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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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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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No, Nashville BRT Will Not Work Better Without Transit Lanes

Nashville, Tennessee, is trying to take its transit to the next level.

A rendering of how the Amp would look in Nashville, via Nashville Public Radio.

A rendering of how the Amp would look in Nashville, via Nashville Public Radio.

That ambition is most apparent in “the Amp,” a proposed 7-mile bus rapid transit route linking East Nashville with downtown and parts of the city’s West End. The project — which is entering the final design phases — would be built to a high standard, with 82 percent of the route running on dedicated transit lanes in the center of the street.

The route will give residents new options for getting around town without a car, especially the young people living in East Nashville, who are some of the project’s biggest supporters. Nashville MTA has applied for federal New Starts funding, and advocates of the proposal are optimistic the $75 million will be awarded in February or March.

But as with any transformative transit proposal, there’s some resistance. Part of that stems from everyday concerns from nearby residents and property owners — questions about left turns and other design details. The other part is general resistance to change, as well as doubt that a city like Nashville can influence the way people move around.

A recent article in the Tennessean seemed to suggest the answer is to water down the proposal altogether. In a piece headlined, “Could there have been middle ground on Amp’s center-lane design?,” reporter Josh Brown writes:

Nashville never analyzed whether a bus line with the same mass-transit-style features — such as stations with level boarding platforms and pre-purchased tickets — would prove just as effective without the bus-only lanes.

Ed Cole, executive director of the nonprofit advocacy group Transit Alliance of Middle Tennessee, said he wouldn’t support diluting the proposal, and that his goal is to “push the BRT concept as far as possible.”

“It’s so easy for opponents to say, ‘Just put more money into the bus system,’” he said. But that wouldn’t lead to the same dramatic shifts in travel behavior as BRT would.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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Taking the Guesswork Out of Rating BRT: An Interview With Walter Hook

Rio+20 - June 19

Transoeste BRT in Rio de Janeiro. Photo by Michael Oko.

There’s a new global benchmark for rating bus rapid transit projects. Yesterday the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy released the BRT Standard 2013, which lays out the requirements for bus routes to qualify as BRT and scores 50 systems in 35 cities around the world as basic, bronze, silver, or gold based on various criteria. The idea, which ITDP has been refining since a beta release in 2011, is to provide a concrete definition of what BRT is, and a reference for politicians, planners, and advocates who are interested in creating new BRT routes, as well as to rate the quality of existing systems.

People Creating Change: Walter Hook

ITDP CEO Walter Hook. Photo by Colin Hughes.

The standard rates more than 30 aspects of bus corridor design, awarding points for elements that improve system performance. Dedicated bus lanes, level boarding, pre-paid boarding and signal prioritization are considered basic requirements for BRT. Additional elements that score points include multiple bus routes running on the same corridor; passing lanes at stations; low-emission buses; attractive, weather-protected stations; real-time arrival info signs; integration with bike sharing and more.

Streetsblog recently caught up with ITDP CEO Walter Hook via telephone to get more info on the new guide.

John Greenfield: Congratulations on releasing the BRT Standard. So this is kind of like the LEED [green building rating system] for bus rapid transit, correct?

Walter Hook: Yeah, that’s basically the idea, with the additional caveat that the BRT Standard is also positing a minimum definition for what constitutes BRT at all, which is not really an element in LEED. I mean, LEED doesn’t say, “You’re not a green building if you don’t hit any of these things.” The BRT Standard now has a minimum definition. That’s new from last time.

When the U.S. promoted BRT they didn’t promote it with a very clear definition. So a lot of mediocre bus improvements were implemented that tarnished the brand.

JG: What is your minimum standard for something to be called BRT?

WH: It’s a fairly complicated formula but essentially it has to have a dedicated lane of at least four kilometers. If it’s on a two-way road, it has to run along the central median. If it’s a curb-running bus lane on a two-way street it’s pretty much ineligible. So there are a couple of baseline things, but there are a lot of details and nuances.

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Meet the Rural Region That Opted for VelociBuses Over Highway Expansion

The four sparsely populated mountain counties make up the Roaring Fork Valley extend over roughly 50 miles on Colorado’s Western Slope. About 32,000 people are interspersed throughout the valley in small towns like Basalt, Carbondale, and Glenwood Springs, but the local economy revolves around the nearby resort town of Aspen.

Smart branding is important for rural transit systems, says Smart Growth America's Roger Millar.

This, clearly, is challenging terrain for a transit agency. Aspen’s hotels and restaurants attract workers from around the region, but people who toil in local service industry jobs have mostly been priced out of the housing near Aspen.

“People who wash pots and pans at the hotels in Aspen were driving 75 miles one way for the privilege of doing that,” said Roger Millar of Smart Growth America at the New Partners for Smart Growth Conference in Kansas City last week.

As a result, Highway 82, the main route into Aspen, is the most congested highway in Colorado. Between 1992 and 1994, the Colorado DOT widened Highway 82 to four lanes.

“The DOT said by the time we get finished building four lanes, we’re going to need six lanes,” Millar said. “And everyone [in town] said, enough with that, we’ve got to do something different.”

Now the Roaring Fork Transit Authority is constructing the agreed upon alternative: a 39-mile bus rapid transit system along Highway 82 that they plan to call, in a bit of marketing genius, the VelociRFTA. When it opens this September, it will be the first bus rapid transit system in the country to serve a rural area.

The $40 million project will run buses every 10 minutes at rush hour, stopping nine times along the lengthy journey — a commuter express route. It will also feature heated waiting stations with bathrooms (pictured above). RFTA officials are encouraging users to walk or bike to the stations.

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