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Snelling Avenue bus rapid transit planning gets underway for 2015

Posted on 11 April 2013 by robwas66

Bus rapid transit planning for Snelling Avenue gets underway this spring. Area district councils are among the groups that will have representatives on the Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Community Advisory Committee.

Bus rapid transit planning for Snelling Avenue gets underway this spring. Area district councils are among the groups that will have representatives on the Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Community Advisory Committee.

By JANE MCCLURE

Bus rapid transit planning for Snelling Avenue gets underway this spring. Area district councils are among the groups that will have representatives on the Snelling Avenue Bus Rapid Transit Community Advisory Committee. If all goes as planned construction would start next year, with the service starting in 2015.

The committee will have its first meeting May 15 and will meet quarterly during 2013. Members will work with a technical team and the Metropolitan Council, weighing in on ideas for the project. Most area groups made their appointments to the advisory committee last month.

In 2012 Snelling Avenue emerged as the Metropolitan Council’s top choice for a bus rapid transit line, after a number of bus lines were studied. The line eyed is 9.7 miles long, from Rosedale Center in Roseville to the 46th Street Station and a connection to Hiawatha Line light rail transit. It would travel along Snelling Avenue and Ford Parkway in St. Paul and would intersect with Central Corridor light rail and more than a dozen other bus lines.

Katie Roth of Metro Transit has been meeting with area district councils and other groups to keep them updated on the bus rapid transit plans and recruit community advisory committee members. “There is very strong interest in rapid bus and in participation in the committee,” she said.

The community advisory council will include representatives of area district councils, City Council appointees, at-large community representatives and representatives of Macalester College and Hamline University. The 23-member committee will work with Metropolitan Council, city, county and state transportation officials to plan the project.

“There’s a lot of excitement and interest in this project,” said Union Park District Council Land Use Committee Chairperson Anne White.

But one wrinkle in the Snelling study is that it is also being considered as a possible route for a streetcar, in a City of St. Paul. Snelling is one of 18 routes under consideration, said City Planner Michelle Beaulieu. She said Snelling should remain on the table as a possible streetcar route but that it’s likely the funds to build rapid bus would be found first. The city’s streetcar study is several months away from winnowing down its routes to a few preferred streets.

Bus rapid transit is meant to provide faster service than traditional bus service. Streets eyed for rapid buses are streets with high transit demand, where light rail transit wouldn’t be feasible due to issues including a lack of right-of-way.

Currently Snelling Avenue’s Route 84 runs every 15 minutes during weekday rush hour periods and every half-hour during non-rush hour periods. Rapid bus would run every 10 minutes, but with stops every half mile.

Rapid bus would not mean the end of Route 84 but would most likely mean less frequent service on that route.

Bus rapid transit would have stops every half mile. It would include service amenities similar to those of light rail, including in-stop fare boxes and payment of fares at stations rather than while boarding, heated shelters and security cameras in shelters. Buses would be lower for easier boarding. Wheelchairs and strollers would not have to wait for a platform to be raised and lowered, but could simply roll right onto the bus.

The exact designs of buses and features such as bicycle boarding have yet to be determined, Roth said.

Bus rapid transit is seen by its proponents as creating a faster, higher quality service. That in turn would attract more riders. That means fewer bus stops. Buses would also be able to “hold” a traffic signal for a few extra seconds along Snelling, so that buses could get through the intersections more quickly.

But rapid bus transit would mean the end of Route 144 and the loss of the I-94 express bus stop at Snelling Avenue. Those changes are already recommended in a bus plan tied to Central Corridor, which Metropolitan Council approved last year. Those and other service changes will be made in 2014 when Central Corridor begins operations.

Roth said the goal of this year’s study process is to gather community input and get ready for a construction start in 2014. Initially Metro Transit had hoped to have rapid bus up and running by the time the light rail line starts. But a number of factors have pushed the project back. The goal now is to have the rapid bus line ready for operations in time for the 2015 Minnesota State Fair. Metropolitan Council members had initially hoped to have service up and running by the time Central; Corridor light rail starts operations in 2014, but more time is needed to plan the project.

Snelling is one of the area’s busier bus routes. It is served by the Route 84 bus, which carries an average of 3,600 riders each weekday. Service is 15 minutes during rush hours and every half hour the rest of the day. Initial estimates indicate that a switch to bus rapid transit would decrease trip time by 27 percent.

The staff team is currently working on preliminary traffic studies, Roth said.

A meeting location hasn’t been chosen yet but it will be on the Route 84 line, Roth said. The meetings will be open to the public, with hearings during the process. One hearing is expected in late spring or summer.

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