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.
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.
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?