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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Matt Steele

About Matt Steele

Matt's passion is fostering resiliency in local transportation and land use decisions. He's at @matthewsteele.