Snelling Avenue and West Seventh Street, both in St. Paul, have emerged as the initial candidates for a new form of “urban” bus rapid transit (BRT) service in the Twin Cities area.
They are recommended in a study of 11 densely developed and heavily traveled urban streets that were evaluated by Metro Transit with the help of SRF Consulting, an engineering, planning and design firm based in Minneapolis.
The new service — dubbed “Rapid Bus” — would include such features as distinctive vehicles with traffic signal priority, heated bus shelters spaced a half-mile apart, off-vehicle fare collection, real-time travel information, more frequent service and faster trips.
“BRT service has been proven in other markets and provides faster travel times and better customer facilities that lead to higher ridership,” says Charles Carlson, manager of transitway projects for Metro Transit, an operating arm of the Metropolitan Council.
The 11 arterial corridors that were studied already are among Metro Transit’s most productive routes, collectively generating 86,000 rides per weekday. That’s nearly half of the ridership on system’s urban routes.
The study found that the greatest causes of travel delays in these corridors are red lights and delays during passenger boarding.
BRT would address these problems by giving buses traffic signal priority, providing limited stop service, operating buses that allow level floor boarding using both doors, and employing off-vehicle ticketing and fare collection.
Such improvements can be implemented relatively quickly and at a capital cost of $3 million to $4 million per mile, far less than streetcars or light rail transit (LRT). Based on the study and the experience of other regions, the new BRT service could reduce travel times by up to 30 percent and boost transit ridership by 20 to 40 percent.
Carlson says Snelling Avenue emerged as a priority because it would complement the new Central Corridor LRT line now under construction on University Avenue, offering a link east or west for BRT patrons traveling from the north or the south.
The Snelling Avenue line would run 9.7 miles from the Rosedale transit center in Roseville to Highland Village in St. Paul, and then west to the I-35W/46th Street transit station in Minneapolis. The estimated capital cost is $26.8 million.
The West Seventh Street line would run 12.2 miles from downtown St. Paul to Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport and the Mall of America. It would offer a quick connection to the Central Corridor LRT line in downtown St. Paul. The estimated capital cost is $25.4 million.
Carlson says part of the appeal of West Seventh is that Metro Transit already operates limited-stop service, so the improvements offered by BRT could be easily integrated.
After Snelling and West Seventh, the corridors next on the priority list are West Broadway Avenue and Chicago Avenue in Minneapolis.
The study comes at a time when both the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul are exploring the idea of resurrecting streetcar service on some of the same urban streets. The capital cost of streetcar lines averages about $20 million to $40 million a mile, according to the study.
Carlson said Metro Transit will cooperate with the cities in the study of alternatives – including both BRT and streetcars – on Nicollet Avenue, Central Avenue and Lake Street in Minneapolis, and South Robert Street in St. Paul and Dakota County.
Metro Transit now is in the process of seeking public feedback on its BRT study. The agency held public open houses this week in St. Paul and Richfield, and plans two more next week in St. Paul’s Midway area and downtown Minneapolis.
After that, Carlson said, the next steps remain to be determined. He said there are no funds in hand for the first projects, but that Metro Transit would hope to identify multiple funding sources for the Snelling Avenue project and complete it in time for the opening of the Central Corridor LRT line in 2014.
The Met Council’ Transportation Policy Plan has identified “arterial BRT” as one of the tools needed to double transit ridership by 2030 — to expand transportation options, improve mobility and ease traffic congestion
The council is already in the midst of developing more pricy “highway BRT” lines in two corridors — I-35W south of downtown Minneapolis and Cedar Avenue in between Apple Valley and the Mall of America.
These projects include limited access roadways such as managed lanes, bus-only shoulder lanes and ramp meter bypasses in portions of the corridor, as well as park-and-ride lots and several on-line stations that allow for rapid passenger boarding in the middle of the highway.