Sunday, July 19, 2009

It's the Priority, Not the Perception

Carol Coletta who has her own NPR show called Smart City muses on buses and their image issue:
As I travel U.S. cities, it is unusual for public transit not to come up as a priority. But buses are rarely mentioned. Cities want the sexy stuff -- light rail, trolleys and trams. I was reminded of this as I was reading again about Bogota's Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and London's newly redesigned buses.
Aside from mass implementation, there is not much that can be done to improve the feel of riding the bus. Oakland tried this with buying the Van Hools (a whole other discussion) and many other agencies have tried or are trying small fixes such as San Francisco's stop spacing redo. It's still a bus and it has it's function in the transit spectrum. The problem is that it runs in traffic with cars and stops every other block. And all United States systems are woefully underfunded, bus or otherwise, such that better diversity in service is not provided.

But then there is this:
And the TransMilenio carries none of the negative stereotypes associated with buses.
Say what? Just because Enrique Penalosa says that doesn't mean it is so. I've obviously never been to Bogota nor plan on going, but the BRT there has many freeway centered sections and still runs on rubber tires and still operates using a third world pay scale for its drivers. This means no pedestrian friendly TOD opportunities around the station and you're still on the bouncy bus when the concrete shifts. Not to mention the crowding and operating costs.

Flickr photo by Pattoncito

I understand the allure of BRT, and I honestly think that more bus routes should get a lane such that BRT is more the norm in dense urban areas. This only comes with a change in our own perceptions of what is a priority, not so much the current perception of what buses are. This means building more metro systems, more light rail, and dedicating more lanes to transit and bikes. That is a fundamental shift that needs to happen, not just focusing on making buses a tiny bit better by renaming them.

8 comments:

thm said...

never been to Bogota nor plan on going, but the BRT there has many freeway centered sections

More to the point, I believe all of TransMilenio was built in the middle of multi-lane expressways. With the system map, one can trace the routes on Google Maps satellite view, and its pretty clear that the speed and cost of construction owe much to the fact that they were largely repurposing existing lanes of huge roads. But the huge roads are not something we want in cities to begin with, and the addition of brt to a huge freeway doesn't make the freeway any less of a barrier.

arcady said...

On the other hand, something like TransMilenio would work great in Santa Clara County, where there are plenty of big "expressways" that would be perfect for bus ROWs. Actually, they already have special bus/carpool lanes. But hardly any buses use them.

njh said...

arcady,
Aren't those expressways old railroad right of ways? They certainly look like them on the map. Why don't we just do what we did with the south western expressway and turn them back into a normal road + light rail?

Matt Fisher said...

njh:
The expressway like roads look like what used to be former rail lines? Why aren't you telling me?

And the picture of the TransMilenio BRT station is what appears to be "Crush Loading Gone Wild". Can't even tolerate this here in the BRT "role model" of Ottawa. Our current reliance on BRT is making me angry to the point where I may consider moving elsewhere.

JimS said...

Yes, a lot of them were railways.

For instance, Foothill Expressway was created when they paved over the Blossom Line. It had an express service that started in SF and ran nonstop all the way to Palo Alto and then served the west side of the valley.

SF to Stanford Research Center in as much time as it takes to drive. This would be a heavy HEAVY commuter route.

They really need to put that back. Almost all of the ROW is still clear (it turned off behind the Fry's and the route is now mostly parking lots plus dirt paths, and then the expressway). A "Caltrain Blossom" would get tons of riders from the huge number of employers along the route.

Plus it would return rail service to places like Los Altos, Cupertino, Los Gatos, etc.

Matt Fisher said...

TransMilenio looks rather like a "highway within a highway". I don't care what Enrique PeƱalosa and others say, no matter how exaggerated (i.e. TransMilenio BRT buses can supposedly carry better loads than any kind of LRT).

And what else I'd like to say would be this: It's just bad that they're paving over rail lines and turning them into busways, even when they promise it will be rail if we hold out for ridership to reach a magic number.

Morgan Wick said...

"The problem is that it runs in traffic with cars and stops every other block." And streetcars don't?

arcady said...

Only Foothill Expressway was a rail line, and half of that line is actually still around and used by freight. It might be a good place for VTA light rail, actually, connecting at Vasona Junction to trains to San Jose in one direction and Los Gatos in the other (and in a rail utopia, all the way over the hill to Santa Cruz too).