AUSTIN (KXAN) — This week you’ll see bikes and buses in a new lane just for them which runs for a half mile on West 5th Street in Austin heading toward downtown.
If you don’t ride a bus or bike you may notice the change when you’re driving east on West 5th from MoPac towards the Whole Foods on Lamar.
This lane also features a traffic light on West 5th and Baylor Streets with separate signals for cars, buses, bikes, and pedestrians.
When all other traffic is stopped at the red light, buses and bicycles can travel straight ahead through the intersection. The buses and bikes each have their own signals which tell them if it’s safe to cross, and once they do, the lane ends. Bikes continue in the same lane and buses can switch lanes as they travel across.
This aims to speed up traffic before reaching Lamar and 5th Street. CapMetro said that before this change, during peak traffic times it took buses between seven and 10 minutes to get from MoPac to the Lamar and 5th Street intersection. It expects the new lane to cut this time in half.
“On 5th Street we had a problem, transit was having delays,” explained Jim Dale, assistant director for the Austin Transportation Department.
“There’s a lot of traffic on Lamar (Blvd.) and trying to cross Lamar,” he added.
Dale explained that the lights are timed so that no vehicles are at risk of hitting cross-traffic.
“Putting in this transit lane, which we do not take any other trains away, from traffic, we’re able to get the buses through more quickly,” he added.
Dale also noted that drivers on West 5th should not see any changes to their total commute time as a result of this.
Nadia Barrera-Ramirez, the program manager of the transit and speed reliability program for CapMetro, said she is excited that this project will, “to help move our buses through a known bottleneck that we’ve had for some time.”
Barrera-Ramirez explained that since MetroExpress buses began traveling down the MoPac manage lanes recently, CapMetro saw ridership go up more than 60 percent. She explained that CapMetro needs to accommodate these new riders.
Barrera-Ramirez said that the hope with this new lane is to cut down commute times for people using this line, in hopes of encouraging more people to get around via bus.
“This lane really helps us to do that because they’re not sitting in traffic and having to navigate and be in the general purpose lane with other cars,” she said.
CapMetro says around 20 buses will go through this lane per hour during high traffic commute times. There are 5 CapMetro bus routes that will use this lane, including the high-frequency Route 4, the 633 UT shuttle and the 980, 981 and 985 MetroExpress routes.
Ling Cheng Li, a UT Austin PhD student who takes the bus on West 5th street every day, explained that he was surprised earlier this week to see his bus move forward through a red light. Now he understands it’s all part of the new lane.
“I think this is useful for the rush hour, sometimes [it takes] more than 30 minutes to get to the bus,” he said.
This project is a partnership between Capital Metro and the Austin Transportation Department aimed at speeding up travel times for people on transit and encouraging people to look for ways to get downtown besides driving.
This change is part of a larger vision for improving travel for people getting around on buses and bikes. CapMetro says this lane is similar to the bus priority lanes on Guadalupe and Lavaca Streets.