Bus Rapid Transit, or just a fancier bus?

The Purple Line is becoming one of the central issues in the governor’s race according to the Gazette at Kane says money not there for light rail. When Ehrlich was governor, he cited protecting the Golf Club as the core reason to oppose the Purple Line, see the Gazette at Ehrlich drawing the line. I have not heard any reference to protecting the Club in the 2010 Ehrlich campaign so far. All of his focus now appears to be on picking the transit option that is less expensive and that can be built quickly.

I’ve posted a series on why I think BRT on Jones Bridge Road is not the right choice for the Purple Line, with one of the main reasons being the BRT will not have the capacity to carry the heavy demand forecast for the Purple Line Corridor in 2030, and will be even more inadequate for the greater demand beyond 2030. See the demand forecast at BRT on JBR, part one.

If we do build BRT on JBR instead of the light rail, and if you are able to get on an overcrowded BRT vehicle in 2030, you will find the ‘Rapid’ part of BRT has disappeared. You will be stuck in slow traffic on a fancy bus. This will be especially true if the BRT is built by Governor Ehrlich with his focus on cheap.

In December 2008 Delegate Al Carr (district 18) gave a glowing description of the new Healthline BRT in Cleveland. His review was a guest blog at JUTP: Riding North America’s newest transit system. Delegate Carr wrote “I came away convinced that BRT is a practical, efficient and cost effective transit option. Giving buses priority at traffic signals seems to be a key factor in achieving its full potential for fast trip times.” Delegate Carr is one of the fiercest opponents of the Purple Line light rail, lobbying strongly for BRT on Jones Bridge Road instead.

But now, nearly two years since the Healthline BRT opened its doors in Cleveland, we have this report from the Cleveland Plain Dealer: Healthline buses moving slower than expected…. From the article:
“RTA’s HealthLine — a bus/rapid transit touted as a faster, more efficient way to travel Euclid Avenue — is moving at about the same slow pace as the bus it replaced.
Cleveland is still adjusting traffic lights on Euclid Avenue from Public Square to the Stokes/Windermere rapid station in East Cleveland to shorten the bus trips, nearly two years after the $200 million Euclid Corridor project was completed.”

The Cleveland Plain Dealer article cites difficulties in adjusting pedestrian signals and cross street traffic signals to give the BRT the signal priority it needs for fast service. Traffic engineers are optimistic they can eventually get the problem under control. But the Healthline BRT experience highlights a critical point – you must give signal priority to BRT, or else it will be just a fancy bus stuck in traffic.

The issue of giving BRT signal priority on Jones Bridge Road pits one part of Delegate Carr’s constituency against another. Depending upon whether or not BRT receives the signal priority at Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue and Jones Mill Road that it needs for fast service:
1) his constituents driving north-south on Wisconsin Ave./Connecticut Ave./Jones Mill Road will find their drive takes much longer because the dozens of BRT vehicles crossing these highways each hour have signal priority, or
2) his constituents riding BRT east-west on Jones Bridge Road will be wondering why they are stuck in traffic on fancy buses when a fast light-rail option is possible.

View Larger Map

Signal priority for BRT to cross Connecticut Avenue will slow
north-south traffic to an unacceptable level.

The MTA has issued a signal priority study that concludes that signal priority for BRT at these three major highways will likely not be acceptable, since the time delays caused to north/south travelers by signal priority will exceed the time benefit to the BRT riders. Without this important signal priority, the BRT on JBR experience will be like Cleveland’s Healthline BRT – moving slower than expected.


3 Responses to “Bus Rapid Transit, or just a fancier bus?”

  1. Michael Drayne says:

    So with the election rapidly approaching and two different visions for the Purple Line being offered by O’Malley and Ehrlich, I’ve been wondering where the O’Malley request to the Obama Administration for federal funding stands right now. I emailed Van Hollen’s office (3 times) and O’Malley’s twice and I got no response. Why is the Transportation Department taking so long to decide which projects to fund? It would seem the stimulus money should be spent relatively quickly to get people back to work. It also seems like The Obama Administration can hand O’Malley a victory prior to the election by awarding the Purple Line and the Baltimore light rail project federal money.

    So, when can we expect the federal government to decide which transportation projects they will fund?

  2. Michael Drayne says:

    I do like what Councilman Elrich is proposing for BRT in Montgomery County. I do think BRT can work IF they are given a dedicated lane with no sharing with HOV. They should also have dedicated stations with pre ticketing so boarding is quick and the driver does not have to mess with tickets. I don’t see this being viable on JBR since it it too narrow to provide dedicated lanes for buses. I also agree that the buses can’t keep pace with the increased ridership that is projected by 2030.

  3. admin says:

    I too like very much what Councilman Elrich is proposing for BRT in Montgomery County. But Elrich supports light rail for the Purple Line, perhaps in recognition that this route is one where light rail is more appropriate to meet the demand.

    My information is the the state will not be able to make a formal submission of the project to the FTA until it wraps up its refined ridership study that is still underway. Unfortunately the schedule on that will likely push a formal submission and a decision by the federal government to after the election.