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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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Can VTA’s Bus Route Changes Keep Up With Suburban Office Park Growth?

Sunnyvale’s Moffett Park office park, where office development is attracting thousands of new commuters while transit service remains unchanged. Image: Jay Paul Company

Office development is booming in Santa Clara County. As the number of jobs increases, will the Valley Transportation Authority ramp up bus service to keep pace, or will streets become overrun with traffic?

VTA hosted a public meeting last week to present a set of proposed changes to its bus service that the agency calls its North Central County Bus Improvement Plan, designed to adapt to commuting patterns created by the recent growth of large office parks in areas that lack transit. About 70 people, mostly seniors and residents of Sunnyvale, attended the meeting at Sunnyvale’s City Hall.

“We’ve seen a lot of changes in land use in these four cities,” said VTA Transportation Planner Adam Burger, who pointed to major office developments that are expected to bring several thousand more commuters through the region in coming years. Campuses are growing for Google and Intuit in Mountain View, Apple in Cupertino, Moffett Towers and LinkedIn in Sunnyvale, and the Levi’s Stadium area in Santa Clara.

“All these land use changes create new travel demand,” said Burger. “So we have to adapt our bus system to match the new travel patterns that people use.” VTA aims to provide major office developments with better transit and connect them to the bus rapid transit routes coming to El Camino Real in 2018 and Stevens Creek Boulevard in 2019.

But VTA only proposes improvements on a single north-south route that would help a significant number of passengers transfer to and from buses on the BRT routes. A new Bus 354 would supplement the existing Bus 54 with limited-stop service along a similar route on Mathilda and Hollenbeck Avenues between the Lockheed Martin Transit Center in Moffett Park and De Anza Community College in Cupertino. Despite large and growing concentrations of jobs in Moffett Park, along Mathilda Avenue, and in downtown Sunnyvale, Bus 54 still only runs every 30 minutes on weekdays and every 45 minutes on weekends.

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SFMTA Says Van Ness BRT Can’t Have High Platforms for Level Boarding

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A rendering of Van Ness BRT. Image: SFMTA

The SFMTA says it’s impossible for stations on the coming Van Ness Bus Rapid Transit route to have one of the key recommended features of BRT: High platforms, at the same level as bus floors, that allow passengers to quickly step onto the bus. SFMTA planners say that complications with the design of Muni’s buses mean there’s no practical way to make high platforms work, at least without adding high costs associated with new equipment.

Platform-level boarding is on the list of “BRT Basics” included in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT ”Scorecard”:

Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger. Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers. The reduction or elimination of the vehicle-to-platform gap is also key to customer safety and comfort.

But according to an SFMTA report [PDF], a 14-inch high platform, matching the height of a Muni bus floor, “increases capital and operational costs, reduces operational reliability and passenger comfort, and provides no discernable benefit.” Instead, SFMTA planners recommend 6-inch high platforms, the same as those on Market Street.

High platforms would be scratched by the “wheel lugs” that stick out from the side of bus wheel wells, the report says. The Americans with Disabilities Act apparently requires buses to stop with no more than a three-inch gap between the bus and platform. Otherwise, a “bridge plate” must be deployed from the side of the bus to the platform for wheelchair users. The wheel lugs apparently stick out five inches.

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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.

Streetsblog Chicago 19 Comments

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

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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