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July 23, 2009

Bus Rapid Transit = Awesome

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Photo: FTA

Photo: FTA

A New York Times article published a couple weeks ago has gotten people chatting about Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT. BRT consists of souped-up bus lines with some combination of larger buses (holding 60 people rather than 40), dedicated bus lanes, full stations with prepurchased tickets, and shorter waiting times. The bus lines are streamlined–fewer stops but more frequent service–occupying a happy medium between light rail or subways and conventional bus lines. BRT provides a cost effective way to increase service capacity and speed up travel time without substantially increasing cost of operation. And by building ridership and increasing the convenience of transit, BRT can pave the way for later improvements, like the extension of light rail lines.

While the article celebrates Bogota, Colombia’s BRT system and specifically highlights BRT’s potential in cities of the developing world, cities in the United States are also getting in on the action.  In the past, Metro has proposed BRT as an option for future service improvements. Remember last fall’s “St. Louis Region at a Crossroads”? Back then, Metro proposed BRT development if more funding became available.

There are two ways BRT could work in St. Louis, should we be in a position to expand service beyond what it was before this March. One way is to take a busy local route and convert it to BRT. The #70 Grand route, which is quite crowded, would be a great candidate for this. With a little investment in infrastructure, this busy route could run more frequently and stop less often, perhaps every four blocks or so. This scenario would shorten travel time while maintaining walkability, with no stop being more than two blocks away from existing stops. Plus it would be really useful; that route has a lot of good things: hospitals, a major university, restaurants and shops, theaters and museums, my favorite burrito place…the list goes on. It could be a great north-south corridor connector with connections to other bus routes and to MetroLink.

The second BRT option would function a lot like the express route service (some of which we’re restoring in two scant weeks!), except that it would run much more frequently and all day long. This would involve running buses on the interstate to connect BRT stations at Park and Ride lots to places not currently reached by light rail.

Although I just started my internship at Metro in June, I must admit that I’ve been a huge transit nerd for a long time. Metro’s BRT talk last fall was wicked exciting to me, so when I found myself in Boston this spring, I dragged my mom along to try out their Silver Line. My verdict: it put the “fun” in “functional.” There was a nice place to sit, an LED sign told me exactly when the next bus was coming, and got me back to Boylston station to connect with the subway in a speedy fashion. Bus rapid transit is definitely something I hope to see more of.

What do you think? Can BRT work for St. Louis? Would you ride it?

3 thoughts on “Bus Rapid Transit = Awesome”

  1. Ivan says:

    I would have been more enthusiastic if I hadn’t read this

    right before coming here.

  2. Jazzy_Jeff says:

    I orginally didn’t like the idea of BRT. But after seeing it and being inside it last year it was very cool! I have all the pictures of the BRT that I saw when Metro had them for demo purposes. Just e-mail me if you want a copy? I just wish I would have caught a “moving” demo since the one I was in was stationary. Also I last heard that Federal Funds are much more likely to flow into a local transit provider like Metro if they use BRT vs. Light Rail. IMHO I believe that when Metro has the funds available they should start putting in BRT like crazy and only do light rail if they have enough support from the communities involved. There are few places I can see light rail being used in St. Louis. BRT doesn’t need to have the environment (Purchase new ROW) changed for the most part. There are exceptions if one needs to create or make dedicated BRT lanes. Thanks for sharing this and becoming a BRT advocate!

  3. Jennifer says:

    That article raises some interesting points, Ivan, but remember that St. Louis doesn’t have the street crowding issues that New York has – not nearly as dense. Also, BRT in St. Louis would be great for covering commuters, i.e. daily long-range trips with few stops, on highways that are already in place – sort of ultra express buses. If there were dedicated BRT lanes, traffic jams wouldn’t be an issue – just like light rail. It’s an interesting enough option that I think it’s worth a serious look, but obviously it won’t work in every location and situation.

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