Currently viewing the tag: "Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)"

Hey everyone…sorry for the long hiatus, I’ve been in El Paso for the past couple of weeks participating in an exciting planning project for the city. The city of El Paso hired a team of planners led by the local Miami firm of Dover Kohl & Partners to develop plans for Transit Oriented Developments around three new BRT corridors the city is implementing (and to update their Comprehensive Plan). Yours truly was invited as a transit/planning/bike consultant and I am excited about the work going on here.

Proposed Sun Metro BRT Routes

El Paso is a cool city (22st largest in the country) with a lot going for it. Great architecture abounds, and the mountains are really stunning. Like most American cities, they have had a torrid love affair with highway building, but their newfound commitment to transit is an encouraging sign of things to come.

Historic Union Station Watercolor by Kenneth Garcia

Historically, El Paseños were blessed with one of the most extensive network of streetcars in the USA (which also extended into Juarez, Mexico), and was also one of the first to draft a Comprehensive Plan (compiled way back in 1925 by pioneering landscape architect George Kesseler).

Historic streetcar map

It is nice to see other cities investing in transit. Too bad our own County Commissioners can’t get their act together to provide adequate transit to the residents of Dade County. As the rest of the country advances toward multi-modal transportation, our own transit plans continue to stagnate with no end in sight.

If you want to check out more of the work being done in El Paso, go to (I’ll Be back in Miami soon!)

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. 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?

As high speed rail progresses through the planning stages special attention will need to be paid to the important issue of local connectivity in ensuring high ridership (and high speed rail’s success). Our major problem with funding transit expansion has been the federal government’s unwillingness to give us money because of the demonstrated lack of local political will in funding transit operations and maintenance. As is the case for most transit systems, funding initial construction is not as big a hurdle as funding ongoing operations and maintenance.

Which is why I wonder why MDT and FIU are putting all of their eggs into the proverbial Bus Rapid Transit ‘basket’.  Current plans show a mixture of BRT and BRT light for most major corridors in Dade County. Don’t get me wrong, BRT is not bad, but our goal should be to accommodate the greatest capacity for the same long term cost.  When comparing the O&M of Bus Rapid Transit with Light Rapid Transit this crucial cost is the same.  While initial construction of BRT infrastructure is lower, the operations and maintenance costs, the burden most placed on our local municipalities, is the same as light rail technology, only at a fraction of the capacity.

Don’t take it from me. The bipartisan Congressional Government Accountability Office did its own analysis comparing the costs of BRT with LRT  in 2003:

Communities consider several factors when they select mass transit options. Our 2001 report examined such factors as capital cost and operating costs, system performance, and other advantages and disadvantages of Bus Rapid Transit. We found, for example, that the capital costs of Bus Rapid Transit in the cities we reviewed averaged $13.5 million per mile for busways, $9.0 million per mile for buses on high occupancy vehicle lanes, and $680,000 per mile for buses on city streets, when adjusted to 2000 dollars.4 For comparison, we examined the capital costs of several Light Rail lines and found that they averaged about $34.8 million per mile, ranging from $12.4 million to $118.8 million per mile.5 In addition, in the cities we reviewed that had both types of service, neither Bus Rapid Transit nor Light Rail had a consistent advantage in terms of operating costs.

Said another way, apart from the difference in initial cost, choosing BRT costs as much per year to run as LRT, but with less capacity (light rail cars hold more passengers than bus rapid transit cars). When thinking over the long term, the equation heavily favors LRT, because the lost capacity over time far outweighs the initial savings, especially when one considers latent demand for mass transit.

What this means for the average citizen is that real transit solutions, such as  a metro-rail link down the Douglas corridor or an LRT Bay link, are going to lose out to costly BRT lines that will spend our transit dollars without making meaningful strides in increasing ridership, or connectivity.

This week, the US DOT released the FY11 Budget, a $79 Billion package best summarized by three key agency priorities: improving transportation safety, investing for the future, and promoting livable communities (this last point is significant, we’ll come back to it in a minute). $10.8 billion (7.3%) of the budget is dedicated to transit projects alone. Some cities, particularly Denver, Honolulu, Hartford, San Francisco, and St. Paul-Minneapolis came out as the big winners with new full funding grant agreements, a pivotal step in the FTA’s New Starts funding process.

While this is all great news - if you take some time to look through the budget you’ll notice our very own, Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension stuck in federal funding limbo. This September, MDT will have their final chance to prove their financial aptitude to the FTA.  As our colleagues over at Streetsblog pointed out, Miami, Boston, and Sacramento face an uphill battle over the coming year in achieving FTA approval.

Now, the important question here is: Why haven’t our local leaders figured out how the federal funding process works? While the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension is a noble project, serving a community that could certainly use some improved transit connectivity, the ugly truth is that it won’t garner the ridership necessary to warrant a $1.3 billion investment. Perhaps our local leaders don’t have the political courage to suggest such a notion. Perhaps it would be far more convenient (politically speaking) if the project dies as a result of the FTA rather than our own missteps. While our local leaders continue to advocate for projects that will never stand a chance in the federal appropriations process, we, the constituents, are affected by the ineffective transportation alternatives available. We all suffer. Our economy suffers. The longterm economic viability and sustainability of our community suffers.

Onto the livability objectives - the USDOT, partnering with the EPA and HUD, have embarked upon an ambitious livable community initiative aimed at integrating efficient transportation with healthy, affordable housing solutions. The livable communities initiative will emphasize integrated development around public transportation and will provide greater funding to communities that enhance accessibility, particularly through non-motorized means.

Since metrorail’s inception in the mid 80’s, what have we accomplished? Most recently, the opening of the I-95 HOT lanes has allowed for expanded BRT-like service between Miami and Ft. Lauderdale. However this project is partially marred by the fact that (vehicular) capacity was expanded on the corridor to begin with, leading to overall improved travel times (initially) due to the added capacity. The South Miami-Dade Busway, our only other major transportation capital improvement project, has shown some promising success. However, recent attempts at bringing HOT lanes to this corridor, in an effort to “alleviate” congestion along US-1 would prove disastrous and would certainly undermine the new federal goals of encouraging livability.

We’ll leave you with a few points for discussion before we continue this series next week. We invite our readers to use the comment section to continue this important discussion:

  • When Miami-Dade’s bid for the Orange Line Phase 2: North Corridor Metrorail Extension inevitably fails later this year, what position should the county ultimately take? What alternative makes the most sense?
  • The County has admitted that it will not be unable to deliver on the promises made in the PTP - what should be done?
  • If the county proposed a new, viable alternative to the PTP with reduced service but actually achievable objectives, would you support it? What routes would be critical in such a plan?

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.

  • The South Dade Coalition is fighting FPL’s plans for transmission lines down US1 as these would keep the corridor from developing into the mixed-use, walkable place they seek. Good job guys.
  • Coral Gables is extending its trolley down ponce from 8th street to Flagler using FDOT dollars for the first year.
  • Dade and Broward Counties are getting express buses to run on I95 and the turnpike, linking Downtown Miami and Downtown Ft. Lauderdale and the ‘burbs. Yay! The routes are being funded by the State of Florida and the Federal government - no MDT money, also good.
  • A State Judge has said that the County’s decision to move the UDB was illegal. This is going to have big implications for the upcoming vote on Parkland.
  • No word on the Miami 21 vote yet from the City of Miami. Jeez.
  • More on taking the CITT back to voters from State Rep. Carlos Lopez Cantera: “Unless the county commission reaches some sort of an accord, I’m going to explore legislation to call for a vote of the voters again. It should be up to the voters to decide, and let them judge if they’re satisfied with the way the money has been handled.” From Miami Today.
  • The Virginia Key Masterplan is going to be presented on May 20 at the Miami Museum of Science, 3820 South Miami Ave, from 6:00 pm - 8:00 pm. This is in anticipation of its consideration by the City Commission in June. If you are interested, please attend.

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…

This short video does an excellent job illustrating how transit is more efficient and sustainable than travel by private automobile. I believe this is Bogota, Colombia.

Video courtesy of pardinus’ Youtube

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.

In a post I published last week on the transit options available to the Kendall residents, our message may have been presented unclearly and biased towards the CSX rail option. I’d like to clarify this position and reiterate the true stance of Transit Miami on this hotly contested issue.

The CSX corridor was never meant to serve as a replacement to the Kendall Metrorail, LRT, or BRT, but rather operate in conjunction with the east-west option. The belief stems from our knowledge of the low upstart cost of the CSX rail, along with the increased benefit citizens in the Southern part of the Kendall region would experience, an area currently overlooked by all presented alternatives.

Now, we don’t fully support plans to bring transit to the Kendall Dr. corridor unless some drastic measures are taken to ensure that the area adjacent to the corridor is reestablished and rebuilt in a more accessible manner. Revitalizing the strip shopping centers, vast swaths of parking lots, Malls, and dwellings along the corridor will all be keys to its’ success and should not be overlooked in the planning stages. We would not want the transit system to be considered, approved, or funded unless preemptive measures are taken to ensure that Kendall Dr. itself will be transformed into a true urban area that is more hospitable to transit oriented needs.

Similar measures should be set into place for the CSX corridor at key intersections and stations, creating accessible nodes or urban life. The CSX corridor should be limited to a southern terminus at Metrozoo to prevent “justification” of UDB expansion. UDB line movement will be critical to the success or failure of all transit oriented redevelopment in the Kendall region.

We support the use of the CSX corridor to serve as a complimentary system with a rapid transit system along Kendall drive as long as effective measures are put into place which would transform the suburban landscapes into transit oriented communities.

This information comes direct to us from The Overhead Wire, whose author was kind enough to e-mail us regarding this critical situation. Here is what’s going on with our lawmakers:

The Federal Transit Administration(FTA) has issued a notice of proposed rule making (NPRM) for the New and Small Starts program that provides funding for major fixed guide way capital projects such as Light Rail, Heavy Rail, and Bus Rapid Transit. The proposed rules are alarming on a number of levels. Most notably in that they downgrade the importance of land use and economic development despite congressional direction to the contrary, and they propose to redefine the definition of fixed-guide way to include transit funding for highway lanes that use tolling schemes.

The fiscal year 2008 appropriations bill moving through congress is an opportunity to formally weigh in and stop or alter the proposed FTA rule. If finalized, the new rule making policy will hamper the ability to build new transit lines for the next 5 years!!!

Why is this important? Because some of FTA’S proposed rules would entrench policy issues advocated by folks from the libertarian Reason Foundation and the O’Toole/Cox cabal. The proposed rule ignores current transportation law regarding required project justification criteria and adds new Federal intervention into the local decision making process.

More issues With the new rules after the jump:

1. It would allow High Occupancy Toll lanes to qualify for New Starts funding -

This would diminish the ability of cities to get funding from an already crowded grant program. HOT Lanes qualify for funding from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and we all know there is a lot of funding there. Over 300 New Starts Projects(Light Rail, Heavy Rail, Commuter Rail, Bus Rapid Transit)were authorized by the SAFETEA LU transportation bill and the argument by the FTA as to why they have such an intensive scrutiny of proposals is because of the high demand for limited funding. Adding High Occupancy Toll freeway lanes to the list of eligible projects further strains the ability to fund new transit projects.

2. It would make the dreaded cost effectiveness INDEX the primary factor in deciding the fate of funding for New Starts projects -

This is the same measure that is killing the Tyson’s Corner Metro extension and has killed light rail plans in Columbus Ohio. Almost every city that is looking to build new transit projects is worried about this measure, and now its being made even stronger. This measure is the reason why Minneapolis‘ Central Corridor light rail project might not be able to tunnel under The University of Minn and the reason why locally backed expansion of light rail is now BRT in Houston.

3. The rule making pushes cheap not completely dedicated guide way bus projects -

The irony of the cost effectiveness index is that in reality, it fails to capture the full benefits and cost effectiveness of a project. The index evaluates the cost effectiveness of a light rail project versus corridor improvements such as bus rapid transit or improved local bus service. What this does is force cities to choose bus rapid transit projects over citizen -backed light rail projects that may have greater community benefits but also a higher initial price tag. Also, the measurements for the Very Small Starts program are set using the Southtown rapid bus project in Kansas City and not rail or fixed guide way BRT projects such as the Orange Line.

4. The importance of Land Use and Economic Development measures are reduced or ignored by the FTA -

Congress elevated land use and added economic development as project justification criteria in SAFETEA-LU. The US Department of Transportation (DOT), however, ignores this and has combined them into one measure with a combined weight of 20% in the overall rating process. The FTA states that it is too costly to implement the economic development measure but the cost and burden to grantees such as cities and transit agencies is not considered when local jurisdictions are required to adopt the FTA’s travel demand models which have many issues. The fact that they use those models to determine the Cost Effectiveness rating which decides who gets funding is a problem in itself as it can’t address all the benefits of fixed guide way transit. Furthermore, FTA argues that is too difficult to separate land use from economic development and that the increase in property values associated with proximity to transit is merely a result of improved time savings alone. I’m sure many zoning offices and developers would be surprised to have it categorized so simplistically.

5. Could lower ratings for cities who are trying to address future rather than current congestion issues -

The FTA would like to measure the New Starts program by the benefits to highway users but ignores the idea of induced demand which means when you build a new transit project, the space from cars that are taken off the road by transit is filled by new cars. The want for transit opponents to push money from the transit program into congestion pricing schemes and not so rapid bus projects would result in less useful transit projects in corridors that might have real future need.

Contact Your Congressman or Senators
-Ask them to stop the proposed rule and give the Department of Transportation a clear directive that the FTA Must:

1. Comparably wight all 6 project justification criteria(including: Environmental Benefits, Land Use, Economic Development, Mobility Improvements, etc) recognizing the importance of transit-supportive land use and economic development to fostering successful and sustainable projects rather than just the cost of the project.
2. Maintain the current definition of Fixed-Guide way transit

Here’s a link to Miami’s pitch for federal funding that would go toward I-95’s new Lexus High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes.

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The Miami Mentality still going strong:

However, some opponents of the plan say it would only worsen traffic.

“This interferes with east west traffic on all corridors between [Southwest] 152 street and the Miami Intermodal Center, said Erick Moffett. “It also impacts several avenues north and south.”

Right, transit will make the situation worse for us because it will interfere with east-west car travel. You know, never mind the fact that the east-west travel could ride the train instead, that would be too practical… I’ll touch some more on the subject later…

Click Here for the CBS 4 Video.

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The MPO is looking for public input concerning future transit options in the Kendall area. Proposed options include an extension of metrorail, BRT, or extending tri-rail further south through the existing CSX tracks…

Sorry for the short notice, but, the meetings are today and tomorrow:

6-8 PM @ Kendall Village Center

6-8 PM @ Country Walk Homeowners Association Clubhouse

For more information on the project, click here. I will not be able to attend, but, if anyone can make it out and would like to share what happened and what the most common residents concerns were, please e-mail us:

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