Transferring to the bus
I know we’re not supposed to judge past actions based on the standards of the present, but I’m confident that even by the standards of the early 50s it was a bad idea to replace the University Ave streetcar with a bus. Anyone who has taken the 16 knows what I’m talking about: bus bunching and standing room only from morning till night, seven days a week. Imagine what it would have been like in 1960, when 30,000 more people lived in St Paul and the motorization rate was less than a third of what it is today.
That’s why I’m so excited about Central LRT – while Hiawatha was politically a good first line, Central is the first one that actually provides a long needed capacity upgrade for an existing transit route. Riders of overburdened bus lines like the 5, 6, 10, 16 and 18 have watched for years as area freeways get lane after lane added – sometimes at the expense of transit advantages – and while there is plenty of room to debate whether what’s actually being built is the ideal upgrade, it’s meaningful that with Central transit riders are finally getting a degree of equal treatment.
Not exactly a blank slate
But fixing the broken bus line is only the first step. Like an overburdened gusset plate can bring down an entire bridge, the decrepit 16 line may have had the effect of depressing bus ridership across the city of St Paul. Once the city’s transit spine is reinforced, a little work on the connecting transit, um, rib cage can have a wider effect on the utility of the system. That, in one kinda gross anatomical metaphor, is what is going on with the Central Restructuring study that Metro Transit is currently conducting.
Having been frustrated for years by attempts to take the bus to St Paul, I’ve been thinking about restructuring the bus routes there for a while. My thoughts, summarized at streets.mn, are basically that in the short term service should be shifted from a east-west orientation to a north-south one, in order to benefit from transfer opportunities to higher quality Central LRT and W 7th service. But due to Metro Transit’s relatively tight fist with its data, I’ve always been missing a crucial ingredient: the service hour budget. Basically, I can create a fantasy bus network to my heart’s content, but until I know how much service is currently provided in the area, I can’t measure exactly how far from the realm of reality my ideas are.
That all changed when Metro Transit let slip a boatload of data in its Existing Conditions report as part of the Central restructuring process. Here’s a snapshot of the weekday info:
So there are 1567.7 daily service hours to play with, or 1513 not counting the routes numbered over 300. Technically, those are up for grabs, too, and I think that a case could be made that those resources would result in more rides if allocated to a denser environment. However, while eventually I’d like the region to move to a network of locals feeding freeway BRT and LRT lines in place of specialized-destination express buses, in the short term I think there is political value in maintaining suburban coverage with expresses, and moreover these particular expresses mostly have pretty good performance in terms of passengers per service hour (though they also tend to have higher ratios of platform time to in-service time, suggesting that they require a higher subsidy per passenger, something generally true of express routes).
Anyway, as a starting point the Central Corridor EIS listed some bus route changes that I believe are still planned as part of the restructure. Route 50 will be eliminated, saving 88.1 service hours, and route 16 will be reduced to every 20 minutes at peak and every 30 off peak, saving 135.6 service hours. My formula for Service hours (H) is Run time (R) * Daily Trips (T), where R= Route length (L) * Average speed (S) and T = Peak trips (P) * Off-peak trips (O), which can further be broken down into P=Peak buses per hour * 7.5 hours (this doesn’t correspond exactly to the hours in which peak fares are charged; I noticed that most routes had some peak frequency spilling outside of those hours, or else had extra high frequency in one peak period, and with some trial-and-error found that this best approximated the service hours listed) and O = Off-peak buses per hour * 10.5 hours (equaling an 18-hour service day, which again can be stretched or compressed by tweaking the number of buses in any given hour; at this level it wasn’t worth it to me to be any more precise). Here is a more confusing way to write it:
And here is what my restructuring ideas look like in numerical format:
Pretty close, huh? And that’s with pretty generous frequency increases – the 62, 65, and 87 all go from basically every half hour all day to every 15 minutes at rush hour, which I think is really the minimum for a useful service. Remember that a lot of these routes will actually be picking up people transferring from Central LRT to jobs on Pierce Butler or in Energy Park. For those who prefer graphical descriptions, here’s a hopefully-legible map of the restructure:
If you want to check out the details, I imported the altered routes to google maps (WordPress doesn’t seem to allow kmz uploads). Basically I took the added service assumed in the EIS – the Lexington route, the Hamline – Victoria circle line, and extending the 67 down Fairview – and I pulled a switcheroo with the 63 and the 87, extending the former from Grand up to Rosedale and the latter from Cleveland following Transfer Rd around to the Front branch of the 3. The other big change is removing service from St Clair, which is covered by the new circle line and otherwise every half-mile by north-south routes, and then extending the 80 downtown to cover the missing East Side 70 service. Here are route by route descriptions:
2: My thought was that the 2 should take on the 8 as a branch, both to make the 8 more useful and also as a way to add a bit more service to the heavily-used 2. When Tcmetro pointed out on Minnescraper that the RSIP seems to suggest extending the 2 down to Raymond, I incorporated that sensible idea. However, the 2 will still need a branch between 8th St SE and the U of M, which is evident if you look at the boarding map for this route, on which the off-campus stops with the highest boardings are on 8th. It may be that eventually another route could take over this branch, and based on my experience going to Brasa from Seward, very few people go all the way to 8th from Franklin. Taking it back to the near future, the 2 illustrates a point to keep in mind about my data: I use the longest route length to estimate the service hours in an attempt to get the most conservative estimate. So while a trip or two per hour may branch to Raymond, this estimate uses the length of the 8th St SE branch.
3: I’ve spun off the Front branch of the 3 into its own line, to be described below. The remaining 3A should remain the same with the exception – and yes I know this isn’t what’s being studied here – of some stop consolidation in Minneapolis Como.
6: I get why the 6 is included in the restructuring study despite just barely grazing the Central Corridor (the 68, in contrast, actually duplicates some LRT service yet is not included): the possibility of replacing the 6’s Eastside service with the neutered 16. I’m not necessarily opposed to it, but I just don’t see what good it will do. Don’t get me wrong, I know too well how hard it is to get a bus between Downtown and Old St Anthony, but the post-LRT 16 would not cross the river any more than the 6 does today. Moreover, the 6 is more likely to get a frequency boost if ever there are more resources put into transit than the permanently redundant 16.
16: Speaking of, I assumed the 16 would continue to follow the same route for purposes of calculating service hours, but I can see truncating it somewhere around Raymond or Oak. It also seems like the 16 could do something more useful around downtown St Paul, but I’ll be darned if I can think of what that could be.
21: My only change is to axe the detour to the Midway and let the 21 sail through on Marshall, tacking over to Selby at Lexington, which saves about a mile. Using my formula, cutting a mile at 10mph saves 6 service minutes, which at the St Paul frequency of the 21 (I believe every 15 minutes at peak and every 20 minutes off peak) adds up to 12 service hours in the course of a weekday, not bad. My formula is again conservative here, as it assumes that St Paul gets the same frequency as Lake St, which it certainly doesn’t deserve. I could see hi-frequency all the way to SPUD though.
46: I didn’t calculate the service hours and it’s not a part of the study, but on the map I showed the 46 going east on Montreal to W 7th as a replacement for its current E branch down Cleveland. They’re both about the same length, but I’d say a Montreal branch would be needed less for its own sake than for the transfer possibilities from the 54 or the 84. In addition, I actually drew these routes going over 35E because that would be a great spot for a freeway BRT station, although it seems like there are only three express buses running down there right now.
53: No changes for this route, although its frequency could be upped a bit.
60: Jarrett Walker has a saying about circle lines: “Few people want to travel in circles.” I believe this characteristic is going to be a problem for the Hamline-St Clair-Victoria-University circle line proposed in the Central EIS, but included it here as its function is merely to be a feeder. I could see the advantage of extending it down to West 7th, but I’m not sure that should be a priority. Long term, I see no reason to run a circle line here, and my ideas for longer distance routes for Hamline and Victoria are in the map below, but hard to justify until ridership picks up.
61: This route wasn’t included in the restructuring study, but I really would like to straighten out that detour down to Arlington.
62: I don’t propose any changes to the routing of the 62, but I think this is one of the routes that most deserves an increase in frequency. In fact, Metro Transit may want to bump up the frequency before Central LRT starts rolling to placate Bev Scalze, who introduced a bill this session to gut Metro Transit funding in order to further the balkanization of regional transit.
63: dreww on Minnescraper mentioned that a planner at a restructuring meeting told him Metro Transit is thinking of extending the 63 up to Raymond station. I’d go further, assigning it the entire northern segment of the 87. On the map I showed it going up through Desnoyer Park, which is currently not served by any routes, but if the Desnoyerians aren’t receptive it may also make sense to go up Cretin.
65: Not a huge deal, but I think it would provide a bit more connectivity to run this down to Grand instead of Selby. My guess is that would not even produce a noticeable change in service hours, since the Selby route twists around to get to Kellogg anyway. Cathedral Hill wouldn’t really feel a decrease in service if the 21 was bumped up to Hi Frequency for its entirety.
67: The Central EIS proposes extending the 67 down Fairview, which I think makes a lot of sense. I’m not sure if that means splitting off West Side service into its own route, but if not, I would run the 67 down Western and cross the river at Smith rather than downtown. That will save a little more than 2 miles, or around 16 service hours on a weekday assuming 15 minute peak frequency and 30 minute off-peak, but perhaps more important will create a quick way to cross the river. Undoubtedly most riders will actually want to go downtown, but they would have five opportunities to transfer to do so. Transfers to a North End or East Side route will be more difficult, but most 67 riders will be within a half-mile of an LRT station. I think this would be an interesting experiment in grid-based network structure, but if Metro Transit wants to stick to their old radial ways, it will not be a huge deal other than missing out on having a Western feeder for Central LRT.
68: Mysteriously the restructuring study ignores the 68 despite its potentially important connection with Central LRT at Regions hospital and parallel route downtown. This is another route that cries out for a simplification, which I think could be accomplished by giving it the 61’s Arlington detour. As you’ll see on the long-term map below, it could then proceed along Roselawn and terminate either at Rosedale or the Quarry. The problem is that the 68 already crosses the river onto a ridiculously serpentine Dakota County segment, so extending to the Quarry would create a 29 mile route. If that is as untenable as it seems (at an average of 15mph the route would have an almost two hour run time), the route would have to be split, and ideally that would happen under another restructuring study so some of the kinks in that route could simultaneously be straightened out. That is necessarily a long term project and also too complicated for me to figure out now, so I’ll leave it for another day.
70: Ok, so it’s not good to mess with much outside of the Central restructuring study area, but part of my plan involves unfortunately sacrificing the St Clair bus on the alter of adding more north-south routes. Its East Side segment would be taken over by the 80, which currently terminates at Sun Ray. Long term, if ridership ever builds enough to justify routes every half-mile in both directions, I would restore the St Clair bus, but send it northward up Victoria.
71: No changes in the short term for the 71, but I did forget to include it in my short term map above, so just clarifying that I don’t want to chop it.
74: Also no changes for the 74, which has surprisingly high frequency for a St Paul route. Just mentioning it because it’s not clear from the map that it would continue to cross the river.
80: As mentioned above, the 80 would assume the East Side segment of the 70. Riders who are hoping to end up at Sun Ray would have at least a couple opportunities to transfer there.
84: I assumed a pretty big bump in the 84’s frequency. I’m not sure whether some extra resources will be found for Rapid Bus of if it’ll come out of Central restructuring, but I assumed something close to the 7.5 minute effective Rapid Bus plus local frequency.
86: I added something close to what the EIS described, a bus heading up Lexington from West 7th, cutting over at Cty Rd C to Rosedale. In the long term, or as an alternative, it may be a good idea to continue up Lexington to the employment cluster along 694, which has a good 15,ooo jobs, although they’re heinously unwalkable.
87: My plan to assign the northern segment of the 87 to the 63 leaves Cleveland unserved, but the Front branch of the 3 can come to the rescue. A well-timed connection to LRT would provide comparable or better travel times to the U of M, and provide better access to the jobs in Energy Park and along Front. It may be tricky, though, to also time an easy transfer to the 63 for people who want to go from Cleveland up to the St Paul campus, but riders going to Rosedale would have have no problem catching the 84.
94: Personally I think that the improvement to transit on University Ave doesn’t go far enough, so it pains me a bit to cut the 94 so much. However, I can’t see how it would be to the advantage of Metro Transit to provide a service that would be a direct competitor to its flagship, so I would say cut it from all periods in which Central LRT is unlikely to be constantly overwhelmed. Likely all that’s left is the peak. Ideally they would combine it with one of the express services going to downtown St Paul to minimize the number of vehicles and drivers needed, but I’m not familiar enough with the express network to know what that would be. Anyway, in terms of service hours it would basically be a wash.
134: With decent local service on Cleveland this service is superfluous in my opinion.
144: Ditto. 9 service hours for the pot.
Whew. Well, hopefully the length of this post gives an indication of the complexity of this issue, which is constantly reminding me that I don’t have the perfect solution. This post is intended to throw out ideas, many of which likely should be thrown right back. The service hours formula is also intended to be an indicator of the feasibility of the ideas, but certainly isn’t a realistic plan for implementation. For one thing, I ignore platform hours. These had a surprisingly predictable percentage of total operating time (service hours + platform hours) for the routes in the restructuring study data, which for the locals was between 56% and 60%. As a result I felt safe ignoring them, since these are seemingly fixed based on the total service hours. But I really don’t have enough experience or knowledge to say that for sure. In fact, I don’t have enough knowledge or experience to be certain about any of this, and I’m a bit disconcerted at the amount of service I was able to add. So please let me know if I missed something – don’t hesitate to knock over this house of cards, because it will help me build the next one a bit stronger.
Speaking of the next one, here’s a sneak preview of my long term ideas. This is for a future with much higher transit ridership, and the only place it is anywhere near complete is in this Central restructuring area. I have no plans for a detailed post about this, but I thought it might illustrate how my short term ideas could be a stepping stone, but the question is whether Minnesota will ever want to take that step.