Campus Connector BRT Ratings and Critiques

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This is the second post in a series based off of a term paper for a transportation class (full paper here, first post here) and the BRT system rated in this post will be the Campus Connector on the University of Minnesota campuses.

The Campus Connector is a free bus service provide by the U of MN to connect the three main campuses in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. The service, along with some minor feeders, provide upwards of 3.5 million rides a year. The demand to move between the campuses is very strong, as many classes are only offered on one campus.

Using the ITDP Scorecard, the Campus Connector is a true BRT, squeaking out a Bronze designation with 56 points* out of 100 (55 needed for Bronze level). The Connector owes its designation as a true BRT service, in large part, to Representative Sabo, who sought federal funding for the dedicated transitway between the U of M campuses.  The transitway  cost only $21 million dollars to build in 1990-1992. With the addition of the Washington Avenue Transit Mall, the Dedicated Right of Way for the Connector is significant enough to earn the four points required for the designation as Basic BRT. By having this entirely reserved right of way, Alignment and Intersection Treatments scored very high. The last elements in Basics of BRT are Platform Level Boarding, which is not designed into the Connector, and Off-Board Fare Collection. No points were given for level boarding but full points were given for Off-Board Fare Collection (even though it did not meet the scorecard’s criteria of barrier controls) because there are no fares.

Other things the Connector scored very well on were:

  • Frequencies, with five minute headways throughout the day (5 points);
  • Multiple Routes, especially true along Washington Avenue, with other transit agencies (4 points);
  •  Hours of Operation, now running until 2:00 AM (2 points);
  • Number of Doors on Bus, most have at least three (3 points);

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    The three doors allow for fast boardings, minimizing dwell times at all but the most traveled stops.

  • Docking Bays, with the most used stops being accessible by many buses at once (1 point);
  • All the bicycle and pedestrian areas of the scorecard, as bikes may use the transitway and bike paths/lanes are all over campus and can follow the route easily (5 points out of 8 possible).

Possible improvements to the Connector are numerous, some quick ones are:

  • A lack of different service types in the BRT corridor, the 121E used to provide express service (2012, pre-Green Line construction), this service has not been reinstated (3 points).
  • Comfortable Stations, most of the stations for the Connector are curbside stops, many have basic shelters but few have heat and none feel very comfortable after dark (2 points).

    This picture was taken at 1:30 in the afternoon, and it's already uncomfortable.

    This picture was taken at 1:30 in the afternoon, and its still an uncomfortable area.

  • More bicycle parking and bike rentals near stations (2 points).
  • The Washington Avenue Transit Mall could be extended, this would have to be done gradually as the parking lots which use Washington as their main access are redeveloped. This could end up reaching as far as Huron, allowing for almost all of the route on the Minneapolis Campus to be in a dedicated transit mall (up to 6 points).
  • Have other Circulator routes use dedicated lanes, to make a campus wide network of BRT (2 points).
  • Improve pavement quality, especially along the transitway between campuses would greatly improve comfort (up to 4 points).
  • Move the stop at Oak and Washington further from the intersection, allowing for more buses to serve the stops and not interfere with other traffic.

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    With an elongated Connector, an SUV and a city bus the backup goes across the light rail tracks.

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Connectors bunching

Other improvements to the system could include adding a stop at the Green Line’s East Bank Station. This is currently impossible due to the area demanded for both the Green Line and the width of the sidewalks/bike lanes, but it would allow for the light rail to have an easier transfer, would make the system more walkable and provide easier access to both the dorms and the main engineering section of campus.  Another improvement would be further usage of a control center to maintain bus headways. Currently bus bunching has made the Connector too unreliable for some students. By allowing a central control to have more influence on bus spacing the Connector could be made more reliable and increase its usability.  Lastly, the University’s Circulator routes could be made more frequent. Currently these routes run with headways from 7 to 15 minutes, which can cause headaches for those on tight schedules. If these routes increased their frequencies to 5 or 8 minutes they would be much more useful options and expand the area served effectively by the campus shuttles.

The Campus Connector is a wonderful service, but it has a few kinks which should be addressed. However, this making of the True BRT service required significant investment in creating a worthwhile service to satisfy the strong demand.

* In the full paper the system scored 58 points, this was due to a wrong assumption that the express connector would resume service.


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6 Responses to Campus Connector BRT Ratings and Critiques

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke February 18, 2014 at 10:11 pm #

    Remember the jazz bus? (No, you’re too young, aren’t you.)

    http://tcsidewalks.blogspot.com/2009/06/jazz-and-traffic-1-jazz-bus.html

    • Dave February 19, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

      Haha, yes. That driver was the best. I recall a couple others blasted talk radio or KQ.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten February 19, 2014 at 1:43 pm #

      I rode with the Jazz-man a few times during my Freshman year. He was awesome… too bad he isn’t around anymore/ no one else has taken up doing something simple but fun on their bus. It was a great break in the monotony of the day to just get on a bus and hear jazz, those with convos had them quieter, and those with earbuds usually missed out (some did remove them, just cause it’s the Jazz-man). Sigh, simpler times…

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke February 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

        I have a new found respect for the Youth of Today!

  2. Cedar Phillips February 21, 2014 at 5:42 pm #

    The Oak and Washington stops have a lot of problems that definitely could use some work. I often transfer there (although not for the connector) and the tops are cramped, dark, and often not sufficiently shoveled out. I hope they have plans for improvements.

    I also wish the transitway had a sidewalk or pedestrian area; especially as development fills in along that stretch (one needs only to walk around back there to imagine what it’s going to look like in five years) it would be nice for pedestrians to be able to walk to either campus along that route, especially as there are no connector stops on that stretch.

    I don’t often have reason to ride the Campus Connector these days, but when a student at the U I loved having the option to hop on and ride over to the St. Paul campus — which at the time always seemed to have greater availability of decent study spaces.

    • Joseph Totten
      Joseph Totten February 23, 2014 at 11:21 pm #

      Yes, the Transitway does need some improvements, maybe a sidewalk could be added in a repaving/rehab project.

      The Oak/Washington Stop… I will withhold final judgement until the 16 and 50 aren’t stopping there (as much) with the LRT up and running, but I did get some shots of just the Connectors blocking traffic, so my hopes are not high. The stop simply needs more space to function.