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Old 02-04-2015, 03:38 PM
 
Location: Birmingham
779 posts, read 769,413 times
Reputation: 359

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I have recently become quite a bit more interested in the transportation side of planning and I think it's because I moved to a city without an efficient public transit. For a long time, the argument has been about what to do to improve the transit and Light Rail and BRT are the two things that keep coming up. I've done quite a bit of research on them but still don't seem to have a good understanding of exactly how they are built.

The city studies keep coming back to BRT because of cost. However, I look around the city and don't see any current streets/highways that can be converted to BRT without significant infrastructure changes. Also, many of these routes are heavily used by cars.

So, I'm left with this... Does BRT require building a lot of new roads? Expanding the width of current roadways? If all of this work is required, how is this cheaper than light rail or even heavy rail?

Maybe this has all been covered here a thousand times but I'm just curious. The city (I live in Birmingham, AL) just won the bid for the World Games in 2021. They have now switched to the idea of Light Rail. (I think they are wanting to do something a little more impressive for visitors???) They are hoping to have about a 10 mile line completed by then. Do you all think that's even possible?
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Old 02-04-2015, 03:49 PM
 
3,567 posts, read 2,374,507 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bhamoutlook View Post
So, I'm left with this... Does BRT require building a lot of new roads? Expanding the width of current roadways? If all of this work is required, how is this cheaper than light rail or even heavy rail?
I think this is pretty much a common debate. Once you commit to doing "real" BRT, rather than just setting up some express routes, you're practically building a streetcar anyway. Rail would be a little more expensive in terms of capital, but the maintenance on buses is awful so it's close to a wash as I understand things.

The main advantage of BRT seems to be that it allows you to cheap-out on portions of the route more easily than streetcar, which obviously requires rails for the entire route.
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Old 02-04-2015, 05:12 PM
 
4,023 posts, read 3,268,539 times
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Depends on the population density. BRT and buses in general make more sense in the suburbs and
urban corridors with lower population density. Light rail with its high capacity is better suited for
denser urban environments and downtown areas that has the population density to support it.
LRT often helps to attract economic development as well and resulting tax revenues help to offset its costs.




The 18 mile Orange Line BRT running through several LA suburbs.
A good application of BRT. It wouldn't make sense to run light rail
in such a sparsely populated area.

It's kind of amazing to see how dead it looks around there.



https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9r0tt-VkhW4
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Old 02-04-2015, 05:22 PM
 
Location: Birmingham
779 posts, read 769,413 times
Reputation: 359
Thanks for the feedback, guys. I can definitely see how this makes more sense in suburbs. Did the build a new roadway for the orange line or was an existing road used?
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Old 02-04-2015, 05:35 PM
 
28,441 posts, read 71,104,696 times
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Six years to do ten miles is entirely possible in a technical sense, the question is what sorts of financial commitments are im place? Is there going to be political opposition? That really slows things down...

BRT is a whole lot more flexible -- some stretches would not need any special lanes at all, intersections with appropriate electronic stop lights ought to work fine.

Even if some things do get "rebuilt" the kinds of islands and crosswalks are far less disruptive to exiting traffic and important forces like local businesses that understandably FREAK OUT if a light rail system bypasses them for other areas or hurts the ability of customers to access parking.

In a truly well planned out approach BOTH light rail and BRT can help improve transit and not have excessively negative effects on existing personal vehicle usage but there are few examples of where there has been real cooperation -- more often car hating lunatics on one side demonize those skeptical of these things to be done cost effectively or in a way that does not impose excessive restrictions on preferred routes / methods of travel.
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Old 02-04-2015, 06:39 PM
 
Location: Pittsburgh, PA (Morningside)
12,439 posts, read 11,941,006 times
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We have a fairly well-trafficked BRT system (called the East, West, and South Busways respectively) here in Pittsburgh. The East Busway in particular is a major spine of the Pittsburgh system, which is now seeing some pretty ambitious TOD being built.



From time to time, it is suggested that the busways be converted to rail, since they are on old rail ROWs. The issue with these conversions is twofold. One, our existing rail network (which just serves the area around Downtown and the southern suburbs) is slower than the busways. Two, many neighborhood buses get onto the busway at their terminus. If the busways were converted to rail, you'd need to build a transit station and have people transfer which would be much more tedious.

In general though, I would say that light rail beats out BRT if you can swing the money to put it in. However, BRT is far, far better than a streetcar network.
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Old 02-04-2015, 06:51 PM
 
2,388 posts, read 2,957,397 times
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Quote:
Originally Posted by FrankMiller View Post
I think this is pretty much a common debate. Once you commit to doing "real" BRT, rather than just setting up some express routes, you're practically building a streetcar anyway. Rail would be a little more expensive in terms of capital, but the maintenance on buses is awful so it's close to a wash as I understand things.

The main advantage of BRT seems to be that it allows you to cheap-out on portions of the route more easily than streetcar, which obviously requires rails for the entire route.
^^^ This.

If you have a busy BRT system instead of LRT or streetcar you have to run a lot more vehicles to handle the same number of riders so you're paying more drivers, more fuel costs, and more maintenance costs. OTOH, if it's not going to be a busy system outside of the am/pm peaks and you can cut costs on infrastructure by using BRT, especially towards the end of the line, then it makes perfect sense.

There are different grades of BRT and also different levels of efficiency for light rail. When I lived in Brisbane I used the busway to get to school everyday. It was a highly illegible system that took me about 6 weeks to completely master - basically there is a relatively short trunk line so that in most cases you can be at a station and watch half a dozen buses go by because you have to get on only a handful of specific buses to get to your destination. The system, despite costing over $1 billion, and having outrageously high operating costs was already at capacity during peak periods.

Pittsburgh has a very similar BRT network to the one in Brisbane. The difference is that in Brisbane an exclusive bus tunnel connects the different branches of the network underneath the downtown . . . and since transit ridership is generally higher in Brisbane it's much busier.
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Old 02-04-2015, 08:21 PM
 
Location: Vallejo
14,072 posts, read 16,098,416 times
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You'll have an eternal debate about that. BRT isn't really "rapid transit.." basically it's a dumb name. Rapid transit really requires grade separation. BRT is more meant to approximate light rail and/or streetcar transit which as a general rule does not have grade separation.
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Old 02-04-2015, 09:00 PM
 
1,478 posts, read 2,003,764 times
Reputation: 1579
Quote:
Originally Posted by bhamoutlook View Post
I have recently become quite a bit more interested in the transportation side of planning and I think it's because I moved to a city without an efficient public transit. For a long time, the argument has been about what to do to improve the transit and Light Rail and BRT are the two things that keep coming up. I've done quite a bit of research on them but still don't seem to have a good understanding of exactly how they are built.

The city studies keep coming back to BRT because of cost. However, I look around the city and don't see any current streets/highways that can be converted to BRT without significant infrastructure changes. Also, many of these routes are heavily used by cars.

So, I'm left with this... Does BRT require building a lot of new roads? Expanding the width of current roadways? If all of this work is required, how is this cheaper than light rail or even heavy rail?

Maybe this has all been covered here a thousand times but I'm just curious. The city (I live in Birmingham, AL) just won the bid for the World Games in 2021. They have now switched to the idea of Light Rail. (I think they are wanting to do something a little more impressive for visitors???) They are hoping to have about a 10 mile line completed by then. Do you all think that's even possible?
I think some posters are discounting the benefits of BRT in more urban environments. It can work really well at densities if 8 to 15k or in some instances 20k... which overlaps with a lot of light rail. If you're dealing with an urban grid, I wouldn't be concerned with new roads. The beauty of the urban grid is it's ability to self regulate volume of a given section. Cars just passing through will hit adjacent blocks or another thoroughfare of capacity becomes an issue.

Brt uses a road diet for the most part. Where brt works is where the decision comes down to brt on current commercial corridor vs lrt, which is a bit more intense on a rail bed away from commercial corridors. Lrt more frequently takes a path of less resistance, which positions it away from already existing commercial for long stretches. It's easier to revitalize/energize pre existing commercial than it is to build something up from scratch on an industrial corridor in many cases--especially if an metro isn't completely booming. Brt in this instance offers more boom for the buck.

Fiscally, the trade off is cheaper at start up (brt) vs cheaper operating costs (lrt). Where I think brt can be useful here is in a couple cases. First, building more miles of brt vs lrt based upon initial capital constraints. More generally = better connectivity, which can help boost ridership. Second, it could also be accretive in terms if more parcels w property tax revenue hikes. More miles = more potential parcels and better placement (assuming choice above of lrt through commercial v let further away from commercial) means the same. The incremental tax benefit may offset the operating cost difference.

I don't think one is better than the other generally. The decision should be case by case Here in St Louis. I heavily favor brt for future expansion.
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Old 02-04-2015, 10:00 PM
 
4,023 posts, read 3,268,539 times
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I couldn't imagine the 90 mile LA metro rail system being replaced with BRT.
It would be totally overwhelmed. Light rail is so much more efficient at handling higher passenger volumes.
If you want greater reliability, comfort and efficiency, less air and noise pollution go with light rail or streetcars.

The very successful LA metro rail currently has six lines (4 light, 2 heavy) with 5 more extensions currently
under construction plus several more that are planned.


Quote:
Originally Posted by bhamoutlook View Post
Thanks for the feedback, guys. I can definitely see how this makes more sense in suburbs. Did the build a new roadway for the orange line or was an existing road used?

I believe a whole new 2-way road was built exclusively for the Orange Line BRT. It used to be an old Southern Pacific railroad right of way.
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