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Bus Rapid Transit Spurs Development Better Than Light Rail: Study

Bus rapid transit, can not only spur development, but can do so far more efficiently than light rail and streetcars, according to a study from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. The transportation think tank has produced more that 70 papers on BRT.

“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, “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.

BRT’s efficiency makes sense—bus rapid transit lines are generally cheaper to develop than rail lines (though some transportation experts balk at the comparison)—but the difference has never before been documented, Weinstock said.

“The first conclusion we’re able to draw here is that actually BRT is able to leverage development. This is the first time we have an analysis to say that definitively,” she said.

“And it can leverage a lot of development. Three of the corridors (studied) leveraged more than a billion dollars in development.”

The Cleveland Healthline is one of the top ranked BRT systems in the United states. It was responsible for generating more than $5 Billion,in new development

The Cleveland HealthLine is the only BRT corridor in the US that is ranked silver under The BRT Standard. It is one of only two BRTs in the US with platform-level boarding and central median stations. It also has off-board fare collection and 4.5 miles of dedicated center lanes from University Circle to downtown Cleveland, all of which are responsible for the increase in speed. Because the HealthLine was an upgrade from the number 6 bus, it reduced the number of stops along the corridor from over 100 to 36—yet another reason for the speed increase. Frequencies were shortened to 2.1 minutes during the peak period, down from 6 minutes previously. Multiple bus routes use the BRT corridor, and mixed traffic is forbidden from turning across the busway at most intersections. Modern, iconic stations enhance the streetscape and provide a safer, more attractive waiting area for passengers. They also create a sense of permanence for those wishing to invest in or live along the corridor. These features and several others were the main reasons for the system’s silver rating.

Ridership has increased by 67% since the HealthLine opened in October 2008: four years after opening, The system’s average weekday ridership was 15,800. About 13% of the new passengers came from the nearby rail line, and a reasonable 18% were former automobile commuters. Speeds increased by 34%, from 9.3 mph, pre-BRT, to 12.5 mph. Finally, the use of cleaner, diesel-electric hybrid buses and the reduction in overall traffic cut particulate emissions in the corridor by 95%.

BRT buses run in dedicated lanes, and stop at stations where riders pay before boarding the bus. Buses running on BRT lines may also receive traffic signal priority to speed them along. Though many projects in the United States have been described as BRT, many have only one or two features of BRT, and really are only enhanced bus lines, Weinstock said.

The Healthline features modern, comfortable stations with platform boarding and proof-of-payment ticketing from platform vending machines.

The U.S. has seven authentic BRT lines in Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Eugene Ore., and several in Pittsburgh. None achieve the internationally recognized “gold standard” of BRT like Bogota’s TransMilenio line. But one planned for Chicago’s Ashland Avenue might.

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