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Rapid Bus Transit as a Substitute for Light Rail Transit

Rapid Bus Transit as a Substitute for Light Rail Transit

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Published by: nextSTL.com on Apr 29, 2009
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Bus Rapid Transit as a Substitute for Light Rail Transit
 A Tale of Two Cities
G. S
Wilbur Smith Associates
There is growing awareness that continued development and expansion of high-qualitypublic transportation service is an essential ingredient in modifying mode choicebehavior in the United States. In the past 20 years, 12 new start light rail transit (LRT)lines have been constructed in North America as part of a determined effort to changetravel patterns in growing cities. However, the cost-effectiveness of constructingexpensive new start LRT lines is being questioned by local officials in many smallercities now engaged in studying the feasibility of such investments. The costs of constructing LRT have spiraled upward, whereas estimated levels of future transit systemridership in smaller cities are relatively low compared to larger cities. Can publictransportation services in smaller cities be dramatically improved without theextraordinary capital expenditures required of LRT system construction? Bus rapid transit(BRT) may be a rational and cost-effective way to implement significant transitimprovements in smaller cities, and it may cost 40 to 70 percent less than current LRTconstruction estimates. These cost savings often can be achieved without sacrificingservice quality and potential ridership. The service characteristics and attributes of BRTare also often similar to LRT, with the notable exception of the vehicles and supportinginfrastructure. This research explores the rationale for building BRT in two differentcities: Cleveland, Ohio, and Nashville, Tennessee. The research will compare andcontrast the costs, benefits, and cost-effectiveness of the rail and bus alternativesproposed for the travel corridors in these two cities.
he resurgent interest in bus rapid transit (BRT) within the United States is a directoutgrowth of the limited ability of the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to fundevery New Start rail project that is now being conceived, planned, or designed. Theinadequate level of funding for New Start rail projects will continue to be a political realityuntil the U.S. Congress changes the way transportation projects are funded. From the FTAperspective, BRT is a step toward developing improved public transportation systems thathave the service delivery characteristics and appeal of a rail transit line at a fraction of thecapital cost. This would spread limited federal resources to more cities. The direct federalinvestment in improved transit services in more American cities would become a majorcatalyst in the process of changing mode choice behaviors and arresting urban coredisinvestment throughout the country. This stewardship of federal investment is evenmore prudent when many feasibility studies indicate that required ridership thresholdson proposed New Start rail lines in many cities won’t be achieved until sometime in the
 Light Rail: Investment for the Future—8th Joint Conference on LightRail Transit 
K-32 / 2
future. Some planned light rail transit (LRT) systems have average daily ridership estimatesin the 15,000 to 20,000 range. There are many bus lines in the United States that carry asmany or more riders on a daily basis, including the Euclid Corridor line in Cleveland.This research explores the rationale of building BRT in two different cities:Cleveland, Ohio, and Nashville, Tennessee. Each city has unique travel demandcharacteristics and population growth trends. In Cleveland, the BRT system was selectedas the locally preferred alternative for the Euclid Corridor upon completion of the
 Dual Hub Corridor Transitional Analysis
) in 1995. In Nashville, BRT is being consideredas a lower-cost alternative to an urban core LRT line. The BRT in Cleveland is asubstitute for LRT, while the BRT in Nashville is viewed as a precursor to LRT. Thereasons for this are directly related to the population and employment growthcharacteristics of the two cities. Cleveland is an older, northern city with relatively flatpopulation and employment growth. Transit ridership is not expected to increasesignificantly over the next 20 years. Nashville, on the other hand, is experiencingtremendous growth in both employment and population growth.
Bus systems are ubiquitous, versatile, and flexible. They are comparatively inexpensiveto implement. However, bus systems are not overly appealing to people who valuecomfort, convenience, and speed. Therefore, the underlying concept of BRT is simple:duplicate the reliability, level of service, comfort, and appeal of a modern LRT line whileachieving the flexibility and cost-effectiveness inherent in bus systems. BRT servicesshould include the following attributes:
Exclusive bus lanes, bus streets, and busways
Bus signal priority or preemption
Traffic management improvements
Improved fare collection and boarding/alighting patterns
Appealing bus designs and seating arrangements
Integration of transit station development with adjacent land-use policy
Improved facilities and passenger amenities such as stations and enhanced stopsThese attributes appeal to people who place a high emphasis on status, convenience,comfort, and speed. Every BRT design feature must address these needs. In other words,the attributes of BRT must appeal to people who now choose to drive an automobile andmust be at least equal to LRT.BRT systems have been successfully deployed throughout the world with varyingdegrees of success. The most notable BRT systems in the United States are in Houston,Texas; Los Angeles, California (El Monte Freeway); Miami, Florida; Pittsburgh,Pennsylvania; Orlando, Florida (LYMMO); San Francisco, California (Highway 101);and Washington, DC (Shirley Highway). BRT systems under development in the UnitedStates include Hartford, Connecticut; Oakland, California; Cleveland, Ohio; Eugene,Oregon; Charlotte, North Carolina; and several other cities with bus transit priorityfeatures such as the High Street Corridor in Columbus, Ohio. In other countries, BRT is
SislakK-32 / 3
growing in importance as well. Some of the more diverse cities that have developed BRTsystems are Adelaide, Australia; Curitiba and Sao Paolo, Brazil; Ottawa, Canada; Quito,Ecuador; Caen, Lyon, Nancy, and Paris, France; and Essen, Germany. The most notableand famous is Curitiba.The principles of BRT are highly developed and articulated in the Curitibaexample. However, urban design features of the BRT in Curitiba are decidedly differentfrom those that people in the United States have come to expect from high-quality LRTsystems. The buses in Curitiba are not air-conditioned, for example. The urban transitsystem in Paris is developing a system of high-quality BRT services on suburbanboulevards, with exclusive lanes to speed the operation of transit service in suburb-to-suburb travel corridors. These BRT lines are intended to be replaced by LRT aspassenger traffic on the lines increases. New guided bus technology and dual-modehybrid electric buses that resemble light rail vehicles are emerging as guided light transit(GLT) in France and Germany.To appeal to status-conscious Americans, Cleveland and Nashville contemplateBRT systems as utilizing exclusive busways on an urban arterial street, with transit-priority signaling. The technology recommended for both systems is low-floor,articulated electric trolleybuses (ETBs). The design of each BRT system is intended toreplicate many of the desired features of LRT including stations, traveler informationsystems, and other attractive urban design features such as art-in-transit.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA) and the city of Cleveland are jointly developing a major transportation infrastructure investment in the Euclid Avenuetravel corridor between Public Square in downtown Cleveland and University Circle.This is a distance of approximately 4.3 mi (6.92 km). The project consists of severaltransportation system management (TSM) elements recommended in the
 Dual HubCorridor Transitional Analysis
). The TSM alternative was adopted by the NortheastOhio Areawide Coordinating Agency as the region’s locally preferred investmentstrategy for transportation improvements in the corridor. These TSM improvementscenter on establishing priority treatments for transit vehicles on Euclid Avenue,improving access and passenger waiting amenities in a specified downtown transit zone,and purchasing and deploying a unique transit vehicle. As part of the roadway andtransitway improvements, Euclid Avenue will be reconstructed the entire length of thecorridor. These civic improvements include urban design treatments intended to stimulateeconomic growth and redevelopment. The project was renamed the Euclid CorridorTransportation Project (ECTP).The central element of ECTP is the construction of an exclusive transitway in themedian of Euclid Avenue, Cleveland’s main street. The transitway would extend fromPublic Square east to Stearns Road in University Circle. It would include convenientlylocated stations spaced approximately every 0.5 mi (0.8 km). Traffic would be controlledby a traffic management system that monitors every signalized intersection and providespriority to detected advancing transit vehicles in the peak direction. The system wouldfunction as a bus rapid transit line and would have the capacity to move 90 buses perhour in the peak direction (Figure 1, where 1 mi
1.6 km).

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