Currently viewing the tag: "Bus Rapid Transit"

A rendering of the proposed "34th Street Transitway"

The New York City Department of Transportation’s newest project brings the successful concept of Bus Rapid Transit to an important cross town bus route and showcases, once again, what a progressive DOT is capable of doing to improve quality of life and transportation options for its residents and visitors. As you can see in the rendering above, the idea is not only to improve an existing roadway and speed up bus service, but to also improve the pedestrian experience along the corridor.

Famously successful in cities like Bogota and Curitiba, the idea of dedicating lanes to buses has been successful here in Miami, as well. The South Miami-Dade Busway acts as a low-cost extension of the Metrorail for thousands of county residents. TransitMiami.com remains a strong proponent of Light Rail (or LRT over BRT), but as Miami looks to expand its transportation options, our leaders could learn a great deal from NYC - where they understand the importance of land-use in transportation planning.

The South Miami-Dade Busway

Look at the two pictures. What is missing on our Busway?

Awesome. This should be where how start investing our transit dollars. MDT should also take notice the aspects that make the BRT successful and apply them to the South Dade Busway like elevated stations, signal priority, and streetscape changes. Courtesy of Streetsfilms.

I was fortunate enough to vacation in Ecuador last week. I was certainly impressed with  the country’s diverse, natural  landscapes, but also appreciated how the capital city of Quito is  starting to approach transportation.

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The above is not a streetcar or light rail station. Rather, it Quito’s Bus Rapid Transit system called Trole (Trolley Bus).  Note that riders (more than 220,000 per day on its  single  line) pay the fare before entering the station, which speeds boarding time. Also, most of the line operates on physically-separated bus lanes with signal prioritization so that the system does not have to compete with motor vehicle traffic.  Additionally, buses run on short headways, 60 seconds during peak hours, which allows for an extremely high level of service. While  such BRT systems have yet to find much traction in the United States, South American cities  like Bogota and Quito seem to be having good success with BRT as a cheaper than rail, but more effective than  normal bus, transportation solution.

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Quito has also implemented phase 1 of its first physically-separated bicycle system, dubbed Ciclo-Q. The fledgling system operates within the road right-of-way in many places, while using sidewalk space in others. In my estimation, those segments within the roadway (pictured above) operate more smoothly than those on the sidewalk where too many curb cuts, fairly narrow sidewalks, and driveways interrupt the bikeway, create conflict with pedestrians, and compromise safety (pictured below). Bikeways on sidewalks have been known to work in many places, but are typically placed on sidewalks with much wider widths and offer a commensurate level  of safety countermeasures, such as  prioritization signals and stark pavement/material contrast to delineate the bikeway.

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Pati Menas, the city’s alternative transportation coordinator had this to say about  the Ciclo-Q system and its low level of use, “even if now there are not many cyclists on the route, it is necessary to provide the people with infrastructure. Otherwise, we will never start promoting non-motorized transport.”  I couldn’t agree more and expect that with their own “Bike Miami” like ciclovias now humming, the Ciclo-Q will only see more use as the network is expanded.

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In the small  town of Banos, located just outside the larger city of Cuenca,  I was particularly enamored with the ratio of pedestrian space to motor vehicle space. Within the town center, along its traditional grid, the roadway comprises no more than 1/3 of the public realm.  The rest of the space is dedicated purely to pedestrians in the form of wide sidewalks. This ratio makes for an enriched street life and allows for safe bicycling within the town’s streets. Sadly,  such a humane ratio is normally just the opposite in American cities, where pedestrians are lucky to have 10% of the space between buildings.

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Other traffic control devices  that caught my eye were the sheer number of speed bumps used within the Ecuadorian roadway system. One may find them throughout the cities and even on  some of the more rural highways.  Speed bumps can be controversial for many types of users, but they are certainly well-respected traffic-control devices in Ecuador. Finally, when traveling around the country one notices dozens of unique pavement markings that come in the form of blue hearts. The hearts, I am told, designate the location of traffic fatalities. Such awareness building techniques are sobering, especially when one sees a grouping of hearts. Nonetheless, they offer a vivid reminder that roadway safety remains an important issue. With over 40,000 traffic-related fatalities a year in the United States, one would think that such measures may also prove powerful.

In general, you find that any place you visit outside of the United States seems to have a richer, more embellished public realm. Moreover, transportation innovation also seems to be taking place outside of the US as well.  For those of us who are urbanists, this certainly makes vacationing a real pleasure. However, iIt also provides inspiration for what we can, and should be doing better here in the United States.

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The Boston (MBTA) Silver line illustrates the proper way transportation should be integrated into up and coming areas, not yet ready to be serviced by regular rail transit.  The Silver line will eventually create an “Urban Transit Ring” connecting much of the transit in the city of Boston and establishing a BRT to service areas which could sorely benefit from regular fixed transit.  The Buses used on the silver line operate using engines on regular streets, but operate under electrical power (transferred by overhead wires) when operating in tunnels or streets with existing electrical infrastructure (similar to streetcars and LRT.)  The eventual objective of the silverline is to serve as a placeholder for future rail expansion while cultivating proper transit oriented development and ridership along the route…

The Miami streetcar seems to be generating plenty of controversy. Before we convince ourselves that it’s good or bad, perhaps we need to look at another streetcar. Seattle’s streetcar, nicknamed “S.L.U.T.” for the South Lake Union Trolley, made its debut Wednesday to large crowds of riders. It also generated its share of controversy (even to the point of sabotage), so lets look at some of the issues.

The Seattle streetcar apparently does not use signal preemption. It has to stop at all traffic lights just like a bus would. This is rather ridiculous, as even Bus Rapid Transit usually calls for signals to change to give priority to the bus. An effective Miami streetcar needs to have signal preemption.

Bicyclists don’t like it and organized a protest. Seattle put the tracks on the right side of the road, precariously close to the bicyclists’ paths. Rails in the road parallel to a bicycles direction of travel are a recipe for disaster. As a bicyclist myself, I share their concerns. Streetcars like Seattle’s carry a lot more people than bicycles, and that should give them at least a slightly higher priority. At the same time, streets need to accommodate as many modes as possible-especially if we ever hope to implement a decent bike sharing program. The needs of bicyclists, pedestrians, transit, and auto all need to be considered carefully in the design of Miami’s streetcar. One alternative that has been used before is to put the rails down the middle of the street.

Seattle’s streetcar is expected to help retail business. That’s probably an accurate expectation, but we’ll have to wait and see the numbers. Most rail transit systems have increased local business, and we could probably expect the same in Miami.

There’s one unique issue that Miami will have to worry about. Every time there is a hurricane, the overhead electric lines will have to be repaired. We all know how often that happens! This makes it worthwhile to consider alternate technologies such as Innorail, which have the added benefit of removing unsightly overhead wires.

It sounds like Seattle’s streetcar was packed the first day, just new like light rail systems. Charlotte’s Lynx light rail is exceeding projections in its first weeks. Surely Miami’s streetcar would do the same.

The South Miami-Dade Busway expansion will finally be complete and open to the public next week. We want to hear about your experiences riding it, so please feel free to email us with stories, comments, or concerns.

From the Miami-Dade Transit press release:

(MIAMI, December 7, 2007) – Miami-Dade Transit will dedicate the final 6.5-mile segment of the South Miami-Dade Busway in an official ribbon-cutting ceremony on Friday, Dec. 14 at 10 a.m. The ceremony will take place at the south end of the new extension at Southwest 344th Street, two blocks west of U.S. 1 in Florida City.

Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, members of the County Commission and other local dignitaries will help celebrate the occasion. The public is invited to the event, and free refreshments and entertainment will be provided.

Buses will begin running on the newly completed extension — which continues the Busway from Southwest 264th Street to 344th Street — on Sunday, Dec. 16. Routes 34 (Busway Flyer) and 38 (Busway MAX) will be realigned to operate on the new Busway segment, allowing passengers to get to their destinations more quickly. Route 38 will continue to stop at the Florida City Wal-Mart from the Southwest 344th Street Busway station, while Route 34 will continue to serve Florida City’s City Hall.

At 20 miles, the completed Busway, which runs just west of U.S. 1, will be the longest Bus Rapid Transit line in the United States, providing fast, convenient service all the way from Florida City to the Dadeland South Metrorail station, with several Park & Ride lots located at convenient intervals along its entire length.

“We’re very pleased in bringing the benefits of the Busway to residents of south Miami-Dade,” said Miami-Dade Transit Director Harpal Kapoor. “Homestead and Florida City residents will now be able to get to work and other destinations faster and more conveniently using the Busway, just as their neighbors on the north end of the Busway have been doing for years.”

Since the Busway opened in 1997, Miami-Dade Transit buses have been swiftly shuttling thousands of passengers a day on the exclusive bus-only expressway, allowing commuters to avoid gridlock on chronically congested U.S. 1. The Busway now enjoys 23,000 average weekday boardings – a stunning 180 percent ridership growth in its 10 years of operation.

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