Monday, February 11, 2008

Any Type of Rubber Tire Can Go on Concrete

I know I give BRT a hard time here. I've been trying really hard to see how BRT works and know that if done right, BRT can be a very effective tool. Cleveland seems to be proving that an investment in true BRT with its own lanes can be very powerful. $4.3 Billion dollars has been invested on the Euclid corridor in Cleveland. Plain Dealer:

One big reason for the energy is the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's $200 million Euclid Corridor project, which is reshaping Euclid Avenue around a bus rapid transit line. Pundits have long derided the project, funded primarily by federal money, as a boondoggle. Media coverage has focused primarily on businesses that failed during construction, along with the hassle of negotiating a sea of orange traffic cones.

The mortgage-foreclosure crisis, which has left as many as 12,000 homes vacant in Cleveland neighborhoods, has also obscured the impending rebirth of Euclid Avenue. But the developers say they see what's coming. With the RTA project due for a ribbon-cutting in October, they're rushing to renovate empty buildings and buy vacant lots.

But in the back of my mind I'm always worried about the folks who are pushing the technology as an alternative to rail on corridors that need a higher capacity mode. A lot of these folks just want to stall the process or just don't like transit at all. They even complain that higher density development will result. Oh the horror! From the Washington Post:

Cuccinelli, Marshall and other state leaders, including Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), acknowledge that they are in the minority. But they have long criticized the rail line to Dulles. Its costly, four-station diversion through Tysons Corner, they say, is more about helping developers reap the profits of high-density development than about moving people to the airport. Its dependence on revenue from the Dulles Toll Road to cover a huge chunk of construction costs would put the burden of any future cost escalations on commuters.

Howell and other critics of the project believe the solution for the Dulles corridor is in a type of service known as bus rapid transit, an express bus service with dedicated lanes and stations, allowing commuters to move as quickly as they would on a rail line without getting stuck in traffic.

This type of bus service was ruled out by local officials and business leaders because of the difficulty of building dedicated lanes through Tysons Corner and because of the increased number of riders that a true rail line would draw. But it is so much cheaper that it should be revisited, boosters say.

But here is where the wheels on the bus come off for me. Officials in Miami Dade County are discussing the possibility of expanding the South Busway to four lanes to allow for carpoolers and HOT lanes. This is the dream of every road warrior that wants to build a busway instead of a rail line. The idea that they can co-opt the line for cars is always in the back of their minds. While this is not the thought of well intentioned Mayors like Jaime Lerner of Curitiba and Enrique Penalosa of Bogota, it is the thought of many in the United States including Florida County Commissioners. From the Miami Herald:

Imagine widening the Busway from two lanes to four and giving buses and carpoolers with at least three passengers a free ride. Then sell the excess capacity to solo drivers willing to ''buy'' their way out of congestion with a variably priced toll that would rise when lanes are crowded and drop when they aren't.

Instead of encountering dozens of incredibly looooooong lights at the busy cross streets on today's Busway, imagine flying over all the major intersections as the government guarantees a reliable 50-mph journey from Dadeland to Florida City or the turnpike interchange near Southwest 112th Avenue. It may sound pie-in-the-sky today, but that pie could be baking in the near future.

At the urging of County Commissioner Dennis Moss, the Metropolitan Planning Organization and the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority are jointly studying ways to bring ''managed lanes'' to the Busway. ''It's the most exciting thing I've worked on in quite a while,'' MPO planner Larry Foutz said.

BRT is built on roads. Cars go on roads. So therefore...


rg said...

I'm sure the Euclid Ave project has its merits, but if you go to all the trouble to build a dedicated ROW and stations to the extent that businesses shut down, why not do it right and build a light rail line?

Bob R. said...

I took a look at the official project video for the Euclid corridor:

I love how they describe it as revolutionary by opening with a reference to the flight of the Wright Bros.

Further into the video, they can't bring themselves to refer to the vehicles as buses. They are instead called "Rapid Transit Vehicles", and although the word "bus" is used in "Bus Rapid Transit" at one point, they also refer to it as "Better Rapid Transit".

Nope, no spin there...

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I agree RG. It seems silly to me to not even have electric trolley buses. I'll be interested to see what the final cost per mile was.

DSK said...

The one case of BRT I've seen that seemed to work well is the "good" half of the Silver Line in Boston (not the Washington Street half). This is the side that is primarily in a tunnel with subway-like stations with overhead electricity under the South Boston waterfront. But then the busses switch to diesel and go through the Ted Williams tunnel to Logan. In that case, it's a) one seat trip to south station b) mainly reserved guideway c) flexible enough to go the final segment to Logan without special infrastructure.
Most of the route (the tunnel) would be better off as rail *except* for the needed flexibility to get to Logan. That extra requirement is what made BRT work. But this is sort of the exception that proves the rule: in most situations (no need to go under a harbor) where you might have reserved-guideway BRT, rail would probably be better.

Peter said...

my guess is that the '$4.3 Billion' figure continually quoted is not actual investment, but was planned investment.

then you separate out the government investment.

then what are you left with?

my guess is 'not much'.

we'll have to wait for the real figures to come out, but if there is more than $200 million in private investment along that line, I, for one, will be very surprised. maybe even shocked. and we can give it four years. let's see if it has even $200 million in private investment over four years.

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