Cincinnati's First Bus-Only Lane is Coming

A lane of Main Street will be dedicated to Metro buses during afternoon rush hour as part of a pilot program approved by City Council today

click to enlarge Metro buses at Government Square, which empties onto Main Street - Nick Swartsell
Nick Swartsell
Metro buses at Government Square, which empties onto Main Street

Downtown Cincinnati will soon get its first dedicated bus-only transit lane during afternoon rush hour after a committee of Cincinnati City Council gave its approval today.

The idea, first pushed by transit activists with the Better Bus Coalition earlier this year, will create a pilot program to test out the bus-only lanes with a lane on Main Street from Government Square to Central Parkway. Cincinnati City Council’s Education, Innovation and Growth Committee heard a presentation on the idea and voted 5-0 to support it today.

“This is a very important project for our city,” Better Bus Coalition President Cam Hardy tweeted yesterday. “We’ve never had a bus-only lane. Better Bus Coalition worked hard on this and we are happy that it will be recommended to city council for passage.”

The dedicated bus lane is an attempt to boost ridership for the city’s Metro buses by improving timeliness. Generally, bus-only lanes allow buses to move more quickly and efficiently by removing other traffic from the lane they are using. This particular pilot project would prohibit cars from driving or parking in the right curb lane during the afternoon rush hour to speed passage of the roughly 100 buses that traverse Main Street in the afternoon.

Cincinnati City Councilmembers Tamaya Dennard, Greg Landsman, David Mann, Chris Seelbach, P.G. Sittenfeld and Wendell Young passed a motion asking for a report on the feasibility of the lane in March.

"This is a pretty big deal," Sittenfeld, who introduced the motion, said today. "It's something we've never had before."

Sittenfeld said he hoped that the lane would reduce delays and snags throughout the bus system. It can take more than 20 minutes for a bus to get out of downtown under the current arrangements. Boosters hope that could be cut down to as little as five minutes under the pilot program.

Both the city’s Department of Transportation and Engineering and the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority are recommending adoption of the pilot program, according to a memo from Acting City Manager Patrick Duhaney. The Downtown Residents Council and Downtown Cincinnati, Inc. both support the pilot program, though DRC says it has concerns about the short duration of walk signals for pedestrians at Eighth and Ninth Streets.

There is one complication: the city will need to remove a bump-out at Main and Seventh streets to implement the plan. That will cost about $55,000, which will come out of the city’s capital budget for downtown capital improvements. Other than that, the only expense will be signage indicating the lane is for buses only during afternoon rush hour.

The potential cost of the bump-out removal has come down significantly from an estimate Duhaney cited earlier this year. He released a memo in May that put the cost of the dedicated bus lane at $150,000.

At that time, Duhaney also suggested more research about how the bus lane would interact with traffic overall as part of a larger study of transit in downtown and OTR.

“Since this pilot project would be part of our transportation system, the entire system should be analyzed,” Duhaney wrote.

But now, with a reduced price tag and funding secured, Duhaney supports the lane. One remaining question, however is how the city will enforce the lane.

“Just because we create a bus-only lane doesn’t mean the problem is solved,” Councilman Seelbach pointed out. “What is our plan to get people to actually follow the law here?"

City administration says it is working on that. We should find out soon — the bus-only lane is scheduled to take effect sometime before the new year.

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