CapMetro opens new red contraflow bus lane on Guadalupe Street

Nicole Stuessy

Students returning to campus may notice new traffic patterns downtown and buses traveling in the opposite direction on Guadalupe Street.

The red bus-only lanes on Lavaca and Guadalupe streets begin service Aug. 18. Improvements made to this quarter-mile stretch began in May and will save commuters an estimated 13,000 hours in travel per year, said Capital Metro CEO Randy Clarke at an unveiling event held by Austin officials Aug. 16. 

“Lavaca and Guadalupe streets are really the spine of our transit system here in Austin,” CapMetro planner Caitlin D’Alton said. “We have over 30 bus routes that travel into and out of downtown each day carrying tens of thousands of passengers. This bus lane will help speed up their travel time, which is a huge benefit to our customers.”

The bus lanes from 15th to 18th streets on Lavaca Street and from 18th Street to MLK Boulevard on Guadalupe have been painted red to show drivers they are for buses only, said Robin Osborne, a traffic engineer for the Austin Transportation Department. These transit changes are the first part of the 2016 Mobility Bond Corridor Construction Program.

“We think it’s going to make a huge difference for clients,” Osborne said. “We have a lot of visitors and tourists that come to Austin, so we try and make it really clear — for new drivers especially — what they should be doing when they are driving in our city.”

D’Alton said CapMetro moved their downtown bus service from Congress Avenue to Lavaca Street for more accessible bus stops in 2014, but the intersection at MLK Boulevard has been a “pinch point” since then.

“When we implemented our bus lanes downtown, they operated from 3rd Street all the way up to MLK,” D’Alton said. “The intersection of Lavaca and MLK was a huge challenge for us because we have a large volume of buses that travel through that intersection every day going up towards UT and beyond.”

Along with improvements to Guadalupe, Osborne said a traffic signal has also been added at 18th and Lavaca streets, which includes a bus-only light. 

“The bus is allowed to make a left turn from the right lane across traffic,” Osborne said. “It is done so safely by giving a red to the northbound vehicles, and it helps the buses bypass this section up north here where a lot of congestion has been seen in the past couple of years.”

Mayor Steve Adler said these improvements will benefit people outside of those who ride the bus.

“This stretch of Guadalupe sees some of the highest transit ridership of anywhere in the CapMetro system,” Adler said. “In addition to the buses traveling through more quickly and cyclists and scooters getting around more safely, pedestrians are also benefiting from new sidewalks and safer crossings.”

As Austin’s population continues to grow, Adler said he believes these improvements will shorten commute times downtown and motivate people to use public transportation.

“I am really excited at the prospect of being able to develop mass public rapid transportation on dedicated pathways, so the transit is moving outside of traffic,” Adler said. “This is the next really big idea this city needs, and this is the first part of bringing in that big vision.”