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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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Report: In Cutting Emissions, CAHSR Expensive Compared to Local Upgrades

Streetfilms featured Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT and bike path in 2009. A new UCLA report says infrastructure projects like the Orange Line are a better way to invest cap-and-trade funds than CA High-Speed Rail.

UCLA’s Lewis Center published a report yesterday finding that California’s High-Speed Rail project is a relatively expensive way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) in the near-term, compared to upgrading local transit and bicycle infrastructure.

Comparing CAHSR to Los Angeles Metro’s Gold Line light-rail and Orange Line bus rapid transit route and bikeway, the report finds high-speed rail to be the least cost-efficient investment the state could make.

The high-speed rail project costs more per metric tonne of GHG emissions than the current cost of allowances under cap-and-trade, the report says. If the savings costs to users are included in the calculations, then the light-rail, busway, and bikeway projects cost far less than the cap-and-trade auction price, which makes them more cost-effective ways to meet the emission reduction goals set out in California’s Global Warming Solutions Act, A.B. 32.

“There are a lot of projects that can reduce GHG emissions,” said Juan Matute, one of the report’s authors. “And differentiating between them will become more important in the future. One way is to look at the cost-effectiveness of the reductions.”

Governor Jerry Brown’s proposed cap-and-trade expenditure plan includes $250 million for high-speed rail to be spent in the next year alone, but very little for other transit or bicycle and pedestrian projects. High-speed rail isn’t scheduled to be online until 2029, so the savings it yields won’t help meet the state’s 2020 emission reductions goals. Meanwhile, the funds could be used for more local investments such as transit services or bicycle and pedestrian connections that would reduce GHG emissions more quickly.

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Hampered by Tunnels, Center BRT Lanes on Geary Limited to the Richmond

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A rendering of the recommended plan for Geary BRT at 17th Avenue in the Richmond. Images: SFCTA

Correction 12/17: The next community meeting on Geary BRT is tonight, Tuesday, at 5:30 p.m. at the Main Public Library.

The latest iteration of the plan for bus rapid transit on Geary Boulevard includes center-running bus lanes only on the Richmond District segment between Arguello Boulevard and 27th Avenue — about a quarter of the street’s length. East of Arguello, where Geary’s center traffic lanes run through two tunnels designed to whisk cars past Masonic Avenue and Fillmore Street, planners say center-running transit lanes are too problematic and expensive to engineer. Instead, they propose side-running colored transit lanes all the way to downtown.

Planners from the SF County Transportation Authority maintain that their recommended plan [PDF] for Geary’s Richmond segment, previously called Alternative 3-Consolidated, will still produce significant gains for riders on Muni’s busiest bus line. Along that segment, the project is expected to cut travel times by a quarter, make the line 20 percent more reliable, and increase ridership by up to 20 percent. The current estimated cost for the project is between $225 million and $260 million.

That comes out to $35-40 million per mile, and with more than 50,000 riders every weekday already, planners say Geary BRT is worth it. “It’s a really cost-effective investment to make because people are going to start using it if we make this set of improvements,” said SFCTA planner Chester Fung.

Filling in the Fillmore underpass to raise Geary’s center lanes back to street level would cost an estimated $50 million and could add years to a project that has already been delayed extensively, planners said. Geary BRT was originally supposed to open in 2012, and the SFCTA says its current proposal could be implemented by 2018, the same year as Van Ness BRT — an improvement over the previous 2020 timeline.

“It’s not what I’d like it to be,” said Winston Parsons, a member of the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee, though he said the SFCTA’s reasons for limiting the center-running lanes are “understandable.”

“I initially advocated that both tunnels be filled, but it’s simply not in this project’s budget and would drastically increase our timeline,” he said.

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First Polk, Now Geary: Half-Measures Won’t Fix the Problems on SF Streets

The removal of the Embarcadero Freeway, and the revitalization that followed, was the result of political leadership, not half-measures. Photo: Sirgious/Flickr

For those who dream of better transportation options on San Francisco’s streets, which were engineered in the 20th century to maximize space for cars at the expense of safety and efficient transit, the lack of city leadership on two recent major re-design projects has been troubling.

The concessions offered by city planners and politicians will probably do little to appease the parking-obsessed merchant groups fighting upgrades on Polk Street and Geary Boulevard. But they will mean that Polk won’t feel safe enough for most San Franciscans to try biking there, and that Geary won’t provide the kind of world-class transit service that the city needs on its surface streets.

For city leaders like Supervisor David Chiu, finding a position somewhere between sound, evidence-based transportation policy and those who simply yell the loudest is appealing because it’s considered a “compromise.” To them, the point isn’t to make city streets as safe as they should be, or to make transit more appealing than driving — it’s to avoid upsetting anyone too much.

That’s how Chuck Nevius described the Polk situation in his SF Chronicle column last week. “Both sides get some of what they want and think the other camp is getting too much,” he wrote:

The ongoing controversy over bike traffic along Polk Street will probably never be solved to the satisfaction of everyone. But there are signs of progress.

Polk is a primary north-south route to and from the Marina for cyclists, has a relatively gentle slope and isn’t as clogged with high-speed traffic as nearby Van Ness. Bicyclists wanted two separated lanes on both sides of the street, but merchants complained that the plan would wipe out too much parking and kill business.

The problem with framing the current Polk proposal — which includes one stretch of protected bike lane and many more blocks that don’t fundamentally alter the dangerous, car-centric status quo — as the “middle ground” is that the group opposing safety improvements has staked out a position so opposed to change that the plan is far from the people-friendly, bike-friendly street the SFMTA originally set out to create.

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SF Officials, Advocates Take a Ride on BRT and Bike-Share in Mexico City

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Supervisor Scott Wiener (the tall one) with the San Francisco delegation at a BRT station platform in Mexico City last week. Photo: SFCTA

More than a dozen city officials and advocates traveled to Mexico City last week to experience firsthand the ease of getting around a city with robust bus rapid transit and bike-share system.

The SF delegation, invited and paid for by organizers at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, included Supervisors John Avalos, Scott Wiener, and Eric Mar, as well as reps from the offices of Mayor Ed Lee and Supervisors David Chiu and Malia Cohen, the SF Municipal Transportation Agency, the SF County Transportation Authority, the Planning Commission, the SF Bicycle Coalition, the SF Transit Riders Union, and SPUR. (Streetsblog New York reporter Noah Kazis made the trip last year — check out the dispatches from his visit here, here, and here.)

Mexico City received ITDP’s Sustainable Transport Award this year, and its Metrobus received the organization’s silver rating for BRT systems. It would have been ranked gold, except that crossing between the center transit lanes and the sidewalk was “frightening,” said Michael Schwartz, the SFCTA’s project manager for Van Ness BRT.

The lack of pedestrian safety improvements, said Schwartz, is one mistake San Francisco won’t make with its BRT corridors. “The experience on the Metrobus was amazing — you move quickly, efficiently, and reliably,” he said. However, after getting off the bus, “even though you have a walk signal, sometimes there’d still be cars crossing. You were definitely on guard all the time.”

Metrobus is a network of four corridors that carries 850,000 people per day — about as many as the entire Muni system. “They’ve become so popular, a lot of the choice transit riders — people getting out of their cars — choose Metrobus over the metro,” said Schwartz.

Granted, there are 21 million people in Mexico’s Federal District metropolitan area, compared to San Francisco’s population of 800,000, and 7 million in the Bay Area. On the busiest Metrobus line, which carries 450,000 riders per day, buses arrive every 45 seconds on average. While Muni’s longest articulated buses stretch about 18 meters, a portion of the Metrobus fleet — the double-articulated buses — are 25 meters long.

SF delegates roundly praised the features that make Metrobus so efficient, like physically separated transit lanes, off-board fare machines, and elevated station platforms.

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Why Matier & Ross Got It Wrong in Their Jab at East Bay BRT

Cross-posted from Vibrant Bay Area, a new collaborative blog from urbanist writers around the Bay Area.

AC Transit’s proposed East Bay Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line got a cheap kick in the gut yesterday from the Chronicle’s Matier & Ross. The duo took aim at the cost of BRT, a “jaw-dropping $18.7 million per mile,” but didn’t take a minute to compare the project to anything else in the Bay Area. BRT is a steal compared to other planned expansions, like BART to San Jose, but you wouldn’t know it by reading the Chronicle.

Image: AC Transit via Oakland Local

Bus rapid transit, or BRT, is a bus route separated from traffic using transit-only lanes with specialized boarding platforms. Where BRT is fully implemented, it functions like BART. Fares are paid before boarding and bus entrances are level with the platform. When a BRT line runs along city streets, they turn lights green as they approach intersections. Each of these measures speeds the bus service, making it more reliable and faster than regular, mixed-traffic buses.

AC Transit’s BRT line will cost about $178 million to run 9.5 miles along International Avenue in Oakland and San Leandro. Though the improvements won’t be as robust as what you’d find even in poorer countries like Colombia, there is still plenty of work to do. Planning, stations, new buses, signal infrastructure, medians, and other infrastructure will dramatically improve service along the corridor. In 20 years, it’s expected to attract 40,000 riders per day, 24,500 of whom will be new. For the number of riders AC Transit will attract, this is a long way from “jaw-droppingly” expensive.

The Greenbrae Interchange Project in Marin will cost $143 million and add capacity for 825 more car trips per day, or $173,000 each. BART’s extension to San Jose will cost at least $7 billion and serve, at most, 78,000 trips per day, or $90,000 each (though Eric at Transbay Blog thinks this is absurdly optimistic). At only $7,265 per new trip, East Bay BRT is far and away a cheaper, more cost-effective undertaking than nearly anything else under way in the region.

It’s a double shame, then, that businesses along the corridor have sought to dumb-down the project and strip it of features and length that will attract more riders. They fear a loss of parking and worse traffic, but by reducing the scope of the line they’ve cut off a vital link to customers. It has been shown again and again – San Francisco on Polk Street and Columbus Avenue; Utrecht [PDF]; Melbourne [PDF]; New York; Toronto [PDF]; and elsewhere - that the best customer base a business can have are those who walk, bike, or take transit.

The Chronicle would better serve the community by trying to inform rather than smear. The facts show that AC Transit’s plan is a coup for cost-effective transportation and will bring transit to a corridor that desperately needs better service. One would hope that a journalist (or two) would be interested in such things.

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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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Geary BRT Advisor Resigns in Frustration at Snail’s Pace of SFCTA

Bus Rapid Transit on Geary Boulevard was originally slated to open last year. But today, planners are looking at a launch in 2020 — an eight-year setback for a project that was supposed to take advantage of low costs to get off the ground quickly.

For Kieran Farr, the cycle of delays, studies, and outreach campaigns by the SF County Transportation Authority was frustrating enough that he resigned from the Geary BRT Citizens Advisory Committee last month.

“I’m highly concerned that we’re doing this over and over again,” Farr told committee members and SFCTA staff at the most recent CAC meeting. “In the parlance of start-ups, which is the world where I come from, what this seems like is we’re having developers re-do the same product five different times without ever launching it to the public, and that’s really concerning.”

Farr said when he applied to join the CAC in 2008, he met with the project’s planners “to express my excitement about this project launching in 2012 which was the original planned start date because that [anniversary] coincides with when Muni was started in 1912 as a rail line, and that was the first municipalized line ever.”

Instead, Farr wrote on his blog, ”What I’ve seen in the past 6 years has been a severe disappointment during which I have lost trust in America’s regulatory framework to enact effective transit improvements.”

BRT on Geary has been discussed for at least a decade. The SFCTA completed the first step, a feasibility study, in 2007. Since then, planners have repeatedly revised the project and pushed the launch date back for reasons that baffle the public.

Merchants have opposed removing car parking for the project, and residents have complained about the project’s perceived potential to push car traffic on to parallel streets, putting pressure on planners to assuage the skeptics with more revisions and outreach. Many transit advocates have also urged the SFCTA to build a “rail-ready” project in hopes of someday replacing the 38-Geary, Muni’s busiest bus line (and one of the slowest), with light-rail service.

But as Farr noted, the whole idea of BRT is to provide quality bus service that rivals that of rail, using infrastructure that’s less expensive and easier to engineer, “with quick return on investment for the residents of San Francisco.”

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Oakland City Council Gives Final Approval to East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit via TransForm

The Oakland City Council on Tuesday unanimously approved the 9.5-mile East Bay Bus Rapid Transit line that will run from downtown Oakland to San Leandro. The vote in Oakland follows a similar approval by San Leandro’s City Council on Monday.

The dual approvals mark a huge victory for advocacy groups and AC Transit, which first recommended BRT in 2001 as way to improve transit options on heavily traveled corridors. The East Bay BRT is expected to be completed in 2016 at a cost of between $152 million and $172 million, and will include seven miles of dedicated bus lanes in Oakland along International Boulevard with 33 stops, most located no more than one-third of a mile apart. Once finished, it will be one of the longest BRT routes in the country, and one of the few constructed in such a densely populated urban area.

“It’s tremendously significant,” said Joél Ramos, a community planner with TransForm. “It’s an indication of Oakland being a forward-thinking city… improving infrastructure to make travel, conducting business, accessing services, or even living along the corridor, more sustainable, more enjoyable, and more liveable.”

Before the vote, Tina Spencer, Oakland’s director of planning and service development, told the council: “The issue is slower transit, and it really creates an unsustainable condition. It’s a downward spiral. More congestion equals more delay, which contributes to unreliable service, fewer riders, which leads to less revenue, fewer riders and finally, service cuts.”

International Boulevard is one of the busiest and most important corridors in Oakland, with many homes and businesses, as well as near-by hospitals and medical centers, civic centers, shopping complexes and churches.

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Advocates Rebuff Merchant’s Absurd Argument Against East Bay BRT

Image: AC Transit

In an op-ed in the Oakland Tribune yesterday, local business owner Randy Reed laid down a whopping piece of misinformation: For businesses, he wrote, enhancing East Bay transportation options with Bus Rapid Transit will be no different than when construction removes all of the car parking on a street.

Reed, who led the charge in killing the Telegraph Avenue leg of the East Bay BRT route, got the piece published just as the project faces two critical hearings next week (see below for the schedule). Based on this new op-ed, Reed isn’t content to just squash transit improvements in his backyard — he also doesn’t want to let residents on the rest of the Downtown Oakland – San Leandro route reap the benefits.

Here’s what Reed calls the BRT “test run” that forms the backbone of his screed:

We have tested the effect of removing all street parking in our area, and it was devastating to our business. A test was run with city staff several years ago to see what happens with lane closures and parking removal on Telegraph from 43rd to 45th streets.

The problems were tracked: When the street was repaved; when ramps were installed on the corners; and when sidewalk repairs were performed.

Staff concluded that it would be disastrous.

Two local advocates offered up some fantastic rebuttals in the comments section. I’ll hand the mic over to Streetsblog’s own Oakland-based intern Robert Prinz, who is also the education coordinator for the East Bay Bicycle Coalition:

Maybe you would have a point if removing all street parking was actually part of the plan. Removing a few spots, sure, but the bulk of curbside parking spots will remain. The BRT planners I have talked to bent over backwards to keep as much parking as possible, to the detriment of other parts of the plan.

What is really going to happen is the reduced scope San Leandro-Oakland BRT is going to be built, it will be a huge boon for the communities along that corridor, and then the Telegraph merchants with a collective case of selective memory loss will start lining up to ask for an expensive extension into their business districts.

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Options for Geary BRT Come Into Focus

Geary and Fillmore, where the underpass could be filled in and "decked" to make the streets meet at the same grade again. Image: SFCTA (Renderings are conceptual only.)

Just after San Francisco approved a preferred design for its first Bus Rapid Transit route on Van Ness Avenue, the SF County Transportation Authority showcased the latest conceptual proposals for a companion BRT project on Geary Boulevard.

Geary BRT, which has been fraught with delays over the years, is expected to bring relief to riders on Muni’s notoriously sluggish 38-Geary line by significantly improving transit reliability and speeding up trips by as much as 30 percent.

The 38 follows Muni’s first streetcar route, traversing nearly the entire length of San Francisco from the Transbay Terminal to Ocean Beach. With 50,000 daily riders, it is the city’s busiest bus line. The BRT upgrade is expected to further boost ridership on the corridor, which carries as many travelers by bus as it does by car, according to SFCTA project leader Chester Fung.

“The buses don’t arrive when we’re expecting them to arrive, and they tend to bunch up when they get delayed by traffic,” said Fung. “Bottom line, we want to improve bus travel time and bus reliability.”

Geary BRT would speed up trips with features like dedicated bus lanes, off-board ticket machines, signal priority for transit, low-floor vehicles, and upgraded shelters. While all buses could potentially use the transit lanes, BRT buses would run as the 38-Limited and pass local buses in designated areas. Fung said planners are determining exactly which stops BRT will serve. The project will also include pedestrian safety improvements like sidewalk bulb-outs, and a number of left turns off of Geary may be banned.

These improvements have been a long time coming, with the project already delayed by four years. But SFCTA staff say they’ve learned some lessons from planning Van Ness BRT that should help them stay on track to meet their new target of completing the line in 2019.

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