Straightening Your Route

While I don’t ride it as a regular, I have on occasion* found myself on the number 2 bus.  It offends my sensibilities as a transportation planner. It runs along Franklin Avenue from near Hennepin Avenue S to the University of Minnesota and then runs along 8th St SE to Hennepin Avenue SE. Each of the tails is sensible enough, no one really rides from one end to the other. The problem is the zig-zag in the middle.

This route has had essentially this structure since before the Green Line (actually before the Blue Line). A transit historian could tell us when it started, as it clearly does not exactly follow any one streetcar line, instead it circumlocutes. So from Franklin it does a ~120 degree turn and goes up Riverside Avenue to pick up the Fairview Riverside campus (M-Health) and Augsburg College. It does another ~120 degree turn when it stops at the West Bank Station, and then runs along Washington Avenue to East Bank, turns at Oak Street and then again at University Avenue/4th Street which is essentially a third 120 degree turn. It crosses the same line of latitude longitude 4 times.  It then turns at 10th Avenue.

Metro Transit Route 2

Metro Transit Route 2

Imagine we removed all this zigging and zagging and zegging. Instead it would turn at 20th Avenue, picking up the other side of Augsburg College, coming within 2 blocks of Fairview University, and then to the West Bank. Anyone traveling to East Bank could transfer to the Green Line or a Campus Connector, It would proceed across the 19th Avenue/10th Avenue Bridge and resume its route. This would shorten the route by a couple of miles in each direction. It would be less convenient for some riders, but more convenient for others. More importantly, because the route was shorter, more runs per day could be achieved on this or other routes. No coverage would be lost. Franklin still has the 67 bus (see below). Riverside still has the 7 bus. Washington Avenue still has the Green Line. University Avenue still has the 6 bus.

I am sure there were reasons the bus ran this way. They might have made sense at the time. I am sure there are reasons the bus still runs this way. They make less sense now. Someone will school me in the comments.

Metro Transit Route 67, selection

Metro Transit Route 67, selection

The number 67 bus, which I take more often, though by no means daily, generally to get to the Franklin LRT, but sometimes in the other direction to get to St. Paul if I don’t want to take the LRT (since the travel time is almost identical) also offends my sensibilities, though to a much lesser amount. It was created along with the Green Line (replacing the number 8 bus), and has been modified since. I have more sympathies for the planners in this case, since it is a low volume route in these parts and needs to hunt for passengers. It runs east from downtown St. Paul along Minnehaha and Thomas Avenues, and then University and Franklin Avenues. So far so good. It follows Franklin across the River to Riverside and turns on Riverside, presumably to pick up the very same Fairview Riverside Medical / M-Health complex and Augsburg College as the number 2 bus, and then turns down the curvaceous 26th Avenue S back to Franklin Avenue, terminating at the Franklin Avenue LRT. This detour is not long in the scheme of things, and only crosses the same line of Longitude 3 times. From a far distance it looks like a pimple. But from the point of view of the passenger, I could get off the bus, walk to the next stop on Franklin Avenue, and get back on again.  If it went up Riverside to Cedar-Riverside station, I would understand the detour more. Recognizing this would leave only the 2 bus – above serving Franklin, and I just said don’t do that, I would keep it straight on Franklin though. Riverside still has service as well from the 7 bus, so losing the 67 won’t matter much.

All of this is to say that straighter routes cost passengers extra walking access time, but save them both in-vehicle time and waiting time (since shorter routes can have higher frequency for the same resources). All of which seems like a good trade-off given our current position.

I have previously commented on the spiral routing of the 87 bus.

Transit routes with proposed reconfiguration shown for Routes 2 (brown) and 67 (purple).

Transit routes with proposed reconfiguration shown for Routes 2 (brown) and 67 (purple).

What other bus routes would you reconfigure? Discuss below.


* The occasion was carelessly taking the Blue Line instead of the Green Line out of downtown and needing to get back to campus.


40 thoughts on “Straightening Your Route

  1. Janne

    I can offer one long-time, frequent #2 rider use case. I’m probably an atypical rider — or maybe not. (Ever ride the 2? It’s a very popular bus, despite this, so maybe I’m not the only one who finds the zig zag useful.)

    I live at the western end of the #2 (I can see the layover from my living room — very useful to know whether you’ve missed the bus or not). While I probably ride the 6 more than the two, I feel much greater affection for the #2 route because it’s so useful to me — precisely because of the zig zag. I know that it takes an extra ten minutes, and that other route designs would be more “efficient,” AND I find myself frequently doing the mental calculation of the tradeoffs between making a transfer or taking five more minutes on the bus transfer free. Skipping the transfer wins for me most of the time. I’d probably skip other trips and find alternatives for the errands I currently run on the 2.

    So, where am i going?
    –Seward, the far eastern end of the Franklin stretch. Hardware, Seward Cafe, Sober Fish, Triangle Collaborative, Second Moon, three friends’ homes. [Inaccessible under your rerouting]
    –Riverside, my accountant, Hard Times, Midwest Mountaineering, the Cedar, Arcadia, that yarn store, Red Sea, Mediterranean Deli, Freewheel, Afro Deli, that other Ethiopian place I can’t remember the name of, etc. etc. etc. [Note: still accessible under your rerouting)
    –Work meetings at the U [Less conveniently accessible under your rerouting]
    –Entertainment in Stadium Village (I’m still mourning the Oak Street Cinema), including favorite Chinese restaurants [Inaccessible under your rerouting]
    –Dinkytown in its entirety [Inaccessible under your rerouting]

    I’ll add that I often use the #2 as a Plan B for my bike when setting up meetings. All of these destinations are easily and more-conveniently accessible by bike than by bus, and I’d RATHER bike than bus. most times. But, weather. So I like to set up meetings, personal and business, in places where a blizzard/downpour/-15 temps/etc. offers me a back-up. Plus, Second, parking that Minneapolitans deem “reasonably accessible” is useful, and the U/Riverside/Dinkytown/Downtown don’t typically meet that standard. This mostly means Seward.

    That doesn’t all mean that the zig zag is the ideal routing, and sure it’s a waste of five of my minutes/would be nice if it were faster. (Possibly better achieved by every-other-block-stop-spacing?). I’d ask for a bus down Franklin that connects over Prospect Park to the Green Line. AND one that turns up Cedar as you suggest, but connecting to Dinkytown.

    Engineering efficiency without taking into account what riders find useful about the current route feels like a recipe for bad design. I know how that’s turned out for people in street design.

    Maybe you could do some analysis on where people get on/off, and whether they’re taking advantage of the zig zag or being inconvenienced by it. Then, redesign the routes?

    1. jeffk

      Ugh not more bifucating routes. I spent 20 minutes the other day on Metro Transit’s web site trying to figure out which 14 was which and I eventually gave up. Maybe I’m an idiot but so are most people.

      Plus, if you are waiting for the short cut bus and the long one comes, there’s no point in letting it by since it won’t save time by the time you wait for the next one. So you’re not even really making a choice.

  2. Alex

    The 2 was created in the 70s in response to community demands for a crosstown on Franklin that were aired as part of the Model Cities program.

    I believe that a big chunk of the 2’s ridership comes from students who live in Marcy-Holmes, and I think they’d be better served if the 2 kept its University/4th routing. This also connects the Green Line to more useful areas.

    Maybe instead of your idea, which bypasses Dinkytown and Stadium Village, we could instead sacrifice Cedar-Riverside, which is already very well-served by transit. The 2 could continue on Franklin just over the river, then go up 27th Ave SE, and then take a left onto University and continue its current routing. That would be a less absurdly curvy routing and also save some time/distance, but provide more useful, less redundant service.

    (Or maybe for a trial period the 2 could branch and serve both simplified routes and MT could pick the one that gets more riders?)

    1. Cameron Slick

      What about this? Have the U add a super-frequent circulator/shuttle at or near 27th & Franklin, and route all 2 buses thru to the east side of the river.

      1. Sheldon Mains

        the number 2 does NOT just serve students. Don’t forget the large low-income housing projects along Franklin Avenue in Seward.

        1. Cameron Slick

          Have you had the misfortune of riding this route regularly I am well aware of that. How well is the to use in that corridor? More importantly non students are not restricted from using the shuttles. At least I had never been checked since leaving the university.

          1. Cameron Slick

            I misspoke in myb phone. Yes, I understand the 2 is not just for students. I’m saying a route, especially a free one, that essentially replaces the circuitous routing of the 2 would be every beneficial.

  3. Eric AnondsonEric Anondson

    I think there is a strong case that the Twin Cities could benefit from a Houston-style realignment of bus routes. If these lines can be made more high frequency to go with the straightening then the straightening so become more desirable.

    1. Alex CecchiniAlex Cecchini

      I think the core cities have a pretty decent grid *in general* but I do agree with you. This example is one of a few fairly frustrating links.

      For my part, I’d just combine the 2 and the 67. Everyone along Franklin now gets a single-seat ride deep into St Paul (including downtown). You combine revenue hours into one bus with better headways. Our bus job accessibility (even in the dense-ish core cities) is so bad precisely because some routes are so circuitous and trips to a destination 7+ miles away often require 2 transfers.

      The type of single-seat connections Janne describes above that fare better under the current system with no transfer are nice, but are likely far outweighed by the boost in zero-or-single-transfer (and lowered trip time) destinations people along Franklin could reach under a redesigned network. There’s also an argument to be made that trips made along the 2 today that become less desirable if you have to wait 5-10 minutes for a bus transfer could very easily be taken by bike given the distance (as Janne points out she does primarily bike, but I’m betting many 2 riders never do). So, maybe a system re-design like this should only be implemented if 1) we have a strong network of safe bike infrastructure in place and 2) we roll out more bus shelters with heat, particularly at transfer points, for people who are unable to bike.

  4. John Charles Wilson

    I believe the 2 started in 1969, just before the MTC takeover. I have a 1970 map, copied from that year’s phone book, that shows the 2 going from Hennepin to 11th Ave. S. and connecting with the 8 for points further east.

    At the time, the 8 started on the North Side, coming down Lyndale Ave. N. (replaced by the current-day 22), going through downtown to 11th Ave. S. then east on Franklin. From there, there were three branches. All crossed the Franklin Bridge into Southeast Minneapolis. One turned south on E. River Rd. to the Shriners’ Hospital, one went straight out Franklin to Bedford (one block before the Saint Paul boundary), and one went north and doubled back into the U of M area.

  5. Sheldon Mains

    Your proposed route would exclude most of the section 8 affordable housing in Seward– the two Seward Towers at 26th Avenue and 9th and 29th Ave at Franklin. You would be significantly reducing transit options for 620 low income families in Seward Towers alone. Also, while 20th may be within two blocks of the west edge of Fairview (actually the Health Partners clinic, not Fairview)– it is at least a fiver to six block walk to the main part of the hospital.

  6. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

    I’m sorry, but this would dramatically reduce the utility of the 2 for little real advantage.

    One of the 2’s significant roles is as a single-ride commuter route for the many U students (esp. grad and professional students) living along Franklin. This reconfiguration would make it much less useful for that purpose. The walk from the 19th Ave bridge to the West Bank bus stops is 5+ minutes and exposed; combine that with the transfer penalty (either to the 3 or the Circulators) and it would more than undo any time savings from dropping the Franklin/Riverside curve. The current route also allows U students access to a number of significant businesses, including Zipp’s and Aldi.

    Besides, having the curve greatly increases bus frequency on those segments of Riverside and Franklin, neither of which are served by individual high-frequency routes. Diverting the 2 to yet another low-frequency corridor wouldn’t serve anyone well.

  7. Mike Hicks

    While the 2 has a head-scratching route, it is remarkably useful. I haven’t been able to think of very good ways to change it. The presence of the Mississippi River is always going to create strangeness, particularly with the university campus stretching across both sides.

    There’s probably another set of routes that could work just as well, but I think the more practical improvement for now is just spacing out the bus stops and adding bumpouts so it can gain some speed.

  8. Sam

    The real problem I have with the 2 is the dramatic service reduction after 9pm. I have a weekly commitment at Augsburg from 7-10 and the current schedule doesn’t get me home to Stevens Square until nearly 11. I’m usually happy to bike (even though you have to go way out of the way to get to West Bank without risking Franklin after dark) but when it’s pouring or legitimately too cold, I end up having to spring for a Lyft or hope there’s a car2go nearby.

    West Bank and Seward are hard enough to get to as is… I get the appeal of a more straightforward route but what’s there really is needed.

    1. Rosa

      This is a general problem with most of the bus routes – getting home from St Paul during tax season last year between 9 and 10 pm on weeknights, I just about froze to death waiting for the 22 at Cedar near the West Bank train station every night. But the few times I’ve tried to take the 2 it does seem particularly badly timed.

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  10. Nick

    My crystal ball predicts that the re-route proposed would mean that some of the existing 2 trips would be shortened to just go from Franklin & Hennepin to Franklin & Hiawatha because cutting off direct access to trip generators like Augsburg, Fairview-Riverside, Cedar-Riverside, the University, University of MN Hospital, Stadium Village, the University again, and Dinkytown (that’s a lot of destinations!) would kill a lot of the traffic west of Hiawatha. Net outcome = worse connections for inner city areas.

    This from the perspective of someone who lives about 100′ from a 2 stop near Central/Hennepin and rarely uses the 2 for the reasons that the article cites. But I know that many more benefit from the connections it provides other people and I have a lot of options to get to Franklin when I need them (one fewer once Metro Transit permanently butchers the 4 into two pieces).

    If someone held a gun to my head and told me I have to change the route, I’d have it follow the 3 on Pleasant (on the east side of the river) to maintain connections to everything except Stadium Village. My justifucation is that the University’s recent realignment of transit routes, the Washington Ave/University Ave/4th St. circulator role of the 2 is a little more redundant (especially since the 2 has very few stops on Washington post Green line).

    1. Janne

      No more #Fake4!

      I get why you might want to have a #Fake4 if you’re MetroTransit, but can’t it at least go to trip-generator LynLake?

    2. Ethan OstenEthan Osten

      I agree, and FWIW that route (Washington -> Pleasant -> University/4th) was the 2’s detour route during Green Line construction. I wonder if there’s any data on how that affected ridership.

  11. Thomas Mercier

    “It crosses the same line of latitude 4 times.” I believe longitude is what should have been referenced.

  12. dennis n

    #25 still operate on Mckinley adding about extra 2mins this was the terminal during the streetcars days.21 no need to theTC CENTER off Lake St. 74 deviation to Edgecumbe 4 trips Sat 12 trips M-F. Hardly anyone ride this segment . 62 Smith keeps on George and Thompson Rt68 keep buses Robert St.#9 is very confusing route#11 ,

  13. Cameron Slick

    What if the University were to institute a new circulator at or near 27th & Franklin, and all 2/67 buses were routed east of the river?

  14. GlowBoy

    I know this is not analogous to the route in question, but I just rode a route tonight that seems to me like it could benefit from some minor straightening too (with a big improvement in ride times): the 538. This bus goes from Southdale to Mall of America, passing the Best Buy campus, Southtown and 86th/Lyndale along the way. There were several short side trips that added significant time to the route:

    – At Best Buy headquarters, rather than turning south on Penn it pulls into BB’s entrance area, sits there for a minute, waits an inordinate amount of time for a red light to exit left out of Best Buy, then waits to go left at another light.
    – At Southtown, the bus turns into the shopping center entrance (after waiting for yet another left arrow), then loops 270 degrees around the north side of the mall before proceeding south again.
    – At the Cub Foods by 86th and Lyndale it again ambles across a large shopping center parking lot, pulls into a transit circle and then exits the shopping center on a minor street.

    Altogether these detours added something like 6-10 minutes to the trip, versus what it would be if the bus simply used stops along the arterial and stayed *on* it. In other words, 76th to Penn to American to 82nd to Lyndale to 86th. Even when I’m visiting these shopping centers, I certainly don’t mind having to walk across a parking lot.

  15. denny

    Create a high freq route by run thru all rt 4 to Se/Ne Keep buses on 37 th to SL Village to capture all the apts near SL road.Bus es can stay on 10th Ave Se via Univ Se rt 6.This change will serve most of the high density area.Run shuttle on4G which low ridership Sunday 4G become a 25 .Rt 2stay on 4th St/ Univ to 8th St /11th Ave.It make no sense to run rt 4 on 8thSt for 7 blocks when rt 6 is 4 blocks away and 25-61 one block away on E Henn.rts10/17 on Central Ave.All routes are mostly 30mins-60mins now Only rt 10 is freq in Ne.Rt 2 link Greenline and Se /UMThere are too many routes competing with each other in Se.Currently all rts 4/6 are duplicative trips 30mins at nites.

  16. tony negron

    I agree the NE area has only one high freq line 10 .Rts4/6U should consolidate or run all rt3 via UNiv AVE now that GREENLINE is available no need to keep operating rt 3 thru UM with only one stop which can move the stop to UNIv/15th Ave.There are too many low frequency routes close to each others .Focus on fewer routes with high frequency.

    Rt 21 keep buses on LAKE st The Transit Center was a stupid idea and waste time and increase travel time except for 5 NB .
    Rt 80 stay on White Bear to Suburban Ave to serve Target/ALDI/L&B/ Family Dollar and other retailers nearby
    64 Keep on MAryland to Arkwright with 71 K replace 64 on PAYNE Buses should stay on the stay the street they operate only on for segments 64 on Payne and 71 on Edgerton .
    All 74 stay on Randolph
    83 on Lex
    25 keep on Stinson delete Mckinley.
    67 stay on MInnehaha.
    9 Run on Cedar Lake ,run 9N only this is the most conplicated route Discontinue Target driveway.

  17. james k

    The #2 should terminate at Riverside to eliminate duplication in SE /UM area .M-F extend to Uptown limited stops on HENN discontinuing the UM buses
    Running rt2 in SE is waste of money when there are so many routes overlapping and the GreenLine .SE has #2-3-4-6-10-17-25-61 all are nearby .
    Henn AVE has rts 2-4-6-25-61
    Central #10-17
    10th Ave #2-4-6 and rt3 4 blocks away.
    Univ /4th Ave has rt 2-6 -3 .
    This one- radius had over 10 buslines there isn’t enough people to fill these buses with mostly low frequencies Only #3-10 has high frequencies Even the GreenLines with 3 cars are mostly empty .With millions to operate these routes reduce /consolidated some routes in SE .

    Move rt4 to replace rt 6U in SE to 10th Ave with an extended rt 16 to Central and Univ/4th Ave .Rt4 can operate every 15mins with this new routing .

    Metro Transit need to stop providing one-seat ride on theses routes #111-113-114-115 so riders switch to the local routes and operate routes more frequent.
    Rt2 every10mins peak
    Rt 3 fill in the long gaps at nites and weekends early mornings this route stop at 11pm starts late on Sunday and drop to hourly.
    Rt4 has 60-90 gaps and mostly 30mins services discount rt141 .

  18. james k

    #515 need to discount the E branch so the frequency is consistent between MOA-Southdale.
    #14 run the C and B branches on in S Mpls
    #14 ND only in N Mpls .
    538/539 need to stop all the deviations.

    4 should stay on Lyndale to 50th St eliminate 18G since it will be close to Lyndale it is poorly patronized beyond lake st .

    Riders get confused with the 74 detour to Lexington every hour midday then will pass you by then come around again and stop at Lex/Rand EB buses ,The WB buses will not stop so riders will miss the bus is they are standing between lex and Edgecumbe This detour rarely even pick anyone up.

  19. John Charles Wilson

    Agreed about the 515.

    Do people really ride the 14B/C/E tails, or would 14A be good enough?

    On the north side, 14R is fine, 14N should cross Hwy. 100 at 36th to Yates and then to 42nd to Robbinsdale TC.

    The deviations on 538/9 are too useful to eliminate. Especially the 538.

    18G is well used for a couple of rush hour trips. Keep those.

    Agreed about the 74.

  20. andrew mills

    The # 25 seems to go in circle ,the McKinley loop was the terminal for the Lowry bus in 40’s

    #9 is hopeless I don’t know how anyone can figure out this route with some many devaitions so is the 11 in NE .

    Quit running the 21 to transit center this route take 70 mins or longer with two major loopsAt least the Univ loop serve the shopping area and connects to the LRT the Lake/Chi TC is absurd .

  21. roy

    Remove the #3 thru UM to replace the #6U on UNIV AVE SE there are too many buses in SE There 2-3–4-6-25-61 during the Streetcar days the Johnson and Como lines were the only routes in SE We now have the GL which many of Rt3 and 16 riders switched to the GL so demand is low .The 16 now curtail to Prospect PK .

  22. andy

    #23 this route adds extra 5 mins at the rail station .The WB can stop on 38th ST they should have put a lane to pull in there is space move the shelter near the street
    .EB will be a bit difficult build a lane on the southside of 38 off the street.

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