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Posts from the Bus Rapid Transit Category

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A New Blueprint for Streets That Put Transit Front and Center

This template shows how transit could be prioritized on a wide suburban-style arterial. Image: NACTO

A template for transit-only lanes and floating bus stops on a wide street with parking-protected bike lanes. Image: NACTO

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has released a new design guide to help cities prioritize transit on their streets.

How can cities integrate bus rapid transit with protected bike lanes? How can bus stops be improved and the boarding process sped up? How should traffic signals be optimized to prioritize buses? The Transit Street Design Guide goes into greater detail on these questions than NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, released in 2013.

Before the publication of this guide, city transportation officials looking to make streets work better for transit still had to hunt through a few different manuals, said NACTO’s Matthew Roe.

“The kinds of problems that the guide seeks to solve are exactly the kinds of design problems and questions that cities are trying to solve,” said Roe. “How do you get transit to get where it’s going quicker, without degrading the pedestrian environment? Some of that has to do with the details of design.”

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The Fight for Better Access to Jobs in Detroit and Milwaukee, Using Buses

Low-income residents of Detroit and Milwaukee face formidable obstacles to job access. These two Rust Belt regions are consistently ranked among the most segregated in the country, and neither has a good transit system.

Bus riders in Detroit. Photo: Ditched by DDOT

Bus riders in Detroit. Photo: Ditched By DDOT

In both regions, the places that have been growing and adding jobs fastest have been been overwhelmingly sprawling, suburban areas inaccessible to people without cars.

A 2013 Brookings study ranked Detroit number one in the U.S. in job sprawl. According to that report, 77 percent of the region’s jobs are at least 10 miles outside of downtown. The national average is 43 percent.

Detroit’s woeful job access issues were perhaps best illustrated by James Robertson, a factory worker who commutes to a suburb that “opted out” of the regional transit system. Robertson’s brutal commute went viral, and while it was extreme even for Detroit, it highlighted a disjointed transit network that limits opportunity for many other residents.

Milwaukee faces a similar set of problems. As of December 2014, Milwaukee County had only regained 35 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, while outlying counties had regained 70 percent, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis. A 2013 study by Public Policy Forum found that about a third of the region’s 29 major job centers were inaccessible by transit. A local civil rights group recently prevailed in a suit against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for its continued prioritization of costly highway projects at the expense of vital transit connections.

Now, both Detroit and Milwaukee are considering similar measures to improve job access: high-quality bus service that will connect workers from the city to suburban job centers.

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“A Game Changer” for Albuquerque: Bus Rapid Transit Is a Go

Albuquerque's ART bus rapid transit seeks to change the way people get around. Image: City of Albuquerque

Albuquerque’s ART bus rapid transit project will put a center-running busway on the city’s main street. Image: City of Albuquerque

Recently, Albuquerque has gotten a good look at the insanity that can grip people when confronted by the idea of reallocating street space from cars to transit. The city is planning to add center-running bus lanes along Central Avenue — its main street — and for months public meetings about the project featured people standing on chairs and shouting, actual fights, and the occasional police escort out of the building.

But this week, cooler heads prevailed. The Albuquerque City Council voted 7-2 to accept $70 million in federal money and get started on the project, called ART, which is backed by the city’s Republican mayor. Now, after a long and tense drama, it looks like ART is a go.

Dan Majewski helped found YES ART NOW, a grassroots group that supported the project. He is elated. Majewski said council members had a well-reasoned debate and weren’t swayed by opponents who said bus lanes would ruin their neighborhood.

“I think it’s an absolute game changer,” Majewski said. “I think that’s part of why there’s been so much vitriol around the project.”

“It’s really symbolic of the culture shift,” he added. “What we witnessed [Monday] night was historic: the city voting to prioritize something other than automobiles. We’ve never seen a situation where people are consciously voting to take away lanes for cars and give them to transit.”

With the ART, the stars seem to be aligning for Albuquerque to become more than “a collection of … nondescript subdivisions connected by monotonous commercial strips,” as one local writer put it.

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New Evidence That Bus Rapid Transit Done Right Spurs Development

More American cities are considering bus rapid transit, or BRT, as a cost-effective method to expand and improve transit. One of the knocks against BRT, as opposed to rail, is that it supposedly doesn’t affect development patterns. But a new study [PDF] by Arthur C. Nelson of the University of Arizona and released by Transportation for America finds that BRT lines can indeed shape real estate and attract jobs — if the projects are done right.

Bus rapid transit can spur private investment in cities, but it needs to have features that help make it "fixed," like dedicated lanes and level boarding platforms. Image: University of Arizona

BRT can spur walkable development and job growth in cities, but it needs to be designed to a high standard with features like dedicated bus lanes and level boarding platforms. Photo: National Institute for Transportation and Communities

Nelson examined real estate investment, commercial rents, and multi-family housing development around BRT routes during the early 2000s and the first half of this decade. He found that in Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, and other cities with high-quality BRT lines, real estate near the routes tends to be valued at a premium and is capturing an increasing share of development.

For example, in downtown Cleveland, offices within a quarter-mile of the Healthline BRT rent at prices 18 percent higher than downtown office space outside walking distance of the line. In Eugene, Oregon, the premium is 12 percent.

Proximity to BRT lines appears to be growing more appealing over time. Between 2000 and 2007, Census tracts within a quarter mile of BRT routes captured about 11 percent of total office space development in the regions the authors studied. From 2007 to 2015, that share grew to 15 percent.

“This is not trivial,” said Nelson during a presentation at the annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board this morning. “My sense is that this distribution will keep gaining share.”

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Koch Brothers Tentacles Reach Out to Squelch Albuquerque BRT

Albuquerque has a plan for bus rapid transit. But is it getting a fair hearing? Photo: City of Albuquerque

Albuquerque has a plan for bus rapid transit, and there’s a hired gun out to kill it. Photo: City of Albuquerque

Albuquerque, like many cities, is looking at bus rapid transit as a cost-effective way to improve mobility and create a more walkable city. Its BRT plan calls for frequent service on a center-running bus lane along Central Avenue, the city’s busiest bus route, which passes through the heart of downtown.

The city has applied for funding from the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Smarts program. With $80 million in federal funds matched by $20 million in local funds, service could begin in 2017.

But the local conversation about the project has been hijacked by outside groups with an anti-transit agenda. The most outspoken critics are a couple of men with financial ties to — are you ready? — the Koch brothers, fitting a pattern recently seen in NashvilleBoston, and a lot of other places.

The first is Paul Gessing from the Rio Grande Foundation, the group leading organized opposition to the project. The Rio Grande Foundation is part of the State Policy Network, which the Center for Media and Democracy describes as “mini-Heritage Foundations” that are “major drivers of the right-wing, American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC)-backed corporate agenda in state houses nationwide, with deep ties to the Koch brothers and the national right-wing network of funders.”

Naturally, the Rio Grande Foundation trotted out professional transit basher Randall O’Toole — of the Koch-backed Cato Institute — who tweaked his anti-rail road show in this case to criticize the bus plan.

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The Koch Brothers Win: Nashville Abandons “Amp” BRT Plans

Nashville’s bid to build its first high-capacity transit line is dead, the Tennessean is reporting today. It’s a victory for the Koch brothers-funded local chapter of Americans for Prosperity and a defeat for the city’s near-term hopes of transitioning to less congested, more sustainable streets.

Nashville's 7-mile "Amp" BRT was part of a larger vision for a better connected, more efficient region. Image: AMP Yes

Nashville’s 7-mile “Amp” BRT was envisioned as the beginning of a more connected transit network and less car dependent city. Image: AMP Yes

The project, known as the Amp, called for a 7-mile busway linking growing East Nashville to downtown and parts of the city’s west end. Civic leaders hoped it would be the first of many high-capacity bus routes that would help make the growing city more attractive and competitive.

But Mayor Karl Dean, facing organized opposition to the project, announced late last year that he would not try to start building the Amp before he leaves office later in 2015.  This week the city’s leading transit official made it official and stopped design work on the Amp, The Tennessean reports.

The opposition group “Stop Amp” was led by local car dealership impresario Lee Beaman and limousine company owner Rick Williams, according to the Tennessean. The group also had help from the Koch brothers, with the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity introducing a bill in the State Senate that would have outlawed dedicated transit lanes throughout  Tennessee. Opponents fell short of that, but Republicans in the legislature were a constant obstacle to the project’s funding.

Transit supporters in Nashville are now left to pick up the pieces and figure out what comes next. “We’ve never come so far in bringing this level of mass transit to Nashville, and we have to continue the conversation to make it a reality,” Dean said in a statement last week.

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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014

streetsie_2014

If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014”? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts

Before

Before

After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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ITDP Maps Bus Rapid Transit Successes Worldwide

ITDPmap

Searching for solid examples of Bus Rapid Transit in your slice of the world, or pondering possible ways to solve a particular BRT problem? A new interactive map developed by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy might have your answer.

ITDP, which created the BRT Standard to define high-quality BRT and foster it around the world, has now plotted every city on the planet with a BRT route that has achieved the Standard’s criteria. The map shows that the most, and highest-quality, BRT systems are concentrated in Latin America, where the concept originated, and in fast-growing China. Within the United States, Cleveland, Los Angeles, and Pittsburgh stand out as leaders, but cities around the country are hatching plans for new systems.

North America isn’t the only region where BRT has a lot of room to expand. Fast-growing cities across Africa, the Middle East, and South Asia could also look to BRT to provide more mobility for their citizens at a relatively low cost.

The map also illustrates key examples of how individual cities have addressed the most common challenges of implementing BRT. For instance, it notes the “beautifully designed stations” along Johannesburg’s Rea Vaya line as a case study for level platforms, which eliminate stairs and thus speed bus boarding. As cities like San Francisco face similar challenges in designing and implementing their BRT systems, they can learn from other cities’ experiences.

Edited to reflect that the map only shows systems certified by the BRT Standard, which may not include every system that meets the standard.

StreetFilms
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Buenos Aires: Building a People-Friendly City

Buenos Aires is fast becoming one of the most admired cities in the world when it comes to reinventing streets and transportation.

Just over a year ago, the city launched MetroBus BRT (constructed in less than seven months) on 9 de Julio Avenue, which may be the world’s widest street. The transformation of four general traffic lanes to exclusive bus lanes has yielded huge dividends for the city and is a bold statement from Mayor Mauricio Macri about how Buenos Aires thinks about its streets. More than 650,000 people now ride MetroBus every day, and it has cut commutes in the city center from 50-55 minutes to an incredible 18 minutes.

That’s not the only benefit of this ambitious project. The creation of MetroBus freed up miles of narrow streets that used to be crammed with buses. Previously, Buenos Aires had some pedestrian streets, but moving the buses to the BRT corridor allowed the administration to create a large network of shared streets in downtown where pedestrians rule. On the shared streets, drivers aren’t permitted to park and the speed limit is an astonishingly low 10 km/h. Yes, that is not a misprint — you’re not allowed to drive faster than 6 mph!

Bicycling has also increased rapidly in the past four years — up from 0.5 percent mode share to 3 percent mode share and climbing. Ecobici is the city’s bike-share system which is expanding to 200 stations in early 2015. Oh, and add this amazing fact: Ecobici is free for all users for the first hour.

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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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