Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I hate the 14th Street bus.

I consider myself a pretty easygoing guy. A fair amount of things annoy me (people live tweeting TV shows, duck face, Phillies fans) but I don't really hate that many. I hate the 14th Street bus right now.

This morning I checked Nextbus on my phone and the 14th Street buses (the 52, 53 and 54) were 4, 6 and 8 minutes away. Great. I got to the bus stop at 14th and Spring at 9:07, which still left me 3, 5 and 7 minutes (assuming time is linear, which is a longshot when using Nextbus sometimes.)

Then 13 minutes later, no buses. About 15 minutes later, a 53 shows up, which is not the best because it turns east at L Street and I work near F Street. But I was sick of waiting and angry at Nextbus and Metro for being way off on their estimates/predictions/random numbers posted to the internet so I started to get on and saw that the bus was completely packed. The driver says to the throng of people on and trying to board (who generally don't move back, but that's another annoying issue) that he can't move if he can't see, and another bus is right behind him. Another guy and I get off to wait for that next bus. One minute goes by, then 2, then 5. Still no bus.

At this point I'm tweeting up a storm to @metrobusinfo with no response. Why is Nextbus so wrong? Where is the bus? The only bus that showed up was packed, where's the next one that should have arrived 15 minutes ago? Is there only one bus that serves this entire route, so it has to make a loop? Does it actually exist? Are there buses at all? Do any of us exist? Why are we here? Is this some kind of nightmare? It was like I was in a David Lynch movie, but thankfully a bit less creepy.

Then 26 minutes after the I got to the stop, 22 minutes after the first bus should have arrived, a second (and with it, a third, naturally) bus arrives. It's not packed and I get on. It's going its usual turtle-ish rate to downtown. (According to my calculations from before, the 14th Street bus usually takes about 30 minutes to go the 2 miles to downtown. That's 4 miles per hour. That's how fast a person walks.)

But then it gets slower and slower. Traffic is backed up. People start to get off in droves. I abandon the bus at K Street, about an hour after I got on. It's just sitting there. As I walk down the street I see some of them are closed off, apparently due to the Iraqi prime minister at the Willard Hotel and the mayor at the new Marshall's at 14th and F. I have no idea why the mayor needs as much police protection as I saw at a Marshall's grand opening. Maybe he's afraid he's not going to find the belt he wants and flip out or something.

So anyway, today was a commute from hell. But even when things are going well, in a relative sense, they still suck. Traffic is bad in the mornings starting at DCUSA, sometimes backing up all the way past Spring Road. Why? I don't know. That's crazy. And the bus stops way too often, usually every block -- sometimes the stops are a few dozen feet from each other.

I know there are bigger problems in the world. But why the bus is so terrible so often boggles my mind. A decent bus system needs to be consistent to work properly and serve the people who ride. The riders need to know they can reliably get to X destination if they have Y minutes . That isn't the case with the 14th Street bus, and it is maddening to me. It's almost random whether you're going to get where you need to go when you need to be there. It drives me crazy. I hate it. Some of that randomness happens from being in a city, but I feel like there has to be something Metro and the city can do. Fewer stops. More buses. Fix the blockage at 14th and Irving. I don't know, something, anything.

I'm going to buy a bike helmet and join the growing crowd heading down the 14th Street hill. Hopefully some idiot won't walk into the bike lane while looking the wrong direction.


Unknown said...

The 14th street line is terrible. It's a known issue. My wife disagrees with me, but I think it's even worse than the 70 line on Georgia/7th, at least at rush hour. The 79 express helps a lot.

Though it's far from perfect, the 16th St. S line is far superior. It's worth the walk.

Even if you ignore the fact that these other two lines include an express option, the 14th st. line is still worse. A big part of that is how bad traffic is on 14th in Columbia heights (poor design, poor enforcement vs. delivery trucks, poor pedestrian & vehicle behavior). But it can't be the whole issue. The traffic flow at 16th and Harvard/Columbia is some of the worst-designed in the city and the 16th St. line still works.

Hopefully the Georgia Ave. streetcar will solve a lot of this, but who knows how long that will be. I also worry that many of the same mistakes will be made there.

Ed said...

The 16th street busses today were not much better. It took nearly 20 minutes to go from P to M. I get off at K or Hamilton Place, but I abandoned at M and walked. Traffic was horrible downtown this morning. No idea what caused it.

Tauntaun said...

I agree with Unknown, and would also recommend you walk the extra two blocks and take the 16th street bus. It's much better. Also, I got into the habit of checking Google Maps traffic when I leave the house, because some days it really is just faster/less frustrating to walk 15 minutes to the metro.

EC said...

Bus reliability and traffic seem to get significantly worse when there is even a little inclement weather. 14th in Columbia Heights is bad to start with for the reasons Unknown said and it gets that much worse during poor weather.

NextBus in general though drives me crazy and I always take it's predictions with a grain of salt (two when the weather is poor). I'm not sure if the predictions are based on average times from stop to stop or what but it's not uncommon to see a 5 minute wait time, and then a 6 minute wait time 3 minutes later and then a 5 minute wait time after waiting a few more minutes. Eventually the bus comes 15 minutes past when it was supposed to arrive.

Chris Blauwkamp said...

There were some road closures down here near metro center; that may account for some of the trouble.

IsmeSon said...

I'm really sorry about your hellacious commute this morning. WMATA buses can be very frustrating. I commend you for trying your best to patronize the system. Just take it with this grain of salt: metro buses will get you there if you're not in any rush.

Have you tried the app: BusTrackDC? It's free! I have it on my iPhone, not sure if there's a version available for Android, Blackberry, Windows Phone or Symbian. It's definitely less buggy than NextBus and far more accurate.

Anonymous said...

it's not just limited to the 14th street line. i remember living in glover park and the only way to get downtown was the D6, which was only even scheduled to be every 30-40 minutes post-rush hour. but it was so erratic and so poorly serviced that i ended up in a situation where, if i was meeting someone at a bar at 9, i had to leave my house at 7:30 to make sure i caught the one bus that would come at some point over the next hour-ish. just last week i had to wait 30 minutes for a 63 bus going north to petworth, more than doubling the time of the commute since the ride itself is less than 20 minutes. this same bus had arrived much more frequently the past times i've taken it. now i have to pad future trips. Metro wonders why ridership goes down? THIS is why. i've given up on beliveing that they can fix it and just walk now. hoenstly, i wouldn't even be so upset about the erratic scheduling if they could jsut make the nextbus stuff work! then at least we would have *SOME* idea of when or IF a bus is coming at all.

Anonymous said...

I'm feeling your pain. I've lived in between the 16th Street "S" bus and the 14th Street "50" bus since the 1960's. I only catch the bus when it's raining and, of course, that's the worst time. Between the steamy bus air and the wet umbrellas it makes for a frustrating ride. That is if the bus comes in a timely manner. I've never understood why people don't move to the back of the bus. Maybe if Metro instituted a policy that encouraged riders to exit from the back door. That would help with people moving to the back as well as speeding up the boarding process. Yes, we need a downtown express bus on 14th Street. But one that goes all the way to Federal Triangle unlike the 16th Street "S9" bus that only goes to Franklin Square. All those excessive stops are a joke (unless it's your block and your stop). Like many others I think the 16th Street bus is a better choice - even if they're crowded - at least they come more frequently. I walk to and from 9th & E Sts. to 14th & Euclid. I put on my walking shoes, backpack and my earphones and I'm there in 40 minutes. It relieves a lot of tension that I would otherwise have waiting for the bus and sitting in traffic. I remember once taking the "S" bus home and there was some function at the White House the traffic was so screwed up it took 2.5 hours to get home. Talk about being pissed!! When I get to work I sit all day so it helps to walk that 2.5 miles home. When I get home I'm tired but stress free. Metro need to understand that this area in N.W. is only going to get more populated, it needs to add more buses to both lines, especially during the morning and evening rush hours.

MLD said...

There was a combination of an accident and a motorcade on K street that completely screwed up things this morning.

I agree with others, if you are frustrated with the frequency of the 14th street buses, start walking to 16th and taking that bus. The 14th street buses are a lot slower, they stop more frequently than the S buses.

Sometimes when presented with issues, the best solution is to just try to change your own travel patterns. You can still complain obviously, but changing your behavior can help you while you affect change elsewhere.

The Meek Biker said...

Your threat to start biking seemed like hyperbole, but you ought to give it a shot. Even the slowest rider will get downtown twice as fast as the fastest bus. It takes me a leisurely 15 minutes on a bike, whereas minimum 30 minutes on the 14th Street bus (if I'm lucky).

As a bonus, whenever the weather is inclement you can take a cab with the money you save from not using the bus, and still come out ahead.

Anonymous said...

If you are going to ride a bike, PLEASE don't ride down the hill on 14th street. As someone who drives down that hill, I can tell you it's a BAD idea for bikers. Even DDOT labels it as a bad idea on their bike map:

Especially considering the fact that 11th and 15th have beautiful separate bike lanes and 13th is technically labeled a bike route (plus traffic flows slower due to all the 4-way stops).