In “Legislators, back BRT” (Opinion Exchange, May 4), Minneapolis City Council Member Andrea Jenkins and Hennepin County Commissioner Angela Conley exhorted the Legislature to provide the remainder of the funding necessary to implement the planned D Line “bus rapid transit” (BRT) system along the current Route 5 bus line on Chicago and Fremont Avenues in Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center. They claimed that the planned D Line system would cut 20% off the transit commute time between Brooklyn Center and the Mall of America. Such a claim is unfounded, because Chicago Avenue is the wrong kind of road for a BRT system.
The planned D Line for Chicago Avenue would be unlike any other BRT system in that, instead of creating dedicated roadways or dedicated bus lanes for the new D Line buses, the system would actually take away “lanes” (or road space) or other ways by which cars could get around buses and buses could get around cars. Without the ability to get around a slower vehicle, traffic on long stretches of Chicago Avenue would be limited to the speed of the slowest vehicle (whether a bus or car), thereby increasing the travel time for all traffic.
The problem lies with the proposed construction of concrete cutouts or “curb-outs” at the stops for the planned D Line buses. The “curb-outs” are designed as concrete extensions of existing sidewalks into the driving lanes on the street, which would eliminate the parking spaces and block the bicycle lanes currently at those areas. The curbing would be raised to match the height of the D Line bus doors, making ingress and egress into the new buses easier. While this may be nice, what is notable is that the D Line buses would not be pulling over to the curb to pick up and drop off passengers, as is the case with the current Route 5 buses, but would stay in the existing traffic lane — and the only traffic lane — to do so. There would be no way for cars to get around the buses. No matter how “short” a stop by D Line buses is (15 seconds, 25 seconds, or whatever), the resulting delays would be extremely frustrating for the drivers of cars and other vehicles behind them. Accidents would likely occur as frustrated drivers tried to get around — on the left, the oncoming-traffic lane.
The proposed D Line would also be frustrating for bus drivers. For example, they would be stymied in their efforts to get around cars waiting to turn left at intersections without left-turn lanes, which is the case with most intersections on Chicago Avenue. Giving a D Line bus transit-signal priority (TSP) — the ability to manipulate a stoplight (one of the features desired in “arterial bus rapid transit” (ABRT) systems) — would be of little use without “queue jump bypass lanes” (another desired feature of true ABRT systems) that D Line buses could use to get around other traffic once the TSP was engaged. However, there are no such bypass lanes on Chicago Avenue. Thus, even with TSP, D Line buses would get stuck behind slower cars or cars waiting to turn left (or right), just as current buses do.
ABRT systems were designed for dedicated roadways or dedicated bus lanes or, at the least, for roads with more than one travel lane in each direction. The success of the existing A Line system along Ford Parkway and Snelling Avenue is notable, but it shouldn’t be construed as being transferable to any and all other roads in the Twin Cities — especially one-lane roads like Chicago Avenue. The A Line wouldn’t be nearly as successful if the roads it travels were one-lane in each direction.
In 2013, Metro Transit touted the virtues of its limited-stop Route 50, which traveled along the same route as Route 16 between Minneapolis and St. Paul. (See www.metrotransit.org/route-50-limited-stops-for-longer-rides). Route 50 had half as many stops as Route 16 and decreased the transit time along the route from 60 minutes to 50 minutes — nearly 17%. It was a hit with Metro Transit riders. If Route 50 had only one-fourth the stops that Route 16 had, the time saved would have been approximately 20 minutes — or more than 33%. It follows that if the stated goal of the new D Line is to save 20% of the Route 5’s 90-minute travel time, it has been demonstrated through Route 50 that such a goal would easily be obtained through a limited-stop bus route along Chicago Avenue using the newly designed buses and requiring that fares be prepaid. (It is interesting — or ironic — to note that Route 50 was replaced by a dedicated railway — Green Line light rail.)
The D Line as proposed is a misguided attempt to put a square peg into a round hole — to stick a successful system such as the A Line onto a roadway that is astoundingly inadequate to handle such a system. The Legislature should not authorize funding for the D Line as currently proposed, especially with the “curb-outs” that would do nothing but increase travel times for all vehicles along Chicago Avenue and turn the alleged “bus rapid transit” system into a $77 million boondoggle.
Mike Kmiecik is president of the South Chicago Avenue Business Alliance.