The PiPress’s article about LRT down University yesterday ended by pointing toward the debate between LRT and BRT. While they’re only one letter different, the debate really comes down to how much (and why) people like trains more than buses, and to what extent that makes for a more succesful city transit system and boosts city development.
A few weeks ago, a Strib piece by Laurie Blake tackled just this question:
This preference for rail largely explains why the Hiawatha ridership is exceeding projections. Preconstruction predictions did not factor in positive attitudes toward the train. The Hiawatha ridership is 65 percent higher than predicted. In October, an estimated 742,000 riders used the line.
Rail's smooth ride and consistent schedule make it appealing to riders who would not consider the bus. The permanence of the track and the frequency of service make it easy to use without knowing a schedule.
"Now we have real numbers from observed behavior," Diaz said. "About 40 percent of the riders are people who were not using the bus. That is a huge amount."
Officials have spent more than a year correcting the metro area's forecasting methods to better reflect rail's appeal. This change could be important for ridership predictions on a proposed central corridor rail line along
University Avenuelinking and St. Paul . Minneapolis
An upcoming environmental impact statement will compare the pros and cons of a rail line with bus rapid transit. Ridership will be central to that comparison and a key part of the choice between rail or bus, Diaz said.
My take on a recent report (not available online) by New Urban News, is that "Bus Rapid Transit," while better than “Bus Slow-as-Molasses Transit,” is just another name for a good bus system. Such systems are being planned in many cities, though right now a real BRT exists only in
- new buses that require no step-up
- dedicated bus lanes
- special bus stops with LED signs that tell you the time until the next bus
- timed stoplights
However, Light Rail must also be a big part of the long-term answer. Sure it’s more expensive, but as an investment, it pays for itself by encouraging development all along its route. The same New Urban News article that talks about BRT benefits, mentions this:
Nearly everyone New Urban News spoke with agreed that developers are less excited by bus systems than by rail transit. The permanence of a rail line encourages developers to make long-term investments along it. Also, despite the introduction of quiter, clean-buring engines on the latest generation of BRT buses, the public’s preferred mode of mass transit is trains. This August, community groups in
forced the MVTO to postpone plans for constructing an $800 million, one-mile bus tunnel fo rthe final leg of the Silver Line; they wanted it to be light rail. Boston
Shelly Poticha, president of Reconnecting America, said some streetcar projects have been “only modestly more expensive” to build than BRT and have done better at generating mixed-use development.
According to the Strib article, LRT has between a 25% to 40%
According to the Strib article, LRT has between a 25% to 40%advantage over buses in adding new riders, not to mention any extra boost in development monet. The Twin Cities, one of the weathiest, fastest-growing urban areas in the country, should be talking about both LRT and BRT. University Avenue is the perfect place for a train – both wide enough, and desperate for development money – and and we should be looking at changing some of the other well-travelled bus routes into “Rapid Transit” corridors – by adding quieter buses, improved bus stops, and right-of-way improvements.