Monday, July 30, 2012

BUS RAPID TRANSIT: Projects Improve Transit Service and Can Contribute to Economic Development

I am pleased to present the summary findings of this hot-off-the-press report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office report to the U.S. Senate.

U.S. bus rapid transit (BRT) projects we reviewed include features that distinguished BRT from standard bus service and improved riders’ experience. However, few of the projects (5 of 20) used dedicated or semi-dedicated lanes— a feature commonly associated with BRT and included in international systems to reduce travel time and attract riders. Project sponsors and planners explained that decisions on which features to incorporate into BRT projects were influenced by costs, community needs, and the ability to phase in additional features. For example, one project sponsor explained that well-lighted shelters with security cameras and real-time information displays were included to increase passengers’ sense of safety in the evening. Project sponsors told us they plan to incorporate additional features such as off-board fare collection over time.

The BRT projects we reviewed generally increased ridership and improved service over the previous transit service. Specifically, 13 of the 15 project sponsors that provided ridership data reported increases in ridership after 1 year of service and reduced average travel times of 10 to 35% over previous bus services. However, even with increases in ridership, U.S. BRT projects usually carry fewer total riders than rail transit projects and international BRT systems. Project sponsors and other stakeholders attribute this to higher population densities internationally and riders who prefer rail transit. However, some projects—such as the M15 BRT line in New York City—carry more than 55,000 riders per day.

Capital costs for BRT projects were generally lower than for rail transit projects and accounted for a small percent of the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) New, Small, and Very Small Starts’ funding although they accounted for over 50% of projects with grant agreements since fiscal year 2005. Project sponsors also told us that BRT projects can provide rail-like benefits at lower capital costs. However, differences in capital costs are due in part to elements needed for rail transit that are not required for BRT and can be considered in context of total riders, costs for operations, and other long-term costs such as vehicle replacement.

We found that although many factors contribute to economic development, most local officials we visited believe that BRT projects are contributing to localized economic development. For instance, officials in Cleveland told us that between $4 and $5 billion was invested near the Healthline BRT project—associated with major hospitals and universities in the corridor. Project sponsors in other cities told us that there is potential for development near BRT projects; however, development to date has been limited by broader economic conditions—most notably the recent recession.

While most local officials believe that rail transit has a greater economic development potential than BRT, they agreed that certain factors can enhance BRT’s ability to contribute to economic development, including physical BRT features that relay a sense of permanence to developers; key employment and activity centers located along the corridor; and local policies and incentives that encourage transit-oriented development. Our analysis of land value changes near BRT lends support to these themes. In addition to economic development, BRT project sponsors highlighted other community benefits including quick construction and implementation and operational flexibility.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

New Lane on WB H-1 Freeway!

Quietly, quickly and effectively the Hawaii State Department of Transportation (HDOT) has added a full lane of traffic on the west-bound H-1 Freeway from Punahou Street to Pali Highway.

The new lane starts as an extension to the existing auxiliary freeway lane between the Punahou Street on-ramp and the Lunalilo Street off-ramp like so:

The added lane continues onto the viaduct than now has four instead of three lanes! This is a whopping 25% to 30% capacity addition. Numerically it is a 33.3% gain but when a lane addition is effected by narrowing lanes and shoulders, some capacity loss does occur. As you see in these pictures, vehicles fit well on the narrower lanes and after multiple passes, I did not notice any slow downs because of the tighter lanes.

Now the critical Lunalilo Street on-ramp and Vineyard Boulevard off-ramp has five lanes instead of four, like so:

The fourth lane terminates smoothly as the Pali Highway off-ramp.

This lane addition is the result of many months of work at my University of Hawaii Traffic and Transportation Lab, the R. M. Towill Corporation, the Planning, Traffic and Design section of HDOT and others.

Cudos to HDOT for doing it! I look forward to the similar lane addition on the east-bound side.

Honolulu TheBus Color Scheme Preference

Monday, July 23, 2012

Congress: Now Honolulu Can Switch from Rail to BRT

The recently passed 2-year transportation act of Congress which was signed by the president contains these golden nuggets for Honolulu:

1) ... the bill modifies the definition of Bus Rapid Transit projects to broaden the use of the program. BRT projects will now be classified and funded as ... Fixed Guideway

2) ... the bill allows three Fixed Guideway BRT projects to receive at least 80 percent federal funding share each fiscal year. These provisions provide a significant opportunity for communities seeking to invest in BRT

Source: Inside MAP-21: New Starts Transit Grants.

Significantly, part of the rail's guideway can be retained as express flyovers for buses. Based on the letter of the law, these flyovers can be used off-peak for other operations such as emergency, city services and other transportation services. The unsightly stations can be replaced with on/off ramps. Like the Harris BRT, there will be no need for an elevated guideway in the city core.

Now there shouldn't be any question as to what the right course of action for Honolulu is.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Honolulu BRT: The College Express

I have long advocated for BRT service along King and Beretania Streets. A sample article from 2002 was titled: A Less Expensive and Less Disruptive Bus Rapid Transit System for Honolulu.

I modified one of the routes proposed ten years into The College Express in a proposal to past Governor and current candidate for mayor Ben Cayetano. The "constant motion" circuit route connects the University of Hawaii at Manoa, Hawaii Pacific University and Honolulu Community College with a bus every 15 minutes off-peak and every 6 minutes in the peak periods.

In addition to connecting three college campuses, this route also provides service to important transit-dependent markets in-town such as:
  • Hospitals: Straub, Kapiolani, Honolulu Medical Group, Holistic Medical, many doctors' offices
  • SuperMarkets: Times, Safeway, Foodland
  • Banks: BOH, FHB, CPB
  • Government buildings
  • City Center/Downtown
  • Chinatown and Iwilei

This route may begin operations immediately as a regular bus route. Once an environmental assessment has been approved and funding is secured for parking relocations (if needed) and minor lane improvements as well as traffic signal improvements, the route will convert into a faster College Express BRT service. Depending on demand, high technology, high capacity double decker buses may be utilized, as the sample shown below. (This is similar to the Las Vegas public transit bus.)

Monday, July 9, 2012

Godfather of Global Warming Is Less Alarmed Now

Professor James Lovelock is a world-renowned scientist and environmentalist who had a major impact on the development of global warming theory. As the Toronto Sun describes him: Unlike many “environmentalists,” who have degrees in political science, Lovelock, until his recent retirement at age 92, was a much-honored working scientist and academic.

In recent interviews Lovelock has made these rather starling declarations:
  1. He had been unduly “alarmist” about climate change.
  2. He's been a long-time supporter of nuclear power as a way to lower greenhouse gas emissions.
  3. He is in favor of natural gas fracking extraction because natural gas is a low-polluting alternative to coal.
  4. He believes that ‘sustainable development’ is meaningless drivel.
  5. He "can’t stand windmills at any price."
  6. He "blasted greens for treating global warming like a religion."

I am truly humbled to be in agreement with him, 5 for 5, with first five arguments: climate change, nuclear power, fracking, sustainable development and windmills. I have not yet written an article blasting greens (although I often refer to them as pseudo-greens) because I've been rather busy countering the railigious.


Monday, July 2, 2012

Is Honolulu Really No. 1 in Traffic Jams?

Of course not! Honolulu’s congestion ranking is No. 50. But with rail, it stands a good chance to climb to the top 10 congested cities in the US. Read my analysis on Honolulu's congestion rank in this Honolulu Weekly article.