Streetsblog seems pretty excited about the proposed new busway on 34th Street in New York City. Rightly so as it is the city’s first separated busway, and would cut travel times across the city by 35%, according to the Transport Politic. It’s not bus rapid transit (BRT), since it is still slow according to Freemark, but it does bring a number of welcome improvements. Bus travel lanes are separated from normal traffic, pedestrians should be safer thanks to refuges and wider sidewalks, and the middle of the route includes a block-long pedestrian plaza.
I written here before and even entertained a guest who talked about what it would take to improve transit in the crowded Hennepin/Nicollet transit corridors of Minneapolis. The key improvement of the NYC proposal, mode separation, would be a major boost to travel time, rider experience and a market signal on par with LRT or a streetcar. So could it work?
Hennepin Ave with a crude busway model
There seems to be enough right of way. Including parking, there are 6 lanes along most of Hennepin between Franklin and Lake Street. This looks to be similar to the situation in New York City. The key difference is that in NYC, the street is a one way. Two lanes of traffic travel in the same direction, with a third lane mid block for parking and deliveries. So if you kept Hennepin two-way, that would mean one lane of travel in each direction, with three lanes at the intersections (I suppose for turn lanes). Much of the on-street parking would be lost, but some would be retained mid-block, perhaps one third of what currently exists.
So could Hennepin survive with a single travel lane in each direction? The traffic engineers would have to weigh in on that. If you highlighted Hennepin as a transit corridor, you could potentially reduce car trips and move cars to alternate routes. This highlights a weakness of Minneapolis. New York City is still a highly connected grid. In Minneapolis, many of the connections to downtown and beyond have been severed by the I-94 corridor, so any attempt to reduce the access by car on one of the few remaining connections is bound to be met with much wailing and gnashing of teeth.
But that’s not to say it wouldn’t be possible. Perhaps Lyndale becomes the main north-south car route through the area, and Hennepin is reconfigured to focus on transit and bicycles. Car space would just be reduced, not eliminated, and the busway would only really need to go to Lake Street. Drivers would soon adapt, and maybe even ride the bus a little bit more.