Metro Transit getting serious about bus “rapid transit

Metro Transit is evaluating the suitability of 11 Twin Cities corridors for rapid bus service, including three major Southwest thoroughfares.

Joe Gladke, Hennepin County manager of engineering and transit planning, said the proposed implementation of arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) is “really about taking good bus service and making it better.”

BRT is one of a number of tools Metro Transit might use in its effort to reach a goal spelled out in its 2030 Transportation Policy Plan — doubling transit ridership from a base of 73 million in 2003 to 147 million in 2030.

Metro Transit believes BRT will make bus riding more efficient and pleasurable. According to an analysis transit staff put together over the past few years, for major transit corridors like Hennepin and Nicollet avenues, BRT would reduce the amount of time riders wait to board the bus and get them downtown and back quicker.

BRT typically features a dedicated fleet of low-floor buses with low emissions; stations with enhanced security and lighting, heating, curb extensions and ticket machines; real-time signs, schedule information and way-finding signs; and better on-time performance.

Charles Carlson, manager of transitway projects for Metro Transit, said his staff analyzed how BRT implementation in cities like Seattle, Kansas City and Los Angeles affected travel times and ridership.

For corridors in those cities where some local service was replaced by BRT, travel times generally shrunk by 15 to 25 percent while ridership increased 20 to 40 percent, Carlson said.

Transit’s analysis determined that capital costs range from $1 million to $3 million per mile for initial implementation of BRT features in a corridor, while full implementation can cost up to $3 million to $6 million per mile.

While that pricetag might sound steep, BRT is significantly cheaper than light rail transit (LRT). Carlson said the per-mile cost of LRT can be anywhere from $60 to $100 million.

He added, however, that a detailed analysis of BRT’s costs is something Metro Transit will tackle next year.

“We don’t have a good idea of what this might cost,” Carlson said. “As we roll it out we’ll begin that conversation, and we’ll try and let the benefits and costs speak for themselves.”

Metro Transit staff developed a list of the 11 Twin Cities corridors best suited for BRT. Together, the corridors account for about half the region’s urban passengers, but LRT lines aren’t planned for any of them, in many cases because the roads are too narrow to accommodate trains.

In Southwest, BRT is proposed for Hennepin, Nicollet and Lake Street. Other Minneapolis corridors under consideration include Broadway, Central and Chicago avenues. In St. Paul, BRT is proposed for West 7th, Robert, East 7th and Snelling Avenue. The only suburban corridor under consideration is American Boulevard stretching into Bloomington from Eden Prairie.

Metro Tranit presented the results of individual corridor studies during an open house on Oct. 13.

The study determined BRT would reduce travel time from an average of 17 to 14 minutes from the Uptown Transit Station to 7th & Hennepin in downtown Minneapolis.

For Nicollet Avenue from American Boulevard in Bloomington to 5th & Nicollet downtown, BRT would reduce travel time from 49 to 39 minutes. For Lake Street from Lake & Lyndale to University & Snelling in St. Paul, BRT would reduce travel time from 48 to 33 minutes.

The time savings are a result of a number of factors, including fares paid on the platform, before boarding; boarding at both doors; signal priority for buses; and fewer stations.

Metro Transit’s next step is to rank the corridors for implementation, a task that should be completed by next February. Carlson said the goal is to begin BRT operations in at least some of the 11 corridors under consideration by late 2014.

Given financial constraints, it will almost surely be impossible to implement all of the BRT corridors at once, Hennepin County’s Gladke said.

“At this point, we don’t have a clear indication of the priority of the lines and which ones would rank highest, but money won’t be available for them all at once,” he said, adding that the funding process and partners have yet to be determined.

One of the corridors that could find itself further down the implementation list is Nicollet Avenue. Minneapolis Transportation Planner Anna Flintoft said the city will begin a Nicollet Avenue transit alternatives study early next year.

“We’ll be looking at streetcar, BRT as well as a no-build scenario,” Flintoft said, adding that the study could take as long as a year and a half. “It will result in selecting a locally preferred alternative for the corridor.”

Although the alternatives study will shed more light on cost implications, Flintoft said that, in general, BRT costs less than streetcar, and streetcar costs less than LRT.

Reach Aaron Rupar at [email protected]