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Rochester, DMC Prepare to Roll Out Plans for Downtown Bus Rapid Transit Service

The vision sees ‘BRT’ circulator connecting Mayo Clinic with 6,000 new parking spaces.

Rochester, DMC Prepare to Roll Out Plans for Downtown Bus Rapid Transit Service
A rendering of the bus rapid transit line in Rochester. (Rendering courtesy of City of Rochester)

The city of Rochester and the Destination Medical Center board are busy this summer working on the best ways to implement a recently-adopted transportation plan calling for a downtown bus rapid transit circulator, among other goals.

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is the centerpiece of the strategy’s ideas on how to invest in transportation service improvements. BRT buses are distinguished from traditional city buses because they look and feel like more like roomier light rail transit, but at only a fraction of rail’s cost. They also run more frequently and quickly than regular buses along on-street routes designated for their priority, featuring dedicated stations and information technology.

Twin Cities transit users may be familiar with BRT from Metro Transit’s “A Line” on Snelling Avenue, which runs from the Red Line light rail’s 46th Street Station in Minneapolis to Rosedale Mall in Roseville.

The Rochester plan, which was adopted in July by the city’s Common Council, calls for BRT to serve as a “circulator” connecting two new park-and-ride stations (or “mobility hubs”) on the outskirts of downtown to the Mayo Clinic, its Discovery Square innovation district and other downtown businesses such as hotels and shopping areas. The plan calls for the construction of 12 new stations serving the routes with buses running every 10 minutes, 18 hours per day.

The new mobility hubs are to be established northwest and southwest of downtown and hold a total of 6,000 parking spaces.

Meanwhile, the service improvement strategy also envisions the establishment of a pair of enhanced transit corridors, referred to as a “primary transportation network.” Existing bus service would be upgraded and other transit-friendly improvements made along those corridors, running mainly along Broadway Avenue (north-south) and 2nd Street South (east-west). They would feature new park-and-rides away from downtown and be worked into the city’s land-use plans to emphasize transit-oriented development along their routes.

The strategy was developed over an 18-month period by a team of planners from both the city of Rochester and the state-funded DMC. The imperative to improve Rochester’s transit options was part of the original DMC legislation in 2013, which awarded $2.75 million annually for general infrastructure and $450,000 for transit infrastructure for every $100 committed by Mayo Clinic and other private sources.

Those same planners this summer are working out a phased implementation plan for bus rapid transit and many other aspects of the transportation strategy, which is due to be delivered next month. Once the phasing is determined, requests for the 2019 DMC budget would be submitted by November.

Besides improving transit service, the strategy also focuses on three other areas: travel reduction/management; parking investment; and street improvements. The action is needed, officials say, because if current travel choices remain unchanged, downtown Rochester traffic levels are expected to grow by more 60 percent, resulting in “significant” rush-hour traffic congestion. Demand for parking would also skyrocket, with more than 16,000 additional downtown parking spaces needed—about 50 percent above current parking supply.

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