WASHINGTON (ABC7) — Mixed reviews are coming in from DC commuters, as the District rolls out a pilot program designed to relieve congestion on some of the city’s busiest roads.
The bright red rush hour bus lanes now run along I Street and H Streets Northwest. Those are two of the District’s busiest bus corridors, with up to 70 buses per hour during peak periods.
“Some days it’s all four lanes of traffic are just stop and go,” said bus commuter Hans Petry.
That’s why the District Department of Transportation is testing out some new rules of the road a bus lane pilot program that will designate right-side curb lanes as ‘Bus Only’ during the AM and PM peak periods, from 7 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. and from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.
There are some exceptions to the rule: in addition to buses, right-turning vehicles, bicycles, electric scooters, charter buses, school buses, and marked taxis would be allowed to use the bus lanes.
But commuters say those exceptions are what’s causing confusion.
“Cars turn in the lane as well, it’s not just buses, so that makes it problematic,” one commuter told ABC 7. “It becomes this bumper fight.”
In response to questions on social media, DDOT clarified that when turning right, vehicles are permitted to enter the red “bus only” lane for approximately two car lengths before turning.
DDOT is working closely with MPD and the Department Public Works to help with enforcement, with both ticketing and towing now in effect for drivers caught illegally traveling or parking in a bus lane on I Street or H Street.
Violators face fines of up to $200. On Monday afternoon, DDOT did not yet have numbers on how many citations had been handed out.
A spokesperson for DDOT told ABC 7 that the first morning of bus lane operations went “fairly well” for a new pilot program. He said DDOT will continue its work to educate the entire community about the new rules of the road.
The pilot program was timed to coincide with Metro’s summer shutdown on the Blue and Yellow lines. DDOT says the 11Y bus route, which is an alternative transit option for Metrorail riders impacted by the summer shutdown, travels on H and I Streets Northwest. The hope is that the bus lanes will improve bus travel speeds and reliability to this alternate commute.
On Monday evening, WMATA released this statement to ABC 7 about the bus lanes and early observations:
“Traffic flowed well in the dedicated bus lanes and Metrobuses moved better than normal through this corridor. As expected, there were some issues with motorists unaware of the new lane restrictions; however, DDOT working with traffic enforcement teams from MPD, DPW, and DFHV were able to quickly clear these vehicles through stepped up enforcement efforts. We expect to see further improvement as bus operators and motorists adapt to the new bus lanes.”
The bus lane pilot program will run from June 3 to September 27. During that time, DDOT will collect data and evaluate the performance of the bus lanes, including bus speed and reliability.
If the pilot program is successful, the bus lanes could become permanent on H and I Streets Northwest. The program could also be expanded to other parts of the city.
“This morning my bus driver didn’t use the lanes and it was open and we were stuck in the regular traffic where they normally would have driven and nobody was really using the pilot lane,” said Petry.
Still, he’s reserving judgement – and hoping the bus lanes are eventually successful in improving commute times.
“Trying something is better than nothing,” said Petry.