A simple idea to help keep buses moving past highway congestion is celebrating a milestone.
This fall, the Twin Cities metro area surpassed 300 miles of bus-only shoulders after a new stretch of shoulder was approved for use along Highway 65 near National Sports Center in Blaine.
Buses operating on those roadways can take to the shoulder when traffic is traveling at speeds less than 35 miles an hour, moving past traffic and getting bus riders to their destinations faster.
Bus-only shoulders allow buses to bypass congestion on highways and provide more reliable travel times for transit users.
A smart strategy that works
Metro Transit and MnDOT first experimented with bus-only shoulders along Highway 252 in 1991, with the goal of moving commuters through congestion and encouraging transit use in congested corridors.
The results? Buses could stay on schedule, bus customers got to work or home faster and ridership increased. At the same time, MnDOT could make better use of existing lane capacity without major construction.
The idea was generated through Team Transit, a partnership among MnDOT, Metro Transit, regional transit providers, cities and counties. The group advocates for transit advantages along highways, including bus-only shoulders, park-and-ride lots and ramp meter bypasses.
Team Transit expanded the initiative in 1993, when the region experienced severe congestion after several roadways closed due to flooding of the Minnesota River.
“It’s a smart strategy that really works,” said Metro Transit General Manager Brian Lamb. “Our customers benefit from faster, more consistent travel times, and general traffic also benefits by having fewer large vehicles in travel lanes.”
By 1999 there were more than 100 miles of bus-only shoulders, and the 200-mile mark was crossed in 2003. More recently, as roadways suitable for bus service are built or reconstructed, shoulders are strengthened or widened and signs are installed to mark the transit advantage.
“By allowing transit vehicles to use shoulders, we can move more people faster and with minimal investment,” said Carl Jensen, MnDOT Transit Team project manager. “Since shoulder use is built into current roadway projects, the transit advantage adds capacity without adding significant cost,” he added.
Three times more bus-only shoulders than rest of U.S. combined
Today 130 regional bus routes use a bus-only shoulder for at least part of their trip. Many of these are express routes with service to 120-plus park-and-ride lots that have easy access to freeways and can bypass ramp meters.
Other metro regions have looked to Team Transit’s experience as their transportation departments have researched and implemented their own systems. Currently, bus-only shoulders are in use in more than 10 other states and in several countries.
The Twin Cities remains a leader with three times the lane miles of bus-only shoulders than the rest of the country combined.