Last year, Metro proposed radical surgery on D.C.’s longest, most-used bus route, the 30 line, which runs from the Montgomery County line in Northwest to the Prince George’s County border in Southeast. The procedure the agency recommended was one of its current favorites: cutting the route in half. The buses now designated 30, 32, 34, 35, or 36 would terminate at 10th and Pennsylvania NW, and riders who wanted to go further in either direction would have been forced to transfer to a renumbered service covering the other half of the journey.
Metro recently performed a similar bisection on the 90 line, which travels from various points in Southeast to Adams Morgan and McLean Gardens. But after a June 27 ridership survey, bus planners backed away from the proposal to sunder the 30, which is 15 miles long and carries almost 20,000 riders every weekday. “Reaction to that plan was negative,” James Hamre, Metro’s planning manager for bus and corridor projects, told a group of about 30 bus users who attended a “listening session” Tuesday night at St. Columba’s Episcopal Church in Tenleytown.
Divided into four subgroups, the participants were asked to discuss problems with the notoriously unreliable 30s, and suggest fixes. When the conversations were summarized for the entire assembly, it turned out that at least some of the riders had a familiar idea: cutting the line in half.
The brainstorming didn’t precisely reflect Metro’s rejected proposal. One group suggested overlapping the severed lines in the center city, so that riders heading northwest could travel as far as Washington Circle, and those going southeast could reach the National Archives, without having to transfer. Another camp proposed routing at least some of the 30 buses away from two of the line’s biggest bottlenecks, Georgetown and the area near the White House, where for decades the 30s ran on now-closed Pennsylvania Avenue. (Possibilities include the return of the 37, which skipped Georgetown and the West End by taking Massachusetts Avenue to Wisconsin, and running some buses along Constitution or Independence Avenues and then up to Pennsylvania Avenue west of the presidential residence.)
Halving the routes was reportedly an unpopular notion at the previous listening session, held July 19 at the Pennsylvania Avenue Baptist Church in Southeast. The divergence of opinion is another small example of D.C.’s gap between east and west. Most of the Northwest bus discussers seemed to use the 30s to travel from points south of Tenleytown and went no farther east than the Mall. The average Southeast user travels farther, and is more likely to be inconvenienced by a 10th Street cleavage.
A split could be relatively painless, if the transfer from one side to the other could be made quickly and reliably. But there’s no reason to expect that. Riders can wait 20 to 30 minutes for a ride on the 30 routes, even at rush hour, when buses are scheduled to arrive every three to five minutes. So a two-part line could easily double the length of a trip.
The 30’s weakness is also its strength: It is in theory an exemplary line, with multiple points that attract ridership throughout the day, rather than an inefficient rush-hour-oriented route that collects commuters in residential areas and dumps most of them in a small section of downtown. Large numbers of passengers board and depart the 30s at Friendship Heights, Tenleytown, Washington Cathedral, Georgetown, downtown, the Mall, and Capitol Hill, as well as at the 12 Metro stations along its routes. (The 30 ends at Potomac Avenue, the 32 at Southern Avenue, and the 34, 35, and 36 at Naylor Road.)
Since riders use the 30 for so many purposes, chopping it in two would disrupt a broad variety of trips: from Capitol Hill to Glover Park, George Washington University to Penn Branch, the Four Seasons Hotel to the Air & Space Museum, and so on. Better to pursue the course that all four groups at the Tenleytown parley agreed upon: make the 30s more reliable, adhere closer to published schedules, and avoid bus bunching. If Metro can achieve those things, the 30 line really will be exemplary.