Thursday, March 10, 2011

Follow the Discussion on BRT - Can US Adapt BRT like the Latin American Countries?

Follow the discussion @ Greater Greater Washington. Some notes from the post is posted below


Democrat Martin O'Malley and local environ­menta­lists lobbied for light rail on the Purple Line, for example, while Republican Bob Ehrlich's push for BRT was largely seen as an effort to "obfuscate, alter, study and delay" progress.

But that's selling BRT short, according to a panel of experts at Brookings yesterday. For inspiration, they looked to Latin America, the motherland of bus rapid transit, housing 26 percent of the world's BRT systems, according to Dario Hidalgo of EMBARQ, the sustainable-transport arm of the World Resources Institute.

It all started with Curitiba, Brazil, which pioneered BRT in 1972, reducing congestion, improving air quality, and shortening travel times. The Curitiba system has been a model for others, including powerhouse systems like TransMilenio in Bogotá, which carries 44,000 passengers per hour per direction during the peak period. Car use has gone down, and traffic fatalities have declined by 56 percent.

"What's important isn't if the tire is a steel tire or a rubber tire," said Hidalgo. "What's important is the service that's provided to the people."

Logic like this flies in the face of entrenched biases in favor of one mode or another. Rail, especially, has its adherents among those who think buses are a lower-class form of transportation, ridden only by those with no other option. But more than 20 percent of TransMilenio riders own cars. "We can't be religious about modes," said Robert Puentes of Brookings' Metropolitan Policy Program.

BRT is characterized by three principal traits, as articulated by ITDP Director Walter Hook in a Streetfilm about BRT released today.

  1. BRT runs on exclusive lanes, so it's not slowed down by traffic jams. (That allows the TransMilenio to average 20 miles per hour while New York City buses crawl along at under eight mph.)
  2. The station is on a platform at the same level as the floor of the bus. Usually, those stations are designed by architects and aren't substantively different from the experience of being in a rail station. Passengers pay upon entering the station, not the bus, speeding up the boarding process. Another time-saver is that all the doors open at once and passengers can board quickly en masse, like they do on a subway.
  3. BRT is that the buses have priority at intersections, often through some kind of priority signaling.

Hidalgo and other experts noted that one of BRT's best features is also one of its weaknesses: its fast implementation time. It can take decades to acquire rights-of-way and lay the track for a new rail system, but a city already owns its medians and can launch a BRT system relatively fast. In Latin America, Hidalgo says, it's often rushed to correspond to the election cycle, as politicians hurry to get it up and running in time to get re-elected. And rushing a complex transportation system won't usually yield the most ideal, carefully-planned system a city could hope for.

It's not surprising that the developing world has been the pioneer of BRT, since it is a far less costly system to build than rail. Operating costs of rail can be lower, since it requires fewer drivers for more cars. (Rapid transit buses can be articulated, but even the longest bus won't compete with trains.)

Follow the full discussion and reader comments @ Greater Greater Washington.

PM10 and Population in Latin American cities.

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