N2, N3, N4, N6 – Massachusetts Ave Line

Whoa!  It’s been a very long time since I’ve reviewed a bus line and for that I apologize, dear readers.  Where did the summer go?  It’s not that I’ve stopped riding buses; quite the opposite.  Now that I work in Adams Morgan I faithfully ride the 90s and H1 more or less every day and have only ridden Metrorail maybe half a dozen times in the last month.  But I hadn’t had the opportunity to try out a new bus in quite some time.

Luckily I had meeting in Friendship Heights and Dupont Circle last Wednesday, which gave me an excuse to take perhaps the most circuitous route possible between those two neighborhoods, the N2, N3, N4, N6 line.  Let’s say, like a normal person, you decide to ride the Red Line between those two stations.  The trip takes about 10 minutes.  This bus, on the other hand, takes – on paper – twice as long.  In reality, though, my ride was much longer.

Actually I rode two buses, the N2 from Friendship Heights to American University – at which point the bus was going so slowly that I had to hop off and take a conference call (as an aside, the main campus quad comes highly recommended as an outdoor location for a quick call!) and then hop back on the N4 in the direction of Dupont.  And that’s where things got fun!  I saw the H4 at the bus stop and thought it was about to pull away from the curb.  So I ran.  But when I got to the bus I almost stepped off because it was crammed full of about 50 American students.

How did I know they were students?  Hmm…was it the ill-fitting suit jackets on guys not even shaving yet?  Or the tan colored panty hose on the girls with slightly too-short sheath dresses on?  Or the fact that most of them were nervously clutching manilla folders or portfolios as they juggled their iPhones and trying to hold on to the seat backs?  I do believe it’s all of the above.  Oh, to be young and playing dress up for mock interviews again!  Not really.

In any case, the rest of the trip proceeded fairly calmly, even if more than a few of the students had no clue what to do when the back door opened and the bus was packed and people were trying to exit.  One of their more experienced classmates yelled out “Step off and let the woman get out!” but that seemed to fall on deaf ears.  For those uninitiated boys, I invite you to read this post I wrote a while back about how to exit a bus (and let others do so as well).

In any case, it was fun to try out a new route again, even if I have no intention of ever stepping foot on an N2 or N4 bus again.  In fact, I won’t be on many WMATA buses after the end of this month because I’m moving to Chicago!  Everyone is asking me, “Will there be a CTA-Venture?”  I’m not sure yet, but I do know that I’m excited to have the Hyde Park Express bus located right outside my apartment.  I’m going to try to squeeze in a few more rides before I leave, especially since there’s still one DC Circulator route I have yet to try.  Until then, it’s back to the H1 and 90 for me…

N2, N3, N4, N6 - Massachusetts Ave Line

A not terribly great view from my seat, but as you can tell, the Friendship Heights Metro station area is undergoing a few renovations.

Line: N2, N3, N4, N6 – Massachusetts Ave Line         Rating (1-10): 6

Ridership: Aside from the nervous-slash-annoying gaggle of American University first years it was a mostly older crowd and everyone else seemed to be traveling solo.  There were a handful of riders with rolling wire grocery carts but most people seemed to be in no particular hurry to get anywhere, passing the time with a book or Nook.

Pros:  Weekday service is frequent: every 13 to 17 minutes during rush and it starts running at 5:30AM.  Now not every bus goes to every stop (the N3, for example, originates around the corner from Friendship Heights but is the only one to go all the way to Federal Triangle).  On the weekends when track work has Red Line travel at a crawl, taking this bus is potentially faster, point to point.

Cons: On the other hand, the bus only runs every 30 to 40 minutes on the weekends, so unless you time things just right you’ll be sitting at the bus stop for a long time.  Well, except on four holidays when there’s “supplemental service” eastbound in the AM and westbound in the PM.  That’s not at all confusing.

Nearby & Noteworthy:  This bus goes around a lot of circles, six by my count, and it’s always enjoyable to see the ones a little farther out from the city, like Westmoreland, which I particularly liked.  Down the road a ways  on Observatory Circle is – wait for it – the Naval Observatory, which does offer public tours on a limited basis.  And who knows?  Maybe you’ll run into Joe Biden.

Latest Metro News: Did you see those sassy new 7000-series railcars?  Check out the “hard mock up” below:

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Best of 2012: Can you really name a best bus line?

It’s that most wonderful time of year again, dear reader, when the people, places, and things of the DC Metro area are exposed to the merciless voting process of Washington Post Express’ “Best of” list.  Now I’m not opposed to these things in theory, but it was all so much more fun when you could just vote for something you liked because you, well, liked it and not because you were harangued and harassed with a billion Twitter, Facebook, and emails requests coming in from every business you’ve ever had even a tangential relationship with asking you to “PLEASE VOTE FOR US!!”  (I blame American Express and Chase for this.)

Best of 2012

The issue I take with this particular “Best of” list is that it asks you to vote for the best Metrorail line, Metrorail station, and Metrobus line.  I could maybe see being able to name a best station, but a best bus line?  That seems, as Ralph Wiggum might say, unpossible.  I mean, it’s one thing to compare sushi restaurants, but how can you say the X2 is better than the S2?  And how in the world can you compare “Circulator” to any of the other buses?  The Circulator is more than one bus.  Plus, it’s not like most of us have the luxury of choosing which station or route we use, in the same way we can choose which yoga studio or nightclub to frequent.  You can see why I’m frustrated here.

So what to do?  Well, I say you should write in your own bus or station, especially if it’s not one of those already listed.  I, for example, voted for the 80, even though it’s the line I love to hate.  The diversity and sheer range of neighborhoods covered by this route merit something, right?  And for Metro station I wrote in Morgan Boulevard, because it’s just so darn beautiful.  But does that still count since the station’s in PG County?

But what we really need is for Express to provide better criteria for voting on public transit.  Then it would be both more fun and more constructive.  How about “Best station for striking up a conversation on the platform?” or “Best bus line for overhearing a conversation about DC’s history?” or “Best metro line for getting done your Saturday shopping?”  Now those are interesting and more easily qualifiable.  Also, I think there should be no choices pre-populated for the transit ones – all voting would be by write in.

So what do you think?  Am I making much ado about nothing or are “Best of” lists so passe as to merit no mention or is it actually fun to think about which bus lines are the best in DC (note that none of the bus lines in the voting process travel any farther out of the district than Silver Spring, while other categories include places in Arlington and further out in Montgomery County).

Oh well, maybe I’m just a sore loser because my stations and bus lines never make the cut.  And anybody who’s ridden the 42 around Dupont Circle during rush hour certainly knows there’s nothing about that that screams “Best of.”  Ha! Don’t worry: next week I’ll be hopping of my soapbox and hopping back on the bus again, starting with the Potomac Ave Metro – Skyland DC Circulator bus.  Because, you know, there’s more than one.

Photo of the Day: The 90 buses (and the X3) are back on 18th Street!

The quality of this photo is pretty poor, but the information contained on it is oh-so-exciting.

90s buses returning to 18th StreetYou see, what had happened was…I started a new job a couple of months back and was excited when I learned the office was in Adams Morgan, a part of town in which I hadn’t previously spent much time, being neither a fan of rowdy street fights nor giant slices of pizza. (Okay, maybe I like the latter just a little bit.)  In any case, I was also excited because that meant I could take the 90, 93, or 96 buses to get to work.  Except…I forgot about all of the construction going on along 18th Street.

My first day at work I was crushed when the 90 bus veered left onto Florida after crossing over 18th Street from U Street.  Noooo!  I will have to walk up a hill!  Look, it’s not a huge inconvenience, but it was just so convenient the other way, ya dig?

Well good news, because the 90s (and the X3, which I can also take) are returning to their rightful route up 18th Street beginning Sunday, which means Monday morning will find me happily riding along, New York Times in hand, all the way up to the bus stop at 18th Adams Mill and Columbia, where work is just a hop, skip, and a jump away.  I love it when things work out in my favor.

Glenmont

Well here we are: the last remaining Metrorail station in my Metro-Venture: Glenmont.  It’s the end of the line, both literally and figuratively.

Now, now – don’t cry!  There are still plenty of buses for me to check out and someday in the (possibly) near future we’ll have the Silver Line and the DC Streetcar to tear me and my SmarTrip card away from the Law & Order marathon which will inevitably be running on cable.  But for now, I’m taking a bit of a break, although I’m sure I’ll still find time for the occasional Photo of the Day or editorial rant.

Visiting every Metrorail station has been a trip (get it?) and my last stop was no different, with my good friend T meeting me at the station to give the grand tour. Not that there’s a ton to see at the station itself, although Deirdre Saunder’s glass mosaic frieze Swallows and Stars creates a shimmering banner around the otherwise drab concrete entryway.  The big story here is the parking sitch, as T explained that before the new parking garage (it’s “green“!) opened across the street and nearly doubled parking capacity, spots were at a premium, with overflow cars clogging up surrounding apartment complexes and side streets.  It was a big of a free for all, from what I can tell, and T told me that if you’re really lucky, you make it on to the list for the lot at the church next to the station, where they offer pay-what-you-want monthly parking.  Amen to that.

The real fun started when T mentioned Olney, which I thought was way the heck out there, but turned out was just up the road.  Also up the road: Leisure World!  And with that, we hopped in his car and took a little road trip.  Turns out the magic of Leisure World extends far beyond just housing.  It also has a golf course, a medical center, a self-contained bus system, its very own eponymous grocery store – the “Leisure World Giant” – and, of course, lots of totally precious old people milling about.  Turns out, Leisure World is everything I’d hoped and dreamed it would be.

After a quick zip through Olney (they have a Chipotle there now, which is either the beginning or the end, depending on your viewpoint), we headed south on Georgia Avenue, which means that Glenmont is really just up the street from where I live!  Not really, but I had no idea that Georgia Avenue went that far north and was still called Georgia Avenue at that point.  T also explained to me that Glenmont is actually in Silver Spring, which covers most of Georgia Avenue, except for the part near the Wheaton Station, which is – duh – in Wheaton.  Outside of Baltimore, Silver Spring is the biggest city in Maryland.  Again, I had no idea.

In any case, my time there was coming to a close.  I looked to my left as we headed back toward the station and was confronted with the Gate of Heaven.  Well, not the gate of heaven, but an imposing place nonetheless.  T rightfully pointed out that the cemetery was none too far from Leisure World, which was both slightly sad and slightly hilarious, and altogether in keeping with the many wild and wacky places and situations I’ve encountered on my Metro-Venture.

And so it ends much like it began, with me and my SmarTrip card and a desire to learn more about my city and the communities surrounding it.  A lot has changed in the two and a half years since I started, but one thing remains the same, and that’s my love for public transportation.  Thanks for riding along.

Glenmont Metrorail station

This is the end of the line.

Station:  Glenmont      Rating (1-10):  8

Ridership:  The Sunday afternoon crowd is, not surprisingly, comprised of lots of young families, groups of teens, and older folks who look dressed for church.  Nobody – including me – was in much of a hurry during my visit.  T, however, confirmed my suspicions that during rush hour this joint is hoppin’, so to speak, with a constant stream of cars, buses, cyclists, and pedestrians making for one busy station.

Pros:  Bus service here is outstanding, with nearly a dozen routes running between Metrobus and Ride On.  Plus, the Y buses, which service the Wheaton, Forest Glen, and Silver Spring stations, run as often as every 15 minutes, even on Sundays!  A very good thing to keep in mind as weekend construction delays drag on for what seems like an eternity.

Cons:  Walkability here isn’t so much an issue, as there are sidewalks and even a “greenway” for pedestrians.  It’s more that there aren’t too many places to go on foot, save for the two gems mentioned below.

Nearby & Noteworthy:  My parents still have a console TV (for those of my readers who are under 25, you’ll probably need to google that), and I can’t foresee them upgrading from it any time soon.  And if they ever need it repaired, I’m 100% confident that the retro-riffic Belmont TV would be able to hook them up.  This location looks straight outta the 70s, save for the fact that now it’s full of flat screens instead of big screens (remember those?).  I kinda like knowing a place like this is still around.

Next door is the Stained Glass Pub, which T says has a fun karaoke night and good weekly specials.  And you wanna hear something really crazy?  Belmont TV’s address is Wheaton, MD; the Stained Glass Pub’s is Silver Spring.  And they are located literally a stone’s throw from each other!  That’s not at all confusing.

Latest Metro News: A whole bunch of Metrobus changes kick in to effect on Sunday.  So many, in fact, that WMATA put a banner on the top of its home page to point out the updated schedules.  While lots of the changes are minor, some of the major routes are affected as well, including the 70, which now has “An Extra Boost to this Route!”  Whatever that is.

Suitland

And now I’ve come nearly full circle.  Branch Avenue was one of the first stations I visited for the blog that was outside of my regular commute, and I hadn’t been back this far out on this leg of the Green Line.  That was over two years ago!  I’ve travelled out to Naylor Road and back on the 34 in that time, but even those trips were nearly 20 months in the past.  Phew.  As you can see, it seems that my trip to Suitland was long overdue.

So off I went, a quick weekday trip on the Green Line – which is easy from my house – to what turned out to be an altogether nondescript station nestled among trees and hills in – where else – Suitland, MD.  The station is just over a decade old, and has the modern, open feel that’s the hallmark of this stretch from Congress Heights to the end of the line, as all those stations opened at the same time in January 2001.  The station is pleasant enough, and I was willing to walk somewhere nearby to check out the goings on, but honestly there wasn’t that much to do.  Like New Carrollton, this station place host to a large Federal office complex located adjacent to the station, with the Census Bureau and various Smithsonian Institution support centers making up the bulk of those buildings.

I kind of wanted to check out the dividing line where the complex turns into Washington National Cemetery (Lincoln Memorial Cemetery and Cedar Hill Cemetery are there, as well, which possibly makes this area the largest concentration of historic cemeteries outside of Arlington, right?) but the area isn’t exactly pedestrian friendly.  There are no sidewalks on that part of Suitland Road, unfortunately, and the station is mainly geared toward an audience of car owners (there are nearly 2,000 parking spots here) or federal employees.

Instead of wandering far, I took a walk around the station, snapped a couple of pics, and waited in one of the covered benches for the next train heading back in to the city to arrive. I don’t know why it took me so long to check Suitland off the list, but sneaking away from the city for 45 minutes to check it out was definitely worth the trip, if for no other reason than just to enjoy the sound of birds, the rustle of trees ,and the quiet of a nearly empty platform on a beautiful June day.  So I guess that made it worth the wait.

Suitland Metrorail station platform

As you can see, it was more or less a perfect day at Suitland.

Station:  Suitland      Rating (1-10):  6

Ridership:  Judging by all of the zipline-attached ID cards, this late morning, just-past-rush-hour crowd was mostly Federal employees.  This station was notable – for this time of year, anyway – for its absence of tourists, or at least those tourists who seem to have no idea how to use the Metro.  Everybody here knew what they were doing and where they were going.

Pros:  The station is part of the MetroArts program and features the kinetic sculpture Light Weel by the artists George Peter and Melanie Walker, although I must have totally missed that because until I looked online, I didn’t realize there was any art at all.  The station could certainly use a contrast to all the heavy concrete and the giant “SUITLAND METRO” lettering outside the entrance.

Cons:  Although the station has seven bus bays, service is only as often as every 20 minutes during rush hour and far more scarce than that on the weekends, with just the P12 running more than every 50 minutes, and that’s only Saturday.  Late night service is nonexistent.  Bike racks number under a dozen, but there are 20 lockers.  Does anybody know someone who has rented one of those, though?

Nearby & Noteworthy:  If the online reviews are to be believed (and I think they are), then it appears I missed out by not visiting Food for Life, a tasty hidden gem of a carry-out joint on Suitland Road.  Their website might make your eyes bleed (you’ve been warned!), but their selection of seafood and vegetarian dishes definitely makes me think I’ll stop by the next time I’m in Suitland.  Hopefully sooner than another two years!

Latest Metro News:  Pssst…fares are going up on July 1.  Kinda.  Well they are.  Mostly.  I mean, peak-of-the-peak is being eliminated, so that saves you twenty cents.  Oh, but you have to pay a $1 surcharge for using a paper fare card now.  And students don’t have to pay more, so that’s good.  Oh, but parking costs are increasing.  And a 1-Day Metrorail Pass (valid at any time) costs $14 and is available on SmarTrip or paper farecard.  But do you still have to pay a $1 surcharge for the latter?  Oh, for Pete’s sake.  Just check the Trip Planner.

Forest Glen

For my third-to-last station visit, I decided to try something different: driving there.  Well, I wasn’t driving, but my friend was.  He called me up and said that he had his rental car for a few more hours and did I want to hang out and my first response was, “Of course!  Let’s drive to the Forest Glen station and ride the elevators.”  I know, I’m possibly the most exciting person ever.

But this station is unique among Metrorail stations in that it’s too deep at nearly 200 feet below ground level to be accessible by escalator, and it’s worth a visit for that reason alone.  My friend had never been there, so we ponied up the fare and considered it the price of admission to ride the elevators.  And these elevators go fast.  You know how when you go to Pentagon City and the escalators that lead up to the food court from the station seem unusually fast?  Well, the Forest Glen elevators provide a similar jolt.

We timed our ride and it was almost exactly 25 seconds from door closing to door opening, not bad for those riders like me who watch the arrival boards like a hawk in the hopes of arriving on the platform just a my train pulls up.  Underground the station is also very different from most in that it features two smaller, separate tunnels.  On that Sunday, owing to track work, only one platform was open, with the other cordoned off by yellow tape and eerily quiet.  Giant brown signs proclaiming Forest Glen line the tunnel, which was slowly filling up with (seemingly) patient riders, as trains were running nearly 30 minutes apart.  See!  I knew there was a good reason that I didn’t want to take the train to get to this station.

My friend and I ascended to the surface after another speedy elevator ride, exited the station, and walked back through the tunnel that connects to the parking lot.  Being underground like that is a curious thing and I’m not sure that I’d want to rely on an elevator-only station for my daily commute, but it was certainly fun to visit.  Even if it was by car.

Forest Glen Metrorail station Kiss & Ride lot entrance

From this spot, the actual station is still about two-tenths of a mile away!

Station: Forest Glen    Rating (1-10): 8 (bonus points for the elevator ride being so fun)

Ridership: During the weekend this place can be a bit of a ghost town.  The handful of riders we saw were mostly families (possibly tourists, but couldn’t quite tell; lots of folks had cameras on them, though) and older couples, probably heading into the city for a little sightseeing or museum going.

Pros:  Only four bus bays, but they have surprisingly frequent Metrobus service with the Y routes running as often as every 15 minutes, even on Sundays.  The station has just under 600 all day parking spaces – which is a relatively small number for a station so close to the end of the line – and has 42 bike racks and 16 bike lockers.  On the Sunday I visited, bikes nearly outnumbered the cars.

Cons:  Having only once passed through station at rush hour – and nearly seven years ago at that – I can’t speak to the business of the station then, but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say that the elevator-only setup could quickly become a frustrating one if even a single elevator is out of service.  Anybody ride through here regularly during rush?

Nearby & Noteworthy:  The area surrounding the station is heavily residential, with churches, parks, and the occasional Irish dance school comprising the major offerings in nearby neighborhoods.

Latest Metro News: Rush+ starts in 14 days!!!!1!!!!11!  And I’m still not sure exactly what that means for my commute.  Probably nothing.

Photo of the Day: A vision of the future

Ah, the Silver Line.  That mythical public transit creature that exists for people like me – city dwellers who rarely sojourn to the confines of the suburbs and exurbs – more in theory than in reality. Sure, I know it’s a real thing, and I’ve seen the videos to prove it, but I’m still skeptical.  And let’s not forget there are still some issues to be worked out before the thing is complete.  But…this weekend I saw it!  I saw it with my own eyes and, well, it was kinda cool.

Herndon Metrorail station

On a clear day you can see forever, or at least as far as the cranes.

This is the Herndon station Wiehle Avenue station above (thanks, Matt!), and while there’s still a lot of construction going on, the basic shape of the station is clearly visible.  It’s not a great pic, I know, but it’s hard to pull off a fantastic shot at 70 mph.  (I mean 65!  We were definitely going the speed limit…)  I don’t know too much about the proposed architecture of the stations, so those might not be the final colors.  If you have additional info, please share!  And for those city folk who have yet to drive down the Dulles Corridor and see all of the Silver Line construction, you might have fun checking it out.