A three-day pilot this week will bring bus-only lanes to a portion of traffic-clogged Hennepin Avenue during rush hour to see if they might speed up one of the region’s slowest corridors.
Metro Transit and the city of Minneapolis are teaming up for the experiment, which will run Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday between Franklin Avenue and the Uptown Transit Station. The idea is to gauge whether lanes reserved for buses will improve reliability and provide riders with quicker and more consistent travel times, as MnPass lanes on I-35W, I-35E and I-394 do for motorists, said Metro Transit Senior Planner Michael Mechtenberg.
Don’t worry, drivers: No traffic lanes will be sacrificed for the test. But curbside parking will go away to make room for the special lanes. Specifically, the test is from 6 to 10 a.m. on northbound Hennepin between 26th Street and Franklin Avenue and from 3 to 7:30 p.m. on the southbound side from 26th Street to the Uptown Transit Center near Lake Street.
The transit agency floated the idea to test the lanes after it was tried in other parts of the country. Metro Transit chose Hennepin because the stretch connecting downtown with the Chain of Lakes area is transit heavy. Every day, more than 400 buses run along the corridor, and more than 3,300 passengers board between Lake Street and Franklin Avenue.
All those buses and riders go nowhere fast at peak periods. Speeds routinely fall to as slow as 6 miles per hour, particularly for northbound routes when traffic jams on Interstate 94 ripple back to form big bottlenecks on Hennepin. The lanes will allow buses to bypass congestion, Mechtenberg said.
“Riders don’t like unexpected delays, and bus lanes are designed to avoid those,” he said.
Of course, drivers will be affected. That’s part of the study, too, said Robin Hutcheson, director of Minneapolis Public Works.
“We’re excited about this,” she said. “We thought it was a worthwhile trial, to try something for a couple of days and see if it would do what we thought it would do.”
The trial is limited to three days that simulate typical travel conditions. Mondays and Fridays are not included because traffic volume is often lower then, Hutcheson said.
Both the city and Metro Transit will collect data and use the results to determine if bus lanes are the right answer for Hennepin, or possibly for other crowded corridors in the city. Both parties also hope to learn if other strategies, such as eliminating some bus stops as well as adding the special lanes, might be effective in keeping buses on schedule and make riding them more attractive than driving.
“This is not an effort to hinder vehicle traffic, but to incentivize transit,” Hutcheson said. “If transit is reliable and it meets expectations of being the best way to reach their destination, then that can lighten traffic on the network.”
RCI coming to Hwy. 65
MnDOT will build a reduced conflict intersection (RCI) on Hwy. 65 at 187th Avenue NE. this summer and will show off the plans from 3 to 7 p.m. Thursday at Ham Lake City Hall, 15544 Central Av. NE. At these intersections, drivers reaching a divided highway from a cross street are not allowed to make left turns or cross traffic. Instead, they are required to turn right onto the highway, then make a U-turn at a designated median opening. They can make a right turn to continue on the cross street. RCIs are shown to reduce conflict points and “T-bone” crashes.
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