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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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The Ridiculous Politics That Slow Down America’s Best BRT Route

Cleveland's Healthline BRT has been named the best in the country. But it runs slower than expected. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline BRT is viewed as the best in the country — but the city has declined to make an easy change that would speed it up. Photo: Wikipedia

Cleveland’s Healthline is widely viewed as the best bus rapid transit project in the country — and for many good reasons. Running on dedicated center lanes, the Healthline isn’t bogged down by car traffic on the most congested portions of its 7.1-mile route. With about 14,000 daily trips, the Healthline has increased ridership nearly 50 percent (though some of that is attributable to elimination of redundant routes), and local officials credit it with spurring billions of dollars of development nearby.

But it could run much faster if officials fixed one small thing that is completely within their power to address: the signal timing.

While the Healthline has many hallmarks of good BRT like the center-running lanes and off-board fare payment, it lacks transit signal priority — the technology that turns traffic lights green as buses approach. As a result, Healthline buses don’t travel nearly as fast as they should.

The Plain Dealer reported in 2010 that it takes an average of 44 minutes to travel the seven miles from downtown’s Public Square to East Cleveland. That’s only three minutes faster than the bus line it replaced, and more than ten minutes off the 33-minute pace that project planners promised. Despite some tweaking around the margins, not much has changed since 2010, according to sources familiar with the project.

The frustrating thing is that the Healthline could easily run faster. But the city of Cleveland simply hasn’t activated the transit priority technology for most of the route, according to advocates.

“We all know it takes 10 more minutes than it should because of the light issue,” said Marc Lefkowitz of GreenCityBlueLake, a Cleveland-based environmental think tank that has been active in trying to resolve the issue.

John McGovern, current chair of RTA’s Citizen’s Advisory Board, said shortly after the Healthline began operating, the city turned off the transit priority technology for most of the traffic signals.

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Talking Headways Podcast: California Über Alles

Welcome to our all-California, all-the-time episode of the Talking Headways podcast.

We start with a statewide debate over whether $60,000+ Teslas should qualify for tax breaks — or whether any electric vehicles should get tax breaks. Then on to the conversation about how California’s cap-and-trade dollars should be spent. One proposal, from the State Senate leader, would spend it on affordable housing, sustainable communities, transit, and high-speed rail. And then we zoom in on Fresno, where one blogger wonders why the political threat to BRT didn’t get as much attention as it did in Nashville.

We missed the podcast after a long-ish break and are glad to be back! We hope you filled the gaping hole in your life by listening to back episodes of Talking Headways goodness and subscribing to us on iTunes or Stitcher or signing up for the RSS feed.

And, side note: The giveaway for our spring pledge drive has changed since we recorded this podcast. Now, you’ll be entered into a drawing to win a package of zines and books by feminist bike activist and writer Elly Blue. Thanks for your donation!

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You Can Now Bring Street Transformations to Life With Google Street View

indy

If you ever want to show someone that it’s possible to change streets and cities for the better, Google Street View can now help you do it.

Google recently made it possible to view archived Street View images. This means it’s easier than ever to show what streets looked like before and after a redesign. (Thanks to the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma for bringing our attention to this new feature.)

We were able to animate a few street transformations from around the country with the new Street View feature. Above you can see the arrival of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail on North Street. People for Bikes called the project the second-best protected bike lane in the United States.

Allen Street on New York’s Lower East Side features one of the city’s most unique bikeways, which runs in the center of the street and is part of a boulevard-style median, complete with small plazas like this one in what used to be the middle of intersections:

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State Interference in Nashville BRT Could Have National Implications

Annie Weinstock is the regional director for the U.S. and Africa at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Nashville's BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: ITDP

Nashville’s BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: Wikimedia

Last week saw the quiet death of the misguided, Koch brothers-funded Tennessee Senate Bill 2243, which would have effectively banned real bus rapid transit in Tennessee. The Senate’s outrageous overreach, attempting to prohibit transit from using dedicated lanes, was conferenced with a far milder House bill, and the compromise allows the use of separate lanes — including the center-running transit lanes the Amp BRT project intends to use. However, the bill requires such projects to get approval from the state legislature, even if they don’t use any state funding.

The compromise deal still spells trouble for the 7.1-mile Amp BRT line, but it sets a far less dangerous precedent than the Senate bill. The Senate’s version, one of the most anti-mass transit pieces of legislation in recent memory, would have hurt Nashville and other Tennessee cities environmentally, socially, and economically.

-Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged 5.8 billion in development, while the city’s contribution to the project was only 200 million. Photo: ITDP

Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged $5.8 billion in development, while the total cost of the project was only $200 million. Photo: ITDP

But even though the Senate bill did not fully succeed, this coordinated attack on high quality transit could still have national implications. When the Tennessee Senate first took up the bill, it raised eyebrows nationally for its unusually specific prohibition on “any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system.” Such a direct attack on BRT from a state authority is unprecedented, and is a clear threat to the ability of one of Tennessee’s major cities to remain competitive.

The U.S. is still woefully behind European, Asian, and Latin American cities in building modern and efficient transport innovations such as BRT and bike-share. In the past decade, U.S. cities have finally been waking up to the fact that in order to be modern and economically competitive, they have to make their transportation systems cleaner, more attractive, and more efficient. With much of the electorate opposed to increased taxation, cost-effective BRT represents one of the few areas where the U.S. has made progress.

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11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds“ surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible ”headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

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Long Arm of the Koch Brothers Extends to Nashville to Slap Down Transit

Fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch are meddling in local Nashville transit politics. Image: screenshot from the “Koch Brothers Exposed” trailer, via Salon

On Tuesday, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that he might do away with dedicated transit lanes on two stretches of the Amp, the proposed seven-mile bus rapid transit line that could set an important precedent for the car-centric city. Dean is the main political backer of the project, so the fact that he’s buckling says something about the mounting pressure to water down or kill the Amp. And that pressure isn’t going to let up any time soon, because Dean and other supporters of effective transit in Nashville are up against opponents with very deep pockets.

Until recently, the anti-transit campaign in Nashville — organized under the umbrella of a group called Stop AMP — seemed like garden variety NIMBYism. Some nearby residents don’t want to transfer any street space from cars to buses, and they had a fitting ringleader in local car dealer Lee Beaman. But when the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill that would ban transit lanes, that raised some eyebrows.

Where did Stop AMP get the muscle to move a bill through the State Senate? “Concerned citizens writing us checks for $100 here, $200 there,” Richard Fulton of Stop AMP told Streetsblog. Fulton is the son of former Nashville mayor and Tennessee state senator Dick Fulton.

Yup, $100 checks — and oh right, a lobbyist paid by the Koch brothers, billionaire funders of the Tea Party movement and smart growth paranoia everywhere. “They do have a lobbyist that has been assisting us and helping lobby but mainly because he’s a citizen of Nashville and against the Amp,” Fulton admitted.

Americans for Prosperity, the most illustrious of the political organizations financed by Charles and David Koch, has a new chapter in Tennessee. It’s just nine months old but with the State Senate vote it already has a big win under its belt.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Play the Gray Away

Jeff and I had a great time this week, getting all outraged at the short-sighted move by the Tennessee Senate to ban dedicated lanes for transit, and high and mighty about cities that devote too much space to surface parking at the expense of just about everything else. And then we treat ourselves to a fun conversation about the origin of the American playground — and whether the entire city should be the playground.

We think you’ll enjoy this one.

Meanwhile, have you subscribed to the Talking Headways podcast on iTunes yet? Well, why the hell not? While you’re at it, you know we’d love a little bit of listener feedback. Oh, you can also follow the RSS feed. And we always enjoy your comments, below.

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Tennessee Senate Tries to Cripple Nashville BRT

UPDATE: Though none of the coverage we saw mentioned it, the final law includes an amendment to ban all dedicated transit lanes — not just in the center — “on any state highway or state highway right-of-way unless the project to do so is approved by the legislative body of the metropolitan government and by the commissioner of transportation.”

The Tennessee Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the Amp's center-lane design. Image: ##http://nashvillepublicradio.org/blog/2013/06/11/those-hoping-to-put-damper-on-amp-face-well-funded-backers/##Transit Alliance/Nashville MTA##

The Tennessee Senate voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the Amp’s center-lane design. Image: Transit Alliance/Nashville MTA

In an act of extreme short-sighted stupidity, the Tennessee Senate yesterday voted 27-4 to ban any transit project in Nashville that would run in the center lane. Coincidentally, the proposed Amp BRT line would run in the center lane. The House is working on a similar, though reportedly less horrible, bill.

Even most Nashville-area senators voted for the bill, which takes aim squarely at the Amp, a proposed 7.1-mile bus rapid transit line that would run along the congested Broadway/West End corridor. The line would connect East Nashville’s Five Points neighborhood with Saint Thomas West Hospital near Belle Meade, passing Vanderbilt University, which supports the project. President Obama put $27 million for the Amp in his proposed FY 2015 budget.

If you have any questions about why a center-running alternative matters, check out the viral Lego-man rap video Detroit transit advocate Joel Batterman made in favor of the Woodward Avenue line. In short, whether the buses run down the median or on the right is the difference between getting stuck in traffic and a smooth, fast ride.

Though the Amp is the bill’s primary intended victim, it would broadly ban on center-running transit anywhere in the city. Bill sponsor Jim Tracy “worries not only about congestion but also about the safety of people boarding buses in the center of the road,” according to the Tennessean.

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In Obama Budget, a Glimpse of What Beefed-Up Transit Funding Could Do

Nashville BRT is among the transit upgrades in line for funding in 2015. Image: Nashville Public Radio

The budget proposal released by President Obama yesterday fleshes out the transportation ideas put out by the White House last week and includes specific grants for transit upgrades and expansions in 2015, but many of them won’t be part of this budget unless Congress agrees to increase funding for transportation.

The White House budget proposes $17.6 billion for the Federal Transit Administration, an increase of about $7 billion from current levels. This would give transit agencies significantly more resources to rehab existing infrastructure and build rail and bus expansions.

Most of the additional funding — more than $5 billion — would come in the form of bigger distributions to transit agencies by formula. On top of that, money for transit expansion projects would grow by more than $500 million, a new $500 million program would help fund bus rapid transit projects, and $500 million would be set aside for “a new competitive grant program that will encourage innovative solutions to our most pressing transportation challenges.”

Enacting these changes is unlikely, because Obama will have to win Congressional support for funding transportation with corporate tax reform. But a look at the FTA budget provides a sense of how much more can be done for transit each year, given new resources.

The increased funding for transit expansion would go toward light rail in Baltimore, an extension of Boston’s Green Line, and commuter rail in Orlando, among other projects. Portland’s Columbia River Crossing — the sprawl bridge/light rail project that apparently just won’t die – is also on the list.

A round of smaller grants that also need Congressional approval would fund bus rapid transit projects in Nashville, Oakland, El Paso, Eugene, and Vancouver, as well as $50 million to advance Fort Lauderdale’s streetcar plans.

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Fresno City Council Slams the Brakes on BRT

Sprawl and big money prevailed over progress last night in Fresno. The City Council dealt a major blow to local plans for smart planning and bus rapid transit, but stopped short of killing the project completely.

Fresno City Council members caved to specious arguments about BRT, delaying the project. Image: Fresno Bee

Fresno City Council members caved to specious arguments about BRT, delaying the project. Image: Fresno Bee

About $50 million in federal and state grants have been secured to build a bus rapid transit system and operate it for the first three years. But council members — voting 4-3 not to fund the final design phases and hire a project manager — moved to delay the project indefinitely.

The council did vote 7-0 to adopt a state requirement that the project would not negatively impact the environment. That left the door open for it to continue, but it’s possible the Federal Transit Administration will yank $38 million if major changes are made to the agreement.

Council members indicated they expected the project to come back before them, according to the Fresno Bee. But Christine Barker of Flare Together, an organization representing residents of south Frenso, said she expects the next iteration would be lower quality, if it is approved.

The route already barely qualified as bus rapid transit under federal regulations, as it had almost no dedicated right-of-way. The system would have included some prioritization for buses at stop lights, off-board payment and real-time travel information at enhanced bus shelters, as well as frequent service along important east-west and north-south routes.

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