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Bull City Connector: straightening out the "knot," shutting down earlier

The current design of the Bull City Connector's route resembles a string with a knot in the middle of it -- that is, the roundabout connection around Five Points, Chapel Hill St., and the like in order to reach Durham Station, the city transit hub.

It's not uncommon to watch visitors (and even residents) scratch their heads around Five Points, trying to figure out which stop they need to take in order to get on the bus.

While the route's path through the station helped keep DATA transfer riders in the mix, it likely also lengthened the route's time and impacted on-time performance.

Come August 15, though, the Connector is slated to become a more direct route, running more closely along the Main Street spine through downtown, and extending further west into the sciences district on Duke's West Campus.

Still, the changes have one other effect: curtailing 9pm to midnight service on Fridays/Saturdays, as closing time drops to 9pm across the entire route.

Two areas are affected by the change.

First, the BCC will no longer turn south on Erwin Rd. at Ninth St. to pull past Duke's Central Campus. Instead, the bus will stay on Main St. until Anderson St., when the connector will turn south instead to meet Erwin Rd.

This change brings the bus past some newer points of density -- the Crescent Berkshire apartments (gotta love those quick REIT buyouts), Hilton Garden Inn, and other developments at the old Erwin Mills site.

Next, the bus will bypass the current Duke South (Clinics) stop on Trent Dr., staying on Erwin Rd. instead. New westbound stops at Duke's PG2 parking deck across from Duke North and in front of the VA Hospital will be added instead. (Eastbound, the bus will have a pick-up at Duke North.)

Then, the bus will turn down Research Dr. to the traffic circle at Circuit -- providing a closer-to-campus link for the thousands of faculty, staff and grad students working in that zone.

On the map below, the new path is shown in red; the soon-obsolete routing is in blue.


Near downtown, the changes are much more straightforward: no more of the arced paths down Chapel Hill St., Morris St., Jackson St., Willard St., and the downtown loop.

Instead, the new Connector path will simply let Main St. be Main St.  Again, a map to visualize the changes, with deleted segments in blue:


One plus of the changes: the headways (that is, frequency of pick-ups) gets reduced.

GoTriangle is advertising 17 minute headways on the routes, closer to the 15 minute timeframe many have talked about as a longer term goal.

Still, there's an ironic but unavoidable impact to the Connector from this change: the route will lose two of its highest-volume locations for passenger boardings. Durham Station and Trent Dr. are leading boarding sites for passengers on the current route.

The suggestion seems to be that the improvements to route headways, predictability, and to the usefulness of some of the stops -- who in their right mind would cross Erwin Rd. at Central Campus to be pinned between the fence and the road on a narrow sidewalk to wait for the Connector? -- will be worth it.

And, of course, the new route preserves connectivity to the Duke medical center, while significantly improving it for the deeper segments of West Campus and adding a stop at the VA Medical Center.

Users of Durham Station, the argument goes, have just a couple minutes' walk to pick up the bus; and presumably, they're more savvy transit users than the first-time visitor is.

Still, it will be interesting to see if there are any grumbles over the change.

Federal congestion mitigation funding that initially helped fund the BCC included the Durham Station interconnect as a facet of the service, we recall. Our hunch is that as the old grant has expired, so too has the stipulation, and we won't see any mention of it in new CMAQ grant proposals.

One other change: the Connector's hours get curtailed again, for we think the second time in the service's history. Service will still start at 6:30am weekdays, about 10 minutes later than at present.

But, Saturday service will now start only at 10am, versus 7:20am before.

And, the service runs only until 9pm, six days a week. No more midnight service on Fridays/Saturdays. (Our hunch: students out having fun downtown are calling Uber or using taxis to get home instead of taking the bus.)


Michael Bacon

I won't get to ride it again any time soon, but I'm thrilled with the change. In some of my more frustrated moments I got out my watch and timed the bus in various moments of its route, and calculated that the bus spent 25% of its time along the entire route doing nothing but going through the "knot." That meant the bus could be doing 33% more route-running with the exact same use of driver and vehicle resources if it just skipped Durham station.

Using Google Earth, I've measured the walking distance from the door of Durham Station out to the very end of the bus platforms where the BCC usually stops. That's roughly 550 feet. From the Chapel Hill St. door of the station to the nearest stop on Main St. is roughly 840 feet. So while yes, it is a bit longer, it's not outrageously longer. While I'm not sure it's necessary, it would probably be cheaper in the not-very-long-run to just build a covered and lit walkway from Durham Station all the way to the Main St. stop.

The flip side is that the "knot" effectively ruined the BCC as a decent connecter between inside the loop and anywhere to the west. Once in an attempt to take it home, I got on the bus on E. Main, rode it to the station, where because it was late DATA switched drivers, had it sit for 8 minutes, and sent it back east, without telling anyone on the bus. When I and two other passengers loudly complained, the bus driver (who was already running late and was harried) angrily told us we had got on the wrong bus (we hadn't gotten off!) and did manage to get us transferred over to the westbound BCC. The message was clear -- in the eyes of DATA's actual operational staff, the BCC was two separate routes that left Durham Station and came back. Not much of a "connector" if you ask me. This change will make the route actually effective as a quick link between, say, Ninth St. and Golden Belt. Great news.

Chris Ketchel

The importance of the straight line visualization cannot be over emphasized. Great News for the nouveau riders.


Sadly, I bet this bus gets more late night students back to Central Campus than the BCC. https://www.facebook.com/shooters.partybus

Aaron M.

Disappointingly, this also makes the bus far less useful to the low income folk (like Duke hospital's custodial staff) who actually need it. Yep, just walk half a mile over to Durham Station and transfer (since you probably just ride DATA for the fun of it). It's more important to make the route cater to the Duke kids who are, indeed, taking Uber and taxis or the Shooter's and Devine's party buses door to door.


Duke students are definitely taking Uber; the drop-off on Research Drive isn't going to get any of the West Campus students to take it more often. I wish they had found a way to just add another bus to the line, rather than taking out the two busiest stops. The people who have been using it the most (especially the transit-reliant hourly staff) are the ones who are going to be the most inconvenienced.


This raises an interesting question - is the BCC free so that it makes the shops, restaurants, and apartments between campus and golden belt more readily accessible, or is its main purpose to provide a free commute for low income workers? Seeing as the rest of the system is not free to ride, I'm inclined to guess it's the former, with the free commute function being an added bonus. I believe that commuters going from the bus station to Duke South could use the 6 or 6B; I understand that they are not free, but they do serve that route. If public transport costs for regular commuters are preventative, we should consider ways to make all of the routes used by commuters more affordable, not just those that happen to live close to main st.

(Selfishly, the campus changes make it more convenient for me since I live west of the knot and work on Research drive. The straightening of the knot will also incline me to use it more often to go eastward- currently, it just seems easier to walk most places. I use the BCC many times per week in its current form, but readily look forward to the changes.)

Michael Bacon

I'm a few weeks behind on catching up on this, but I have to add:

"Yep, just walk half a mile over to Durham Station and transfer (since you probably just ride DATA for the fun of it). "

It's not a half a mile. It's about 800 feet. Yes, it's not ideal, but neither is having a bus spend over a quarter of the time in its entire route driving around in circles going nowhere.

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