City may extend DC Circulator bus to National Zoo

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The National Zoo is located at 3001 Connecticut Ave. NW. (Brian Kapur/The Current/October 2017)

As the National Zoo’s visitation surges and its planned $50 million parking garage advances, officials are considering extending the DC Circulator service a half-mile with a new stop directly outside the park.

One DC Circulator route currently runs from 14th and I streets NW through Adams Morgan to the Woodley Park-Zoo Metro station, some five blocks south of the Zoo’s Connecticut Avenue entrance. The Zoo and the D.C. Department of Transportation are reviewing the idea of an extension, representatives told The Current.

The DC Circulator is popular for its $1 fares and simple routes. (Brian Kapur/The Current/April 2016)

“DDOT has discussed the possibility of DC Circulator extending to the Zoo,” Transportation Department spokesperson Maura Danehey wrote in an email. “This would be dependent on having access to a turnaround. Right now the Zoo is in the planning phase for capital improvements that might include a turnaround/drop off area in their gate facing Connecticut Avenue NW. We look forward to continuing the conversation with the Zoo.”

Zoo spokesperson Annalisa Meyer confirmed the discussions regarding an extension of the Woodley Park-Adams Morgan-McPherson Square Circulator line but said she had no further information at this time. The Zoo currently operates a free daytime shuttle, running on a loop from the bus parking lot to the lower entrance, but it does not extend to either of the nearest Metro stations — Woodley Park or Cleveland Park.

The DC Circulator discussions emerged out of long-standing plans to construct a large new parking garage at the Zoo. The planned 1,285-space facility — recently enlarged from an earlier proposal — would be entirely full about 69 days of the year, officials project.

The D.C. Department of Transportation designed a traffic mitigation strategy to accompany the garage proposal, and one of the ideas was to extend the Circulator north to the Cleveland Park Metro station with a stop in front of the Zoo.

While reviewing plans for the larger garage proposal earlier this month, the National Capital Planning Commission supported the Zoo’s efforts to identify creative traffic mitigation strategies, saying a parking garage would likely attract more visitors.

The garage would replace Lot C and a maintenance building across North Road from the Great Ape and Small Mammal houses. (rendering courtesy of the National Zoo)

“I do not believe that these additional spaces will ultimately fix the problem,” member Peter May said at the planning commission’s Oct. 5 meeting. “It’s sort of a ‘build it and they will come’ situation: You’ll get more and more cars if there’s more and more parking. … Obviously the solution doesn’t involve simply building more parking spaces.”

But extending the Circulator service another half-mile up to Cleveland Park is not in the cards right now, according to Danehey. “At this time, DDOT is focused on reinvigorating the DC Circulator fleet with newly procured vehicles and selecting a location for DC Circulator’s operations and maintenance facility. There has been no discussion of the DC Circulator extending to the Cleveland Park Metro Station,” she wrote.

There is a long road ahead for even an extension to the Zoo. Before the department implements any changes, it needs to review the concept, determine the operational needs and meet with the public, Danehey wrote.

The agency has pushed back against other requests for expanded service in recent years, including plans to extend the Georgetown-Union Station route to the Washington National Cathedral. Officials had also proposed eliminating that line’s Wisconsin Avenue segment in upper Georgetown, but backed off amid community complaints.