25 October, 2008


Phoenix, AZ

Cleveland, OH.

Mexico City, Mex.


It’s a bad thing if BRT in Jacksonville doesn't materialize. I couldn’t state this any more strongly. We need as much transit as we can get; our buses are currently ineffective in all but rush hours. Just because I prefer rail over BRT doesn’t mean I’m against BRT, I just prefer rail to BRT. In all of my rants I have tried to point out that I think it’s a bit telling that we never seem to get that cheap BRT that we are promised by the anti-rail crowd. That doesn’t mean I would prefer these bus projects canceled.

If we could get more bus service in any form, that would be a net good thing. I would ride a JTA bus to work every day when I worked at Trailways, and it was great. It came to Monument Road at Atlantic a few blocks from my house, and droped me off right in front of my office, at the bus station. In order to provide service like that, the bus has to stop a couple dozen times between my house and my office. That’s what buses do really well: providing local service. Rail can’t do that level of local service very well. It’s a good thing we aren’t asking it to.

Saying buses are cheaper than rail in the long run is a misleading argument. We’ve discussed this ad nauseam here, here, here and here. The two sentence version: Buses are suited for one sort of transit, rail for another. BRT is trying to get buses to do the type of service rail is best suited for, which never seems to really work. The most common anti-rail argument is that investment in rail is regrettable because we can get BRT to do the same thing for less money.But the very crux of the argument is dishonest, because no one has ever seen this BRT that can do what rail does. We’ve seen BRT that can’t do what rail does, Boston’s Silver Line and LA’s Orange Line. And we have seen BRT that costs almost as much as rail (see the Silver Line), or more then rail (see the Euclid Corridor). But we’ve never seen BRT that can do what rail does.

Euclid Corridor BRT Opens

The Euclid Corridor BRT opens this weekend in Cleveland making it the third true BRT line to launch in recent years (Orange Line and Eugene EMX). Expectations will be high, err low. Projected 2025 ridership stated in the Plain Dealer is 15,000. That's a far cry from the previous projections of 39,000 cited by the FTA (Echo's of our own Skyway's 50,000 daily rider estimates). Given the amount of destinations and jobs on the line I doubt it will take long to get to 15,000.They basically reconstructed the street and are running the same buses as the Eugene system, (buses which weigh more and cost almost as much as modern streetcars). It's also another case of a project in the FTA process opening over 10 years after conception. I thought BRT was supposed to be cheaper and quicker to implement? Though if it started today, the project wouldn't even be funded under Ma Peters. It got a Medium Low in Cost-Effectiveness and a promised cost of $21 million per mile. Which ended up being $29 million per mile. I thought the reason for BRT projects was because they are more cost-effective. Basically what this proves is that the FTA doesn't want to spend money on projects that give transit its own Right-Of-Way. No not painting lanes on the street, but a true separation from other traffic that makes it more effective. Today, its required to get a medium in Cost Effectiveness.

So why does JTA just keep hammering on the same BRT routes and plans? Simple, they are already in the Federal pipeline. Those projects that do not currently have a rating of "medium" in cost-effectiveness would automatically be precluded from funding recommendation by the FTA, notwithstanding the merits of other criteria applicable to those projects. This is part of the cutdown in projects that has been going on lately. It's recently dropped from 85 projects in the pipe before the 2005 "medium" enforcement to 2007. Not counting small starts, this year only has 31 projects in the New Starts report.Lest you think that projects are rightly being cut, it should be noted that Denver's Southeast Corridor, Charlotte's South Corridor, the Los Angeles Orange Line, and the Minneapolis Hiawatha Line all had a Medium Low ratings. Those projects have all passed their projections yet would not have been funded under the current process. Anyone else tired of cost-effectiveness being used as a blunt object to bludgeon the alternatives that will truly get people into transit, including rail AND true BRT? Let's see how this line goes. I still wish it would have been rail and electrified, but it's an improvement in the corridor, one that the FTA would not approve of these days.

The BRT subject in Cleveland during the planning and building of the Euclid Corridor BRT line, Rightly or wrongly, has been fairly controversial with locals - you can see what I mean by looking at the comment section on any Plain Dealer newspaper article written about the EC project. Some of the criticism comes from a misunderstanding of who funded the project and where the money came from. Other criticism comes from the idea that building the EC meant that we squandered resources that could have been used for a better transit project. It is true that EC replaced an existing bus line on Euclid Ave. It is also true that the old bus line was horribly crowded, slow, and inefficient. A primary selling point of the EC is that it connects the city's two biggest employment centers: downtown and University Circle. Of course, they already have the Red Line (heavy rail) that connects those two neighborhoods (although the stations could be relocated to better serve that end; and one of them is currently planned to be rebuilt).The alignment of the BRT line is one of the biggest disappointments. The alignment that was built continues down Euclid Ave. into East Cleveland, which few locals will argue is the city's roughest, most rundown, and unsalvageable parts of the area. It is also an area that is already served by the Red Line. Not unlike Jacksonville's BRT plans that run under the Skyway or along side railroad tracks. It would have been exciting to see an alignment that turned south and east at University Circle and provided transit service to neighborhoods like Cleveland Heights and University Heights. It would have also certainly been more exciting to have a new electric rail line (whether light or heavy) down Euclid Ave. and into neighborhoods that currently lack good transit service to University Circle and downtown. Ridership expectations may not necessarily be high, as the PD claims, but the stakes certainly are high. Critics are ready to pounce on the project and officially label it as a failure and waste of valuable resources.

Cleveland’s Mr. Calabrese, is the push behind the Euclid BRT, he parrots the JTA line on BRT just being a stepping stone to rail. "Bus rapid transit lines can be designated and more buses can be tacked on if the service starts to grow. If the volume grows to a point, then some of these vehicles can be linked together. And then tracks can be laid".

Suddenly a bus system has become a fully fledged light rail system. If the volume grows some of "THESE VEHICLES" can be linked together? Buses? Really? Where has this happened? Where have they just slipped rails under the bus and got instant light rail? Can you image this happening on the Arlington Expressway or I-95 North BRT alignments? Someone please tell me which lane the trains will be in. The fact is, the BRT proponets are being dishonest with the public. They know the only thing even close to this is when the Cuirtiba, Brazil, BRT system failed to meet demand (after being the model for both Cleveland and Jacksonville) forcing the City of Curitiba to build a new Metro Rail System.

I don’t think light rail is cheap, I think light rail, especially vintage streetcars, or modern streetcars (in that order) is cheaper than the alternatives. Even more so in Cities like Jacksonville where many lightly used railroad branchlines or abandoned rights of way can be accessed for transit. Roads are very expensive. Adding the outter beltway, just the Federal contribution is $69.2 Million. Adding the new interchange at I-10 and I-95 is another $148 Million. Completing a widening redesign to accommodate FDOT’s budget on a 2-mi segment of Interstate 275 just west of downtown Tampa in the Westshore Business District. Construction of the first phase of this project will cost $277.5 million, begin in 2007 and wrap up in 2012. Ultimate construction cost will exceed $500 million. Each of those cost considerably more money per mile than light rail does, just the new viaduct and 520 bridge in Seattle, will each cost more than a billion dollars per mile. None of these will move as many people as light rail would. Light Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger miles than buses are, which is why you want riders going long distances to do so on rail. Exclusive lane BRT around here is not going to work if the current routes pass review. Even if BRT and the expanded interstate highway fails, congestion and fuel will continue to eat into bus funding, making buses ever more expensive to operate per passenger mile. This is why buses are better suited for local access than rail, and rail is better suited for longer distances than buses are. Investment in light rail will pay off spectacularly, because we’ll be able to put buses that are used for long-haul service back to where they are effective, into shorter local service. Once riders get on rail, they become much cheaper per over the distance, we save money, and can improve service. Light rail isn’t cheap if you have no buses, and buses aren’t cheap if they are asked to do what rail should be doing.

I am very much pro-bus, which is why I took the bus to work everyday when I could drive, thank you very much. However, I do have a problem with the Mike Miller, JTA, et al. argument that, every thing being equal, buses can do what light rail can do cheaper. It’s a dishonest argument, and the first bit of proof that BRT is not cheap is provided by the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get any cheap BRT.

The only people I can imagine who would be happy that Jacksonville Commuter Rail, Streetcar or, a Skyway expansion, might not arrive are the anti-everything set, who claim to be in support of BRT, but, of course, if it comes time to vote on funding, they'll be more then happy to vote no. They might be happy because they can continue to make the the argument that BRT will be cheaper than rail, and instead of having an example to compare light rail to, they can continue to compare high dollar subways to BRT systems in far away places like Lima, Peru and Bogotá, Colombia. They know full well that BRT can’t do what light rail can, and they can remain against any form of transit mix that actually works.
Special Thanks:
The Overhead Wire
City of Cleveland
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Mr. Mike Miller
Mr. Rob Pitingolo
The Toledo Blade
Seattle Transit Blog
Light Rail Now

1 comment:

  1. We are really fortunate here in AZ where the BRT will connect to our new light rail line in December. While our initial "starter line" is 20 miles long, some of the expansion areas are considering more BRT connections or a combination of both. Very interesting to watch the progress. Glad we found your blog!



The arguments rage to this date, "Should have never been built," "waste of taxpayer money," "Doesn't go anywhere," "Nobody rides it..." etc. Bottom line is we have it, and it is finally showing signs of life. Simple extensions to the Stadium, San Marco, and the area of Blue Cross in North Riverside would turn this little train around. Addition of Park and Ride garages and multimodal transit terminals at the end points would bring on the crowds. The video must have been shot on a Sunday Morning, as downtown is certainly as packed with life as any other major City on weekdays. Jacksonville is a city of Bikes, joggers, walkers, buses and cars, one almost wonders how the photographer managed to find this quiet moment.

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