Better Bus Coalition proposes bus lane pilot program for Downtown

CINCINNATI -- If one grassroots coalition of bus riders is convincing enough, parts of Downtown could see some transit-only traffic lanes -- at least at certain times of day, on a trial period.

The Better Bus Coalition is set to present its "Better Bus Plan Metrovision 2025" to City Council's Education, Innovation and Growth Committee Tuesday afternoon. Part of that proposal for the beleaguered Cincinnati Metro bus system: a bus lane pilot program along Main Street in the Central Business District.

The pilot program would dedicate the far right lane of Main Street between Fifth Street and Central Parkway to bus travel only during the morning and evening rush hours of 7-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m. The proposed trial would not impact current on-street parking and loading zones, which are already suspended during peak drive times.

Proposed Main Street rush hour transit-only lanes, with priority signals throughout. (Provided)

"Our goal is to provide council with realistic solutions to help improve transit in our region," said Cam Hardy, president of the Better Bus Coalition. "This sets the stage for more bus stop infrastructure."

The Main Street corridor Hardy is proposing serves 20 Metro routes, including the top five most ridden routes. During peak hours, it sees as many as 60 buses per hour during rush hour. Throughout an entire day, the corridor carries more than 1,000 buses and 24,000 riders.

Current service and traffic levels mean it could take a bus as long as 15 minutes to traverse up Main Street from Fifth to Central Parkway. A bus-only lane would shorten that time to three minutes, according to the Better Bus Coalition's analysis.

Exploring transit-dedicated lanes was only one of multiple recommendations the Better Bus Coalition presented to council Tuesday. Among the others:

  • More stops with benches and/or shelters, with high volume stops getting priority for these accommodations
  • More Americans with Disabilities Act-compliant curbs and waiting areas
  • Tap card payment system (versus on-board, cash fare box)

Those are the Better Bus Coalition's short-term solutions for improving Metro service, Hardy said. The organization also has recommendations for long-term bus service growth, including -- pending results of the pilot program -- as many as four bus rapid transit routes, new crosstown routes, new express routes, new transit hubs and 24/7 service on most major corridors.

"It's not enough for us to be just talking about the issue," Hardy said. "There are people on council who say they support bus service and always have. Now we're giving them an opportunity to show us their support."

Cincinnati Metro is facing a gaping budget deficit over the next decade if the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority cannot find a new, permanent source of funding.

The coalition has come out in support of a new, county-wide sales tax levy as that new source of funding, but has not endorsed a specific tax rate increase. SORTA -- which has the authority to propose sales tax levies by the tenth of a percent -- outlined the various options late last year. The transit agency's board of trustees has yet to vote on a specific ballot measure.

The group will present its plan to council members at 2 p.m. Tuesday.

Pat LaFleur reports on transportation and mobility for WCPO. Connect with him on Twitter (@pat_laFleur) and on Facebook.

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