Monday, February 28, 2011

Moore: BRT study should begin 'as soon as possible'

A study looking into the implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) in Cincinnati should begin "as soon as possible", according to a recent memo to City Council from Department of Transportation and Engineering (DOTE) Director Michael Moore.

The memo is in response to a November 2010 motion by Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls – co-sponsored by Councilmembers Laure Quinlivan, Cecil Thomas and Wendell Young – asking DOTE to look into the feasibility of BRT as part of a larger multi-modal transit plan integrating BRT, light rail, streetcars, and the City's existing rail policy.

The study would include major transportation corridors, especially those serving major employment centers such as Downtown, Uptown, and the Mill Creek valley.

By better moving commuters in and out of the City, the plan could help the City create and retain jobs and lead to neighborhood revitalization, Qualls said.

What is BRT?

BRT is a higher-capacity public transit solution that can utilize buses on dedicated roadways, dedicated lanes, or a combination of both.

The service is designed to serve a large number of commuters traveling between 5 and 20 miles to work.

According to Qualls, BRT provides the best features of light rail with the flexibility and cost advantages of roadway transit. It can also preserve rights of way for future light rail development.

"Because the conversion to rapid transit is faster and cheaper than developing light rail, it is an important interim step that helps build transit ridership and provides a great service in the near term," she said.

Catching on nationally

Nearly two dozen U.S. cities have at least one BRT line in operation. Another three dozen lines are in development.

The Small Starts fund of the Federal Transit Administration's New Starts capital investment program has been used to support BRT projects nationally.

In 2011, the federal Small Starts program has funded BRT projects in Austin; Fort Collins, Colo.; New York City; Oakland; Roaring Fork, Colo.; San Bernardino; San Francisco; and Seattle.

Regionally, Pittsburgh has used dedicated busways for more than 25 years, with its three BRT routes serving 51,000 riders per day. Cleveland's 9-mile BRT line along Euclid Avenue, the HealthLine, has produced a 56 percent increase in ridership over the old Number 6 bus line that served the city's two major employment centers, Downtown and University Circle.

Preliminary work has begun

Moore said that his department is currently working with the staff from the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority and consultant Parsons Brinckerhoff to refine the scope and schedule for the study, which would inventory abandoned rail right of way and the capacity of major arterials to handle BRT. Previous BRT proposals and best practices from throughout the U.S. also would be examined.

"It is our intent to coordinate with other regional partners, such as the Hamilton County Engineer's Office and the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments," Moore said.

The study would be funded through an existing DOTE appropriation in the transit fund.

Photo credits: "Drizzly EmX" by Chris Phan (CC BY 2.0); "Concept drawing of separate BRT lane" and "HealthLine" provided.