A transformation of bus service along a north Minneapolis corridor could be constructed earlier than initially anticipated, according to Metro Transit.
The $35 million line would travel 8.6 miles from Brooklyn Center to downtown Minneapolis, primarily along the high-ridership Penn Avenue. It was initially slated to open in 2017, but the delay of a similar project on St. Paul's West 7th Street has bumped it up in the priority list.
Depending on whether a number of existing grants can be redirected and how the community responds, Metro Transit's bus rapid transit manager Charles Carlson said the Penn line could be built in 2016. Carlson presented an update on the line to a Metropolitan Council committee on Monday night.
Unlike bus rapid transit, which traditionally uses dedicated lanes, so-called "arterial" bus rapid transit aims to improve urban bus routes with many features now found at light rail stops. The first Twin Cities line will roll out next year on Snelling Avenue.
The Penn line would include heated shelters, fewer stops, real-time arrival information, traffic signal priority, pre-boarding payment, transit maps and better security at stops. Narrow sidewalks would be widened to accommodate the new amenities and curb "bumpouts" would allow the bus to pick up passengers in its travel lane.
Buses now carry 26 percent of the people traveling on Penn Avenue every day, but comprise just 2 percent of the vehicles, according to Metro Transit. Its importance is only likely to grow with the construction two planned light rail lines nearby: Southwest and Bottineau.
Penn Avenue is also the site of some of the greatest disparities between ridership and transit amenities in the Twin Cities. About 7,000 people ride the No. 19 bus everyday, but Star Tribune analyses have shown there are few bus shelters or benches along the corridor.
"What [bus rapid transit] would do by extending the curbs out and having…space for the infrastructure, is it brings the road’s infrastructure much more in line with the function that transit provides along these roadways," Carlson said.
Metro Transit projects that with the new rapid bus line, ridership could reach 9,000 a day. The local 19 bus would not be eliminated, but would run with reduced frequency.
While the number of stops would be reduced, Carlson said the vast majority of passengers would still be served at their current stops.
Carlson said the ability of passengers to pay before boarding the bus -- such as on light rail -- will reduce the idling time at each stop. The ability to extend some green lights as the bus approaches also helps.
“What contributes to delays is being stopped at red lights and a big one is slow boarding times as a function of fare payment," Carlson said. "So what we’re doing with arterial BRT is going after those biggest sources of delay.”
Most of the funding for the line comes from various federal programs, though state bonding dollars played a key role in funding the first corridor along Snelling Avenue.
Similar bus improvements have already been implemented in several other cities across the country, including Seattle and Kansas City.