Housing Complex

Garage Wars: Should Buses Park at Walter Reed?

What the 14th Street bus barn looks like.

It's fair to say that, given a choice, you probably wouldn't want to live next to a bus barn. You can't get anything to eat there, or buy toilet paper. Big, smelly vehicles are coming and going all the time.

Right now, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority has two bus garages that it needs to move. The "Northern" location, a huge site on 14th Street NW between Buchanan and Decatur Street, is 104 years old and in need of substantial renovations. The "Western" location, on 44th and Harrison Street NW, is younger but still falling apart.

What could solve those two problems? Consolidating the two garages on the site of the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, much of which will be transferred to the District in relatively short order. "The facts are, we have these two old facilities that are in need of major repair or replacement," says WMATA spokesman Dan Stessel. "Walter Reed seems to be the best alternative we've seen in years." According to current property assessments, selling the Friendship Heights garage would net about $30 million and the 14th Street location is valued at $13 million, which would easily fund the construction of a new garage at Walter Reed, and allow for the redevelopment of those parcels in a much more neighborhood-friendly way.

The problem is, the neighbors around Walter Reed doesn't want a bus barn either. It wasn't among the winning proposals during the first planning process, which will have to start over this fall. Some worry that it wouldn't leave enough room for other big priorities—like, say, a Wegman's—and that the 250 buses to be housed there would dull the area's attractiveness. Unfortunately, it can't even be built underground like a normal parking garage, given the amount of fumes the buses generate.

Today, D.C. politicians rejected the idea too. Mayor Vince Gray said no this morning on WTOP, and Ward 4 Councilmember Muriel Bowser followed up with a broadside of her own. "The redevelopment of the Walter Reed campus is an opportunity to revitalize a corridor and deliver better access to affordable housing, and provide retail and green space for the residents of Ward 4," she said in a press release. "Relocating the bus facilities undermines this opportunity, discourages private investment, and harms the immediate neighborhood. It also has the potential to add scores of buses to an already congested corridor not served by Metrorail.”

Stessel isn't aware of other alternatives, though, and wants to reassure Shepherd Park and Brightwood residents that living near a bus barn wouldn't be all that bad. "We are prepared to be the best possible neighbor," he says.

  • Adam L

    Maryland seems like a good place for bus depots. Land is cheaper.

  • Bryan

    Yeah, but parking the buses in Maryland makes it even more difficult to get the buses running in the District on a snow day.

  • Phil Lepanto

    An idea I had a while back that would fit into the idea of moving these depots was rolling out double-decker Metrobuses. Personally, I think they make a lot more sense than articulated buses, particularly given the relatively random siting of bus stops (on approach or on departure?).

    There are other huge development projects that would similarly be suiteable for a North West bus depot... what about McMillan?

  • http://www.14uba.org T.A. Uqdah


    Not absolutely correct; other municipalities have successfully constructed full underground "bus hubs" -- Portland, OR -- and WMATA could do the same.

    Gray and Bowser are missing the bigger picture. 1. Neither current WMATA facility is generating "one dime" in tax revenue, as WMATA is a tax-exempt organization. 2. 1-4 UBA has repeatedly expressed interest in purchasing, designing, constructing and renovating the Northern Division facility into a mix-use project, in that the entire facility is not deemed historic, allowing for the building of apartments and town homes at the site, along with retail -- a win-win. This would add additional tax revenues to city coffers, in addition to the site at Walter Reed; and 3. Everyone has just shuffled the 2002 EPA report under the table -- the one that showed air testing to be at dangerous levels and diesel particulate matter to be the cause of documented health effects to nearby residents and their children in close proximity to the Northern Division facility; but what does that matter, they're just people, right?

    Finally, where is it written that the building of an underground transportation facility will discourage potential investors from locating there? The Whole Foods at Tenley has a parking garage attached to it; the one in Chevy Chase, same thing; that restaurant built right above the bus turn-a-round at Friendship Heights, and the Trader Joe's in Foggy Bottom -- right over the parking lot.

    The real problem is, you've got an entire city council and a mayoral administration that knows absolutely nothing about economic development or how to achieve it, except through their own narrow-minded political agendas. They are both willing to sacrifice the health, welfare and quality of life issues of 16th St. Heights/CBENA community residents for the sake of those in Takoma and Shepherd Park.

    T.A. Uqdah, Pres./Ex.Dir.
    14th St. Uptown Business Assoc. (1-4 UBA)

  • Frazier

    "You can't build them underground"?

    Gee...I guess all the bus garages currently underground broke some laws of physics or something. Boulder, Portland, Chicago all have underground bus garages that seem to function just fine. They may only accomodate 100-150 buses, but what does that matter?

    Finland opened an underground bus garage a few years ago that accomodates 350 buses, 100 more than we are looking for here.

    They even used it as an opportunity to reduce the pollution from the buses. When they are underground, the exhaust is collected and expelled in one system, which allows you to filter the combined exhaust.

    But, DC will do what it always does and do this halfassed. Par for the course I guess

  • DC_Expat

    So Georgia Ave remains either ghetto, or ghetto with bus barn? Hmmm, tough choice actually. I guess I'd go with the bus barn ghetto version.

  • DC Guy

    This is rather a rather shortsighted view for both Murial Bowser and Vince Grey.

    As others have indicated, it is not only possible, but desirable to consolidate and build a new bus facility at Walter Reed underground. This will provide a consolidated and efficient workforce as well as a more environmentally sensitive garage.

    As noted by the author, the potential revenues from the disposition of the existing facilities will more than pay for the construction of the new garage, and yield incredible housing and retail opportunities in places where the residents and infrastructure can support it.

    While I can understand the NIMBY view of Bowser, not wanting buses in ward 4, but on the other hand, there are already buses there. It is just moving them to place where they can actually have better access to Silver Spring and Friendship Heights. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why the Mayor would oppose this.

  • MDE

    Impeach them all! Kwame! Vince! Muriel! Short-sighted, back-stabbing, NIMBY fools. Let's take back our city!

  • Bob

    The National Cathedral built an underground bus garage for tour buses.

  • drez

    The current discussion ignores the fact that the "bus barn" used to be the Trolly barn. So it's hardly a new mass transit location. It's also probably worth pointing out that Mr Uqdah owns property across the street from it, so his advocacy might fairly be seen as tinged by self-interest.
    Just saying.

  • leeindc

    The arguments to move the Bus Barns to Walter Reed make about as much sense as rearranging poop in your pocket. Its not an issue that moving the bus barns won't allow development at the current locations. The issue is it will have an essentially equal detraction from development Walter Reed. So it is really NIMBY-isim by people in any of the 3 locations. People like T.A. Uqdah are really the pot calling the kettle black. Unless Mr Uqdah is over 104 years old he met the 14th bus barn when he located there.

    As far as the underground bus barns, great idea. But do it where they already are or convince me that the people in any location are more important than the others.

  • bcc

    I've visited the grounds at Walter Reed and they're quite beautiful - notably the section on 16th across from the Park. There are also some very attractive historic buildings that it would be tragic to demolish them. But, once you park 250 busses on the grounds, the natural beauty of the site is essentially destroyed. I don't live anywhere remotely near Walter Reed or either of the bus barns, so this is not self-interest.

  • Bob See

    Plopping the current bus depots down on Walter Reed:


    Just to give an idea of the size, and on land I think will be 1) available to DC and 2) clear to build on. So, this really hampers getting any larger retail there. Unless the bus depots are below ground and the retail built above, but then where do cars for that retail park?

    They're saying the cost of selling the lots will fund construction for new a facility, but DC isn't getting Walter Reed free, are they?

    Just should rehab the ones they have. Walter Reed shouldn't be treated as a dumping ground.

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