We often hear that proper Bus Rapid Transit [BRT] is impossible in the US because any such proposal gets watered down by the defenders of traffic lanes until it's nothing but a fancy bus stuck in traffic. I don't believe in surrendering to the inevitability of that, but there's no question that it's a political challenge in many cities. Meanwhile, US readers should be assured that this isn't a particularly US problem. Our reliable UK correspondent Peter Brown reports:
It would seem that [Bristol's Bus Rapid Transit] scheme has gone from medium to low end BRT due to central government latching on to the ease in which economies can be made by deleting the features that make it rapid – i.e. dedicated busways, and continuous bus lanes. We are now reduced to short stretches of kerbside bus lanes approaching junctions, but no traffic signal pre-emption. Where there were going to be median bus lanes, they are now going to be kerb running.
This will make the BRT little different in the eyes of the (already sceptical) public to the separate package of conventional bus corridor improvements branded 'Showcase Bus Routes', several of which have been rolled out over the last few years. In order to distinguish BRT in the eyes of the public I think the BRT stops are going to have to look much different from standard bus shelters, and the vehicles are going to have to have some eye catching branding, and have hi spec interiors.
It troubles me that much of the BRT busways were to be located in the North Bristol fringe, an area of low density cul-de-sac esatates, out-of-town business and retail parks, all connected by dual carriageway roads and multi-lane roundabouts which cannot handle existing peak hour traffic, and would have made a real statement about better public transport. There are also plans for further massive housing development, and new roads that will add to the traffic load and threaten BRT reliability. This is the latest newsletter that has got me so worried:
Meanwhile I continue to defend the principles of BRT in the local press web comments!
Is this problem less likely in continental Europe? I haven't toured the great BRTs of France, but the Amsterdam Zuidtangent certainly has gaps where, even in the judgment of the transit-loving Dutch, keeping an exclusive lane for the BRT was Just Too Hard. (I'm not talking just about the narrow streets of Renaissance Haarlem, where the limitations are understandable, but also the quite modern southern suburbia where the line runs.)
It would be great to hear stories about how BRT has fared in other developed countries, against inevitable demands to compromise reliability because it might get in the way of cars.