Dedicated bus lanes coming to Hennepin, Nicollet avenues

City and Metro Transit leaders received positive feedback on a bus-lane project last year along Hennepin Avenue. The city plans to make the lanes permanent in late August. Photo courtesy of City of Minneapolis

Two busy corridors in Southwest Minneapolis will receive dedicated bus lanes this year, the city and Metro Transit announced July 16. 

Designated bus lanes will be permanently installed on Hennepin Avenue from Franklin Avenue to Lake Street in late August, according to city of Minneapolis officials.

A pilot bus lane will be implemented along Nicollet Avenue, also from Franklin Avenue to Lake Street, for a short period in the fall. 

The Hennepin Avenue curbside bus lane will not displace current vehicle traffic, but will be implemented by not allowing on-street parking along portions of the street during peak travel times. The bus lanes will be in effect during peak hours in the morning and evening on weekdays. 

Buses represent 3% of the vehicles on Hennepin Avenue but carry 49% of the people who commute on the street during morning rush hour, according to senior transportation planner Becca Hughes. In the afternoon rush, buses are 2% percent of the vehicles and carry 45% of commuters. 

“That’s why we started with Hennepin,” Hughes said. 

The coming lanes will be painted on Hennepin Avenue northbound from Lake Street to the Uptown Transit Station and from 25th Street to Franklin Avenue. Southbound, a painted curbside bus lane will be implemented from 25th Street to the Uptown Transit Station. The northbound lanes will be in effect from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. on weekdays; the southbound lane will be enforced from 4 p.m. to 6:30 p.m. 

Currently about 20% of Route 6 buses on Hennepin Avenue meet their scheduled northbound six-minute run time from Uptown Transit Center to Franklin Avenue during morning rush hour, Hughes said. About 33% make their scheduled southbound seven-minute run time in the same stretch. 

The lanes come a year after a three-day bus lane pilot on Hennepin Avenue in May 2018. 

During the pilot, northbound Route 6 buses ran two minutes faster on average between Uptown Transit Center and Franklin Avenue in the morning and southbound buses ran about 30 seconds faster in the afternoon. 

About 75% of riders surveyed found the bus lanes improved the experience and 63% said such lanes would make them use transit more. 

“Perception is a lot when it comes to transit,” Hughes said. 

Hennepin Avenue between Douglas Avenue and Lake Street is scheduled to be redone in 2023. The street is also slated to be a major thoroughfare for the future E Line Bus Rapid Transit

On Nicollet Avenue, the city and Metro Transit are developing a pilot bus-dedicated lane likely to be tested this fall for two or three weeks between Franklin Avenue and Lake Street. 

“This is going to be sort of a tricky and challenging corridor,” Hughes said. 

A permanent bus-dedicated lane will also be implemented on Chicago Avenue from East 28th Street to the Chicago/Lake Transit Center. 

Public Works director Robin Hutcheson said Metro Transit approached the city about bus dedicated lanes because they have had issues with reliability on certain routes in the city.

Corridors were selected based on ridership level and routes that struggled to meet on-time performance markers, city officials said. Areas that have fewer households with cars or that abut low-income areas were targeted. 

Planners hope the dedicated lanes will make the bus a more enticing option. 

“We need to figure out ways to make transit more attractive to people in the city,” Hughes said, citing decline in local bus route ridership. 

Funding for the bus lanes comes from a grant Minneapolis received from the Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge.