The Quarterly Transit Report – December 2015

The December 12 service change is a small one. The biggest news is the addition of first time Sunday/Holiday service on Route 32 Lowry Crosstown that connects Robbinsdale, north and northeast Minneapolis and Rosedale. Buses will run every half hour 7:30 AM to 8:00 PM.

Making buses go away

The only other change of note is an unfortunate concession to people who don’t like buses running in front of their houses. In this case the complainers were located on Bryant Avenue S. between 46th and 50th Streets in south Minneapolis. This street segment has had streetcar and later Route 4 bus service since 1911. Route 4 runs every 15 minutes all day long. Then in 2005, a major study of south Minneapolis bus service created Route 46, the first 46th Street crosstown since a short-lived experiment in 1947.

Besides creating a new crosstown link between 38th and 66th Streets, Route 46 was designed to feed the Blue Line, and to a lesser extent the new I-35W 46th Street bus station. Originating in Edina, it follows 50th to Bryant to 46th Street. It runs every 30 minutes and that increased the number of hourly buses on Bryant from 8 to 12. Some residents (not sure how many) began agitating for a reduction in bus service.

They complained to City Council Member Linea Palmisano, who went to Metro Transit asking for options. There were several available, including telling the residents to live with it. Route 46 could run via 50th Street to Nicollet Avenue, a route variation it already does twice a day for the convenience of Washburn High School students. Or it could divert Route 46 via Lyndale Avenue.

Metro Transit decided to leave Route 46 alone and detoured half of Route 4 instead. Until now, Route 4 split at 50th and Bryant into two branches. One takes Penn Avenue to Richfield and Bloomington. The other takes Lyndale Avenue, also to Richfield and Bloomington. Now the Lyndale branch will diverge at 46th Street. This returns Bryant to 8 hourly trips between 46th and 50th. Route 4 service in those four blocks goes from every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes.

The complainers may be happy, but what about the residents who took the bus at those stops? According to the latest boarding checks I have from 2015, here are the northbound weekday Route 4 boardings on Bryant Avenue.

32             50th Street
7            49th Street
8            48th Street
5            47th Street

52            Total per weekday

It’s not a huge number, but it must be several times larger than the number who complained. Who is being inconvenienced more? The bus riders will now have to consult the schedule and choose where to walk to catch the bus. This runs counter to Metro Transit’s successful policy of consolidating service on fewer streets instead of spreading it out, because consolidation attracts more riders. It also sets a bad precedent and may empower other anti-transit types to push for service removals.

Automated stop announcing

It has been under test on several routes since June 2014. Now automated stop announcing has been rolled out system wide, with the exception of the older high-floor buses that lack the hardware, but will cycle out of the fleet in a couple of years. The test buses called every stop. Perhaps that increased the difficulty of programming, because the systemwide rollout announces only stops with stoplights or stop signs, as well as the first stop after turning onto a different street. This conforms to ADA requirements and is close to what bus drivers have been required to announce manually.

Along with stops, transfer points are announced. Connecting routes are given, except at large transit centers with multiple connecting routes, and in downtown. Personally, I believe the transit center routes should be listed. It’s done on LRT and seems to work, even at 46th Street where the Blue Line connects with seven bus routes. In downtown it’s more challenging because of the huge number of peak-only express routes, but why not announce the all-day services. That number is very manageable.

Important landmarks and traffic generators will also be announced.

NextTrip signs


While we’re talking about automated transit information, Metro Transit continues to install NextTrip real-time electronic signs at major transit stops. First implemented along the Marquette and 2nd Avenue S. bus lanes in Minneapolis, they next appeared at all LRT stations, then the Mall of America transit center. They have recently been installed at the South Bloomington, Uptown, Brooklyn Center, Columbia Heights, Maplewood, Robbinsdale and Rosedale transit centers, as well as the 35W & 46th Street transit station, and three of the four bus stops that comprise the downtown St. Paul transit center (5th Street at Minnesota, 6th Street at Cedar, Cedar at 5th Street).

Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

26 thoughts on “The Quarterly Transit Report – December 2015

  1. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    I am not a regular bus rider but when I do I often find it a bit complicated to figure out how to use buses to get where I want to go. Much of this seems to stem from routes that change their times and routes based on time of day, day of week, or some other mystery of transit science. Today the route goes like this but during these hours it actually jogs over here instead except on certain days when it doesn’t.

    Trams and subways are much more consistent (though NY subways seem to change far more frequently than others and in particular those in Europe). I know the trams in Amsterdam and subways in London quite well and never have to worry about where they go and when – they always travel the same route and stop at the same places.

    Are metro transit buses as complicated for regular riders as for those of us who use them less frequently? What would happen if we stopped changing stuff? If Route 4 always traveled the same route every minute of every day?

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      With bus service there has always been a tradeoff between frequency and geographic coverage. Given limited resources, do you spread them out so less frequent service runs near everyone, or concentrate more service on fewer streets? For the past 15 years, Metro Transit has concentrated service on fewer streets, because this has been shown to attract more riders. As a result, they have been able to simplify the route system somewhat. That said, there are always situations where the route has to change by time of day or day of week to best serve the different markets along it. A good example is the peak period diversion to serve an industrial park that would make no sense during off-peak hours. Low transit funding tends to make this happen more often as Metro Transit tries to stretch limited dollars.

      1. Will

        Might it make more sense to designate, say, the various versions of the 6 line with different numbers, so someone looking for a particular route could look for the number and not confuse the letter?

        1. Joe

          But then if you wanted to go from downtown to uptown you’d have to know that you could take the 6, 8, 13, 15, 24, 26, or 28, which each come every 40 minutes. Instead of the 6B, 6C, 6D, 6E, 6F, 6G, or 6K, i.e. just the 6, which comes every 6 minutes.

          I ride the 18, the 4 and 5, and since I live in the city I can just ignore the letters and focus on the number. But if they were all different numbers it’d add a layer of confusion.

  2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

    BTW, NY is trying to install a Nexttrip type countdown clock system for their subways. It took them something like 11 years to install it for one line — the L. Some estimate that it will take until 2060 to do the entire system.

  3. Karen Sandness

    The Metro Transit system has an ad hoc feel to it, with lines added seemingly randomly to the outlines of the former streetcar system. There seems to be no overall vision, and I wonder if the planners even ride the buses.

    I’ve sometimes said that, in order to qualify as a transit planner for Metro Transit, a person and his or her entire household should have to give up driving for three months in the winter.

    If I were transit czarina, I’d concentrate on providing frequent service on all arterial streets, both north-south and east-west. That would go a long way toward making the system logical and easy to use. I’d prioritize connecting walkable areas in the central cities and suburbs, including such traditional downtowns as Hopkins, Excelsior, Robbinsdale, and Stillwater, making it possible for residents of those communities to consider giving up a car or two.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      I can assure you that the transit planners ride the bus all the time, most every day. The routes are absolutely not random. To the extent that they follow old streetcar lines, that’s because those lines have a proven record of high ridership and filling the needs of the riding public.

  4. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    The Bryant thing seems very odd, since Bryant has essentially the same design and similar frontage from Lake St to 50th St — it’s considerably wider, for example, than points north and south.

    That is: what makes those four blocks to the south unique from the others? That a 46 comes through a few times an hour? It seems like a particular shame to no longer serve the streetcar node at 50th and Bryant (or at least, to halve the service there).

    Although I live within a long-ish walking distance of the 4L, I never take it, because it is so infrequent south of 50th, walking to the 18 makes more sense. I knew people who lived in apartment buildings *on* Lyndale in Richfield who would just walk to Nicollet to take the 18, with it’s 10-to-15-minute headways.

  5. Steve

    “Route 46 was designed to feed the Blue Line, and to a lesser extent the new I-35W 46th Street bus station. ”

    When MPS eliminated school buses for HS students and gave them Metro Transit passes the 46 became a useful route for HS students at both SWHS and Washburn.

    Can anyone comment on whether riders take the 46 to the 35W express stop? It seems unlikely to have improved ridership at 35W since that station is so close to other N-S routes that run all day (the nearby business nodes at 46th already have N-S service). In fact, does the 35W station have any appreciable ridership?

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs Post author

      According to the latest boarding counts I’ve seen, about 80 Route 46 riders a day transfer at the 46th Street station to Route 535, the all-day express on I-35W between Minneapolis and Bloomington. About 150 daily riders board Route 535 at the freeway level. Although relatively modest, those numbers will certainly increase when the 535 is replaced by the Orange Line BRT, which will travel all the way to Burnsville and run more frequently.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        While it’s true that other routes run parallel to 35W, the mobility potential from Orange Line/535 are pretty significant. The 18 is a great route that connects many destinations. But it is extremely slow between Lake Street and downtown. We’re comparing 30+ minutes to 10 minutes. For people heading toward downtown, the Orange Line would be a much faster option from 46th.

        Although less romantic than light rail, Orange Line will be noticeably faster (especially north of 66th) than existing LRT lines.

        I live off the 18 route in Richfield now. Depending on how well timing is done, I could see myself “transferring” (walking a couple blocks) from 46th and Nicollet to the 35W station after Orange Line is done.

        1. Sam

          Sad as it may be, during afternoon rush hour, 9 times out of 10 I can get from downtown to 46th and 35w quicker on Route 18 than Route 535. Major reason being MARQ2 being overloaded. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a 535 running better than 15 minutes late during afternoon rush. My favorite is when we got to 46th and 35w almost an hour behind schedule, at which point the driver announced it was going to be a free ride for everyone, and also offered free transfers to those who needed to catch another bus.

    2. Joe

      Related: why the hell doesn’t the 146 just end at the 46th st station? It drives right next to it, it could just be timed to arrive right before the 535 leaves in the morning, and to arrive right after the 535 in the afternoon. Then the service time on the 146 could increase from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes with no additional cost (as we already are using the drivers and the buses and the gas). It would also be two less buses on the freeway each direction every hour, and two less buses on Marquette & 2nd clogging up that street. It seems like such an obvious thing to do.

  6. Janne

    Hooray for automated stop announcements! Few drivers ever actually did the announcing they were supposed to do, to the frustration of experienced riders on new routes. I’m excited soon it will happen by default on ALL routes. Sure, they could announce more, but I”ll take what they’re doing thankfully.

  7. Matt Brillhart

    I have suggested separately that the Route 4 could remain on Lyndale (instead of Bryant) between 31st and 36th Streets. This would leave it running on Bryant only between 36th and 50th, where I think one can still make a convincing argument that higher density and ridership exists on Bryant than Lyndale.

    However, with buses being rerouted to Lyndale between 46th and 50th, I might drift back to my original suggestion that all Route 4 buses be routed on Lyndale all the way down to 50th Street (at that point the 4P would branch off to Penn via 50th). Running Route 4 on Lyndale would also enable Metro Transit to eliminate the sparsely used 18G branch, which tends to have near-zero riders south of Lake Street anyways.

    If, as Aaron says, there is a philosophy of concentrating frequency on fewer streets, this is exactly what should happen.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      Routing via Lyndale and elimination of the 18G on Grand Avenue almost happened in 2005, but Metro Transit’s Street Operations Dept. was strongly opposed to running on Lyndale between 31st and 50th, so the idea was dropped.

      1. John Charles Wilson

        What was their objection to Lyndale? It seems Lyndale is at least as wide as Bryant, as well as being a major thoroughfare, and four turns could be eliminated by not doing the Bryant jog. That would seem to be a safety improvement….

        One advantage of Lyndale is that it feeds directly into I-35W south of 58th Street, and thus could be used for a semi-express route to Bloomington and Burnsville.

        1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

          Yeah, but there’s more density of people and destinations around 66th than really any other point south of Lake. Also some pretty significant commercial and transit-dependent folks between 75th and 77th. (The line ends at 82nd.)

          Plus, even if there is demand for express service, I don’t think many folks would want to take an express bus that becomes a local bus at 58th. The Orange Line, which remains express/ltd stop all the way downtown, would fulfill that need better.

          1. John Charles Wilson

            My vision of a semi-express Lyndale to 35W isn’t primarily for end-to-end riding – I’ll agree the Orange Line is best for that.

            However, it would be great for local use north of 58th and express users whose destinations are in the southwest sector of Minneapolis. As I see it, the local users would be the “bread-and-butter” of such a route, and the suburban riders who want to go to places like the Washburn area or Lyn-Lake – or transfer to 50th/France or Uptown – would be the “tail” metaphorically “wagged” by the Minneapolis dog.

            I am going to be proposing several “semi-express” lines in my blog next year. Why? Because one frustrating thing about traditional suburban expresses is when your destination is on the way to Downtown but is passed up so you have to backtrack. Imagine you’re going between some of the following origin/destination pairs:

            *Cottage Grove to Dayton’s Bluff
            *Lexington or Forest Lake to Northeast Minneapolis
            *Apple Valley to Lake Nokomis
            *Plymouth to Golden Valley or North Minneapolis
            *Maple Grove to the Brooklyns, Robbinsdale, or North Minneapolis

            Now imagine some express route variations that could solve these issues:

            *Forest Lake bus using Lake Dr. though Circle Pines/Lexington and Hwy. 88 through New Brighton/Saint Anthony to Broadway and Central to DT Minneapolis (35W except where indicated)
            *Apple Valley/Cedar Ave. semi-express (local on Cedar)
            *Plymouth bus that stops along Hwy. 55
            *Maple Grove bus via Hwy. 81
            *Cottage Grove bus via Burns to DT Saint Paul

            (In addition to, not replacing entirely, present express routes)

            1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

              It just seems like the result is skipping higher-need/ridership areas for convenience of relatively obscure trips (like Burnsville express to SW Mpls).

              A better option in my mind is building out a strong (fast!) trunk system that integrates with feeders. For example, if you wanted to go from Burnsville to SW Mpls, Orange Line to 46 seems like it would be a lot more efficient.

              The only issue with that is that the crosstown routes are spaced fairly far apart — particularly the 46 to the 515, 20 blocks. So you’d potentially have to transfer to a third bus if you wanted to go somewhere in the mid-50s without walking a ways.

              The biggest barriers in my mind are frequency (making transfer unattractive) and speed. Frequency can always be improved, but speed is relatively set after you build something. That’s why I’m pretty pleased it *looks* like Orange Line will beat Blue Line’s travel times considerably (with far fewer stops, of course).

      2. Matt Brillhart

        Street Operations has far too much influence on what should be almost exclusively the domain of route planning. They also oppose any proposed bus stop eliminations/consolidations, at least as proposed by ordinary citizens. It really seems the ONLY way to get a stop moved (or removed) is through local elected officials. Metro Transit seems to fold in that case, due to the perceived authority of elected folks.

      1. John Charles Wilson

        Actually, the 18G gets a lot of use at rush hour. If I was in charge of scheduling, I’d look at converting off-peak 18G trips to 18A, but I wouldn’t abolish the branch altogether.

        Personally, I like the 18G and take it whenever possible. Why? Because it clears out at Lake Street (except for the rush hour trips I described) and is clear sailing to 46th and Blaisdell, usually with perfect timing to catch a 46 eastbound. However, I’d never advocate a bus line exist solely for my benefit. In this case I’ll admit I like the 18G for the same reason it shouldn’t exist (except at rush hour).

  8. Sam

    One of my neighbors asked me to sign a petition to keep Route 4 as it was (and away from his house). I told him it was NIMBY’s like him making our transit system a mess. I feel a little awkward now that I learn the changes were due to another NIMBY. Oh well, the route is closer to me now I guess 🙂

  9. Wayne

    Now will they ever get the ‘new’ schedules for the detoured nicollet mall routes fixed? Or will they get nextrip or any of the real-time arrival services that use their api working reliably so a bus doesn’t go from 4 minutes away to 10 minutes away to already passed you wait for the next one within a couple minutes?

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