Traffic engineer seeks consistent rules for transit lanes
Jon Wertjes was standing at his Hennepin Avenue bus stop between 3rd and 4th streets Downtown one Friday in February. As he watched, a semi-truck went past, then a taxi, a school bus and a courier car. Then two delivery trucks zoomed by, and a private car with Iowa plates and even a city Public Works Department pickup.
All together, Wertjes, a Public Works transportation engineer, watched nine such vehicles use the bus lane with ten minutes. Only the taxi was within its rights.
"I could have ticketed eight times," Wertjes said.
Hennepin's bus lane isn't alone. Downtown bus lane misuse is rampant on all seven designated bus lanes, according to Wertjes. But the transit-only Nicollet Mall's ordinance is the only one with teeth; all other bus lane rules were adopted by various Council actions, requiring anyone enforcing them to wade through old meeting minutes to glean what councilmembers specifically wanted, Wertjes said.
People either don't know or don't care about the bus lanes, he added. However, by one estimate 40 percent of Downtown workers use the bus system to get to their jobs. Vehicular scofflaws who clog dedicated bus routes can lengthen mass transit commutes, making bus use less attractive. If fewer people take the bus and more drive, congestion will increase for everyone.
But clearing the bus lanes could create problems for others. Eric Anderson, a bicycle courier for Jetset Couriers, 1009 Nicollet Mall, said he used to drive for an international courier company that he would not name. He frequently made deliveries on Hennepin's bus lane. He said he never knew he was breaking any rules.
Anderson said it would be a nightmare for courier companies if the city cracked down on bus-lane use. "It would really slow down deliveries and pickups a lot," he said. "It would be pretty horrible, I think."
Nevertheless, Wertjes took his concerns to Councilmember Sandra Colvin Roy (12th Ward), who brought the matter to the City Council on June 7. A council committee will hold a hearing June 27, when staffers are expected to present consistent bus-lane language.
Wertjes is not proposing any changes to Nicollet Mall's bus rules, he said. However, he thinks consistency is essential in an increasingly congested Downtown.
"With issues we face of trying to move transit Downtown and keep it viable, I can't have other vehicles obstructing that intended use," Wertjes said. "Otherwise, why have bus lanes in the first place?"