Every afternoon, more than 200 commuter buses ferry office workers from downtown Washington and major job centers in Arlington County to their homes in suburban communities beyond the reach of Metro.
Those buses, like people arriving early at the airport to pick up friends or family, sometimes need a place to park and wait ahead of their scheduled pick-up times -- to avoid driving around unnecessarily, wasting time and fuel, adding to congestion and localized air pollution, and increasing chances of traffic collisions.
A recent Transportation Planning Board study looked at 34 possible on-street bus-staging locations throughout the District of Columbia and Arlington County where buses could arrive early and wait for their afternoon routes to begin.
Photo credit: PRTC
The study ultimately winnowed the list to 15 especially promising locations, most of them existing metered on-street parking spaces in Foggy Bottom near the State Department and near the federal Bureau of Engraving and Printing just south of the National Mall.
The 15 locations got the highest ratings on the five criteria used to evaluate sites. Those criteria included how many buses the site could accommodate, the compatibility of land uses adjacent to the site, whether the site was already a designated parking area, how long it would take buses to travel to the first stop on their afternoon route, and proximity to the nearest freeway. Travel time to the first stop was weighted most heavily in the evaluation.
Because most of the sites are existing metered spaces, the public commuter bus operators would most likely have to reimburse the District for lost meter revenues if they were to use them for afternoon staging. Some operators have already signaled a willingness to do so.
Two of the 15 sites identified in the study offer an alternative approach: sharing space with food trucks that serve lunch to downtown office workers and then vacate their space just as commuter buses start showing up ahead of their afternoon runs. The study looked at several possible food-truck zones in the city, but only two, one in Foggy Bottom and one near Navy Yard, had convenient access to nearby freeways.
In addition to on-street staging locations for commuter buses, the recent TPB study also examined possible off-street parking for the estimated 1,000 or more tour and charter buses that enter the District every day to bring tourists to the National Mall and other destinations.
The study looked at 25 possible locations, ultimately identifying 14 that offered the greatest proximity to the National Mall, the greatest parking capacity, and were the most likely to be available -- the three most important factors used in evaluating the sites. Some of the most promising off-street parking locations identified in the study are just south of Capitol Hill near the Southeast Freeway. The study also highlighted the possibility of a new underground parking garage beneath the National Mall, though the project cost and scale make it a longer-term option, the study says.
The TPB's recent study was just one step in the process of providing more staging and parking opportunities for the region's commuter and tour buses, which are an integral part of the region's transportation system and play an important role sustaining economic activity. It was an especially important step because it brought together regional bus operators and District agencies and paved the way for more in-depth investigation of the feasibility of implementation, including an evaluation of costs, site layouts, potential environmental impacts, traffic impacts, and public and community support.