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COTA Considering Complete Redesign of Bus Network

Brent Warren Brent Warren COTA Considering Complete Redesign of Bus NetworkPhoto by Walker Evans.
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A new proposed network from COTA – a plan that grew out of their ongoing Transit System Review and is being presented for feedback at public meetings and online – will do more than just tweak a few bus routes here or there. If approved and implemented, it would redraw routes, reduce express service to the suburbs, and greatly expand the number of high-frequency bus lines.

Under the plan, more than twice as many residents would be within a quarter-mile of a high-frequency bus line (meaning a bus arrives every fifteen minutes, seven days a week). More job centers would also be within a quarter-mile of frequent service – an increase of over 60% compared to the present network.

According to consultant Jarrett Walker, the new plan has the potential to drastically improve the experience of riding the bus in Columbus. When that happens, he argues, the groundwork is laid for long-term transformation; more transit-friendly development in the central city, more walkable neighborhoods, and more people who are able to live in the city comfortably without owning a car. 

Walker and his firm, Jarrett Walker and Associates, have performed these types of system reviews for cities all over the world. 

“What we do know,” he said, based on that experience, “is that the growth of transit-oriented cities involves doing this at some point. In Portland, where I’m from, we did basically this type of restructuring of the bus network in 1978, and it became one of the major backbones on which everything else that happened, happened. And we did it with buses before we started playing with trains.”

The gains in high-frequency service would be achieved – using existing COTA revenue sources – by improving the efficiency of the system and by more purposefully directing 70% of the budget toward a “ridership goal” and 30% of the budget toward a “coverage goal.”

Walker elaborated on the inefficiencies of the current COTA system:

“What happens with bus systems everywhere, is that cities change faster than their bus systems do, and also public expectations of transit are starting to change. Usually what we find when we review old bus systems that haven’t been reviewed in awhile, is that there are lots of little weird things that buses are doing that don’t make sense anymore, and so its necessary to kind of erase the map and, as an exercise, redraw the network from scratch based on what seems to make sense for the city as it is now.”

Frequency is the key to increasing ridership, he said, even if most people who aren’t regular transit users don’t fully understand why. The goal is to eliminate the inconvenience of waiting, which makes people feel trapped and not in control of their journey.

Frequent buses also make connections between routes easy – the new system features a “Frequent Network” that would allow people to transfer between high-frequency routes and access a wide swath of the city without ever waiting more than fifteen minutes for a bus.


Walker noted that the top three performing lines in the current system (the #2, #10, and #1), are all high frequency and account for almost half of all ridership.

COTA’s proposed bus rapid transit line along Cleveland Avenue – which will replace the #1 line –  is included in the plan. A new #1 line is proposed that would run along Livingston Avenue and High Street, and then along Lane Avenue and Olentangy Boulevard all the way to Bethel Road and the emerging Bridge Street District in Dublin.

That’s just one example of many routes that have been created or redesigned to provide efficient service along the most continuously dense and walkable corridors in Columbus.

Lines have also been added that connect suburbs to each other – making it possible to travel from Gahanna to Whitehall, for example, without having to travel through downtown. 

As for COTA’s newest route, the CBUS circulator, Walker thinks it serves a valuable purpose for now but may not be needed if the goals of this plan are realized:

“I see the function of the CBUS as being a really friendly, legible way for people in the inner city to get used to using transit. Over time, what happens under this plan is that the whole bus system becomes more legible. and once you also start to get easier forms of fare collection and real time information, it wouldn’t surprise me if in ten years the CBUS is no longer needed, because everyone’s just using the High Street buses which come every five minutes anyway, and the barriers to understanding those buses have been dropped so much.”

COTA has been gathering feedback on the plan before their board makes a final recommendation. The last public meeting downtown is June 4th (from noon to two at 33 N. High Street), but feedback can also be given on COTA’s facebook page or by emailing [email protected]

For more information on COTA’s Transit System Review, including a complete list of meeting times and locations, see www.cota.com.

For ongoing discussion about COTA updates, CLICK HERE to visit our Messgaeboard.

Maps provided by COTA. Photo by Walker Evans.

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