach is necessary for the next round of feedback. I posted an informational page on my website, and in just over a week I received more than 120 comments, many with in-depth observations. I held a town hall event on June 14 to provide information to Ward 6 residents and hear feedback, and nearly 100 people showed up, suggesting a vacuum of information. Many regular bus riders I spoke with weren't even aware of these proposals, and I even heard from Ward 6 Advisory Neighborhood Commissioners (“ANCs”) who hadn’t heard about the proposals until I made specific outreach. As you know, ANCs are the most hyper-local government officials in the District and a great source for targeted outreach to neighborhood across the District. When the new set of maps are released following this round of public comment, I urge WMATA to specifically engage with ANCs and Councilmembers for outreach events. I also encourage WMATA to intentionally engage with and focus on the needs of rider populations disproportionately impacted by route and service changes, such as low-income riders and riders with disabilities, to ensure their experiences are reflected in the revised plans.
Need for Coordination with District Agencies
As WMATA further refines the bus network plans, in addition to cooperation with elected officials and residents, I urge you to continue to engage closely with District agencies—DDOT and DCPS, in particular. For DDOT, I hope that future plans consider how proposed bus routes will interact with road planning and current and planned hard infrastructure. As an example, WMATA is proposing new bus service along 4th Street, NE, and 6th Street, NE, where there are currently unprotected bike lanes for much of the road; adding bus service here could make these roads less attractive to bike riders, an outcome that could be mitigated by simply making the bike lanes parking-protected when the new routes come in. For DCPS, as I noted above some impacted school communities have not been made aware of planned bus changes, while others have been quite engaged in the process. School communities are not just a good means to connect with more bus riders, but school leaders, parents, and students can also provide important context about commuting patterns that could help further increase ridership and the utility of new bus routes.
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While I do see some areas for improvement, the Better Bus Network project is a huge step forward for the region and for District residents. As you know, District residents are more dependent on the Metrobus system than our neighbors in Maryland in Virginia. Expanding and improving bus service is also always a good investment in transit equity, and I applaud WMATA for its efforts on that front.
I appreciate your attention to my comments. I have attached additional comments I received from Ward 6 residents over the last two weeks, for your information only; these comments are not necessarily reflective of my views. Please feel free to reach out to my Committee Director Chris Laskowski at [email protected] with any additional questions or to schedule a time to discuss my comments in further detail.