On September 11th, 2013 I was hopelessly trying to think of a term paper topic for a transportation class at the U of M. Desperate for ideas I turned to procrastination and saw my professor had a blog post “Does BRT Have Economic Development Effects?” In which Dr. Levinson said “I have not scored the University of Minnesota Transitway … [using the Intitute for Transportation Development and Planning Scorecard]… or the Red Line, which were not ranked (but would make a good term paper for a transportation class).” Thus, I had a pretty good topic for a passable term paper (full paper available here). This series of posts is meant to convey the basics of the paper, while not boring the world to death. The first topic entertained will be the scoring of the Red Line, its improvements beyond the scorecard, and general improvements that should be made on the corridor.
By the ITDP standards, the Red Line is not classified as BRT. There, I said it! The Red Line scored fifty-one out of one-hundred points possible on the ITDP scorecard. It failed to score well enough in the section of BRT Basics and did not meet the minimum of four points each on Alignment and Dedicated Right of Way to meet Basic BRT designation (four points would translate to bus only lanes, fully enforced, with colorized pavement, and were not curb-aligned on two way streets. All of these improvements would have to be applied to at least 75% of the busway length) having earned only two and three points respectively. The values awarded include an additional point for the bus-only-shoulder lanes that run along the freeway portion of the route, but still these areas fell short of being able to be called BRT.
The Red Line also did poorly in other areas on the scorecard, such as intersection treatments, central stations, pedestrian access, bicycle infrastructure, number of doors, and the density of stations. These elements are difficult to change now, but some of the failures seem to be by design. Consider pedestrian access;
Note that the pedestrian access in crossing the street (as it can be assumed, might be done in conjunction with about fifty percent of the rides) is worse at the stations. Instead of adding a “Beg Button” or a marked crosswalk, these neighborhood stations instead force people to walk much further, just to access the BRT in one direction. Making sure these egregious mistakes in the planning of the line are not replicated with further BRT work (extending the Red Line and building/interlining the Orange) is paramount to making a system that is reasonably useful and pleasant for riders to access.
Service Planning is a category of elements on the scorecard where the Red Line really struggled. Improvements to the BRT could be as simple as rebranding the 477 bus, an express to downtown Minneapolis which runs the length of the corridor, as a Red Line Express service. This simple rebranding would have the ability to add up to eleven points to the Red Line’s score, with Multiple Routes, Peak Frequency, Demand Profile, and Express, Limited, Local Services scoring higher. This style of branding can then be further implemented as the line is extended and other buses will run along the route for only part of its length. Naming these buses as different elements of the BRT system will help integrate the system, resulting in more usage, benefits, and support for improvements. These additions are not hard, and should be done as soon as possible to utilize the potential of the improvements which have already been made.
Stations and the information provided along the line are much better than other Twin Cities bus services, but the improvements were made in ways that scored the points yet did not fulfill the rationale for the improvement being on the scorecard. For example, one point on the scorecard (out of 100) is awarded based on sliding doors being present in stations. These are meant to provide comfort, and safety, by preventing people from gaining access to the bus lanes. The Red Line scored this point, as every station, except the MOA, has sliding doors, but they are not all on the platforms. The Cedar Grove Transit Station’s sliding doors only serve to allow people to go from indoors to outside without opening a door manually, doing little for safety in the platform area. Only the Apple Valley Transit Station has sliding doors on the platform for both doors of the buses.
The 140th, and 147th Street Stations have only a sliding door for the front door of the bus, and the rear entrance is entirely exposed. This half improvement meets the scorecard’s written criteria, of sliding doors being present, but does not fulfill the purposes outlined on the scorecard. Further improvements to the station designs and information systems followed similar patterns, fulfilling the obligations to score points, but not accomplish the scorecard’s reasons.
The general score of the Red Line can be summed up with a quote a driver gave me; “This is a bus, it is painted to make people think it’s a train, it has platforms even, but it is a bus and it operates as such.” This quote contradicts the general goal of BRT; being train-style service. Many of improvements needed to make the Red Line into true BRT are expensive, and are rather unfeasible to fix in the current alignment, but they should be corrected with the extension of the Red Line and the implementation of the Orange Line. Currently, the Red Line serves as a warning to future BRT systems; BRT cannot be a cheaper alternative to Light Rail if you are unwilling to invest in transit service. High investment still must be made to make BRT a worthwhile transit service.