National Academies Press: OpenBook

Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice (2022)

Chapter:Chapter 2 - Background

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Page 10
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26597.
Page 11
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26597.
Page 12
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26597.
Page 13
Suggested Citation:"Chapter 2 - Background." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2022. Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/26597.

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10 Background This chapter provides basic background information about BRT. Informed by a review of relevant completed research and studies, this chapter briefly outlines the history of BRT and the impacts of BRT investments, identifies challenges that U.S. and Canadian transit agencies have encountered while operating and maintaining BRT services, and discusses relevant data gaps in BRT research. Definitions of BRT The BRT concept has been referenced in U.S. transportation plans and studies dating back to the 1930s (Levinson et al. 2002). Many publications in the following decades expanded on the general concept of rubber-tired vehicles operating with additional enhancements, such as a separate bus lane or traffic signal prioritization (Levinson et al. 2003). TCRP’s first definitive publication on the topic, TCRP Report 90: Bus Rapid Transit Volume 1: Case Studies in Bus Rapid Transit (Levinson et al.), published in 2003, defined BRT as “a flexible, rubber-tired rapid mode that combines stations, vehicles, services, running ways, and Intelligent Transportation System [ITS] elements into a fully integrated system with a strong image and identity.” TCRP Report 118: Bus Rapid Transit Practitioner’s Guide (Kittelson and Associates, Inc., et al.), published in 2007, expanded on the BRT concept and broadened the definition to include “an integrated system of facilities, equipment, services, and amenities that improves the speed, reliability, and identity of bus transit.” Currently, the FTA definition of BRT is “a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast and efficient service that may include dedicated lanes, busways, traffic signal priority, off-board fare collection, elevated platforms, and enhanced stations.” For this synthesis report, BRT is defined as “a prioritized bus service with a distinctive brand.” It may or may not include features such as dedicated bus lanes, TSP, all-door or level boarding, and off-board fare collection. With reference to the graphic in Figure 1, a given BRT service could provide person capacity comparable to mixed traffic with frequent buses, dedicated transit lanes, or on-street transitway, depending on the design and features of the service. Accordingly, this report includes a wide range of BRT service types and impacts to maximize the usefulness of the study to practitioners. Brief History of BRT One of the first BRT systems was launched in Curitiba, Brazil, in 1974, starting with two bus lanes running north and south. By 1978, the city had expanded the service to five bus lanes and installed a computerized area traffic control system, similar to TSP. Other early examples of BRT systems were developed in São Paulo and Porto Alegre, Brazil, in the late 1970s. C H A P T E R 2

Background 11   By 2003, there were 14 operating, under-construction, and under-development BRT systems in the United States and Canada (Levinson et al. 2003). Table 1 classifies these systems by type of running way. As of 2021, there are more than 70 systems operating in the United States and Canada, with more under development (Global BRT Data; National BRT Institute). The current deployments represent a wider range of geographic locations and operating conditions and contexts than were represented in TCRP Report 90 and TCRP Report 118. Impacts of BRT One of the purposes of the study that produced TCRP Report 118 was providing informa- tion about the impacts of specific BRT components on travel time and ridership, among other metrics. TCRP Report 118 was completed in 2007, so the impact data contained within it may be Note: As stated in the source document, this graphic represents “the capacity of a single 10-foot lane (or equivalent width) by mode at peak conditions with normal operations.” Source: NACTO 2015. Bus Tunnel Busway (Separate ROW) Freeway Bus Lanes Arterial Median Busways Bus Lanes Mixed Traffic Boston, MA Seattle, WA Charlotte, NC New Britain- Hartford, CT Miami, FL Ottawa, ON Pittsburgh, PA Houston, TX Los Angeles, CA New York City, NY Cleveland, OH Eugene, OR Ottawa, ON Pittsburgh, PA Vancouver, BC Honolulu, HI Los Angeles, CA Vancouver, BC Source: Adapted from Levinson et al. 2003. Figure 1. Relative person capacity of transportation modes. Table 1. North American BRT services operating or under development circa 2003.

12 Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice out-of-date and not fully representative of the range of current BRT practice in the United States and Canada. Research and studies completed since 2007 provide impact data to supplement TCRP Report 118. For example: • The Maryland Transit Administration found that the network of bus lanes implemented as part of the 2017 BaltimoreLink service restructuring effort improved peak period travel times in 79% of the corridors where bus lanes were implemented. The average improvement in travel time per corridor was 9.3%, and the bus lanes impacted general traffic flow by less than 1 minute. The bus lanes also reduced the number of bus-involved crashes by almost 12% (Maryland Transit Administration 2019). • Arlington County, VA, found that implementation of the Crystal City Potomac Yard Transit- way in 2016 resulted in a 45% increase in average weekday ridership within 1 year as well as an average 2.5-minute reduction in travel time compared to the service that previously operated in the corridor. Development of the Transitway was accompanied by implemen- tation of bus lanes, real-time bus arrival information, and level or near-level boarding (Arlington County 2017). • Omnitrans reported in 2019 that travel times on the sbX BRT service were 20% shorter than on the underlying local bus service. This improvement was credited to sbX having a smaller number of stops, bus lanes, and TSP (Omnitrans 2019). • In a report on its Select Bus Service (SBS) initiative, New York City MTA concluded that early SBS implementations improved transit travel speeds by 20% and increased ridership 10% to 20% during the first year of service (NYCDOT and MTA 2013). • In 2013, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (SFMTA) started painting existing transit lanes red in an effort to reduce general traffic violations of lane restrictions. The agency reported that this reduced violations by approximately 50%, which benefits transit operations and also helps unauthorized users avoid traffic citations. In 2019, SFMTA reported new transit lanes have been reducing travel times by approximately 20% before the red paint is even applied (Fowler 2019). However, the newer impact data do not generally link impacts to specific BRT components or investments. This remains a data gap. Also, a comprehensive data set consisting of the newer data has not been assembled or synthesized and analyzed in one resource. BRT Challenges and Considerations Previous research about BRT has found that there is no “one size fits all” approach to designing BRT. Sometimes, decisions about BRT design and operation have to be made on a block-by-block basis, and it is not likely that a given implementer of BRT will be able to implement BRT in a completely optimal way (Agrawal et al. 2012). BRT Challenges Factors that limit optimal BRT implementation include the following: • Availability of ROW. ROW in a given corridor might be limited such that it is not feasible for BRT to operate in a 100% exclusive running way, which would be the type of running way in which BRT performance could be expected to be maximized. This limitation might occur as the result of physical limitations on space or limitations created by the needs of other transportation modes (e.g., the need for on-street parking, the need for expanded pedestrian spaces, and the maintenance of general traffic turn lanes). ROW constraints can impact BRT stop/station siting as well.

Background 13   • Impacts on other transportation modes. Space used exclusively by BRT vehicles is space that is not available for other transit services, general traffic, freight traffic, pedestrians, bicyclists, or other modes. The amount of space available to these other modes can impact access, mobility, and safety. • Operating context. The corridor where BRT has the most potential benefit might also be a corridor with a high level of congestion. Traffic congestion can increase both travel time and travel time variability (Ryus et al. 2016). • Public and partner support. The public and the transit agency’s partners might be supportive of BRT to varying extents. They might support the concept of BRT but not specific BRT components or operating policies. For example, local business owners might not support a BRT component or operating policy if it restricts access to their property. • Balancing transit access and mobility. Implementing BRT stations that are closely spaced can increase access to BRT but can also increase BRT travel time. BRT Considerations The previously listed factors lead to thought-provoking questions that can be asked at the beginning of BRT project development and after BRT has been in operation and that highlight potential trade-offs in designing, implementing, operating, and maintaining BRT services and facilities. Some of these questions—which this report is intended to help answer—include the following: • What options are available for prioritizing BRT service? Under what conditions is a particular option likely to be feasible and effective and supported by the public? • Does BRT need priority features only at specific times or in specific locations? • To what extent can or should other transportation modes (including other transit services) make use of BRT running ways, priority features, or other infrastructure? • What changes can be made to other transit services in the corridor to maximize the value of the investment in BRT or improve overall mobility? • What is the appropriate station spacing to balance access to transit and maintain a high level of transit performance? Where should stations be constructed to maximize the benefits of BRT? • How do decisions about the design and implementation of specific BRT components impact the safety of all travelers in the BRT corridor? • Are there operating strategies that can be employed to overcome ROW limitations or other challenges? What are these strategies, and what costs and benefits are associated with them? • Would increased enforcement of BRT running way restrictions improve BRT operations? What are the costs and benefits of increased enforcement? Does the public support it? • Is the agency’s ability to maintain BRT running ways or other features impacting operations of BRT? How do decisions about the design and implementation of specific BRT components impact subsequent operations and maintenance of BRT services and facilities? • Are there vehicle- or station-based improvements that could result in improved BRT performance? • To what extent can transit agency partners support BRT? How can this support be provided? • To what extent do political and community factors support specific BRT decisions? • How can the cost-effectiveness of BRT implementation be maximized? How can benefits be measured?

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Bus rapid transit (BRT) and BRT light continue to interest transit agencies in the United States, and these agencies continue to struggle with many facets that go into the implementation of BRT operations, infrastructure, and services.

The TRB Transit Cooperative Research Program's TCRP Synthesis 164: Bus Rapid Transit: Current State of Practice documents the current practices and lessons learned about U.S. and Canadian transit systems that use BRT components to improve the reliability of bus service, bus travel time, operation efficiency, and customer satisfaction and to increase ridership.

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