It is late April in Minneapolis and still no sign of spring. The past few days have seen more snow and rain, including enough snow on Thursday to cause the Nice Ride bike sharing system to shut down and Metro Transit bus routes to be significantly delayed. According to locals it is unusually cold for this time of year. Of course.
The snow hasn't stopped me from exploring the transit system and biking the many trails. While there is certainly a long way to go, the Twin Cities and Metro Transit have made great progress in improving the speed, reliability and usefulness of public transportation. Aside from one recently added light rail line, Minneapolis is a bus-only downtown. That means it welcomes more buses than much larger cities like Boston and New York which are served almost exclusively by fast, high-capacity subways.
Metro Transit groups bus routes onto shared corridors, which helps orient passengers, facilitate transfers and justify the cost of service and facility improvements.
The best example of bus priority is the pair of bus lanes for suburban express routes. Buses operate northbound along Marquette Ave and southbound along 2 Ave S in two bus lanes that run in the opposite direction as other traffic. During rush hour there is a constant stream of buses on both streets.
Other corridors are still in need of improvement. Nicollet Mall, a two-lane street intended for buses and bicycles handles several local routes and is hampered by an arbitrary 10 mph speed limit and no passing room. This is a picture from the central library showing Nicollet Mall as well as 4 St which hosts four of the busiest routes in the region: 3, 16, 50, 94.
Hennepin Ave, 7 St and 8 St serve many buses per hour all day but have no dedicated lanes and force buses to be delayed in mixed traffic. No bus lanes exist in St Paul, even though all Metro Transit buses are concentrated on two one-way street pairs. Most of the streets in both downtowns are very wide and entirely devoted to mixed traffic. There is so much opportunity to improve transit speed, reliability and effectiveness by creating dedicated bus running ways; hopefully that's in the future.