It Should Be Easier to Take the Bus

We used to live downtown, where I walked to pretty much everything. Occasionally I’d fire up the ol’ car for a rare trip to a suburban place to shop, but mostly I’d pick up what I needed on Nicollet Mall or Hennepin Avenue.

Then we decided to look for a house and considered one pretty far down in South Minneapolis. As I detest driving in rush hour traffic, I spent some time researching how I could get to work downtown without driving. I knew I could bike as long as the weather allowed, but it also helped that there was a bus route only a few blocks away. Before we made an offer I poked around on the Metro Transit website and everything looked pretty straight forward.

Metro Transit buses at Coffman Memorial Union, By Runner1928 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Then we moved. I biked at the start, but then it started to get cold. On the way in, taking the bus was pretty straight forward (aside from the frequency of service lengthening right when I’d like to catch it, but that’s my fault and I could go earlier). Getting home less so.

It turns out I hadn’t paid very much attention to the letter variant at the end of the route number. It turns out that matters a lot. One day, I hopped on the 14E. I knew it didn’t go far enough south, because it turns to the east (logical!) to get over to the 46th Street Station but figured I’d hop off when it turned on 42nd and walk home. That was fine, I like to walk, but it would have been a real problem had I not already known that the bus didn’t go where I needed it to. In that particular instance, it wasn’t particularly hard to figure out, because the “E” makes sense and the deviation is big enough to be pretty apparent on the interactive map.

But I was thinking about it again on Thursday. I was planning to ride my bike to work on Friday for International Bike to Work Day (which I did with Ward 11 CM Schroeder, it was chilly) and I wanted to take the 5 down Chicago Avenue to do a little reconnaissance on the state of the bike lane down to at least 48th Street. I looked at the interactive route map (go click on that last link) and thought “no problem, it doesn’t look like there are any variants I have to worry about.”

I thought wrong. I looked at the schedule. The 5 is a “high frequency” route so I wasn’t particularly concerned about timing things to not have to wait too long, but I still wanted a rough sense of when to be there. Then I noticed that some of the potential buses I could take didn’t have a time listed next to the stops south of 38th Street.

That’s because some of them don’t run south of 38th Street.

As someone who lives south of 38th Street, and someone who was trying to travel south of 38th Street, this was an important fact that is not directly stated on Metro Transit’s webpage for the 5. Sure, it’s implied in the schedule, but it still seems like a direct statement that “Route 5A ends at 38th Street” is important enough to include somewhere. To the point that even looking at the schedule, I wasn’t sure I was reading right.

Looking for explicit confirmation, I searched “5A” on the Metro Transit website and found this:

Ah hah! A map.

This is most of the information I’m looking for when I’m checking out a new bus route. It tells me where the route goes, and labels the variants, identifying where they end. There’s box that says “5A” right there at 38th street, which combined with the legend tells me that route ends at 38th.

Looking at it again as I’m writing this, maybe it’s a little busy for a novice bus rider, but having seen these a few times (thanks to newish improved signage at some stops!), it’s what I’m looking for in a route map.

The problem is, aside from happening to encounter one at a stop, or happening to search the route name, I don’t know how you get to this map on the Metro Transit website. Certainly, the page for the 5 doesn’t direct you to it in any obvious way.

I don’t want to be too hard on Metro Transit, because I actually do find the service to be pretty good (the end of Big Game bus delays helps that feeling). And I do appreciate those new signs.

Nonetheless, it’s just weird to me when you can’t get the same information easily on the web.

Adam Miller

About Adam Miller

Adam Miller works downtown and lives in South Minneapolis. He's an avid user of the city's bike paths, sidewalks and skyways. He's not entirely certain he knows what the word "urbanist" means.