Before I lived off the Pike, I lived on the Orange Line, and more importantly, near the very convenient 38B Metrobus route. Just about every Metrobus that runs through north Arlington terminates at Ballston, with a few terminating at Rosslyn. While that leaves easy access to Metro, the 38B also affords a bus connection to DC throughout the day and on weekends from Rosslyn and Ballston.
Contrast that with south Arlington’s major transit hub, the Pentagon. With the 16F and 7Y offer service to DC, they do so only during the week, and with limited service off-rush hour. So, for the car-free residents of south Arlington (and the reality is that many more of them are working class than in north Arlington), there is no method to get to DC on weekends other than a relatively expensive transfer to Metrorail, or lengthy connection via N. Arlington. Sure, this is better than many options, but with Metro’s plan to clog up the Yellow Line Bridge to deal with the Rosslyn tunnel’s congestion and its plan to cut weekend Metrorail service, shouldn’t Arlington and the WMATA board to seriously consider expanding bus service into DC over the 14th Street Bridge? For example, one 16 an hour (2 during daylight) could run over the bridge without too too much additional cost.
Back to the Circulator: its popularity is based on the simple routes and regular service – a rail service on wheels, in effect, where you need not read a schedule or worry about the sign on the front of the bus. For now, I don’t want to tackle the street car debate, but comparing Arlington’s half-baked “Pike Ride” scheme with the Circulator is instructive. First off, Pike Ride is rarely promoted and the bus stop signs are incomplete, out of date and in bad repair. But more importantly, the scheme doesn’t work if one if taking the bus from the train, because the buses leave from both Pentagon and Pentagon City. Thus, riders still have to familiarize themselves with a complicated series of schedule to know which stop to get off of Metrorail to transfer to bus.
Sure, the car-free types make it work, but that’s the whole point: redevelopment along the Columbia Pike corridor is only going to work if mass transit works. And mass transit works better when it is better planned and simpler.
So here are five ideas to make Columbia Pike bus service better:
(1) Create a business card sized table with departure times weekday, Saturday and Sunday from Pentagon and Pentagon City up the Pike. Hand it out and post it prominently at Pentagon City and Pentagon’s 16 bus bay.
(2) Extend service on the 16F to weekends.
(3) Off rush hour, allow fewer bus stops at Pentagon City. In its place, off-peak Pentagon-bound buses could take Joyce Street to Army-Navy Drive, which offers a stop near the Macy’s entrance to the Mall and Pentagon Row. Alternatively, add an off-peak bus stop at the pedestrian tunnel under 395.
(4) Install real-time bus information machines at all “limited stop” bus stops on Columbia Pike in Arlington. North Arlington has a ton of these, I note.
(5) Create a Pike Ride smart phone ap/real-time web page. Must include both “real-time” status of buses, and for comparison, the scheduled time as well (too many Metrobuses don’t have functioning GPS units).
Any other ideas?