Let’s Be Pro-transit

I’ll start by saying I have strong feelings about Southwest LRT. So do some people on this very blog. You probably do too. However, I won’t be contributing further to the gallons of spilled real and virtual ink or weeks of public testimony.  I’d like to talk about how we can set the stage for some other projects that could be really beneficial for transit-dependent and transit-interested communities. Nothing in this post should be interpreted as diminishing the importance of that LRT project, the upcoming decisions that will determine it’s fate/depth of its tunnel, or the correctness of any particular opinion about it.  But I have this urge to start some positive conversations about other projects that need some support.  Weird, right?

One way or another, that one LRT project will probably get built, probably between some lakes.  It is estimated to serve 7,250 Minneapolis customers daily in 2030 (about 12,000 if you count transfers from the Green Line, and over 27,000 total daily trips over the entire length).  The Hennepin Avenue corridor (Route 6/12) between downtown and Lake Street served about 11,000 customers daily in 2010.  With a few tweaks to service and some nicer stations, it might serve 23,000 daily in 2030, and have 17% faster travel times than current (this assumes Metro Transit’s arterial BRT concept). Similar improvements on the Chicago-Fremont corridors might serve over 23,000 daily customers in 2030 (15,600 daily riders in 2010).  The costs of these projects would be rounding errors when compared to that other project I promised not to talk about.  In fact, we could build one or two every year for the cost of inflation of the project whose name I do not speak.

BRTsystem

Metro Transit’s proposed arterial BRT system

Additionally, these projects can be built in years, not decades.  Metro Transit completed it’s Arterial BRT study in 2012. The first line chosen, Snelling, will open in 2015.  No multi-year alternatives analysis, no haggling between three or four levels of government (mostly), and a much more modest funding ask.  Booming populations in Uptown won’t wait a decade for transportation options.  They’ll buy a car or move.  Communities desperate for faster and better transit across the city(ies) can’t wait a decade for better transportation.  They’ll lose job opportunities.  We can’t afford to make incremental progress on vehicle emissions over decades.

So I’m saying, let’s be pro-transit. Imagine how much we could get done in a decade with a united voice calling for better transit in our busiest corridors?  Over 30,000 new transit customers could be served (and travel times for existing customers significantly improved) with improvements to just these corridors.  The total cost would likely be less than half of one new light rail line.

Of course, it wont’ be easy.  Just because it sounds (relatively) cheap, it won’t happen automatically.  Those interested in transit should be calling on Metro Transit (and their local elected officials) to be building two, three, or four of these lines at a time.  The current arterial BRT plans can probably be improved too. Dedicated right-of-way should really be a high priority, especially with ridership numbers rivaling or beating rail projects.  Stations (why even say stops?) should have train-like amenities. Finally, bus projects don’t grab headlines like shiny new trains, so the case will have to be made to prioritize, repeatedly.

Votes will be cast about that other project.  Once that’s all done, consider the time and energy invested in blog post comments and public meeting attendance.  If you’ve got issues with that one project, wouldn’t it be fun to be rooting for something for a change?  If you like that one project, wouldn’t it be great to do more of that, but way faster and cheaper?

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31 Responses to Let’s Be Pro-transit

  1. Bill Lindeke
    Bill Lindeke March 31, 2014 at 6:31 am #

    I am on board this train. I’m very excited to see what building these aBRT improvements will do in St Paul, on Snelling and on W 7th Street.

    It’s the basic tension between fostering new density in places that don’t have much of it, and intensifying those ridership corridors that already exist. For the region and for transit planners, these improvements should be a no-brainer. Yet somehow Metro Transit and CTIB is still searching for the money to pay for them, rolling them out too slowly, all the while talking about adding hundreds of millions of dollars for tunnels of different depths in a park.

    But the LRT v. bus improvement battle is an old one. It shouldn’t have to come down to this.

    • Froggie March 31, 2014 at 7:34 am #

      It boils down to LRT vs. bus because it boils down to funding and which funding pots that can be used. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the way Arterial BRT is proposed makes it INeligible for the CTIB sales tax funding.

      • Bill Lindeke
        Bill Lindeke March 31, 2014 at 8:28 am #

        yeah i think you’re right, but it’s still a problem.

      • Brendon Slotterback
        Brendon March 31, 2014 at 2:09 pm #

        My understanding from Metro Transit is that CTIB can decide what CTIB funds. Advocacy should be directed thusly. http://www.mnrides.org/about-us/board

        • Froggie March 31, 2014 at 3:23 pm #

          I distinctly remember some statuatory limitations in the enabling legislation on what CTIB can fund…it’s not just a “blank check”. Don’t remember them offhand (on bike at Republic right now), but they exist.

  2. Walker Angell
    Walker Angell March 31, 2014 at 8:10 am #

    I agree in principle, I’m not sure how much reality will come along for the ride though. And we kind of need it (reality) in on the plan. I don’t know how many existing or near-future car drivers would choose BRT over their car vs how many would choose a rail solution (Tram or LRT).

    Personally, I’m much more likely to forego my car for rail than any type of bus, simply due to the herky-jerky movement of buses. Or at least my perception of it based on my personal experience. If a major goal is to coax people out of their cars, I’m not sure BRT will do it unless we can make it more attractive than cars.

    We’ll have to watch our new aBRT and see how it does.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam March 31, 2014 at 10:27 am #

      I’m more likely to ride rail than bus (heck, the other day I walked about a mile to get to the Hiawatha line, which I would not do for a bus). But there are times when I consider taking the bus and would be much more likely to actually do it if I could look at a map, see where the bus line runs, walk to the stop, and pay my fair without needing exact change.

      Now, I’m not deciding whether to commute by car or bus, as I commute on foot, so I suppose those factors are less significant if you’re taking daily trips along the same route (you just have to learn it once), but for casual ridership, those issues are a big deal.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell March 31, 2014 at 10:43 am #

        I agree. Many of these, pre-pay, more comfort with what bus is going where, and others like level boarding from a platform, dedicated ROW, electronic arrival boards, etc. are addressed by BRT if it is designed and implemented properly.

        Actually, the payment issue has been addressed for all buses in most major cities around the world, I don’t understand why we haven’t yet done so here. It’s easier for me to use regular buses in NYC (Metrocard), London (Oyster), and Amsterdam (OV-chipkaart) for which I have pre-pay cards than to use them here in my own metro area.

        • Alex Cecchini
          Alex Cecchini March 31, 2014 at 11:35 am #

          It is pretty sad that most US cities haven’t caught on and implemented things like this on all key routes and/or most core city stops. http://nextcity.org/daily/entry/when-will-more-cities-follow-san-franciscos-lead-for-faster-buses

        • brad March 31, 2014 at 1:29 pm #

          I agree with most of what you’re saying, but I’m not sure what is difficult about the GoTo card system?

          • Al Davison
            Al Davison March 31, 2014 at 5:31 pm #

            I’ve never had problems with my U-Pass, but I think he might be talking about the lack of TVM (ticket machines) at busy bus stops, so then people can pre-pay at busy stops without buying cards in advance.

      • brad March 31, 2014 at 1:27 pm #

        I’ve been busing more since becoming a one car family, and I sympathize with the work it can take to figure out how to get where you want to go, when you want to get there. For me, more often than not, it’s been easier than I expected to get places, though.

        Have you looked at MetroTransit online? They have a pretty good interactive map, trip planner, and a NexTrip system to tell you when the next bus will be at a given stop. Also, you should just buya GoTo card with some money on it, makes riding *way* easier, and you can refill it with $ online.

      • Monte Castleman
        Monte March 31, 2014 at 10:01 pm #

        I’d also be more likely to ride a train. I haven’t been on a city bus since 1987, but I ride rail transit several times a year, here and in other cities.

    • John March 31, 2014 at 1:18 pm #

      It’s true that we don’t know how many additional people will use aBRT but aBRT will be a tangible benefit to the existing bus passengers. Improving service for the existing 11k bus passengers on Hennepin is by itself a very real benefit. Also, I think if bus times were reduced from the Uptown neighborhoods to downtown, use would increase substantially.

      • Walker Angell
        Walker Angell April 1, 2014 at 11:35 am #

        John, I agree, but I’m not sure about the timing. If we already had an extensive transit, bicycle, and pedestrian system and had already made very significant headway on these, then I think that upgrades for existing users would be very worthwhile. Until then though, I think we need to focus on infrastructure that will result in significant increases in pedestrian, bicycle, and transit users.

        This, theoretically anyway, should actually result in faster and better improvements for existing riders since as the number of people using these facilities increases the funding for improvements should increase as well. This has seemed the case in The Netherlands and Sweden with bicycling, and London’s tube, not so much the subway in NYC.

  3. Truth March 31, 2014 at 9:30 am #

    The problem I see with all these projects is that it takes away from freedom. Freedom is all about the car. Less communist, more patriotic. Imagine the lane miles that could be built with this amount. If we build a new freeway, this should help allow people to escape the city easy peasy.

    One proposal, anyone with a city address would have to pay a toll to leave. This should allow the funds to be raised to build another freeway. No need having freedom-loving folk subsidize this mess.

  4. Matty Lang
    Matty Lang March 31, 2014 at 9:54 am #

    I agree that these aBRT projects are relatively low hanging fruit that would yield very nice returns on our investment. Another thing I like about them is that they could be upgraded in the future by giving dedicated right of way and even adding rails and overhead electrification. They’re more or less halfway streetcar lines.

    Brandon makes another good point about urgency. People are moving right now to higher density neighborhoods like Uptown. We really can’t delay on providing the upgraded level of service in the transit system that this demands.

    • Adam Miller
      Adam March 31, 2014 at 10:29 am #

      That sounds like it really should be the way the planning works. Does it?

  5. Drosha March 31, 2014 at 2:57 pm #

    What you and they call arterial BRT is essentially a limited stop bus with advanced pay. And since none of the so called BRT projects in this country (including the ones that mostly resemble a BRT like the orange line in LA) have managed to integrate the advanced pay system, I don’t think it’s going to happen in any of these projects either. Moreover unless you build a bus lane that is completely separated from the cars (which is not possible on hennepin ave due to space restrictions) bus will still get stuck in traffic during rush hour. Hence even though I’m all for these Rapid bus lines, they are nothing like and cannot really be compared to light rail or metro.

    • Matty Lang
      Matty Lang March 31, 2014 at 7:04 pm #

      I’m on the Citizen Advisory Committee for the Snelling (A) Line. The stations will be pre pay with loading through both front and rear doors of the bus. The A line buses will also have the ability to preempt traffic signals. Most of the stations will be on the far side of intersections with curb extensions so the bus will stop in the traffic lane avoiding any merging.

      Certainly, aBRT is not the same as light rail and shouldn’t be compared. For the most part, the aBRT system will be like streetcar lines without the train cars, rails, and overhead electrification. I would love to see a push to improve them by adding dedicated ROW in the future.

    • ecgopher April 1, 2014 at 1:50 am #

      Make the parking lanes bus lanes during rush hour and you’ve got dedicated right of way on Hennepin

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