Promising Promises

A sight for sore eyes

I was greeted at the top of the stairs by a smiling face.  “Here for the Metro Transit meeting?” the first Greeter asked before directing me down to the basement of the Midtown Exchange building on a journey to a conference room in the deepest bowels of the hulking structure, guided only by my wits, a second Greeter, a week’s supply of pemmican, and a distant signboard, on which through the haze could be made out a map of the Twin Cities Metro marked with bold yellow lines: the candidate corridors for Arterial Transitways.

Upon entry to the conference room, it quickly became evident how Metro Transit could afford two Greeters for their meeting.  There were probably 10 staff members there, and in the hour or so I was at the meeting the ratio of public to staff briefly was as high as 1:1.  The effect was that the meeting was a walking, talking version of the overview pdf on Metro Transit’s website.  It took me an hour to peruse the 20 or so signboards because every 5-10 minutes a staff member would approach me to ask what I thought.

Senior Transit Planner

Which was great.  Transit planners are second only to bicycle planners as the coolest clique of the Transportation Planning & Engineering world, and I gotta say transit planners are more interesting in the hippie-neighbor-who-sleeps-on-his-porch sort of way.  Also there were some staff from SRF, the consultants on the project, who, like most transportation consultants, feature a massive highway project on their home page.  They were nice.

Back to the signboards – in addition to about 10 mostly drawn from the overview pdf, there were 11 that summarized each of the proposed rapid bus services, including proposed frequencies and station locations.  It wasn’t really the right atmosphere for whipping out a camera or even a notebook, so I’m not going to try to dig specifics out of my funhouse mirror of a memory.  However, I’m not afraid to list a few general observations:

  • All corridors are proposed to be overlaid on local bus service (except for American Blvd), but these will not be 50s series routes – they will be frequent and all-day.
  • Stations were a bit more closely spaced than I expected – they averaged 2 stations per mile, but in many neighborhoods they were closer to every 1/4 mile, and Downtown they retained the existing stop pattern I think.
  • On most routes, the stops chosen for inclusion in the rapid bus route represented the vast majority of boardings on the route anyway.  The one example I remember specifically (as long as you don’t quote me) is the Lake St-Marshall route, which mostly had stations closer than every 1/2 mile between Uptown and Minnehaha, but the stops chosen to be upgraded represented all but 3% of boardings.

It seems as though they’re still trying to work out the details of what the stations would consist of.  Based on what the staff said, even off-board ticket machines (wonkily referred to as TVMs) could be chucked and replaced with a 2nd GoTo reader at the rear door.  They had us do a little exercise where we voted for up to five station feature to prioritize – confusingly, even shelters and benches were on the ballot.  Would they really consider not including those at a stop that met their boarding requirement?

Besides maybe the station details, it seems as though the study is basically done.  The summary on SRF’s website is in past tense, and even states that

The outcome of the study was a prioritization plan for the arterial corridors based on the outcomes of concept development, constructability assessment, and stakeholder involvement.

The overview pdf, meanwhile, says that the “Next Steps” are to prioritize routes, bringing up the question of just which stakeholders were or will be involved.  But I don’t really care as long as  the report is published in February 2012 as planned.

Check out what these other cities have done

What happens after that is anyone’s guess.  I’m hoping there will be an implementation section in the study report, but there were no details at the meeting.  My questions about funding were met with hems and haws.  We’re not talking about a stadium or anything here; I thought I heard an estimate of $10-15m per corridor (for reference, the one-mile Riverside Ave reconstruction will cost $12m) and the overview pdf implies $1-3m per mile.  My guess is that only the uniquely American talent for spending way too much on infrastructure projects could inflate that cost, considering it’s for something as simple as enhanced bus service, or, as it’s called in the rest of the world, bus service.  A wag on minnescraper has dubbed this proposal Baby BRT, but if it’s actually implemented, it will be a real coming-of-age for Metro Transit.

This chart is actually from Public Works' Results Mpls report, but it shows why Minneapolis is likely to get one of the first Rapid Bus lines

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4 comments on “Promising Promises

  1. I wish I could have made it. Did they say anything about these improvements possibly being reused down the road if streetcars are reintroduced? It looks like the BRT routes are a lot of the same routes they were discussing streetcars on.

    Anything that can get down Lake-Marshall faster I’m all for. Readers at the rear doors I think is a clever idea. I can see a lot of people jumping on the bus to catch it at the last moment and skipping the reader at the bus stop.

  2. Alex says:

    They didn’t say anything about reusing the improvements for streetcars, although I don’t see why they couldn’t. If I remember right, Minneapolis isn’t looking at center-running stations, so I’d think they could reuse most of the elements.

    When I asked about how specifically this study would integrate with streetcars, they said that Minneapolis would use their study as the bus alternative to streetcars. In other words, Metro Transit is hell-bent on buses (or at least incredulous about streetcars), but Minneapolis could switch from streetcars to buses.

  3. [...] about this last fall on streets.mn’s predecessor site, TC Streets for People, and twice on my personal blog.  The following week will see the first meetings on bus route restructuring around Central [...]

  4. [...] a wiser move would be to spread streetcar money out to a wider range of routes using much cheaper Baby BRT improvements.  (All the Minneapolis segments of the proposed Rapid Bus routes could be built for [...]

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