Saturday, August 9, 2014

1958 D.C. Transit bus routes serving Four Corners

A while ago, I bought a 1958 D.C. Transit map at the National Capital Trolley Museum.  I initially thought the map would only depict routes in the District, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that it also showed suburban routes, along with descriptions of where each bus route went.

Four Corners has had bus service since the 1940's, years before the formation of WMATA (Metro) and a long time before Montgomery County created Ride On.  The service was originally run by D.C. Transit (formerly the Capital Transit Company), the private frim which ran the buses and streetcars in DC and the Maryland suburbs from 1933 to 1973 (Metro was formed in 1967 but D.C. Transit was not eliminated until 1973).  

Below is an inset map depicting routes in the Silver Spring area as of March, 1958.

Bus routes in Four Corners and surrounding areas in 1958.  Routes in white text with red background were regular routes with service throughout the day.  Routes with red text on a white background were express routes/rush-hour only routes.   Image from map printed by the National Capital Trolley Museum.  
As one can see, the routes were totally different than they are today.  While many of these numbers are familiar to bus riders (Z2, Z8, Y9, etc), these 1950's routes bear little or no resemblance to their current incarnations.  There are two major reasons for this stark difference:  lack of the Metrorail system, and lack of extensive development outside he Beltway  

As seen on the map, several routes terminate in Four Corners, which is something that doesn't happen today (except for the 19!).  Colesville Road routes ended here because there was little development in White Oak back then, except for scattered homes and farms, so there was no demand for bus service beyond Four Corners.  The same is also true for routes on University Boulevard to Wheaton, a community which was still under the process of suburbanizing in the late 50's (Wheaton Plaza didn't open until 1960).  Because there was little need for transit service, Wheaton was only served by one (!) bus route at that time.  Another sign of the times, note how there is no bus service whatsoever on Georgia Avenue between Forest Glen Road and Wheaton, a stretch of road now considered a major transit corridor, being served by seven Metrobus routes and the Metrorail Red Line.  

Bus routes serving the Silver Spring area in 1958.  Compare these routes to the map above to get an understanding of where they went, since destinations like "Sligo Creek" and "Franklin via Dale" are a little vague.  Image from the map printed by the National Capital Trolley Museum.    
 It is also interesting to see the origins of the bus routes in Silver Spring.  The Silver Spring Metro Station and its bus bays did not open until 1978.  Prior to the opening of the station, buses and streetcars converged at a terminal near the intersection of Georgia Avenue and Alaska Avenue in D.C. (the terminal was actually located on Eastern Avenue, but buses and streetcars signed "GA & Alaska" as their destination).  This terminal was a major transit hub in the pre-Metro era, as it was where bus riders could transfer to the 70 streetcar into downtown D.C., making it the gateway to the rest of the region for travelers from southeastern Montgomery County (as the Silver Spring Metro Station is today).

Terminal at Georgia Avenue and Alaska Avenue near downtown Silver Spring in the 1950's.  This is where most bus routes serving Four Corners ended, except for rush hour express routes.  Streetcars from the route 70 line are seen at right.  The 70 route still exists as a bus line, and I believe it is the busiest single bus line in the entire region.  Photo from Ray Stokely.

The most interesting of all these old bus routes, in my opinion, are the two "Silver Spring Express" lines seen below, which both ended in or around Four Corners.  They are fascinating because they provided direct service from our community to Downtown DC while making only a few stops.  These two bus routes gave Four Corners residents a "one seat ride" from home to downtown, with no transfer being necessary.  Since these were express routes, its safe to assume they only ran at rush hour during the week as a means of getting commuters downtown.  While they may have had limited operating times, I'm sure these routes were very convenient for anyone who worked in DC, which was most people back then.

The "Silver Spring Express" routes were the S7 and S9.  One started at Dennis Avenue & Edgewood Drive ("Sligo Creek") and the other at University Boulevard & Colesville Road  ("Four Corners).  Both buses went straight into Downtown DC via Georgia Avenue NW, terminating at Federal Triangle.   See above map for detail of their route through Silver Spring.  Image from the map printed by the National Capital Trolley Museum.    

Unfortunately, service like this ceased to exist with the opening of Metro, when most bus routes became feeder routes for the new rail stations.  Today, there is no "one seat ride" from Four Corners to downtown D.C. because of the realignment of bus routes to serve Metro stations.

A bus stop for the Ride On #19 on Dallas Avenue in South Four Corners.  In the 1950's, Dallas Avenue (and possibly this very stop) was served the S7 "Silver Spring Express" bus, which ran from Northwood all the way to Federal Triangle in downtown Washington.  Dallas Avenue also saw all-day local service via the Z2 route, which ran from Northwood to the terminal at Georgia Ave. & Alaska Ave. in Shepherd Park.  Photo by the author.    

However, I think it would super convenient if the S7 and S9 still existed, given the unreliability of the Red Line (well, the S9 actually does exist now, but I'm talking about the old alignment).   On weekends, when Metro is incapable of operating effectively due to two decades of deferred maintenance, I really wish there was a bus route from Four Corners straight to downtown DC .  Having buses which normally terminate at suburban Metro stations continue downtown on weekends could make up for the notoriously inefficient Metro service.  Maybe we should look to our past bus network to solve some of our current problems...

To learn more about transit history in and around D.C., I highly recommend visiting the National Capital Trolley Car Museum.  They have a ton of resources (such as this map) and some really committed volunteers who preserve this stuff so the rest of us can learn from it.      


  1. It's really interesting to see how quickly the bus network developed to serve what was, at the time, the suburban fringe. Compare that to today, when places like Clarksburg build out with almost no transit service whatsoever. It helps that 50 years ago, car ownership rates were lower (even in the suburbs) and new subdivisions were generally more dense and compact than those built in the following decades, meaning more people would have been able to take advantage of transit.

  2. the red line is reliable -- the single tracking weekends exceptions -- and buses get more congested (ever ride the Ga Ave/Viers Mill Rd buses?)