In December 2010, WMATA announced a new “one-seat” weekday bus service from South Arlington to DC, the expanded 16F. The 16F is a popular service, and it offers PikeRide commuters two affordable, single-seat routes that service DC directly: the 16F and the very busy 16Y to McPherson Square. The 16F is an express bus that roughly skips every other stop that regular 16 buses serve, makes a stop at the Pentagon, then crosses over the 14th Street bridge and the Mall, terminating near Metro Center at 11th and F NW.
While the 16F is a great service, it is trying to serve three different types of riders, and the needs of these riders are in conflict. First, the bus services Pentagon-bound riders who want faster service along Columbia Pike. Second, it serves riders at Pentagon who want to use the bus, rather than Metro, into DC (most of them are likely taking the first leg of their commute on a bus that terminates at Pentagon). Third, it serves Pike commuters who want a fast, single-seat commute into DC. (If you ride the bus any morning or evening, these three types of commuters are rather visible by where they board and alight the bus.)
For the first two groups of riders, the stop at the Pentagon is critical. For DC-bound Pike Riders, however, the Pentagon stop adds at least ten minutes to the commute (sometimes much more when traffic gets backed up there, a frequent occurrence). How can Metro better serve these riders? The solution is to add a new express route that doesn’t stop at Pentagon, but rather gets on the expressway at Washington Boulevard en route to the 14th Street bridge. This new route should be in addition to, rather than instead of, the current 16F, so that current users of the route would be unaffected.
Over the long-term, significant transit challenges exist for the region. Metrorail is expected to reach capacity in the next few decades. Separation of the Orange and Blue Lines in the DC core seem inevitable, but exceedingly expensive (and thus currently not planned). With these sorts of capacity issues, buses (for better or for worse) are the only means to handle the transit needs of commuters into DC.
Ideally, the County and WMATA should begin to experiment with more direct to DC buses for Pike Riders. In addition to the proposal here, a bus that goes over the Memorial bridge from the Pike to DC would be a welcome addition. This could both be a marketing ploy for developers (“Columbia Pike has more direct public transit routes to DC than any neighborhood in Virginia”), and an experiment for the upcoming Metrorail capacity crunch. More use of limited-stop rush hour buses is also another way to increase the rider experience for current Pike Riders. By studying these types of bus routes, local leaders will have better local, direct examples of the sort of changes that may be needed over time to address transit needs such as dedicated bus lanes on Potomac River bridges.
Back to the 16F: a few small suggestions for the current route. In the mornings, the sign on the front of DC-bound buses mysteriously says “Pentagon,” while the audio announcement says “11th and F Northwest.” More than a few Pike Riders don’t even know that the bus goes to DC! Compare that with the afternoon service, which says “Federal Triangle” (although that’s a bit of a weird sign, too, the walk to Metro Center is actually a bit shorter than the walk to Federal Triangle from 11th and F.) The 16Y says “McPherson Square.” WMATA needs to immediately change the AM sign to read “11th and F NW” (or even Federal Triangle if they insist) so that more riders are aware of the route.
Also, with the Navy Annex closure, the stop that is currently there ought to be skipped, and instead stop at the Orme Street stop near the Sheraton. This would better serve Foxcroft Heights residents and the employees of the Sheraton.