The strange thing about the new bus-only lane along Rhode Island Avenue last Monday morning was that there weren’t any buses in it.
There were plenty of cars — a line of them in the lane the city took the trouble to mark “Bus Only.” The idea was to move Metro’s shuttles and other buses faster during the 45-day shutdown of a portion of the Red Line.
But there were so many cars in the lane that morning that there seemed little reason for the shuttle carrying Teresa Taylor, 23, and about 20 other commuters to try to get over to it. Instead, the shuttle kept going in the left lane behind another line of cars that backed up for a block at every red light.
It’s been this way since the bus-only lane opened on July 21, when Metro began making repairs at the crumbling Rhode Island Avenue station, Taylor and other shuttle bus riders said.
The other strange thing that morning was there were no police around to keep the lane from becoming a joke.
That, too, is the way it’s been, at least every time Taylor has taken the shuttle or express bus during the shutdown. “There’s been no enforcement,” she said.
With a chunk of the Red Line out of commission, Taylor has been walking to the Rhode Island Avenue station at 8 a.m. to get on a shuttle, only to have to get off at NoMa 15 minutes later to wait for a Red Line train to get to her internship at a nonprofit in Dupont Circle.
When she could take the train the whole way, the trip would take 20 to 30 minutes. Now it takes a little more than an hour.
She’s been getting up an hour earlier during the shutdown. “And I like sleep,” she said. “I’m grumpier these days.”
Transit advocacy groups applauded when Metro and the District announced the bus lane. The idea wasn’t groundbreaking — the District lags behind other major cities like Seattle in giving buses their own lanes. But groups like the Coalition for Smarter Growth saw hope that the city might try to catch up.
Stewart Schwartz, the coalition’s executive director, said he’s glad the city created the lane. The region can’t keep growing without moving more people around on buses, he said.
“But we’re very disappointed they haven’t been enforcing it.”
Police spokeswoman Karimah Bilal said police have been out there at times. But despite all the cars driving and parking in the lane, only 15 citations and warnings were issued between July 21 and Aug. 8.
“As identified issues are observed, enforcement areas are adjusted based upon available resources and nature of the underlying concern,” Bilal said. She didn’t respond when asked whether police aren’t doing more to enforce the lane because of a lack of resources or because it’s not enough of an “underlying concern.”
Transportation department spokesman Terry Owen, meanwhile, said the agency is monitoring traffic on that stretch of road and is in contact with the police. “Thus far, WMATA has not indicated that violators are delaying buses,” Owen said.
On Monday, traffic did seem to be moving steadily. But other days, Taylor said, the traffic has been “stop and go.” Even so, she said she’s sympathetic to the drivers flouting the law.
“They’re trying to get places, too, and go about their lives, just like we are,” she said. “But there are times I feel like, ‘Get out of my bus lane.’”
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