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Major bus choke point set to see improvements near UT

Testing is starting this week to add a new “contraflow” bus lane to Guadalupe near the University of Texas. (CBS Austin)

Testing is starting this week to add a new “contraflow” bus lane to Guadalupe near the University of Texas.

On Friday, Cap Metro and the city of Austin will recreate intersections with cones in a parking lot at a Cap Metro facility. The goal is to see how buses will be able to make turns on streets around Guadalupe and Lavaca.

This is part of the design process to add a contraflow lane on Guadalupe between 18th Street and MLK. It’s called contraflow because the lane would be going the opposite direction of the one way street.

Cap Metro and the city of Austin say they want buses to bypass the Lavaca and MLK intersection.

"This intersection is a big pinch point for us,” Cap Metro’s Caitlin D’Alton said.

D’Alton said it’s one of the top choke points for buses in the city. That’s why they want to have buses go around the intersection. She said it can take buses up to four times as long compared to vehicular traffic to get through that light. With this change, she said that time could be cut in half.

"We have thousands of people that go through there every day that are delayed at that intersection,” D’Alton said.

The problem comes with finding space to add a third lane for the buses on Guadalupe. There is currently two lanes of vehicular traffic with a bike lane.

"We need to look at that and see what can we still accommodate with putting this bus lane in,” Austin Transportation Department’s Jim Dale said.

Dale said they’re still very much in the design phase and they’re looking at several different ways to find space. One idea is to shave off parts of a curb island before the MLK and Guadalupe traffic light. They could also take out the bike lane and make the sidewalk a shared use path.

Dale urged, there will still be two lanes left for traffic.

"We are not taking any traffic lanes for this bus lane,” Dale said.

In January they’ll start a public process to ask what the public and businesses in the area would like to see in the project. Then the new bus contraflow lane could open in the spring of 2019.

There is also an issue with bus stops on the right side of Lavaca Street a block away from 18th Street. That would be a difficult merge with three lanes of traffic in one block. That’s why D’Alton said they’re considering a bus priority signal at 17th Street.

Dale said they’ll put up multiple signs in the future to tell pedestrians, vehicles and buses about the bus lane going the opposite way on a one way street.

Some riders, like Jack Rosenblatt, wonder how traffic will manage that. However, he said he’s looking forward to the change.

"That sounds great, it seems really helpful for students and people living on campus,” Rosenblatt said.

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