There’s a great post on Human Transit about how Portland, 30 years ago, radically changed the design of their bus network. It went from a system where most routes ran downtown infrequently to a network of frequent routes running in a grid pattern. This requires passengers to make more connections between routes, but improves connectivity to destinations outside of downtown. And it all happened before the first light rail line ever opened.
The 1970 network consisted of bus routes radiating from downtown across the gridded eastside, which constitutes about 3/4 of Portland. If you were anywhere on this network, you had a direct bus downtown — a slow, circuitous, and infrequent bus. Very few routes ran better than every 30 minutes during the day. Only two routes ran north-south across the east side, and both were too infrequent to transfer to, so you couldn’t really use them unless both ends of your trip were on them.
If you think Portland in 1970 looks a lot like Columbus today, I agree with you. That makes me wonder, is it time for a change? Has Columbus outgrown the downtown-based system? Do we need better crosstown connections to OSU? How about to newer job centers around the outerbelt? Do people need to get from Grandview to the Short North to the Airport without going downtown? How about from Dublin to Worthington to Easton?
I think the answer to these questions is yes. The fight over too many buses being on High Street downtown is just one indication that the downtown pulse system that has served Columbus well could use a change. When was the last time Columbus did a complete redesign from ground zero for the bus system? My guess is never, as most of the bus routes still follow old streetcar routes.
I think there are many good candidates for change. I’m going to pick on the #5 as an example. The #5 currently runs east-west on Renner Rd, Trabue Rd, and 5th Street to High Street and then along High Street to the south side of downtown. The total trip time can be over an hour from the Giant Eagle on the west side to the end of the route at Mound & 5th. However, approximately a third of that time (20 minutes) is on High Street duplicating service on the #2 and other routes. If you terminated the #5 at High Street, it could run approximately three trips for every two today. Passengers going downtown could connect to the very frequent #1, #2, or some other route. You could extend the #5 farther east by combining it with the #96. It could provide a direct route from the west side, Grandview, Fifth by Northwest, and the Short North to the airport. You could eliminate other duplicitous service on the #6 and #9. Portions of the #8, #11, #16, and #18 also look like good candidates for reorganization to me. I know this requires a more complete network analysis, but it illustrates the possibilities.
Which routes would you change?