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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

 

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Research Trip To Cleveland

Regular readers know I’ve long been a supporter of modern streetcars, such as those in Portland & Seattle, but I’d like to know more about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). I’ve experienced Kansas City’s MAX line a few of times — but it is best described as “enhanced bus service”  — not true BRT.

Starting with Metro’s BRT studies last year, I’ve been reading up on BRT, the results are both positive and negative. First, the negative:

Delhi’s six-year-old BRT project has run into numerous snags, including the incursion of cars and other vehicles into the BRT lanes — a development that can defeat the purpose of a system designed to be faster than general traffic. City officials once hoped to create 14 additional BRT corridors, but the system has not expanded beyond its inaugural 3.6-mile stretch. (In New Delhi, A Rough Road For Bus Rapid Transit Systems)

Closer to home, Los Angeles:

The Orange Line BRT runs on its own busway: basically a bus-only street built on former railroad right-of-way. The busway runs generally east-west and, at signalized intersections, crosses numerous north-south streets. In its first few months of operation, the Orange Line ran faster than it does today. There were a handful of car-bus collisions on the route, reportedly due to drivers failing to obey traffic signals. The excuse that has been repeated is that the drivers were not used to seeing any traffic on that long-abandoned right-of-way.

After these collisions, Orange Line bus speeds were reduced. Today Orange Line buses slow to 10 mph when crossing intersections. (Orange Line BRT Speed Improvements Caught In Inter-Agency Delays)

Depart these failures, positive examples exist:

“Both BRT and LRT can leverage many times more development investment than they cost. Now we can say that for sure,” according to the institute’s director for the U.S. and Africa, Annie Weinstock, who previewed the findings at a Metropolitan Planning Council Roundtable in Chicago last week.

“Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, BRT can leverage more (development) investment than LRT or streetcars.”

For example, Cleveland’s Healthline, a BRT project completed on Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue in 2008, has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each transit dollar invested. Portland’s Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested. (Bus Rapid Transit Spurs Development Better Than Light Rail Or Streetcars: Study)

Despite successful examples, BRT isn’t always embraced. Take Chicago’s planned Ashland BRT:

Some candidates for local office and others in Chicago have raised reasonable concerns about a proposed rapid-transit bus line on Ashland Avenue. They wonder how limiting left-hand turns would affect car traffic and whether paying for the new line would divert money from the many other CTA improvements needed.

But let’s not lose sight of why Chicago needs its first rapid-transit line — bus or L — that doesn’t go downtown, one that connects west side communities and CTA’s Orange, Blue, Brown and Green lines: it’s because not everyone works downtown or is going downtown, which is the outdated premise behind the CTA’s hub-and-spoke system. (Why Chicago needs bus rapid transit on Ashland)

As with so many things, there’a no substitute for personal experience. There are numerous BRT lines in North America, but one of the highest rated is Cleveland’s HealthLine — which operates 24 hours a day!  Over the years I’ve driven through Ohio a few times, I think I went through Cleveland on a 2006 Greyhound trip to Toronto. I want to visit Cleveland to experience their transit system: light rail, bus, BRT, and trolley.

Click the image above to open GoFundMe.com/UrbanReviewSTL in a new tab/window
Click the image above to open GoFundMe.com/UrbanReviewSTL in a new tab/window. Image via Wikipedia

Here are just some of the questions I hope to answer:

  1. Why do they have four different modes?
  2. How did they decide to use one mode at a location rather than another?
  3. With respect to public transit, what are the similarities & differences between St. Louis & Cleveland?
  4. Would their BRT better serve the public had they done the things to earn a higher ranking?
  5. How does Cleveland’s State Line BRT compare to their HealthLine BRT? How much development has it generated?
  6. How much of the new development is because of the HealthLine, how much is because it operates 24/7?
  7. Why didn’t they build either BRT line as light rail? In retrospect, would BRT have been a better choice?

In October my husband and I will be vacationing in Chicago for a week, so I’d like to take a few days of that time to go to Cleveland for two nights to use & observe their transit system. Over the weekend we purchased the roundtrip tickets on Megabus, fares are lowest the more lead time you have.  We’ll leave Chicago on a Thursday morning, arriving in Cleveland 7+ hours later at 3:35pm.  Our return bus leaves at  5:45pm on Saturday, getting back to Chicago just past midnight. I’m asking for readers to help with the costs, so this research trip is possible.

Here is the budget:

  • Megabus: $36.50
  • Hotel (2 nights): $300+
  • Local transit fares: $25
  • Misc: $13.50
  • TOTAL $375+

Most of the budget is hotel, I want to stay right on the HealthLine to facilitate riding the 24-hour BRT at various times. I’m still researching hotels, but none are cheap. Rates do very though, I just need to see which ones have rooms available with a “roll-in shower” on the two nights we’d be there.

If you can donate it would be greatly appreciated.

— Steve Patterson

 

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