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U.S. DOT Gives Green Light To Red Transit Lanes In Austin, Other Cities

A red-painted "contraflow" lane on Guadalupe.
Gabriel C. Pérez
A red-painted lane on Guadalupe between 18th Street and MLK Boulevard allows buses to go against traffic.

It’s been a few months since buses started going against the flow of traffic on a small stretch of Guadalupe Street near UT Austin. The lane the buses use is painted red to denote that it’s off-limits to cars. Painting the lane require federal approval – and it wasn’t easy to get.

“You had to apply for sort of experimental status through the Federal Highway Administration, and you had to test the results of your experiment,” said Caitlin D’Alton, transit program director for the Austin Transportation Department. “Austin, among a handful of cities, was able to apply for that and have that experimental status granted.”

More of those red lanes may be coming to Austin in the next few years, after the U.S. Department of Transportation moved in early December to streamline the process for approvals. The department pointed to the effectiveness of the markings in announcing the change.

“Positive operational effects have been noted in the experiments including the reduction of illegal occupancy of transit lanes by non-transit vehicles, travel time of transit vehicles, and illegal parking in transit lanes,” Martin C. Knopp, associate administrator for operations, wrote in a memo outlining the changes. “Experimental results also showed that the red-colored pavement did not induce drivers of private vehicles to make turns from the incorrect lane.”

The current red transit lane on Guadalupe has been in use since August, and officials said it has helped to reduce delays for buses heading northbound to the UT campus. Dalton said they’re examining the effectiveness of the paint itself in considering what to use if other lanes are marked.

“We found that a lot of the cities we reached out to that have used red paint in the past are in other regions of the country that have a different climate than Austin,” Dalton said.

She said the red paint gets dirty and officials are looking into whether there are other products they could use instead.

Dalton said there’s no specific plans at the moment for new lanes, but the city would work with Capital Metro to determine where they should go.

Got a tip? Email Samuel King at Follow him @SamuelKingNews.

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Samuel King covers transportation and mobility for KUT News.
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