Metro Transit Upgrades Route 2

Route 2.

A route 2 bus stops on the University of Minnesota’s East Bank.

Metro Transit recently announced upgraded service for Route 2 in Minneapolis, effective this week. There are about 25% more daytime buses per hour versus last week. This means that the average wait time for the 2 fell from 7.5 minutes to about 5 minutes.

Moar busez 2wait

Zig-zagging to success

The 2 is a pretty weird route, for three main reasons. First, most urban bus routes go through downtown, whether in Minneapolis or St. Paul. The 2, instead, runs through central neighborhoods, commercial corridors, and the University of Minnesota, but dodges downtown. Second, most urban bus routes go in one main direction. The 2 zig-zags in a sideways-W shape, making three acute turns. So a “westbound” 2 actually runs southeast on University Ave Riverside. Third, many bus routes replaced old streetcar lines. Route 2 is mashup of segments of different former streetcar lines (Franklin-11th, Minnehaha Falls-Ft. Snelling, St. Paul-Minneapolis, and Como*).  A long stretch of Franklin (west of 4th Ave S) never had streetcar tracks at all.

Many have lamented the 2’s crooked route, and many more have criticized zig-zag routes in general. As a person with a terrible sense of direction, I deeply understand the benefits of simple transit routes. But the 2 serves dense neighborhoods and valuable destinations. (If Metro Transit provided the data, I’d insert a chart here showing how its ridership compares to other buses.) The route, because of its weird shape, serves many of the highest concentrations of transit commuters in the metro.

Map of Route 2 and percent of workers commuting by transit.

Click for interactive map.

Let’s make #2 #1

What else could we do to improve the 2?

  • Run it later. As the charts above show, the bus is still low-frequency in the evening, coming every half-hour or so. Given the number of students and bars served by this route, better late-night service might be warranted.
  • Extend the route. The westbound service currently stops at Hennepin. Extending it west through Lowry Hill and Kenwood would serve some apartment buildings, Lake of the Isles, Kenwood Park (which is larger than Loring Park in land area), Hidden Beach, and the commercial node at 21st Street and Penn. I heard rumblings of a train in that area, but that’s far from certain.
  • Make it faster. American buses are slow and getting slower. I see three obvious options for speeding up the 2 (or any bus, really). First, you could make some lanes bus-only. This might work for the parts of the route where the 2 shares the street with other popular buses, like on 4th St SE and University Ave. Second, you could collect payment from passengers before they board. Another option would be to move bus stops further apart, so the bus spends less time stopping and starting. Alex Cecchini has made the case for this before.

Improving bus service isn’t glamorous work. Maybe that’s why urban bus service is declining in the US, even as other modes of public transit are improving. But generally, urban buses are good investments that provide affordable, healthy, and sustainable transportation choices that help our cities thrive. So, which route are we upgrading next?

*Source: “Twin Cities by Trolley” by John W. Diers and Aaron Isaacs.


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11 Responses to Metro Transit Upgrades Route 2

  1. SuperQ August 29, 2016 at 10:21 am #

    Ugh, the #2 was always a route I avoided due to the zig-zag. It was almost slower than walking for many of the destinations.

    It needs to be eliminated/replaced with one or more routes without the zig-zag.

  2. Anton Schieffer
    Anton Schieffer August 29, 2016 at 10:57 am #

    The 2 was my first regular bus route when I first moved to Minneapolis. My apartment and job were on Franklin Ave, and I was a student at the U. It’s a great route that touches many different neighborhoods adjacent to the downtown core.

    I’m more surprised that Metro Transit doesn’t publish ridership data for their bus routes. I’m going to look into that more – has anyone else looked into this previously or received an explanation for why they don’t?

    • Mike August 31, 2016 at 2:26 pm #

      Ridership data is available at the Minnesota Geospatial Commons: https://gisdata.mn.gov/dataset/us-mn-state-metc-trans-stop-boardings-alightings

      • Scott Shaffer
        Scott Shaffer September 5, 2016 at 2:38 pm #

        Yep, the stop-level data is nice, but I wish they’d provide route-level data, too. Here’s their note from the metadata page:
        “This data set should only be used to determine stop level ridership patterns. It cannot be used to summarize total route or system level ridership for the same time period.”

  3. Janne Flisrand
    Janne August 29, 2016 at 11:05 am #

    Per the recently posted Quarterly Transit Report – August 2016, “Most people probably don’t know it, but for years Route 2 Franklin Crosstown has been in the top five for ridership per bus hour.”
    http://streets.mn/2016/08/22/the-quarterly-transit-report-august-2016/

    Someone finds this bus very useful. (I’m included on that list.)

    Whether the zig-zagging “W” portion is annoying or useful depends on your origin and destination — sometimes it’s slower than walking, othertimes it’s valuable. I wish we all could remember that not everyone’s needs match their own, so things that strike you as anoying and useless might be critical to others. This is true when it comes to bus routes, bike infrastructure, train networks, suburban bus designs, and building more highways (or not).

  4. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke August 29, 2016 at 11:08 am #

    Wait, a train in Kenwood? Since when?

  5. Sam Rockwell
    Sam August 29, 2016 at 11:45 am #

    Re Make it faster: add signal priority to your list. That alone can speed the route up 20% or more, according to Metro Transit itself. Signal preemption (the bus has full control of the lights) will get you another 10% or so, as I understand it.

  6. Julia August 29, 2016 at 1:00 pm #

    I love the 2–it’s one of my favorite routes, after taking it exclusively for the first few years I attended the U (pre-express busses).

    Extending the line west would make a ton of sense to me, as someone who grew up in that neighborhood. Not only would it expand access to the city parks and to Lake of the Isles (and hopefully help address some accessibility/equity issues that keep LotI much harder to get to for many residents), but it would provide access to/from Kenwood School, both for students and their parents as well as for people taking classes through Community Ed. And, as you point out, it also would offer some transit access for the business/amenities/residents in the neighborhood interior–the 25 is not really a functional bus line anymore, which really helps force car-dependency and decrease what affordability there is for Kenwood/Lowry Hill (the cynic might say that’s the intent leading to the absence of transit access). Any idea why the 2 doesn’t go further west already?

    And yes to running it (all busses) later! I’ve accidentally waited for the 2 late at night when a show ran late. Shutting busses down so early is really questionable from a planning/public health/equity perspective. It seems like the 2 in particular would be a good candidate for running at least just past bar close.

    • John Charles Wilson August 30, 2016 at 10:35 am #

      Bring back the old Route 1: Kenwood-Stinson!

      Hourly service from early morning to 7:15 PM 6 days a week. Half hourly at rush hour.

      No pussyfooting around with a rush-hour only 25!

      I suspect both Kenwood and the northeast suburbs would be better served by bringing back Route 1 and making the Mounds View/Blaine portion of the 25 a branch of the Route 10 Via Central.

      • Will August 31, 2016 at 2:06 pm #

        Keep the route number. Metro Transit could use fewer route numbers with alphabet soups of sub-routes.