Staff Editorial: Reducing Circulator service is wrong move for Wisconsin Avenue

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The DC Circulator runs along M Street NW in Georgetown. (Brian Kapur/The Current/May 2017)
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In a city where so many residents prefer to get around using public transportation, the DC Circulator is widely praised — and widely desired.

The Circulator’s appeal has only grown as Metrorail works through safety and maintenance issues that have alienated many riders. And residents with neither Metrorail nor Circulator nearby must rely fully on Metrobus, which costs more than the Circulator, has more confusing routes and frequently fails to reliably arrive at the promised time.

Against this backdrop, the D.C. Department of Transportation has brought forward an unwelcome idea for the Circulator: eliminating the leg of the Georgetown-Union Station route that follows Wisconsin Avenue NW north from M Street to Whitehaven Parkway.

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The agency says that avoiding busy Wisconsin will improve reliability elsewhere on the route, and that Wisconsin is already well-served by Metrobus. While the former may be true, we don’t see the corridor’s bus service throughout the day as up to the minimal level appropriate for a major thoroughfare. Furthermore, the analysis overlooks the specific value that the Circulator brings to Georgetown.

First of all, this neighborhood’s shops and restaurants benefit greatly from tourists, many of whom are unlikely to walk up the long Wisconsin Avenue hill or search for the right Metrobus to take them there. That’s why the Georgetown Business Improvement District pays $10,000 a year to allow free uphill Circulator rides on weekends. Secondly, since most of the Wisconsin Avenue corridor lacks Metrorail access, residents of Georgetown, Burleith and Glover Park also benefit from a Circulator link to the heart of D.C.

We do accept the Transportation Department’s argument that with too many long and complicated routes, the Circulator becomes redundant to Metrobus. Such routes would open up more scheduling variations, undercutting the Circulator’s appeal of predictability. Also, the Circulator’s lower number of routes makes it less intimidating, especially on corridors crowded with alphanumeric Metrobus options. And its consistent 10-minute headways justify its focus on locations with steady activity levels throughout the day, rather than simply commuter arteries.

That said, we hold the city responsible for ensuring adequate transit service. Key Northwest bus corridors without subway lines — notably, 16th Street and most of Wisconsin Avenue — have suffered from overcrowded and unreliable Metrobus service. The District and Metro have been working to improve conditions on 16th Street, but this latest idea on the Circulator would take Wisconsin in the opposite direction.

A Transportation Department survey on the Circulator is available at dccirculator.com/tdp2017 through Monday. In addition to the Wisconsin cut, the survey also asks about an extension of service from Dupont Circle to U Street, which we would welcome.