Bus advocates lobbying City Hall for more bus-only lanes throughout Downtown

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Posted at 4:46 PM, Apr 23, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-23 17:16:30-04

CINCINNATI — Just a few months after the city installed its first Downtown bus-only lane, advocates are lobbying City Hall for more, along with other "low-hanging fruit" solutions to improve Cincinnati Metro bus service.

Members of the grassroots Better Bus Coalition on Tuesday proposed adding rush-hour bus-only lanes Downtown along Fourth, Fifth, Seventh and Ninth streets — four of Metro's heaviest cross-neighborhood routes. Fourth and Fifth also see heavy bus traffic from the Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky.

"We chose Downtown because all of our Metro buses — and some TANK buses — go Downtown," said Mark Samaan, a member of the coalition who presented the group's proposals to City Council's Education, Innovation and Growth Committee.

Under the coalition's proposal, the city would convert a parking lane on Fifth and Seventh streets to a bus-only lane during the morning rush hours of 7-9 and would do the same on Fourth and Ninth streets during the afternoon rush hours of 4-6.

The proposal is similar to the one that ultimately became the first bus-only lane.

After rounds of lobbying in 2018, the Better Bus Coalition convinced City Council to approve the installation of a bus-only lane along the right parking lane on Main Street between Fifth and the Hamilton County Courthouse. Parking in that lane was already restricted between 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m., but the new bus-lane configuration means vehicles cannot drive in that lane during rush hours, either.

Like the Main Street bus lane, these additional bus lanes would not sacrifice parking because it is already restricted on those corridors during rush hour.

Committee chair P.G. Sittenfeld praised the Main Street bus lane and, along with the rest of the committee, showed interest in learning more about adding other bus lanes.

"Zero people have given me negative feedback," he said.

Sittenfeld asked Samaan to elaborate on challenges of implementing these new bus-only lanes. Samaan mentioned Fourth Street would pose the biggest challenge, with a bump-out reducing the number of lanes between Walnut and Vine streets and valet parking outside the Renaissance Hotel.

Enforcement of the new rule quickly proved a challenge, any many riders used social media to share photos of vehicles parked illegally in the bus lane during the restricted hours with no citation or officer in sight.

Since the first weeks, however, Better Bus Coalition President Cam Hardy said, "I see a lot more enforcement."

The coalition also proposed traffic signal priority for buses at specific intersections — primarily those where congestion and bus traffic is high, like around Government Square and along intersections at Central Parkway and Liberty Street.

Depending how it would be implemented, one option would create a signal cycle that gets a notification that a bus is approaching and keeps its green light green for a short, extra amount of time to let the bus through.

An alternative would add a bus-only signal to the traffic signal cycle, allowing the bus to move before other vehicles at the intersection get their green light. The streetcar has a handful of signals like this throughout Downtown and Over-the-Rhine.

All of these measures, Samaan said, are meant to make Metro service more reliable.

"Keeping your buses on time is one of the best ways to stabilize ridership and attract new riders," he said.

Hardy said these "fixes" are just a step toward boosting Metro service: "The big picture here is a levy. What we're doing here today is identifying low-hanging fruit."