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Thursday, June 29, 2006

Bus Rapid Transit

Posted by on June 29 at 15:22 PM

Seattlest kicks a few holes in Ron Sims’ BRT plan—and I couldn’t agree more:

Bus Rapid Transit as an alternative to actual mass transit sucks. It’s what anti-transit people offer to cities to ridicule their efforts at light rail or monorails…. And they are said to “work” in a few of those places, although the mark of success for BRT is significantly lower than for light rail. If the actual goal is to get people out of their cars and onto transit by choice, no one’s going to give up the hybrid for a damn bus.

When Ron Sims came in to talk up his BRT plan in May he brought along Kevin Desmond, general manager of Metro. Desmond admitted that BRT isn’t really rapid transit. That’s reason enough to vote against Sims’ bus plan. From the Slog archives

They were here to sell us on Transit Now, Sims’ proposed sales tax increase to boost Metro bus service. They describe the plan as “Bus Rapid Transit,ā€¯ which is an odd thing to call adding more buses to already crowded city streets—because, um, aren’t all those new buses going to be stuck in traffic with the old buses and cars already on the road? Unless, of course, traffic lanes currently open to cars are reserved for buses only, right? (It’s a nice idea—hey, I’m for anything that makes driving less convenient—but I’m not holding my breath.) When I said that I didn’t think more buses stuck in traffic could be described as rapid transit, Desmond said, and I quote, “It’s not true rapid transit.ā€¯

Thanks for clearing that up, Mr. Desmond.

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Damn straight! If you're gonna get the likes of me on mass transit, it'd better be sexy and ridiculously overpriced mass transit!

But Dan, unfortunately, it's all we're going to get right now.

Three cheers for Seattlest!!!

The Stranger also punched some serious holes in BRT, courtesy of ace reporter Erica C. Barnett.

That washed up old Maggie whats-her-name (used to be on the King County Council) keeps dragging out BRT and using it as a way to keep her name out there. She was a big opponent to Sound Transit.

IMO, The only place BRT even remotely works in this area is from the Bus Tunnel to Mercer Island.

Not only is "bus rapid transit" not rapid transit (it's an oxymoron), but Ron Sims' half-baked plan is not even bus rapid transit.

Greater frequency and synchronized traffic signals alone do not BRT make. What about dedicated lanes on more than just occasional stretches? What about buses that don't take three minutes to load and unload wheelchair-bound individuals? Someone correct me if I'm wrong. I'd be happy to be wrong on this.

As lame as this "Transit Now" is, though, it's going to be hard to vote against it. I'm not quite as coldblooded as Ron Sims is to actually want to kill a transit plan just because it isn't my own baby.

Synchronizing traffic lights? Paul Schell still around?

It sounds like Dan and most people on this thread have no clue what BRT is or how it compares to the fixed track, multi-years behind schedule, and tens of millions over budget that may--stress on may--someday serve a small portion of commuters who haven't already been forced to sell or move to make way for the ongoing Sound Transit light rail fiasco.

In terms of flexibility, cost efficiency, and service area, BRT has better potential to serve commuter needs than any available alternative in this region. And why should anyone give a shit about complaints from people who want to dictate mass transit for others but have no intention of ever giving up their cars for any form of public transport beyond whatever they consider an easy walking or biking distance.

I would agree, however, that most ideas endorsed by Ron Sims are full of shit.

True BRT is fine, but that's not what we're going to get. Adding more buses is just adding more buses.

Cressona's got it right. This is not a BRT plan. It's a make-some-bus-lines-suck-a-little-less plan, which is not in itself a terrible thing.

But here's the implicit question: Is Sims calling his plan BRT in order to make the plan sound more exciting? Or is it so he can point at these slow smelly buses still stuck in traffic next time Maggie Fimia starts talking about how BRT is just as good as light rail and soooooo much cheaper?

It's not perfect, but I'll take it. BRT and a 20% increase in bus service is a county plan. Pick on Mayor Greg Nickels and the city council for the monorail debacle, not Ron Sims for proposing more bus service. I sometimes forget the people who live outside of Seattle who may actually benefit from more service in their part of the county. Voting yes.

Living in west seattle, still having more buses doesn't mean that when a car breaks down or has an accident on the west seattle bridge that you'll be able to coast past the traffic jams, you'll still be stuck with the cars in traffic on your bus. Unless they build roads and bridges only, BRT is a lie.

The county should work toward building more of the light rail throughout the sound. Not only going out to west seattle but to ballard and east/west routes going from the eastside to seattle. Then they'll have the potential to cut down on car use.

So what if it gets stuck in traffic when the West Seattle Bridge closes down? Is that what's keeping people in their cars, people's desire to contribute even more to traffic jams and to stare straight ahead at the same bumper sticker for an hour straight? I read The Stranger and listened to my Ipod on the bus today, and due to carpool lanes, I got home about 30 minutes faster than I would have if I was driving.

The ONLY functional problem with the bus system is that there aren't enough of them. Nobody wants to wait 20 minutes for a bus, and nobody wants to stand for 20 minutes on the bus when it finally arrives. Who cares if it's not "real" rapid transit?


Even if BRT got us down the freeway faster (which it doesn't, unless they build dedicated lanes) it still does nothing for getting us through city traffic. This means that the "BRT" vehicles are going to get stuck before they even get on the freeway.

And what about this idea of running buses in the Metro tunnel at the same time as trains?! Have you seen how fast the buses go down there? 15 miles an hour!! So these Sound Transit trains are going to be stuck behind these slow articulated buses in the tunnel. Could you imagine NYC running buses down the subway tunnels?! SF running those slow electric buses under the Market Street tunnel?

This town makes my head hurt.

jamied: "I read The Stranger and listened to my Ipod on the bus today, and due to carpool lanes, I got home about 30 minutes faster than I would have if I was driving."

30 minutes? What commute did you take? I took the bus for many years into downtown, until recently, and more often than not, we'd get stuck with everybody else. Which, on weeks like this one, would be oh so fun sweating and trying to get some fresh air from those goofy and tiny 6" windows.

You are not going to get people out of their cars until you have "real mass transit". The Sims plan won't cut it, I'm sorry to say.

Sims' plan is not Bus RAPID Transit and is not even close to what rail offers. BRT is little more than a marketing name at this point unless you buy/build right of way, and then why not buy a train?

The Transit Now package is simply a modest investment in more bus service for the county. A little background is useful. When Eyman passed 695 and took away MVET funds it smacked transit agencies hard across the state. So the state legislature promptly gave counties the authority to levy up to 0.3 in sales tax to fund transit. Several counties took all three-tenths to their voters to fund buses. King County only chose to use two-tenths and kept one in reserve. This package is just using all of the tools the legislature has given us to fund transit.

I am not a big booster of the proposal, but I think on balance it makes sense. The timeline for planning and building most transit lines or roads projects runs close to ten years from a vote. Transit Now will add service to over-capacity, high-demand routes throughout the county. It will also set up five BRT-lite corridors in the county, three in Seattle on Aurora and in Ballard and West Seattle. They will have SOME roads improvements and will cheat and use existing facilities like the busway to avoid traffic. It will all likely help somewhat...

Sound Transit will go to the ballot in 2007 with its own package to build rail east across the lake and beyond, north past Northgate to possibly Lynnwood, and south to Federal Way or possibly near Tacoma. Sims package doesn't take away from Sound Transit's ability to ask for funds legally. It just competes for the limited tax dollar people might want to pay.

Tiffany--the bus/train mix in the tunnel is actually very simple. Buses approach and wait at a light for the train to pass. When the train leaves the station , the buses get a green to proceed. The stations are so close downtown that the train isn't moving fast here anyway. As we add more rail lines in the area the buses get kicked out. All we are doing is using the excess capacity of the tunnel.

Whether this plan is or is not "rapid transit" is semantics and really beside the point. "Rapid Transit" is not some holy grail of civic life we absolutely have to strive for.

This proposed augmentation of the Metro bus system will provide transportation service, and service options, for many people. The cost per rider is reasonable, and the benefits will begin immediately. It is a flexible system. The cost of fixed rail is shockingly high, it serves (and can reasonably be expected to serve) only a relatively few people. For whatever reason, light rail turned out to be a big waste of money. On balance, this bus plan is a smarter way to spend transit dollars.

Yeah, rail is the wrong choiceā€”that's why every major city on earth, every city with a popular, functional built-out rapid transit system (Chicago, New York, London, Paris, D.C., S.F.) has rail. And buses, but railā€”in grade-seperated right-of-wayā€”is the spine.

But, hey, this is Seattle, the best of all possible worlds. If we don't have rail, well, then there must be something terribly, terribly wrong with subways, elevated trains, monorails (still the fastest way to get from Point A/Westlake to Point B/Seattle Center). Otherwise we would have it, right? I mean, isn't this paradise, after all?

"For whatever reason, light rail turned out to be a big waste of money."

Wow, you can see into the future? Do you have a crystal ball, or do you ask your Oouiji Board?

Say what you will about the link light rail: It's going to be a wonderful thing for Southeast Seattle. Right now, the only fast way to get downtown is to board the suburban buses at Rainier Avenue and ride in on 90. The surface bus lines - primarily the 7 and 36, are ridiculously overcroweded, the equipment is junk, and they get stuck. The 7 crawls down Rainier to get stuck north of Dearborn, and the 36 has to navigate through that mess at 12th and Jackson.

As far as it not being grade separated: A lot of Muni isn't either. It works. Besides, it's just the stretch along MLK, and some of the busway that won't be separated - and long term plans call for a lot of the busway crossings to go away.

"Say what you will about the link light rail: It's going to be a wonderful thing for Southeast Seattle."

. . . and the generals who sit their butts down on the $500 toilet seats the Pentagon bought think they are wonderful things too. Doesn't justify the cost though. Sound Transit was supposed to have all of its programs operational this year. The tax hit the region was supposed to take for commuter rail, light rail, buses, HOV lane improvements, etc. was $2 billion. As things now stand, ST flat refuses to provide an estimate of what it now projects the tax impact will be.

In principle of course light rail is groovy. Fresh, green and sleek. In reality it is hammering the least well off among us with regressive taxes that are way, way beyond reasonable.

Monorail: not the fastest way to get from Point A/Westlake to Point B/Seattle Center until it's repaired.

That said, I'm with Dan: Show me a first world city (i.e. where people can afford cars) with a BRT system with any significant ridership and I'll be convinced.

Until then, compare LA and Pittsburgh's sucky and little-used busways to Vancouver's SkyTrain or basically any subway anywhere and it seems obvious that there are a lot of people who will ride grade-separated trains who will not ride buses, even lipstick-on-the-pig buses.

Thanks, Dan, for continuing to kick proposed improvements to the bus service right in the teeth. I DIDN'T GET MY $4 BILLION MONORAIL TO INTERBAY AND WEST SEATTLE! WAAAH!

Reading that, I'm almost certain, BTW, that Seattlest plagiarized you. Is plagiarism really agreement?

A good chunk of the cost overruns were caused by the stupid "save our valley" campaign and other dumbass do-gooders who did nothing but bog the thing down with litigation.

I live in the Rainier Valley, and I have for the last 20 years - long before it became fashionable with the hipster-with-baby crowd. That bullshit about "small business owners on MLK" was the most overhyped crap I have ever read. Their non-sequiter ridden emails - like the time they claimed that blacks and asians don't go to Starbucks - was some of the funniest shit I've seen in years.

Save our Valley my ass - save it for what? Paycheck cashing places, gas stations and convenience marts?

I'm glad at least a few people here get it. This is not either/or. This is not binary.

As a Seattle resident who works on the eastside, I want trains that run to the eastside from Seattle. I want to be able to get on a train in Seattle and step off that train on the eastside preferrably at the destination of my choice, though I'm willing to transfer once. I've been to places where the trains work and I

That said, more of us need to be on the bus more often. Because the bus can potentially hold the equivalent of the drivers and passengers of around 50 cars, that's 50 less cars on the road. People who feel a need for speed or want to feel dissatisfied with how long it takes to get places will always make those complaints and demands -- and the rest of us will still need to get where we're going in the amount of time we can reasonably expect it to take based on experience.

BRT is a waste of perfectly good buzzwords when not used to refer to that one city in Brazil with the name I can't remember or Las Vegas' CAT-MAX line (which the astute reader is advised to note, maintains 10 minute headways pretty effectively) There are undoubtedly other examples of what it really is. Like most commenters here, I know this won't be BRT -- but I think Metro runs a fantastic transit system, doesn't _need_ BRT, and I'm pretty sure I won't have my magic train to the eastside until at least 2020. So I think we'd all be doing ourselves a favor by realizing that we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

And don't get me started on the monorail.

What the hell happened to my thing about where the trains work, you say? I wonder the same thing. Oh well.

"I've been to places where the trains work and I think we need to strive for well-developed systems like that here. However, those places where the trains work generally feature way more than just trains. The culture is developed in such a way as to make transit ridership part of good citizenship, not something reserved for a disadvantaged underclass. In Seattle we have the beginnings of that cultural attitude already."

"A good chunk of the cost overruns were caused by the stupid "save our valley" campaign and other dumbass do-gooders who did nothing but bog the thing down with litigation."

This statement has ABSOLUTELY NO BASIS IN FACT WHATSOEVER. Save our Valley may have cost ST a buck or two, but the cost to the light rail project of their efforts pales into insignificance compared to the things that really drove those cost overruns (such as the 1st Hill deep tunnel, the complexity of the original Capitol Hill station locations, and the problems with the original crossing of Portage Bay).

BTW, the $20 million mitigation fund that arose as a PR sop to all of the businesses that have been royally screwed by the choice of a surface route through Rainier Valley is being paid for by City taxpayers - it has nothing to do with the cost overruns that resulted from ST trying to lowball their project costs and overstate its benefits to get voter approval.

"Royally Screwed"? Give me a break. For 20 Million you could buy MLK and every shitty business on it.

Light rail is the best thing to happen to SE Seattle in decades. If nothing else, it cleans house on a shitty street that was nothing else than a back up to I-5.

I'm glad to hear you care about the displacement of poor and working class folks so much.

Go fuck yourself.

Oh please "the poor and working class" (or which I am both) are the ones who will ride light rail. Take your sob sister crap and shove it up your ass. It's braniacs like you that hold everything up in this town.

Yeah, except it won't run through Renton, Kent, or Auburn - which is where the people you casually dismiss have been displaced to. And it will cost a lot more than the bus service it replaces (Los Angeles lost a lawsuit by the bus riders union there for just this reason).

I'd tell you to fuck yourself too, but why don't you go fuck So There! instead? No one else would have you, and you certainly seem to be made for each other.

Oh, and by the way, I actively campaigned for the RTA (as it was then called) when it was on the ballot in 1996.

-Oh, and by the way, I actively campaigned for the RTA (as it was then called) when it was on the ballot in 1996.-

Then you should know that your criticisms are misplaced, Mr. X.

-Yeah, except it won't run through Renton, Kent, or Auburn - which is where the people you casually dismiss have been displaced to.-

Mr. X, those communities you mentioned have excellent (and popular) Sound Transit commuter rail service already, with 4 more runs (and an extension to Lakewood and Dupont) in the works. A rebuilt King Street station will connect light rail to the Sounder trains. There could even be a connection in Tukwila, where the light rail station at S. 154th St. could be a short shuttle away from the Sounder station.

Also, the next phase of light rail is likely to serve Kent, DesMoines, Federal Way and possibly Tacoma. So, to say the supposed "previous" residents of the valley will have no connections to Seattle is just plain wrong.

-And it will cost a lot more than the bus service it replaces (Los Angeles lost a lawsuit by the bus riders union there for just this reason).-

Bad example, Mr. X. In LA, there was no firewall between rail (which initially suffered from low ridership, but is now very popular) and bus tax revenues. So when the rail system - which serves more affluent communities - ran into problems (like underground methane gas pockets), the MTA had to take money from the buses (mostly used by poor people).

We just don't have the same situation here, since Metro and Sound Transit are completely different agencies. So, when Sound Transit ran into cost overruns in 2000, not a single hour of bus service was affected. Same goes for Sound Transit's bus service, allocated by subarea.

A string of lawsuits by SOV and Sane/CETA - and the corresponding Eyman initiative (supported by anti-rail activists) DID put both Sound Transit's bus AND rail services in jeopardy. I believe Eyman's latest initiative (917) would continue this approach of targeting bus and rail revenues.

A few points-

1) commuter rail, which seems like a fine idea on paper, now makes 4 round trips a day, all of which commence during am/pm peak times. Not exactly a viable mode during the rest of the day (or after 6:30PM), or for people going anywhere that isn't close to the few train stations.

It is also drawing about 1/2 of the riders originally promised to voters. ST Express buses actually carry a whole lot more riders from suburban cities than does Sounder. 300 boardings a day for this system hardly rates as "popular" - and the level of subsidy per rider is abysmal (and no, I'm not one who thinks that transit shouldn't be subsidized).

BTW - it is unlikely that the Kent Valley will be served by Link Phase 2, given that it will originate at SeaTac Airport (it is also unlikely that regional voters will approve this phase, but that remains to be seen). I'd say Federal Way and points along the I-5 corridor are much likelier candidates for light rail if it ever gets to Tacoma (and if they can keep their 1 mile starter line from sinking into the ground).

In the meantime - even under your rather rosy scenario - the folks displaced from the Rainier Valley by Sound Transit and a set of City decisions to deliberately gentrify that neighborhood will wait a long time for better transit service.

(Rebuilding King St station as a multimodal transit center is a fine idea, however).

2) The LA example is a reasonable analogy. Bus service will be cut along the light rail route (both to the north and south of downtown), with the express intent of getting former bus riders onto light rail trains. This is fine as far as it goes, but will result in fewer routes for people to use than exist now, with a corrosponding reduction in the number of easily reached destinations off of the rail line (fe - in the U-District, most of the 70 series buses will go away, so while you can get between the UD and downtown on light rail, you no longer have the direct connection to Wedgewood/Lake City/Jackson Park, etc., that you do now. You'll have a great time getting anywhere on Capitol Hill by rail, too - with one station and no stops between downtown and Husky Stadium).

Some of what you say about the LA experience is true, but it is still the case that an assortment of bus routes serving different destinations along light rail routes will be eliminated to get people onto trains which, if the LA experience is any indication, will cost more than the buses they replace (and, yes, this was one of the reasons bus riders there sued).

And, to reiterate, the increased costs to Sound Transit of two lawsuits pale into insignificance compared to the underlying reasons for the cost overruns this project has experienced.

BTW - while light rail in LA is doing better than it initially did, calling it "very popular" is certainly a stretch.

Sound Transit left me with a profound case of voter's remorse, and I won't be voting to give them any more money for radio and bus ads to tell me what a great job they're doing, thank you very much.

Such big words, such profound thoughts - yet so uninformed.

For instance, the reason why Sounder commuter is only running rush hour trains is - wait for it - they don't own the tracks. We knew this when we voted for it (if we were paying attention) and we also knew that Sound Transit and Burlington Northern Santa Fe would be working on upgrading the tracks to increase frequency, and that wouldn't be happening right away. But those are the sort of de-tails that makes poseur hipsters tense and nervous. Much, much better to throw words around in a jaded, jaded way, because we are so, so cool.

(Newsflash, Nimrods: If you were cool, you wouldn't live in Seattle. )

We also apparently love to cry big crocodile tears over "the poor and working class". Trouble is, we don't really know any, or how they use transit. But we fancy ourselves to have the souls of the working class, so we can imagine. Also, we wear vintage working class clothes, but only in a hip, ironic way.

I suppose this is a modern version of the same tired souls who derided BART at its inception. It's good to know some things never change.

But years from now, when this thing is built out, and we're all drooling into our bedpans at some woefully underfunded rest home, I'll remember, and pester you people unmercifully.

Mr. X:

First you say that Sounder is only making four round trips (of a planned nine), and then you say it's carrying half the passengers. You do realize that half is of the planned nine trips, right? When all nine trips are in operation, it will carry the passengers expected of nine trips. Right now it's meeting or exceeding expectations for ridership of four trips.

LA is not an acceptable analogy. It's not even remotely similar in system design, urban layout, commuter pattern, or size. Want a similar situation? Look at Minneapolis.

The people at Sound Transit who caused the light rail cost overruns are gone. GONE. They have been gone for five years, and the people managing Sound Transit now have been on track since. What you're doing is what is common in Sound Transit bashing - it's like blaming Clinton for the invasion of Iraq. How, exactly, was new leadership supposed to go back in time, or magic new money? If your goals for them are in the financial and time frame of the original agency, you can't be taken seriously.

One more thing for you, Mr. X:

With the ridership in the corridor where light rail is being built, it is CHEAPER TO OPERATE THAN BUSES. Remember, one driver can drive two linked trains, with a load of 400 people. Compare this to 75 people on a 60-foot Metro bus. Also take note of the electricity cost versus fuel cost - light rail saves there. We're building a 100-year system: it will pay for itself in economic growth the same way the highways do, but without many of the negatives.

Right on X. The RTA's proposal looked GREAT in 1996 - all that transit, and it would be up, running and capital costs paid for in ten years. Woo-Hoo!!

Sound Transit is a financial disaster. It imposes a very very steep sales tax, and collects now in the neighborhood of $270,000,000 per year via that most regressive tax. That number, and the corresponding impact on the poorest among us, will grow for DECADES beyond what the RTA said to voters in 1996.

I am with X. ST showed it not only lacks what it takes to pull off what it promised, but that it can not even be straight with the public it is supposed to be serving. ST, Phase II, MUST be voted down. We owe it to ourselves and those who come after us to prove we can recognize false premises over rosy "feel-good" measures. ST did not deliver what it promised in 1996, it can not be rewarded for bad behavior in 2007. We trusted it, it failed, take it out back and kill it mercifully.

Bitter, table of One!

All of you need to be bitchslapped for arguing red herrings.

Put down the Kool Aid, Ben.


No, that's half of what they projected for the FOUR trains they're running now. They adjusted the numbers some years back when they were even more abysmal, so they now say that ridership is improving - but that is simply because they moved the goal posts. In case you hadn't noticed, Sound Transit does that a lot.

Oh, and though it pains me to vote to increase our regressive and way-too-high sales tax, I will be voting FOR the Sims proposal. So there!

Tacoma *has* light rail already. It's been running for about 2 years now. Granted, it's a short line that runs from the transit center near the Tacoma Dome to downtown, but it's been so popular (IIRC, ridership during the first year was double what was projected) that the City Council is considering asking Sound Transit to extend the line.

As for the commuter rail... because the trains run on existing rail that is near residential areas and schools, the speed of the trains is limited in to 30-35 mph along some parts of the route. It takes the train a full hour to make it from downtown Tacoma to downtown Seattle. Even the express buses are faster.

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