Can Transit Be Sexy? And Help at the Same Time?
Transit is sexy?
No one likes public transit… especially the old crosstown bus. “The bus is for poor people”. One gets a bit of success, can make a car payment or two, then darn if you won’t eat Taco Bell daily to keep your new “freedom on wheels” on the road.
“No one wants to take the bus”:
But people do take the bus. Lots of them are ok with it.
In Metropolitan areas, people take lots of transit of all types. For many it simply makes sense rather than battle traffic. For others- transit gets them to and from work /school/play reliably until a different means of mobility is achieved.
However- what if people chose transit because it was cheaper than driving, faster than driving, made for a better less congested downtown, AND was a net gain for a metropolitan area, as it was seen as more livable. Is a small transit subsidy worth that? Perhaps. Its easy to say, “Spend it and they will come” – It’s harder to actually make the case.
“Historically, we have been engaged in this auto vs. transit debate, which took on almost religious proportion. We have to get beyond that. It’s not about either/or. It’s about doing both effectively.
So called “Heavy Rail” (such as subways and regional lines) are VERY expensive to build and maintain, and make sense in only the most commuter dense areas.
A smaller, less infrastructure-intense counterpart, Light Rail, can make sense in a less dense area, but oftentimes light rail is relegated to old Street Car tracks, unused railroad right of ways, or other compromise placement. Speeds are lower than the dedicated right of way of heavy rail.
In contrast, Buses are a straightforward proposition for a transit operators . They can go anywhere, come in a range of sizes and seat from 20 to 80. Logically, if one is planning a new system to reduce congestion and pollution one puts in buses- lots of them- with frequent service destined for places considered too remote to reach by train or light rail. Should employment patterns shift, a route can be moved or schedule changed, at little to no cost to the operator.
Rail enjoys no such flexibility.
Buses can act light a rail way in certain way:
Over the past 10 years, a relatively new mode has made it’s way onto the metro street grid-
“Bus Rapid Transit”
Given its own right of way, and well designed dedicated shelters(with pre-payment kiosks) and the ability to share a road paid for by all, a transit agency can have the best of both worlds by choosing a Rapid Bus solution. Such routes would also feature traffic signal priority for faster speeds, and level boarding for increased access by the elderly or disabled.
Bus Rapid can be a mode that is relatively fast, frequent, and less expensive to operate.
There is some economic development to be had from a well planned bus rapid transit deployment:
- Pittsburgh: $300 million in development around stations
- Ottawa: $700 million in development around stations
- Boston: $650 million in development around stations
New Heavy Rail costs a fortune, and old style buses just aren’t that sexy.
Are Light Rail and Bus Rapid the new darlings of transit then? We at the Work-Bench think so.
Well sited and managed transit can be a great means to reduce congestion, and get people out of their cars and into the environs.
Sexy? Probably not. But pretty darn cool nonetheless, and a solution worth noting.
Sustainable Cities Collective