A Centering Exercise for Hennepin Avenue

NACTO Center Transit Lanes

Hennepin could look similar to the “Center Transit Lanes” design guidance in the NACTO Urban Street Design Guide, with in-street boarding island stops. Used with permission. Scroll to the bottom to see specific concepts for Hennepin Ave.

Yep, they taped over the “ONLY” on the signs for Hennepin Ave bus lanes downtown. Click the photo to read Alex Cecchini’s take on that.

Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track, you’ll get run over if you just sit there.” And while actual steel track is unfortunately not in the future for Hennepin Avenue between Uptown and Downtown, we’re on the right track thinking about Arterial Bus Rapid Transit and dedicated bus lanes on this critical urban corridor. Those are great plans, but we need to make sure move forward with the right details. One of those critical details is to put transit in the middle of the street.

Since a test of bus-only lanes are already in the works for this spring (May 15-17), we can optimistically expect some form of transit-advantage lanes when the city reconstructs Hennepin Avenue in 2023. And that makes sense when realizing that nearly half of the people moving along this street during rush hour are moving in a tiny number of buses.

I think I’m in love…

Bus-only lanes generally have gone where we assume buses go, to the curbside. These have popped up in the downtowns and even in the suburbs. While these can be big improvement for buses in certain circumstances, they easily get bogged down during congested times when transit priority matters the most. Bus lanes are frequently blocked by motorists waiting to turn right at intersections, people entering or exiting driveways, people accessing on-street parking, etc.

Yet when we really want vehicles to move without getting stuck behind something, we usually move them left. That works for the thousands of transit riders in MnPASS lanes on freeways, and it works for all of our rail transit (not counting areas where it’s designed as a standalone railroad segment, such as next to Hiawatha). And motorists are generally not in the way of our transit vehicles, which is great for transit riders!

There’s nothing magical about rail that allows center running, and there’s nothing about buses that requires curbside running. So, lets center our transit where it can move the best, in the middle of the street. NACTO’s Transit Street Design Guide does a lot of the legwork on their Center Transit Lane and In-Street Boarding Island Stop guidelines.

What about left turns for motorists? Left turns are also problematic for all street users, including oncoming motorists and sidewalk users. Center-running busways give an opportunity to reduce left turns to only intersections where they can be controlled with specific stoplight phases (such as with the Green Line on University Avenue or Washington Avenue in Stadium Village). Left turns could be allowed with a dedicated turn lane and left turn phase at every other block, such as Franklin Ave and 24th, 26th, and 28th Streets. On alternating blocks such as Douglas Ave and 22nd, 25th, and 27th Streets the streets could be right-in-right-out for turning vehicles but with a signalized scramble crosswalk to access in-street boarding island stops in both directions. Buses in the busway would have their own signal phases with transit-specific signals so as not to confuse motorists, a precedent already set with buses running on the Washington Avenue Transit Mall.

There are also some other details that would need to be hashed out, but many of these are addressed in the NACTO design guidance. Do you have other specific questions about how this could work? Leave them in the comments and we’ll try to think this through together.

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15 thoughts on “A Centering Exercise for Hennepin Avenue

  1. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Yes, please.

    The only issue the springs to mind is to make sure that the bus stops are large enough that people aren’t waiting in the street, but that’s a design issue.

  2. Chris Moseng

    Yes, and it will provide a good opportunity to avoid one of the major mistakes of the Green Line: making sure to pair far-side stops with stoplight priority for transit. Having one without the other has been just brutal for train passengers in St. Paul. Done right, buses on Hennepin would *only* have to stop at bus stops.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      I’d rather have bikes replace the motor vehicle lanes on this street. Is there any appetite to make Hennepin Ave no longer a through street for motor vehicles? I sure hope so, but this was created under the assumption that we would need to maintain one lane in each direction for cars and a certain amount of on-street parking. In that scenario, bike facilities would come at the expense of transit or pedestrian quality on the street. Our adopted modal priority framework puts bikes and transit on the same tier, so it’s hard to tell if there’s a policy that weights one over the other. Considering the sheer volume of transit ridership on the corridor, it makes sense to prioritize transit over bicycle facilities if those two shall unfortunately come into conflict solely because of our lack of political will to remove additional space for cars.

      1. John Frid

        I’m not sure I understand – why on God’s green earth would we want to limit Hennepin Avenue to one lane of traffic in each direction, and where would the traffic go to?

        1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

          I’m saying we’d want to eliminate regular traffic on Hennepin altogether in an ideal world, for the sake of God’s green earth.

        2. Adam MillerAdam Miller

          Why wouldn’t we? Much of the traffic would just go away, as people didn’t drive over there when they could avoid it (i.e. We’d un-induce the demand).

          With much better flowing transit along this stretch, we do we think we need more than one car lane? We can certainly move a lot more people that way.

    2. Walker AngellWalker Angell

      Bikes? My first thought as well.

      So, 10-11′ lanes for cars? How about 8.5′? 11-12′ for buses? How about 10′? If car, truck and bus drivers in Europe can safely drive on such widths, why can’t drivers in the U.S.? Better, narrow travel lanes cause drivers to drive cautiously and pay attention to their surroundings lest they scratch their car.

      This would only provide about 4′ on each side and might still leave problems at stops where considerable space is required for pedestrians. Do we really need free parking on both sides? There are gobs and gobs of parking lots along this bit of Hennepin. There are also gobs and gobs of retail customers who live within easy bicycling distance and would likely walk or ride if it were made safe for them. Do we really need all of that on street parking?

      When we design we should design and prioritize somewhat from the outside in; safe and comfortable walkways, safe and comfortable protected bikeways, transit, private vehicles, parking.

  3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

    Thinking about it some more, we should do this but also add a grade separated cycle track on each side and do away with the parking. It’s not that many spaces (lots of curb cuts and bus stops already), many of these businesses have off street parking and there’s parking available on the cross streets.

    1. Matt SteeleMatt Steele Post author

      Absolutely, if we can make that happen. And it should be easy if our Complete Streets plan has teeth.

      It seems there would be space for a good bicycle facility if Hennepin would have through lanes for vehicles but no parking. Or we could do the same if Hennepin didn’t have through lanes, but maybe had one slip lane in one direction to allow for some on-street parking.

      1. Timothy

        Id say combine bus/bikes priority on 1st avenue North instead of Hennepin. By trying to limit cars in that area you are going to create a bottleneck that will mess up downtown flow of cars coming from I-94, I-394, and the bridge across Mississippi.

        Id rather have two street that are each highly optimized for traffic of their own type then two half-assed solutions.

          1. Timothy

            True that area is a mess for everyone. Cars, bikes, buses. Too bad that greenline corridor underneath hennepin avenue wasnt built instead of the super useful alignment going by population centers such as Hidden Beach.

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