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Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, Texas
President & CEO
1900 Main Street
Downtown-Midtown Bus Operation Improvements
Improvements to the three primary north-south bus transit corridors in Downtown/Midtown Houston. Corridors include Louisiana/Smith, Milam/Travis, and Fannin/San Jacinto one-way street pairs.
Louisiana Street (NB)/Smith Street (SB) Corridor from Spur 527 to Franklin Street; Travis Street (NB)/ Milam Street (SB) from Spur 527 to Commerce Street; and San Jacinto Street (NB)/ Fannin Street (SB) from McGowan Street to Franklin Street
Downtown is the center of METRO’s transit system. Slow and inconsistent transit travel times have ripple effects across the entire bus system. This project will provide an efficient solution to a critical need for overall transit operations in the region. Most commuter bus routes serve Downtown and all three light rail lines meet at Central Station. While METRO has moved the local bus system away from its historical radial, downtown-focused design, Downtown is still by far the largest hub for ridership and connections. This results in Downtown having the highest transit commute mode share in the region, with over 30 percent of commute trips using transit versus three to four percent for the METRO service area.
Currently, 16 percent of all boardings on the METRO system occur in Downtown; this number grows to 20 percent when including Midtown. Figure 1 shows the current bus routes in Downtown and Midtown. Figure 2 shows current boardings in the same area, and clearly illustrates the importance of the three north-south corridors proposed for improvement in this project to bus riders.
Given the high level of ridership and the study area’s key location as the core hub of the transit network, improvement to operations, service, and the customer experience will benefit many current riders while also making the system more attractive to new riders. It will also benefit the overall system as resources saved from faster travel times through Downtown can be reinvested elsewhere in the network. Reliability benefits from improved downtown bus operations will also cascade to other sections of local routes that connect to and through the project area, allowing for more improve system level on time performance.
As the central hub of the transit system, 57 bus routes travel through the study area making stops and connections (16 frequent routes, 27 Park & Rides, and 14 other routes). Many of these bus trips travel on one of three north-south pairs of one-way streets.
-Smith Street (SB) & Louisiana Street (NB): 22 Bus Routes, 203 Peak Hour Bus Trips
-Milam Street (SB) & Travis Street (NB): 21 Bus Routes, 157 Peak Hour Bus Trips
-Fannin Street (SB) & San Jacinto St (NB): 6 Bus Routes, 47 Peak Hour Bus Trips
Currently bus travel speeds on these corridors are low and customers have long trips just to get out of Downtown. This limits the places that transit riders can reach in a competitive amount of travel time. Figure 3 shows a map distribution of scheduled bus speeds in the study area in the peak travel periods. Scheduled travel speeds on the three major north-south corridors are frequently less than five miles per hour (mph) and all segments on these corridors are under 10 mph. The 82 Westheimer bus averages approximately five mph through Downtown; scheduled travel times on the 221 Kingsland at 5:00 PM are if 18 minutes to travel 14 blocks (0.9 miles), an average of about three mph. Close to one-third of the revenue hours on some routes are spent in Downtown.
This project will significantly improve operational efficiency including travel speed, reliability, and customer experience for transit users on three major north-south corridors in Downtown and Midtown Houston as shown in Figure 4. The three corridors are:
1. Smith Street (SB) & Louisiana Street (NB)
2. Milam Street (SB) & Travis Street (NB)
3. Fannin Street (SB) & San Jacinto St (NB)
These corridors already consist of diamond (transit and right-turn only) and high-occupancy (HOV) lanes intended to improve transit travel but these are not effective due to poor compliance of other drivers who block the bus lane, close spacing of bus stops requiring frequent stops, and limited transit signal priority.
Each of the three project corridors will be redesigned and upgraded to improve transit operations while improving overall operations for all users or the streets. The proposed improvements for this project include better bus only lanes with improved signage and pavement markings (e.g. red bus only lane designations), signal timing and operations, optimized bus stop design and spacing, and enhanced passenger information. These improvements should increase travel speeds in Downtown with a target of eight mph minimum travel speeds during AM and PM peak hours, nearly doubling travel speed on some routes. This speed is based on best practice examples in other city’s downtown major bus corridors. The project enhancements will benefit transit and will clarify corridor operations for motorists through better definition of transit only lanes and improved clarity for right turn lanes and drop-off zones. Travel speeds will increase based on faster bus boarding, fewer, more efficient stops, fewer conflicts at intersections, and better transit progression through corridor traffic signals. The design will also support improved enforcement of the transit only lanes resulting in greater compliance and fewer conflicts with drivers. Sample photos of similar bus lane improvements are included in Figure 5.
Improved bus stop amenities include improved shelter and boarding platforms, better signage, passenger information, and wayfinding near stops will benefit transit use on the corridors. This will improve last mile connections to nearby destinations. These improvements will be coordinated with other optimizations strategies such as improved payment methods (e.g., off board payment kiosks) and all-door boarding strategies to hasten trip time through Downtown.
A new permanent layover location will also be identified on the north side of downtown as part of this project. This will allow buses traveling from south to north in Downtown to have a dedicated place to layover with rest area and bathroom facilities access for drivers. This will benefit customer travel times as drivers will no longer need to take mid-route breaks. It will also allow METRO to more effectively plan routes that serve Downtown.
The primary outcomes for this project include:
1. Faster bus travel times through Downtown with a goal of meeting or exceeding eight mph on all routes in the peak hour.
2. Improved on time performance for buses operation on key corridors both inside Downtown and in adjacent neighborhoods impacted by Downtown bus operations.
3. Operating savings that can be reinvested into capital improvements or additional frequency or span on key routes.
4. Improved customer experience including better bus stops, faster boarding, better payment strategies and improved wayfinding.
5. Expanded access to downtown for people within a competitive travel time
Figure 6 is a map of destinations accessible by transit in 15, 30, and 45 minutes from Central Station near Main Street and Rusk Street, a location central to Downtown and near many bus routes during the peak travel period. This access measure is based on where people can travel using transit in combinations with walking. The larger the area that people can readily access in a convenient amount of time, the greater utility and usefulness the transit system has to their lives correlating to higher ridership. The relatively slow travel speeds of much of METRO’s service in Downtown impacts the destinations that are readily accessible. This includes limiting the number of people that can easily get to Downtown, as well the destinations that are easily accessible from Downtown. In total 85,600 people use the bus routes that travel on these three corridors daily (based on April 2018 ridership) and benefits to the route’s speed and reliability will improve service for all of them. These benefits will cascade across the whole systems with improved on time performance and increased resources to invest in other services.
Less than $100 million
(Manage) Transit Priority Infrastructure
View Uploaded File: Funding Commitment Letter & Letters of Support 10.31.18.pdf
Categorical Exclusion (CE)
View Uploaded File: 1. Downtown-Midtown Bus Corridor Improvement Pre-application - Interagency Consultation.docx
View Uploaded File: 1a Downtown_Midtwon BOI DEV TIMELINE.pdf
View Uploaded File: 1b Downtown-Midtown BOI Figures.pdf
View Uploaded File: 1c Downtown-Midtown BOI MAP.pdf
View Uploaded File: 1d Downtown-Midtown BOI BUDGET.xlsx
View Uploaded File: Downtown-Midtown Bus Operations BCA files.zip
View Uploaded File: BCA Placeholder - see #1 Safety Benefits for BCA information.xlsx
View Uploaded File:
See attached BCA in #1 Safety Benefits for methodology.
901 - 1000
Improved bus service in Downtown will attract more ridership as faster, more reliable service becomes a viable alternative for more people versus other travel options such as driving and parking. This will reduce trips on the radial freeways that converge on Downtown (IH 10, IH 45, IH 69) improving freeway level of service (LOS). The corridor improvements will also improve LOS for vehicles traveling on the streets that are improved as it will reduce conflicts between bus and right turning vehicles and clarify where motorists should be traveling relative to the transit lane, reducing confusion and unnecessary weaving and merges.
These improvements will speed service on the busiest bus segments in the METRO system and increase their reliability. It will benefit the level of service for thousands of transit customers. Some segments of Downtown streets carry nearly 100 buses in the peak hour and having those routes operate at slow travel speeds reduces access for people to and from Downtown significantly. This impacts ridership in Downtown but also impacts service system wide as delays Downtown can cascade to late trips elsewhere on these routes. In total 85,600 people use the bus routes that travel on these three corridors daily (based on April 2018 ridership) and benefits to the route’s speed and reliability will improve service for all of them. In addition to faster travel speeds, improvements should also free additional operating resources that can be reinvested into the transit system as more service or as capital improvements that enhance the customer experience.
This project should improve pedestrian LOS by improving signal timing along the corridors and reduce wait time for a walk signal. It will also reduce safety conflicts with right turning vehicles who are observed to frequently make illegal right turns in front of buses waiting at stops. Bus stop locations should be improved to provide dedicated waiting areas for customers waiting to board commuter buses. These passengers often queue across the sidewalk, blocking the free flow of people walking along the streets in these corridors.
While none of these streets are proposed as dedicated bikeways, they do intersect several existing and proposed high comfort bikeway corridors such as the Lamar and Gray cycle tracks. Stops will include improved bike parking where feasible. The corridor is also adjacent to 17 bike share stations within two blocks of a bus stop. This project will greatly expand the reach of people who bike and ride either by placing their bicycle on the bus or using the shared bike system.
Fully Dedicatated Lane
Other Payment Strategies
Plan Downtown & METRONext
http://www.downtowndistrict.org/projects-initiatives/plan-downtown/ & http://www.metronext.org/
Houston-Galveston Area Council