If the city is serious about promoting public transit, dedicated bus lanes on the Drag is a no-brainer.
Right now, the city’s two “rapid” bus routes slow to a crawl as they approach the Drag. That was painfully apparent to me as I rode north on the 803 during the afternoon rush-hour on Friday. Things were actually going quite rapidly until we hit the intersection of Lavaca and MLK. It’s at that point that the bus has to turn left onto MLK and then right onto Guad.
Just crossing MLK is a disaster, and buses often end up waiting through multiple lights for the privilege of accessing the clusterf%ck that is the Drag. It is likely that stretch of the road that has resulted in the disastrous “bunching” phenomenon, in which buses get caught in traffic and end up coming one-after-another. Unless it’s a particularly crowded day, the second bus is rendered useless and is often vacant, as all of the riders are picked up by the first bus.
In fact, as we sat in traffic on the Drag on Friday, the previous 803, which was supposed to be 12 minutes ahead of us, was right in front.
The proposed corridor plan does include an important improvement for this situation. It will create a northbound “contraflow” lane on a small section of Guadalupe between W. 18th Street and MLK. If you recall, currently that section of Guad is only southbound. With that new contraflow lane, the 801 and 803 buses going north on Lavaca will now be able to turn left onto W. 18th Street and then take the northbound contraflow lane up Guad and across MLK.
“The result is that northbound buses will be able to more efficiently and safely access Guadalupe Street,” a city spokesperson told me recently.
So while that is good, it’s a transit tragedy that the city has no immediate plans to put in place dedicated bus lanes on the Drag. The “bunching” is a disservice not just to those who depend on transit, but to the taxpayers who are paying to run the vacant buses.
In addition, despite the predictable outrage over the prospect of removing car lanes, the people who know what they’re talking about generally say that dedicating two lanes for buses on Guad would not make much of a difference in terms of vehicle delay. But it would make a HUGE difference for those on the bus, making their commutes much shorter.
From there the benefits would snowball and extend to transit users and drivers alike. Those watching the bus speed by while they’re stuck in traffic will rethink their transportation choices. They might not ditch their car completely, but they’ll begin considering alternatives and relying on their car less, resulting in less congestion on the roads –– something that even those who are 100% committed to their cars can appreciate.
While dedicated bus lanes are recommended as part of the Guadalupe Corridor Plan, they are not proposed to be included in the corridor construction program that will take place in the coming years. However, ahead of Council’s April 26 vote to approve the construction program, urbanists are advocating hard for the bus lanes. The Urban Transporation Commission also recommended that they make it into the program. It will be interesting to see if Council listens.