Getting around DC
November 10, 2021 7:52 AM   Subscribe

Me and the family will be staying in DC for the upcoming weekend and would like to not use our car until it's time to come back home. We will be staying near Georgia Avenue up just a little north of Theodore Roosevelt HS. What is the best way to get down to the spy museum/LoC/museums/White House/etc? Bus? Metro?

Also, what's the best method of paying for bus/metro? That SmarTrip card thingy?
posted by NoMich to Travel & Transportation around Washington, DC (10 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
You'll be right in my old neighborhood! With the caveat that the Metro has been a little, well, bad lately (but still functional!), you can get from the Georgia Avenue/Petworth stop straight down to L'Enfant Square on the green line (for the Spy Museum), a one stop shy of that, Archives, for activities around the Mall (other museums and White House), transfer to the blue/orange/silver at L'Enfant station to go east to Capital South for the Library of Congress. Alternatively, you can take the 70s buses straight downtown, but it doesn't go as far as L'Enfant, so you'd have to walk across the Mall to get the Spy Museum, or walk/take a transfer bus over to Capitol Hill for the Library of Congress.

You can also use the standard rideshare apps, and we have several other modes available, like Capital Bikeshare, the various scooters, etc.

You have to pay with a SmarTrip card - there are vending machines right at the entrances at every Metro station.
posted by General Malaise at 8:10 AM on November 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

The bus is a good, cheap, easy way to see the streets of DC. There are a lot of buses that go up and down Georgia Ave and 14th, and 16th Streets, near that high school. I recommend the CityMapper app to help you figure out transit options. Metro is convenient but mostly underground in the city. IMO, the Spy Museum is overrated; if you're looking for an unconventional museum, Planet Word is new and pretty cool. If you're set on the Spy Museum, it might be worth seeing if there are any groupon-type deals available. The National Mall, including the LoC, is accessible by bus, as well. If your family is open to walking, it's nice to walk around the National Mall.

I usually suggest buying SmarTrip cards ahead of time, but since your trip is this weekend, I suggest buying cards for everyone at a Metro station. There's also a MobilePay option if everyone in your family has a smart phone. Remember to tap in and out for each person at the Metro (only in for the bus).

If you're interested in Capital Bikeshare, be aware that helmets aren't always provided, so you may wish to bring your own.

Feel free to memail me if you have any DC questions or want further recommendations. Have fun!!
posted by wicked_sassy at 8:15 AM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

Oh, one thing to note is that DC, unlike basically most other jurisdictions, is still under an indoor mask mandate, so be prepared to wear a mask anywhere you would be inside.
posted by General Malaise at 8:22 AM on November 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Seconding the bus - Metrobus' 52, for example, will take you from near Roosevelt [14th & Upshur Sts., NW] to within a ten minute walk of the Spy Museum.

You can still pay cash (fare is $2 each way) for the bus, so I would not bother w/getting a SmartTrip card unless you want to use Metrorail.

You can use WMATA's Trip Planner to easily see connections between the 52 and bus/rail for the other destinations you've mentioned. You may also want to look at getting at day passes for Capital Bike Share, since many tourist sites on the Hill and downtown are within relatively easy biking distance of one another.

If you use the 52, get off a few blocks before Upshur and have dinner at Chicatana - enjoy your stay!
posted by ryanshepard at 9:32 AM on November 10, 2021

I'd recommend downloading Citymapper onto someone's phone. IMHO it's the best for "Stranger in town needs transit routing" (whereas Transit is best for "I know the transit routes, but when are they arriving?").
posted by timdiggerm at 10:17 AM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

My daughter works for DC Metro. I gather they are creaking back to life after a semi-shutdown due to Covid and they've had a problem affecting some railcars. Get the most recent info you can.

Maybe things have changed, but 4 or 5 years ago, the SmartTrip dispenser at the Union Station Blue Line stop was a horror. Too many fancy options, some of them defunct. Unclear directions. Fortunately, the two times we needed it, they had an agent standing there helping the out-of-towners, none of who figure it out. Find an easier way and/or get help.
posted by SemiSalt at 11:17 AM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

My direct experience is mostly precovid, but I used to dread taking Metro on weekends, because of all the track work. You should check the WMATA site for any scheduled track work. However, IME the WMATA website has a tendency to be "optimistic." Therefore, you may want to check out Metro Hero, which states where trains actually are (instead of where WMATA expects them to be). Weekend buses, however, were much better at arriving when promised. The DC Circulator is good about having routes of interest to visitors.
posted by oceano at 4:23 PM on November 10, 2021

You'll be staying in my neighborhood (although we're on the east side of Georgia Ave, not the west side where Roosevelt is). Metrorail is currently offering extremely reduced service because of a maintenance problem that led to a recent derailment. Because of that and another maintenance issue more than 50% of Metrorail train cars are currently out of service. Trains are only servicing Georgia Ave/Petworth station every 20 minutes. My advice would be that you should take the bus if it will get you within a ten minute walk of wherever you're going, or if you can get there on the bus with only one transfer, and only use Metrorail if you have to go farther than you can reasonably go on the bus.

Which bus lines will be convenient depends on which side of Georgia Ave you'll be on. The 70 bus runs down Georgia Ave with a stops placed every two blocks or so. There is also the 79 "MetroExtra" bus that runs the same route with fewer stops, but it doesn't stop between Decatur and New Hampshire (where the Georgia Ave/Petworth Metrorail station is). If you're on the west side of Georgia Ave (where Roosevelt is) you may also find the 52/54/59 route useful. The 54 turns at F St NW while the 52 keeps going south; and the 59 is a limited stop service like the 79 is. On the east side of Georgia Ave the (peak hour) 63 bus goes downtown via Sherman Circle, and the 64 goes downtown via Grant Circle. There's also a 62 bus that runs in off peak hours on the upper part of the 63 route (that is, between Georgia Ave/Petworth and Takoma stations) but it does not go downtown.

To pay for any of these, I'd recommend getting SmarTrip cards. You'll need one for each passenger. If you use a SmarTrip card any bus-to-bus transfer within two hours of your original entry is free, and there are discounts for transfers between the bus and the train (but again, don't take the train if you don't have to). If you pay cash on the bus, you won't get any free transfers at all. You can purchase SmarTrip cards at dispensers in any Metrorail station and use the same dispensers to add more value using cash or a credit or debit card. You can add value to a SmarTrip card on the bus, but (A) on the bus this process is cash only, and (2) sometimes it just … doesn't work, forcing you to fill out a paper form to get your money back. I don't recommend adding value on the bus.

There is technically a process where you can request a refund for any unused value on a SmarTrip card (you fill out a form and mail the cards in) but I've never actually tried to use it.

ALSO! There are several "micro mobility" platforms operating in the District. Capital Bikeshare (now operated by a company owned by Lyft) has docks all over the city. You can pay by the ride or get a weekly membership. They also now have some e-bikes that come with additional fees to go along with the power assist. Lyft also has powered kick scooters. Lime is another company offering bikes (all powered), powered kick scooters, and even electric Vespa-style scooters. Revel just has the Vespa-style scooters. Helbiz (what an awful name) has bikes and kick scooters. For any of those you'll have to download an app, register for an account, add a credit card, and then follow whatever rules. The Vespa-style scooters have helmets; the others are all BYO helmet (but they have offers where you can buy a discounted helmet, although that would require advance planning). As of October 1 there are new parking requirements for all of those, and you may be required to submit a photo of a proper parking/locking job in order to end a rental. Leaving a bike or scooter in the middle of a sidewalk is not just an asshole move; it's now against the law.

FYI many restaurants are now checking for proof of vaccination at the door, so make sure you have that with you (a photo of the card on your phone will usually suffice) and be prepared to wear a mask at all times indoors when you are not actively eating or drinking.

Have fun in DC!
posted by fedward at 4:55 PM on November 10, 2021 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: This is all awesome information! Thanks a million to each and everyone of you. If you see a white Outback with NC plates (and three stickers in the back window) looking lost and bewildered tomorrow afternoon, that will be me. Can't wait to get there, park the car for the long weekend, and ride real public transportation again. The bus system here in the Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill area is a terrible rotten joke.
posted by NoMich at 5:40 PM on November 10, 2021

Laaaaaa! This is the neighborhood I left last year, and that I miss so much. Unsolicited but very, very strong recommendations for coffee at Qualia, 2.5 blocks north of the metro, and Ethiopian food at Tsehay, half a block south of the metro. The best neighbors in DC live in Petworth. I hope you have a wonderful time!
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 11:37 PM on November 10, 2021 [1 favorite]

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