Cincinnati's first experiment with a dedicated rush hour lane for Metro buses will be getting some extra help in the form of eight-foot "BUS ONLY" lettering in the right lane of Main Street, officials with the city's Department of Transportation and Engineering told city council members today. The lettering plus stepped-up traffic enforcement could reduce the number of blockages caused by cars in the lane during bus-only hours.
The bus-only lane, launched Nov. 5, is a pilot program to test out the concept advocated by transit activist group the Better Bus Coalition and passed by Cincinnati City Council earlier this year.
Stretching from Fifth Street to Central Parkway and active between 7-9 a.m. and 4-6 p.m. Monday through Friday, the goal of the lane is to speed up bus service in one of the city's busiest corridors, hopefully improving service system-wide. Fifth Street's Government Square is the city's central bus hub, and more than 600 buses travel the stretch every weekday, according to Metro. Only about 90 of those use the right lane on Main Street to pick passengers up at bus stops, however.
DOTE Director Joe Vogel and Transit Manager John Brazina told council's Education, Innovation and Growth Committee today that the striping for the letters is already available, but that extreme cold weather has prevented it from being placed in the bus lane along Main Street.
"It's going to be very obvious," Vogel said, "so when you're actually driving, it will be right in front of you."
Vogel says that stepped-up traffic enforcement and better efforts to notify drivers about the bus lane will improve performance in the lane.
In November, the month the pilot launched, Cincinnati Police and the city's parking enforcement staff issued 18 citations to drivers blocking the bus lane during designated hours. In December, that number shot up to 43 citations. This month, the city issued another 38.
"We have stepped up enforcement in the corridor a lot," Vogel said.
Council member Chris Seelbach, a supporter of the bus-only lane, said he's happy about the changes, but wishes they came earlier.
"I think this is a great step," Seelbach said today. "I wish it would have been done from the very beginning, but I'm happy we're doing this. I hope it's another tool in our belt to make this bus-only lane work."
Council member P.G. Sittenfeld says he believes the pilot has sped up bus service along the route. Metro says it will analyze the performance of the lane as the program comes to an end this spring.
"I think it's been very good," Sittenfeld said. "I know for a fact that it has been saving time along that corridor. The issue is, it's been saving time along the corridor even though there have been blockages from people who are parked there, people who are idling there. We want to make sure it is more conspicuous. There is signage right now... but it's not super-conspicuous."