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Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Part 1

October 26, 2015 Featured, Planning & Design, Public Transit, Transportation, Travel Comments Off on Cleveland’s Healthline Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), Part 1

I’m back from my brief Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) research trip in Cleveland. I’m still processing the experience so today I want to introduce their transit system, the Healthline BRT in particular.

BRT is an innovative, high capacity, lower cost public transit solution that can significantly improve urban mobility. This permanent, integrated system uses buses or specialized vehicles on roadways or dedicated lanes to quickly and efficiently transport passengers to their destinations, while offering the flexibility to meet transit demand. BRT systems can easily be customized to community needs and incorporate state-of-the-art, low-cost technologies that result in more passengers and less congestion. (National BRT Institute)

In short, BRT is an alternative to light rail/streetcar systems.

The HealthLine route travels 6.8 miles (11 km) along Euclid Avenue from Public Square in Downtown Cleveland to Louis Stokes Station at Windermere in East Cleveland. It passes through the neighborhoods of Downtown, Midtown, Fairfax, University Circle and the suburb of East Cleveland.

Between Public Square and East 105th Street, Euclid Avenue has two “bus only” lanes close to the inner median which only allow HealthLine vehicles passage, reducing delays due to conflicts with general traffic during busy times. Complementing the HealthLine is a set of bike lanes on the outer edges of the stretch Euclid Avenue that connects Cleveland State University with Case Western Reserve University. (Wikipedia)

It should be noted they don’t have a newer light rail system like our MetroLink, their rail lines all date from the early to mid-20th century. Two 1913 suburban streetcar lines are now considered light rail, Blue & Green. Their main rail line, Red, is a heavy rail line. Planned before 1930, it didn’t open until 1955. The last extension, to their airport, was in 1968. Red, Blue, & Green share some track & stations. All three stop at Tower City-Public Square, an underground station connected to the 1930 Terminal Tower.

Built for $179 million by the Van Sweringen brothers, the tower was to serve as an office building atop the city’s new rail station, the Cleveland Union Terminal. Originally planned to be 14 stories, the structure was expanded to 52 floors with a height of 708 feet (216 m). It rests on 280-foot (85 m) caissons. Designed by the firm of Graham, Anderson, Probst & White, the tower was modeled after the Beaux-Arts New York Municipal Building by McKim, Mead, and White. The Terminal Tower opened for tenants in 1928, though the Union Terminal complex wasn’t dedicated until 1930.

It remained the tallest building in the world outside of New York City until the completion of the main building of Moscow State University in Moscow in 1953; it was the tallest building in North America outside of New York until the Prudential Center in Boston, Massachusetts, was completed in 1964. (Wikipedia)

Let’s state a look.

The platform at Tower City-Public Square. Their interurban streetcar lines converged at this downtown location.
The platform at Tower City-Public Square. Their interurban streetcar lines converged at this downtown location.
Looking from the mall inside Tower City down to the transit level.
Looking from the mall inside Tower City down to the transit level.
The grand lobby of Tower Terminal leading out to Public Square
The grand lobby of Tower Terminal leading out to Public Square
Public Square is being rebuilt in time for the 2016 GOP convention, Tower Terminal is in the background.
Public Square is being rebuilt in time for the 2016 GOP convention, Tower Terminal is in the background.

During construction the cross streets, Ontario & Superior, are blocked off:

Public Square is the four-block central plaza of downtown Cleveland, Ohio. Based on an 18th-century New England model, it was part of the original 1796 town plat overseen by Moses Cleaveland, and remains today as an integral part of the city’s center. The 10-acre (4.0 ha) square is centered on the intersection of Superior Avenue and Ontario Street. Cleveland’s three tallest buildings, Key Tower, 200 Public Square and the Terminal Tower, face the square. Other Public Square landmarks include the 1855 Old Stone Church and the former Higbee’s department store made famous in the 1983 film A Christmas Story. It reopened as the Horseshoe Casino Cleveland on May 14, 2012.

A 125-foot monument to Civil War soldiers and sailors occupies the southeast quadrant of the square. City founder Moses Cleaveland and reformist mayor Tom L. Johnson each have statues on the square. (Wikipedia)

It appears Ontario will remain closed, with Superior reopening in 2016 — the four distinctive blocks will become two rectilinear blocks visually connected on other side of Superior. For more information click here.

Why have I spent so much time leading up to Public Square? Because prominent corridor, Euclid Avenue, traveling from Public Square out to the adjacent suburb of East Cleveland. Euclid Ave is Cleveland’s Main Street.

St. Louis has no equivalent. Broadway travels North & South from our downtown out into the suburbs, but it doesn’t have major institutions. Extending West from downtown Olive/Lindell has many institutions and population density, but it doesn’t even reach the city limits.

For decades Cleveland’s Euclid corridor was served by bus, the No. 6.  Like our #70 MetroBus route on Grand, their No. 6  was heavily used. Like our long-diuscuyssed North-South MetroLink, their original plan was for street-running light rail.

RTA originally conceived the project in the 1980s as the “Dual Hub” light-rail line, but found in the 1990s that a rail line would have cost $700 million to $800 million. Inspired by the rapid bus system in Curitiba, Brazil, RTA redesigned the Euclid Avenue project to achieve the speed and high-class feel of light rail at the lower cost of a bus line. (Euclid Corridor Health Line is a strong RX for Cleveland’s once and future Main Street)

From the same November 2008 article:

Critics complained about the two years of surgery on the avenue, which disrupted traffic and killed some small businesses. The work, however, was absolutely necessary; it replaced water and sewer lines that dated as far back as the turn of the 20th century. 

Critics also called the Health Line a boondoggle, saying it will do little more than provide a marginal improvement over the former No. 6 bus line, which was already the city’s most successful and heavily used route. The new line will cover the distance between downtown and University Circle in 20 minutes, 10 minutes less than the old line. 

It’s true that when measured purely in cost efficiency per rider, the project didn’t score high on tests required by the Federal Transit Administration as a condition for funding. But the project did meet those basic requirements.  (Euclid Corridor Health Line is a strong RX for Cleveland’s once and future Main Street)

A year later, during the worst of the recession, there were positive signs:

Despite the challenging financial climate, the $197 million renovation of Euclid Avenue has become an economic development engine for the city. More than $3.3 billion worth of projects are in the works or recently finished along five miles of the vital artery. 

To be sure, the progress has been slower than many would like. The number of projects would be far greater if not for an economic crisis that has stalled or killed developments across the country. And given a shortage of private lending, many of the high-profile projects along the corridor depend on institutions, tax credits and other incentives.

Nevertheless, builders are staring down the shaky real estate market and finishing town houses in University Circle. They’re completing apartments in former department stores downtown. And they’re pitching plans to make Midtown a biomedical and technology hub. (Cleveland’s Euclid corridor project has paved the way to economic development)

Going from the Megabus stop to our hotel we first spotted the Healthline, at E. 21st & Euclid Ave.

The Heathline is traveling Eastbound in its bus-only lane. The Cleveland State University Student Center in the background was built after the BRT line opened.
The Heathline is traveling Eastbound in its bus-only lane. The Cleveland State University Student Center in the background was built after the BRT line opened.

As I rode the Healthline I kept thinking much of the new development on hospital & university campuses would’ve happened anyway, but a good point was made in the 2009 article quoted above:

Without the corridor project, the university’s new buildings probably would have turned their backs to Euclid Avenue, creating a more insular campus. But the remade road has encouraged CSU to put its front doors on Euclid, to build on both sides of the street and to consider how the appearance of new university buildings fits with the avenue. (Cleveland’s Euclid corridor project has paved the way to economic development)

And therein lies a difference the BRT made versus a standard bus line — new buildings were built oriented toward the public street rather than internally.

Next week, in Part 2, we’ll take a closer look at specifics of the Healthline, list pros & cons, and discuss lessons for St. Louis.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Bus Rapid Transit Research Trip, Funding Assistance Still Needed

Later this week I’ll arrive in Cleveland — my first time in that city — I think. My 2006 bus trip to Toronto may have routed through Cleveland. I do know I’ve never explored the city.  My purpose for visiting it to ride their Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) lines — the HealthLine and 55-A-B-C: Cleveland State Line. We’ll spend just over 48 hours in Cleveland, our hotel is located on the HealthLine.

Cleveland has many similarities to St. Louis — such as losing more than half its peak 1950 population.  Pollution was a problem, in 1969 the Cuyahoga River caught on fire! Earlier this year, Cleveland police agreed to train officers to minimize racial bias and the use of excessive force.

A few months ago I started a GoFundMe page to raise money for this 2-day research trip to Cleveland. So far I’ve raised $200 of the $375 needed — a little more than half.

Click image to open GoFundMe page
Click image to open GoFundMe page

The rest of our vacation will be spent in Chicago.  There I’ll check out construction on Chicago’s first BRT line — the Loop Link:

Traffic-clogging construction has been underway for almost six months on Loop Link, the Emanuel administration’s experiment intended to speed CTA buses through downtown, yet the bus rapid transit service will be launched late this year with fewer features than originally promised, officials told the Tribune.

Even before the changes that threaten to reduce the benefits of the whole endeavor to ease congestion in the central Loop, the $32 million project was labeled “BRT Lite” by some transportation experts because its design lacked several elements that are key to helping buses replicate the service reliability of rail rapid transit. Those experts said making a strong first impression was vital to winning public backing for introducing bus rapid transit citywide. (Chicago Tribune – CTA bus rapid transit service to debut with fewer bells and whistles)

Cleveland’s HealthLine was given a 76/100 score by the Institute for Transportation & Policy Development — a Silver rating — the highest score of all BRT lines in the U.S. Other countries have higher ranked BRT systems:

Of the systems scored, 15 are classified as gold, 28 as silver, 41 as bronze, and 6 as “basic” BRT, indicating a minimum of BRT features, but not quite qualifying as best practice. Eight did not qualify as BRT. Furthermore, ITDP has identified 200 additional corridors that preliminarily meet the BRT basics.

The BRT Standard is an evaluation tool for world-class bus rapid transit based on international best practices. It is also the centerpiece of a global effort by leaders in bus rapid transit design to establish a common definition of BRT and ensure that BRT systems more uniformly deliver world-class passenger experiences, significant economic benefits, and positive environmental impacts. (ITDP)

Scores of other BRT lines in the U.S.

Bronze

  • Los Angeles CA (Orange line) 65/100
  • San Bernardino CA (E-Street) 63/100
  • Pittsburgh PA (MLK) 56/100
  • Seattle WA (SODO) 56/100
  • Eugene OR (Green line) 55/100

Basic

  • Pittsburgh PA (West) 51/100
  • Pittsburgh PA (South) 50/100

So we have no “Gold” BRT lines, and only one “Silver”.  See the scoring criteria here, of interest to me is station spacing:

In a consistently built-up area, the distance between station stops optimizes at around 450 meters (1,476 ft.). Beyond this, more time is imposed on customers walking to stations than is saved by higher bus speeds. Below this distance, bus speeds will be reduced by more than the time saved with shorter walking distances. Thus, in keeping reasonably consistent with optimal station spacing, average distance between stations should not be below 0.3 km (0.2 mi.) or exceed 0.8 km (0.5 mi.).

Two-tenths to a half mile spacing sounds like excellent criteria to me, Cleveland’s HealthLine did this. It also got all three points for Pedestrian Access:

A BRT system could be extremely well-designed and functioning but if passengers cannot access it safely, it cannot achieve its goals. Good pedestrian access is imperative in BRT system design. Additionally, as a new BRT system is a good opportunity for street and public-space redesign, existing pedestrian environments along the corridor should be improved.

Regular posts will continue here during my vacation/research trip, plus I’ll be posting images from Cleveland & Chicago to Twitter & Facebook. Would love to raise the remaining $175 before the credit card bill arrives.

— Steve Patterson

 

Don’t Wait For New Light Rail Station, Take MetroBus To IKEA

While I’ve ridden many MetroBus routes in the region, one I don’t recall is the #42 (Sarah). However, I’m familiar with it because other routes I ride, like the #10 (Gravois-Lindell), intersect with it. With the opening of the new IKEA St, Louis I noticed the #42 route makes a loop East past Sarah to Vandeventer. A new bus stop got my attention.

Nw bus stop right in front of IKEA
New bus stop right in front of IKEA

I always assumed it went North/South on Sarah, connecting with the Central West End MetroBus/MetroLink station via Forest Park. It does — but rather than turning there it uses Laclede to go East one block to Vandeventer.

If you use public transit in St. Louis you can easily get to IKEA. I use the #10 and just go down Vandeventer or Sarah from Lindell, but I could transfer to the #42 at Lindell & Sarah. Another option is the #32 from Manchester/Chouteau & Vandeventer. Many other MetroBus lines meet up with the #42 at the Central West End MetroLink light rail station.

I especially encourage the proponents of the North-South light rail to use this as an opportunity to actually familiarize themselves with MetroBus. The humble bus carries more people more places daily.

— Steve Patterson

 

 

 

Ramps To Cross Forest Park Parkway at DeBaliviere Greatly Improved

I often post about accessibility problems, but today’s post is about a problem that’s finally getting addressed. The reconstruction of the DeBaliviere viaduct/bridge over MetroLink tracks is making great improvements to crossing Forest Park  Parkway (map).  Tuesday I saw the improvement on the newly-opened West side.

The ramps on each side heading South weren't the best, the crosswalk was pushed out right next to traffic.
Before: The ramps on each side heading South weren’t the best, the crosswalk was pushed out right next to traffic. September 2010
Before: we had to use a narrow ramp reach the crosswalks. If you're waiting to cross a street someone crossing the other would be blocked.
Before: we had to use a narrow ramp reach the crosswalks. If you’re waiting to cross a street someone crossing the other would be blocked. These were also trip hazards to others. September 2010
After: Now the ramp is wide and directional. The crosswalk won't be up against Southbound traffic anymore.
After: Now the ramp is wide and directional. The crosswalk won’t be up against Southbound traffic anymore.
After: Looking back North you can see the West side isn't totally finished.
After: Looking back North you can see the West side isn’t totally finished.

After the East side and the crosswalks are complete I’ll do another post. I’m just so thrilled at the ramp improvement!

Hopefully the pedestrian signal buttons, once activated, will be solely for the visually impaired to get audio signals about when to cross. Other pedestrians shouldn’t need to press a button to get a walk signal.

— Steve Patterson

 

Dangerous Reaching Bus Stop On Manchester At Hampton

Last week I was near Manchester & Hampton doing research, I arrived & departed on the #32 (ML King-Chouteau) MetroBus. Arriving the bus was headed West on Manchester, so the stop was on the adjacent sidewalk. For the return trip I needed to catch the bus as it headed East on Manchester — no sidewalk on that side.  But there is a just big enough concrete pad.  I didn’t get a pic from across the street but you can see it on Google Street View here.

It took a while but I finally got a break in traffic where I could quickly cross Manchester to the stop I needed.

Looking North from Metro Stop ID: 13572
Looking North from Metro Stop ID: 13572
Looking West I was concerned the bus driver wouldn't be able to see me. A path was worn in the grass from others using this stop.
Looking West I was concerned the bus driver wouldn’t be able to see me. A path was worn in the grass from others using this stop.
The ground was also worn East of the stop.
The ground was also worn East of the stop.

I was right at the edge waving as the bus approached. Another passenger got off at my stop so she stood close to my wheelchair on the small pad while the driver extended the lift so I could board. Would the driver have seen me if a passenger wasn’t wanting to exit at my stop?

I had wanted to go to the next stop to the East where I could cross at a crosswalk, but vegetation (upper left of last photo) blocked the sidewalk.

So who’s responsible?

  • Metro
  • MoDOT
  • St. Louis

All three are involved, but fragmentation means the pedestrian experience here sucks. The quick solution is to trim the vegetation in both directions. A crosswalk with warning signs for motorists to stop for pedestrians would be relatively cheap. I’m going to email Ald. Vollmer (10th) & Ald. Ogilvie (24th) to let them know about the issues here.

— Steve Patterson

 

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