The New Hennepin Bus Lanes

Earlier this year Metro Transit and the City of Minneapolis did a demonstration of rush hour bus lanes on Hennepin Avenue between Franklin Avenue and Uptown Transit Station. Bus service has always been extremely slow due to morning backups from I-94 and afternoon backups from Lagoon Avenue.

The demo worked just fine, but relied on barrier separation, which wouldn’t be practical in a permanent application.

To their credit, the city has followed through with new permanent lanes as of September 3rd. The entire street has been re-striped, with the bus lanes being wider than the adjacent mixed traffic lanes. That will pay dividends when snow narrows the curb lanes. While there is prominent signage, the most striking thing about the lanes is that they’re painted bright red.

With-flow bus lanes are notoriously difficult to enforce. It only takes a few cars blocking them to render them useless. I’m hoping the red color and diligent enforcement keeps the cars out of them.

I took these photos on the second afternoon between 4 and 5 PM. The block between 25th and 26th was clear of cars, as was the block south of 28th. Several car were parked in the middle two blocks, including one directly under one of the big No Parking signs.

Img 0739

Note the No Parking sign. However, the car is parked in one of the gaps in the red paint that has since been filled with a Bus Lane stencil.

I was pleased to see two Traffic Control officers show up about 4:30. They ticketed the cars, then a tow truck appeared and towed one of them away.

Img 0742Hopefully the car drivers will get the message, but I expect it will be a continuous cat and mouse game. It should be noted that a ticketed car and tow trucks are still obstructions.

Chicago Avenue
There’s another short bus lane on southbound Chicago Avenue from 28th Street to the entrance of the Chicago-Lake Transit Center.
Img 0726It differs from Hennepin by being located in the center of the street, because buses turn left into the transit center. It helps buses get past the backup from the light at Lake Street.

Many more bus lanes needed
I recently took a Route 6 round trip to downtown Minneapolis during the PM rush hour. The first bus experienced so much traffic delay that that we were 18 minutes late arriving downtown. It took at least 5 minutes and three light cycles to travel from Franklin to Groveland because traffic was backed up.

On the Nicollet Mall cars on cross streets blocked intersections.

The return trip was 30 minutes late by the time I got home. We (and a bunch of I-394 express buses) were delayed in a big backup leaving downtown on 11th Street. The solution should be a contraflow bus lane on 12th Street from Marquette to I-394.

We turned onto Lyndale next to the sculpture garden and as usual traffic was backed up all the way behind the 15th Street/Vineland Place light. At Franklin we saw northbound Hennepin was backed up solid to 24th Street.

There has to be a connection between all the traffic delays and declining transit ridership. The schedule goes out the window. Travel time increases. At some point the frustrated bus rider starts thinking, “If I were driving I could find a way around this congestion, or at least I’d be more comfortable.”



Aaron Isaacs

About Aaron Isaacs

Aaron retired in 2006 after 33 years as a planner and manager for Metro Transit, where he worked in route and schedule planning, operations, maintenance, transit facilities, light rail and traffic advantages for buses. He's an historian of transit, as a 40+ year volunteer with the Minnesota Streetcar Museum. He's co-author of Twin Cities by Trolley, The Streetcar Era in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and author of Twin Ports by Trolley on Duluth-Superior.

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40 thoughts on “The New Hennepin Bus Lanes

  1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

    Is there any word on what’s intended for bicyclists traveling on Hennepin Avenue?

    Strict compliance with the posted sign would mean bicyclists should stay in the right-hand travel lane — 14′ or whatever from the curb — even when parking is prohibited and the bus lane is active.

    Would a bicyclist be cited for riding in the bus lane in violation of the signage? Would a bicyclist be cited for failing to ride “as far right as practicable” if they followed the signage, and rode in the right-hand travel lane? I get it if Minneapolis isn’t prepared to make this a bike-oriented corridor, but why they continue to neglect any indication of what they intend for bikes is confusing. (Same thing on Nicollet Mall, where posted signage implicitly prohibits bikes but practice is that they are fine.)

    For its many flaws, I actually think the way Dakota County did Cedar Avenue’s bus-only shoulders made a lot of sense. Particularly, having the right-turn only lanes demarcated makes it obvious what’s an acceptable length of using the space for right turns. It also makes it clear that bikes may use it, because it remains a shoulder.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      Not sure if the bus-only language means no bikes. I saw a number of bikes using the lane, because it’s a whole lot better than Hennepin used to be, which was downright dangerous. Personally, I stay clear of Hennepin, because it’s so much safer and just as easy to use a quiet parallel residential street. Also, between the Uptown Station and Lake Street, there’s no bus lane and tons of turning cars filling the street.

      1. Janne

        All travelers should have access to a safe travel route. The number of bicyclists you saw in the bus-only lane, and that pedestrians along Hennepin are forced to share sidewalks with, suggest that it’s not just as easy to use quiet “parallel” residential streets along Hennepin. It’s a persistent signal this stretch of Hennepin needs something more.

        I live along the diagonal portion of Hennepin, hemmed in on all sides by major danger-zone streets (Franklin) and one-way streets. Different trips, from different starting and ending points, are differently able to use the alternatives you find adequate.

        Because you don’t understand the reasons I and others choose our route doesn’t mean the route should be judged, or that my safety shouldn’t be a priority.

    2. Andrew Evans

      Living in that area years ago I did my best to avoid biking on Lyndale, Hennepin, and Franklin. Just a little too busy for my tastes back then and there were plenty of side streets to get me where I’m going. Also one of them is a now marked bike bvld that would basically replace the need to go on Hennepin.

      Yes I do realize that side streets don’t do the same diagonal, but they have much less traffic and were safer or at least less stressful.

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        My intent isn’t a debate about if it’s the greatest street to ride on. If you prefer an alternative route, go for it.

        But inevitably there will be people who need (because they want to access something there) or want (because it’s more direct) to bike on Hennepin. I’d like to understand what’s expected of them legally given the bus lane setup.

        It simply doesn’t seem to have been considered — which is disappointing, both because the diagonal is a unique route that breaks up the grid, and because Minneapolis theoretically considers people walking and biking on all streets.

        But my best guess is that you’d be better off (in terms of potential harassment from motorists and negative attention from police) using the bus lane than the adjacent travel lane when the bus lane is active.

        1. Andrew Evans

          Well I mean a biker could always park their bike along side streets and walk to the destination, or walk their bike (or ride slower) on the sidewalk up to them? It would have no different access than parking, and arguably be easier given bikes abilities to move around congested traffic and parking options.

          In any event, some thoughts…

          Wouldn’t it be easier to have a center turn lane, right turn lane, and one lane of through traffic? I understand that left turns are discouraged, but still with buses and pedestrians, roads like that usually turn into one through lane anyway. Is there a point where that doesn’t work, to where the road needs to be 2 lanes each way? Then it wouldn’t be hard to have bike lanes, or bus lanes (around right turning traffic), and then there wouldnt’ be any need to weave around turning traffic.

          1. Monte Castleman

            There’s no AADT limit where 3 lane roads do not work. In practice the limit in Minnesota has been 15,000 because of a state law that requires two through lanes be required on MUSA streets above that threshold unless a traffic study is conducted that shows that fewer through lanes would work. There’s been many instances where 3 lane roads above that limit have worked, but it becomes more dependent on factors other than AADT; like volume of left turning traffic, hourly peak volume, and number of stop signs or traffic signals.

            North of 24th, Hennepin is pushing the limits to when even a four lane undivided road will work which is the reason for the left turn bans, in order to give it a capacity more like a 5 lane roads at peak times.

    3. Adam MillerAdam Miller

      I rode in the northbound bus lane on Hennepin this morning with no guilt as there were no buses behind me. Might not have if there was a bus to hold up.

      But doing so really made the new bike lanes south of Lake make a lot more sense. Before there was a bus lane, heading northbound you were just dumped into traffic at one of the busiest intersections in the city. Maybe it should be bike/bus only during non-rush hour (while remaining bus only during rush hour)?

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        So again — what would be the rush hour plan for bikes? Ride ~18′ from the curb in the middle of the right-hand travel lane? Is that realistic for even 10% of people who ride bikes in Minneapolis?

        It’s one thing downtown on Marq2, where there’s an incredible surge of buses at rush hour and almost none the rest of the day — and there are identical parallel routes on both sides. On Hennepin, there is a moderate amount of bus activity all day, slightly more at rush hour.

        I think it should just be marked as bus/bike, until/unless they come up with an actual bike facility. If you were to simply eliminate parking, I’d like to see metered parking on the adjacent streets to ensure customer parking is available.

  2. BTSP

    These are great, but I do wish they just made them run the whole length of Hennepin and made them active all day instead of rush hour only. It seems to me that allowing parking at some times of the day will only encourage cars to park in them all the time. That way, the future E-line could run as a proper BRT with its own dedicated right-of-way.

      1. Patrick

        It’s bad enough that it’s not 24/7, it’s even worse that the bus lane is not a bus lane for about 158 hours a week. Nobody is going to learn to change their behavior under those conditions.

        1. Stuart

          Peak hour no-parking zones are pretty common and widely accepted. Are they perfect? No. Does everyone follow them? No. More consistent towing/ticketing would help.

    1. Andrew Evans

      That’s as easy enough as having a tow truck on standby and getting to these vehicles within a short period of time. Enough people either get towed, or see people getting towed, and they will figure out the signs are serious.

    1. Aaron IsaacsAaron Isaacs

      I meant it wouldn’t work in lanes that are only enforced during certain hours and available for parking at other times. I suppose the barriers (probably plastic posts) could be spaced widely so maybe parked cars could maneuver around them. The plastic posts have a high mortality rate and then there’s the issue of snow plowing.

      As for moving bus lanes to the middle, you have to have ADA accessible boarding islands because the buses are still making stops. Street width is probably a constraint.

      I’m not try to discourage innovation, but it’s a tough technical problem as long as no mixed traffic lanes are eliminated.

      1. Matt SteeleMatt

        We have precedent for floating bus bulbs or boarding islands. Granted, we would need to do a little more on Hennepin since they would be separated by car traffic rather than just bike traffic. But there are precedents around the world for safe stations.

        I included a gallery on the bottom of the article with various streetmix cross sections and example photos from other cities. The idea is that Hennepin would have alternating intersections with full signalized access and protected left turns, and then alternate with intersections that have filtered permeability. This would be right-in-right-out for motorists, but allow people bicycling and walking to cross Hennepin one lane at a time while also accessing the floating bus stops. It would be a benefit for non transit riders too.

        This is similar to the filtered permeability that would benefit Lyndale Ave at 25th, 27th, and 29th, but the midblock profiles would look more like Washington Ave at Oak Street (center-running separately-signalled transit with a middle barrier) rather than a regular road diet profile like I propose on Lyndale.

        1. Lou Miranda

          I approve of this comment, and your post mentioned in your previous comment.

          The only way Hennepin can be reduced to one car lane in each direction is if Lake Street is reduced from 3 lanes in each direction. Perhaps 1-2 lanes and a bus lane and bikeway.

          But then does that mean Minnetonka Blvd. and/or Excelsior Blvd. need to be reduced by a lane as they feed into Lake St.? A dedicated bus lane on Excelsior makes sense, considering the traffic there.

          So many implications. But we need to do this if we are going to have any chance of saving the planet and building a great transit, bike, & ped network.

  3. Monte Castleman

    I don’t see it in the FHWA database that Minneapolis applied for official permission to use an experimental traffic control device (the red pavement), although it’s possible they haven’t updated the databa. The last experiment request from Minnesota was from 09/14/18 where the city of Minneapolis requested permission to experiment with advisory bike lanes (this was approved 12/07/18) and the latest request from any agency was 02/26/19

  4. Scott

    Good post. Lyndale Avenue S. could use these bus lanes too during rush hour. The #4 is painfully slow going northbound just past Lake Street because of the Franklin intersection and traffic trying to enter I-94. The bus routinely becomes 20 (or more) minutes late heading downtown from Uptown. It’s been even worse with backed up 12th St. and Nicollet Mall.

    What are the chances the I-94 entrance (and exit) ramps could be closed on Lyndale? Not a chance in heck, right? 🙂

    1. Matt SteeleMatt

      As part of a road diet on Lyndale and transit improvements on Hennepin and Nicollet, would it make sense to rethink the route of the 4 between Lake St and downtown? Instead of hopping east from Bryant to Lyndale, it could hop west to a dedicated busway on Hennepin via Uptown TC, then enter downtown via Franklin or 24th (or ideally a contraflow busway on 26th to split the difference between Franklin and Lake).

      1. Sean Hayford OlearySean Hayford Oleary

        That’d be OK if there were strong limited-stop/express demand from south of Lake Street, but I assume a big chunk of 4 ridership is on or near Lyndale north of Lake. It seems counterproductive to make them walk to Hennepin or Nicollet.

        On the other hand, with only like 10 minute headways at the absolute most, it seems like it would be very hard to justify bus lanes on Lyndale.

        General improvements to traffic flow — like reducing access at certain wedged-in commercial driveways, and creating turn lanes in select locations — would benefit buses along with other traffic.

        1. Stuart

          “reducing access at certain wedged-in commercial driveways”

          I see what you did there.

          As far as turn lanes, when the one at Franklin is restored, that will help a lot. Restoring the multiple closed access points to Northbound 35W will help to re-distribute some of the traffic also. I currently commute through here often from my home south of Lake street to my office in Plymouth.

  5. Alex SchieferdeckerAlex Schieferdecker

    When Hennepin through downtown is completed, it will have four general travel lanes. I hope that the needle will have moved enough in the next couple years that those outer travel lanes will become bus-only.

    Other streets that should get bus lanes and are more than wide enough to accommodate them:

    Lyndale, with buses moving off Bryant and that street getting curb protected bike lanes.
    Lake, especially with the implementation of the B Line. But the #21 is unacceptably slow currently.
    7th and 8th downtown, where there should be bus lanes to provide the same benefits in the perpendicular direction as 2nd and Marquette.

  6. ae_umn

    Wait, is the suggestion here that a northbound Route 4 would take Bryant to 31st, then take a left on a 31st, and then right on northbound Hennepin?

    If so, that’s removing direct downtown access for the Lyndale corridor between LynLake and Franklin Avenue – one of the densest parts of the city.

  7. UrbanDelite

    This is great, and I was pleasantly surprised to see that the city decided to dive in on this following the experiment. The reality is that no one likes slow transit, and no one deserves slow transit.

    More, please!

  8. Brian

    I hope parking banned during only rush hours works better than 2nd Ave in downtown. The city is quick to ticket at 4 pm, but it still takes 30 to 45 minutes to tow the offenders. I suspect enforcement will not be as good outside downtown.

  9. Steve Gjerdingen

    What if they made the bus-lanes “bus-only” for the entirety of the day but made them available for residents to park in overnight? With the lack of overnight parking in uptown this seems like it could be a win/win for residents and the corridor itself.

  10. Janne

    I have been catching the bus on Hennepin at 22nd for decades. Most (all?) of Hennepin between Franklin and Lake have been signed “no parking during rush hour” as long as I’ve lived here.

    Many Metro Transit drivers have long used the “no parking during rush hour” zones to navigate around congestion. However, the lack of striping meant that car drivers put their vehicles all over the place, and there was invariably a driver infringing on the parking lane so much that a bus couldn’t get by.

    The rush-hour bus-only lanes have a negligible to zero impact on parking on Hennepin, while clearly indicating to drivers where to put their cars so Metro Transit drivers can get by. In my (limited) observation, since the bus lanes have been painted, solo commuters are pretty consistently staying in their lane.

  11. Karl

    What was the rational for not going with a full bus lane from Franklin to Uptown Transit Center in both directions?

    Also, I believe Metro Transit is looking at trimming stops on Hennepin. This is badly needed to speed up service not only on Hennepin but probably most North/South routes between downtown and Lake Street across the board.

  12. Nate

    As a side note, what’s going on with the new contraflow bus lanes on 28th Street between the Wells Fargo Home Mortgage campus and Nicollet? The design at Stevens Ave. is odd to say the least– it appears westbound buses will have to drive into the eastbound traffic lanes to navigate around the curb bump out that was built earlier this summer. It looks like the 21 (no letter) has a new route up 4th, west on 28th, and then south on Nicollet to avoid Lake at 35W. Anyone know if this is meant to be permanent, or just avoiding construction congestion?

  13. Matt Brillhart

    I’ve long thought that southbound Hennepin (Franklin to 28th St) could support a single general purpose travel lane, allowing the outer traffic lane to bus/bike only, and retain curbside parking. This option should be considered in a future full reconstruction. It would require the same amount of ROW as the current setup, while potentially preserving some curbside parking (where appropriate or most needed). Banning all southbound left turns sounds like a crazy dramatic change, but it’s actually close to the status quo today.

    Left turns are currently banned at Franklin and 22nd St at all times. Left turns are banned at 24th, 25th, and 27th during both rush hours, and left turns don’t exist at 26th because it is a one-way westbound. During either rush hour, 28th Street is actually the first legal left turn for southbound traffic.

    However, I don’t know how strictly this signed left-turn ban is actually enforced. If there were only a single southbound lane, it would somewhat self-enforce as other drivers would not tolerate lawbreaking left-turners, laying on the horn. Rush hour left turns into private driveways / parking lots are probably legal today, but I’d make those illegal as well, using midblock medians if necessary. There’s no practical reason anyone should need to turn left from southbound Hennepin anyways, as those destinations can all be accessed by instead taking southbound Lyndale (from downtown) and making a right turn onto the desired cross street.


    1. Andrew Evans

      See my comment earlier about what would be 3 lanes of traffic (center turn lane) and then 2 lanes for bus and a bike path. Monte had a good reply that went over numbers, and that may or may not work on Hennepin.

      Although I don’t drive it regularly, I think most traffic or enough of it don’t make left turns. That said, if someone is going to the Wedge, or Lyles, or some place, it can be tricky to turn around if they don’t take a left right away on Franklin. However in a way that’s similar to some areas of downtown where there isn’t a left or right option for a handful of blocks around Nicollet.

      I do like your idea of barriers, and if you take out buses and traffic I do feel 1 lane should be enough to scoot cars down around 28th or farther. It really doesn’t help things that those exits to 94 are used by as many people, and that the road also goes into downtown. I’d have to wonder out loud if (in a dream world) expanding 26th and 28th to an expanded 3rd or some place where there could be new freeway exits.

      Also as some others mentioned, freeway construction doesn’t help, and once that’s done things should get better.

  14. Joe

    In the meantime run #6 limited stops along the Henn Ave segment at all times
    .Routes 4 & 17 has high frequency every 15mins for local stops along Henn Ave.

  15. Tim

    It make no sense to run both 6 &17 local on Hennenpin when the 6 can skip stops to speed up the buses up Too often the 2 buses are trialing each other the 4 also

  16. Andrew Evans

    Yes a late comment, but for what it’s worth I took Lyndale up from 32nd to get onto 94w between 4:30 and 5pm yesterday.

    Took about 15 min to get from where I started to get through the Franklin lights. Then another short 20 min to get onto the freeway. I was in the left lane the whole time, and the trip could have been a few min faster if I moved around some left turning traffic at intersections.

    I’d be better if there were longer left hand turn lights or signals, and a barrier to prevent people from left turning mid block. Although the only instances of that I saw were drivers going south and making those turns. That said, the real bottleneck for me was getting on the freeway and merging between Lyndale and Hennepin.

    The poor design was really to merge those two streets like that, and have them lead into a freeway onramp. I’m not sure there is an easy solution since there isn’t another major north/south route to get to a freeway.

    I know it’s Lyndale, but I’d assume Hennepin has similar issues especially when it gets up around Franklin.

    Biking wouldn’t have been too bad, traffic wasn’t going fast enough to have been a problem. I feel it’s worse when there is less traffic and more speeding.

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