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New bus route coming for NW Rochester residents

Transit planners in the Rochester Public Works Department are putting the final touches on a new bus route expected to get underway before the end of the year.

The proposed Rochester Public Transit Route 19 will serve neighborhoods in the 55th Street Northwest area, basically making a circle using 55th Street, Fairway and Savannah drives on the north side, 56th Avenue on the west, and 51st Street on the south.

The route will head downtown to stops on Second Street Southwest during morning and evening rush hours, and will likely include a midday run, said Tony Knauer, transit and parking manager for the Public Works Department.

The 55th Street Northwest area includes the new Olmsted Medical Center clinic, Gibbs Elementary School, Holy Spirit Elementary School and Christ Community Church. It's an area the city has targeted for bus service for several years, said Rochester City Council member Bruce Snyder, whose Ward 3 includes the area.

"We don't have any buses that go that far west. People have to go to a park-and-ride and then take a bus downtown," Snyder said.


Easing park-and-ride

In addition to adding new riders, the new route should relieve some congestion at the city's Walmart north park-and-ride lot.

"There are a lot of folks who park there who live in this area, and instead of going to the park-and-ride, they'll just get on the bus in their neighborhoods," Knauer said.

A Transportation Development Plan, completed in 2006, identified a need for bus service in the area, and Knauer said Public Works receives more requests for bus service there than any other part of the city.

The department conducted an online survey Sept. 6, seeking feedback about the route from more than 2,200 residents. The residents received postcards asking them to participate and informing those without Internet access that they could call for a mailed survey, Knauer said.

The transit department will be tallying the results this week, he said. The survey asks 12 questions, including whether people use park-and-ride locations, how long they are willing to ride the bus to reach their destinations and how many blocks they are willing to walk to reach a bus stop.

The estimated cost to add the route is about $116,000 per year. A significant portion of the cost is fuel, which, of course, varies in price. Knauer said Rochester's buses get about 5 miles to the gallon and their typical speed is 14 mph. In addition, the city pays First Transit, the city's bus service contractor.

"That base is about $60 per vehicle hour. On top of that you add your maintenance, your parts and your fuel. That can bring you closer to over $70 an hour," Knauer said.


Route design

When designing bus routes, the transit department prefers neighborhood collector roads, that is, streets that collect traffic from smaller residential roads and take people to the larger arterial roads, which usually are four-lane roadways. They look for safety aspects for people boarding buses, like stop signs.

"And if we're approaching a signal and we have what we call a near- and far-side choice, we prefer the far-side — to pull through the light and then stop. That way, if it's green, the bus is not stopping and blocking traffic," Knauer said.

The city has held off on expanding the bus system for several years, due, in part, to the recession and lack of housing developments in town. In addition, the city spent a few years dealing with a lawsuit filed by its former contractor Rochester City Lines.

"But now we're excited to get going on expansion again," Knauer said, referring to the Transportation Development Plan. Expanded service is planned in 2014 for a few areas of the city, including Country Club Manor in northwest and the Pinewood and Rose Harbor areas in southeast Rochester.

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