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City and COTA Looking into Pop-Up Bus Lane, Other Ideas from Pitch Event

Brent Warren Brent Warren City and COTA Looking into Pop-Up Bus Lane, Other Ideas from Pitch EventA pop-up bus and bike lane in Massachusetts, photo via Streetsblog.
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A pop-up bus lane on West Broad Street? That’s one of the ideas that came out of a transit innovation weekend held last month at the Idea Foundry. The event, called Thrive Columbus and hosted by the national organization Purple Aisle, brought together a group of about 100 local residents, neighborhood leaders and transit experts for an intense weekend of brainstorming, refining, and then presenting a wide range of ideas on the theme of equity in transportation.

The West Broad Street concept won second place in the pitch competition, while a proposal to create a “smart commute” benefit for all employees in the city took home first place.

Dubbed the West Express, the pop-up bus lane is an example of “tactical urbanism,” a strategy that makes temporary, low-cost improvements to streets or other public spaces.

The proposal calls for using traffic cones to block off one lane of West Broad Street for bus use only, creating a dedicated transit lane overnight and an instant demonstration of how much faster and more reliable buses can be when they don’t have to directly compete with cars for space on the road.

A similar project in Boston led to a 20 to 25 percent reduction in bus travel times during the morning commute on a congested corridor. Initially implemented as just a one-month trial, the city eventually made the dedicated lane a permanent fixture.

The idea has already gained some traction among planners and decision-makers in Columbus, including some at the City of Columbus and the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA). It has been discussed specifically in the context of the Regional Corridor Analysis (also called Corridor Concepts) project from the Mid Ohio Regional Planning Commission (MORPC).

A slide from the West Express presentation.

Justin Goodwin, Transportation Planning Manager in the city’s Department of Public Service, attended the weekend event and served as a mentor to the West Express team.

“We are going to be exploring the feasibility of doing a demo project along with COTA and MORPC,” he said. “We want to think through all of the potential candidate corridors to understand the logistics, the pros and cons of each one.”

Doug Arseneault, Public Affairs Administrator at COTA, said that the agency is “supportive of tactical urbanism projects and will be participating in the working group to discuss next steps.”

The team behind the weekend’s first-place idea earned the right to pitch their concept to City Council. Before they do that, though, they plan on performing a feasibility study, discussing the idea with local employers, and further researching similar programs in Seattle and Washington DC.

Aimed at the large number of workers in Columbus who struggle to get to and from their jobs each day — or to find jobs that are easily accessible using COTA — the idea is to use a portion of city income tax revenue to fund a flexible package of commuting benefits that would be distributed by employers and available to anyone working in the city.

The intent would be to encourage any form of commuting that isn’t a single-occupancy car trip. Examples of possible benefits include a free COTA pass or a cash reward for riding a bike or walking to work.

One of the judges of the pitch competition was Josh Lapp, Board Chair of Transit Columbus, who said that he was inspired by the diversity and quality of the proposals and is hopeful that the advocacy group can help to push a number of them forward in the coming months.

Other ideas included a program (based on Yay Bikes’ engineer rides) that would get local decision makers onto public transportation one day a week. Another called for transportation subsidies for low-income residents, while still another proposed a fee on Uber and Lyft rides that would generate funds for improving access to quality transportation.

The ideas from each of the teams involved in the weekend event will soon be released in a “pitch book” that will be available to the public.

“The question isn’t whether Columbus is going to grow; it’s how we’re going to grow,” said Council President Shannon Hardin, who helped to facilitate the Thrive Columbus event. “It’s imperative that we create a transportation system that works for all of us, and now is the time to develop and implement our strategy for inclusive growth.”

Additional Reading:

The State of Alternative Transportation in Columbus

Participants Offer Lessons Learned from the Ditch Your Car Challenge

Interview: Shannon Hardin on Development, Transit & the Densification of Columbus

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