Bus Rapid Transit: Some Questions to Ask

There’s been lively comment on the last several posts about Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), including its recent history in America and elsewhere, the usefulness of the term, and the suspicions that it raises.

Still, “Bus Rapid Transit” is not going away.  So as you consider new BRT proposals that arise in your community, possibly as alternatives to a rail project that you’d prefer, here’s a wise bit of advice I was once given about conversing with people who have differing viewpoints and incomplete information:

        Don’t state a judgment.  Ask a question.

Questions, if unanswerable, will make the argument for you.  If answered, they lead to more questions, and the question-and-answer process will help people form clear views better than an angry clash of judgments will do.  Of course, your question may turn out to have a good answer, which may affect your own views.  That’s how you know you’re having a real conversation.

Here are some crucial questions that must be asked about any BRT proposal or alternative:

1.  Are we talking about exclusive right of way?

If not, you’re at the very low end of what can be called Bus Rapid Transit, the territory of the Los Angeles Metro Rapid, which even at its best is subject to considerable delay due to congestion.  If in this territory, your further questions should be about what if anything will be done to expedite the service.  This kind of service should be attractive to you only if no better alternative is viable that could cover the same number and length of routes.  But it’s rarely a reasonable alternative to exclusive right-of-way service such as standard light rail or exclusive BRT, unless demand is simply too low for the latter.

2.  Is it a fully separated busway, like Brisbane’s? 

BRTquestionsToAsk  “Separated” or “grade separated” means that it has no intersections with cross-traffic.  Usually this is possible because it’s (a) elevated on structure, (b) operating in a corridor that’s already grade separated, often alongside a freeway or railway, or (c) underground.  Brisbane, which has the developed world’s best example of a separated busway system, has bits of all three.

If it’s fully separated, with passing lanes, it has the potential to deliver the same speed and reliability as rail rapid transit.  It may have lower capacity, but capacity is a complicated issue with several dimensions, and in practice the only capacity question that matters is “Will I be able to get on?”  A competent operations plan will be able to answer that.

If it’s not separated, the next question is:

“Will it pre-empt intersecting signals to the same extent a light rail project would do, and if not, why not?”

This is a very murky area in my experience.  Sometimes this comes down to the fact that, depending on your jurisdiction, rail invokes a different regulatory authority that imposes different standards.  Rail crossing standards are often derived from the history of heavy rail, freight and passenger, which physically cannot stop on short notice and therefore isn’t expected to.  A more coherent argument for signal priority should rely on the need to provide rapid transit, not the abilities of the vehicle or the regulatory authorities that the vehicle technology happens to invoke.  Obviously, real world conversations have to deal with the regulatory regime in place, but it’s important to ask enough questions to understand whether the signal priority regime really matches the intent and branding of the service, regardless of the regulatory situation.

If the answer boils down to impacts on intersecting traffic, insist on an analysis of the options in terms of person-minutes of delay.  Once a surface BRT line is carrying heavy loads, as the Los Angeles Orange Line is, delays to it may be causing more person-minutes of delay than corresponding delays to cross traffic would do.  If the person-minutes calculation is anywhere close to even, you can then look at the stated goals of your local government regarding encouraging public transit use as opposed to car use, and cite them if relevant.

3.  Are there exceptions to the stated degree of exclusivity and separation?  If so, where, and why?

A line is only as reliable as its least reliable point, so if there are localized compromises to the exclusivity or separation of the service, these deserve your intense scrutiny.  On a separated busway aiming to emulate heavy rail’s speed and reliability, a single signalized intersection can be a huge limitation.  Brisbane’s otherwise magnificent South East busway has one pair of signals at a crucial point right on the edge of downtown, and these cap the capacity of the entire facility.  (Unfortunately, avoiding these signals would have required infrastructure of then-unimaginable size — a very complex tunnel under the river — and this would have killed the whole project.)  In Ottawa, the gap in the busway downtown has made it impossible to see the network as a complete rapid transit system.

If you’re at-grade but exclusive, in a situation emulating surface light rail, your project may have a few places where exclusivity was too difficult, so the bus mixes with traffic for a few blocks.  There is one situation where this is completely acceptable, and I’ve proposed it myself:  If a short segment of roadway is too narrow to take a lane from and wildly expensive to widen, you may be able to get the exclusive-lane effect by metering access to that segment with signals.  Short bridges are the obvious example.  Instead of insisting on a bus lane on the bridge itself, provide signals at each end that stop traffic approaching the bridge to let any bus get past it and over the bridge quickly.

There are also times when a BRT can share a segment with very low volumes of car traffic.  This sometimes happens at the ends of busways when you’re trying to bring them to an existing terminus such as a shopping center or business district — an arrangement I’ve seen in situations as different as Haarlem, Netherlands and the San Fernando Valley of Los Angeles.  Here the key is to operate on streets that are never congested under normal operations, to have signal priority if possible, and to keep the mix to a minimum.  Check the traffic situation on whatever day peak traffic conditions can be expected, e.g. a Saturday in early December for an American shopping cente

But this leaves some cases that really are problematic, where BRT mixes with traffic because, well, it would just have too much of a negative impact on other traffic if we took an exclusive lane through that spot.  Obviously here, you need to insist on a quantification of the effect on the BRT with or without that exclusive segment, and the ridership consequences of the greater speed and reliability.  If that’s done, an argument can be made one way or the other in terms of person-minutes of delay, including all the downstream impacts due to the loss of reliability at this point.  If transit loses that argument, you then have to assess whether the project is still better than nothing, or better than a competing rail project.

Finally, even worse, the tradeoff may be between an exclusive lane for BRT and on-street parking, especially in a business district.  Here it’s almost impossible to do a quantitative comparison, because the values on the two sides are so different.  I’ve never seen a strip of small businesses willingly surrender their on-street parking on the basis of any quantitative analysis of anything.  (If you have, please send me a link.)  The instinctive conservatism of small business is completely understandable when you consider their exposure to risk, but these debates are among the most intractable I’ve ever encountered, and they usually end up as purely political judgments.

Note, by the way, that this whole section applies to specific light rail projects too.  For example, San Francisco’s Third Street light rail is mostly exclusive except for a couple of places where it was too hard, and at one of these (the northbound Fourth Street approach to the right onto King Street) the service can get stuck in significant queues behind a signal.

4.  Is it “open” or “closed”? 

A open BRT is one where some buses branch off of the BRT corridor into various on-street routes, potentially expanding the range of places that can be reached without a connection and also generating a higher frequency on the common BRT segment than pure demand would otherwise justify.  Service in an open BRT can be a (sometimes confusing) mass of overlapping lines, while closed BRT is just a single line or at most a few entirely within the BRT infrastructure.

Examples of open BRT include Brisbane, Adelaide, Auckland North Shore, Ottawa,
Pittsburgh, and in Los Angeles the Harbor and El Monte Transitways.
Here in Sydney the North West T-Way is an open BRT.

Examples of closed BRT include the Eugene EmX, the Los Angeles Orange Line, and the Boston Silver Line(s).  Here in Sydney, the Liverpool-Parramatta T-Way is currently run as a closed BRT, though there are plans to open it.

The open-closed distinction can be fixed by infrastructure, such as by choosing buses that cannot operate on regular streets or (as in Curitiba) using all high-floor buses with high platforms.  But it can also be operational.  For example, some have proposed operating the Los Angeles Orange Line as open instead of closed.  This would be a major service change but not much of a change of infrastructure.

Closed BRT has its place.  Curitiba is one of its great successes, although that success (in both service and redevelopment) has led to crush loads that are now driving a conversion to rail.  At the opposite end of the demand spectrum, Eugene, Oregon opted for closed BRT with specialized buses and seems happy with that choice.

But open BRT is most likely to be the project that delivers something a rail project cannot do: direct service to many branches without having to build rail on all the branch lines.  This has been a perfect fit for Brisbane, because that city has a very strong CBD but few other major centers, so the need is for service that can follow the busway some distance from the CBD but then branch out to cover several suburban corridors.  This is the one service pattern for which there is no rail option.

This may still turn out to be a phase on a longer path to light rail, as it turns out to have been in Ottawa.  Brisbane’s busways are designed to be convertible to light rail but there’s currently not much interest in doing so.  However, if the busways succeed in galvanizing the creation of some high-density centers further out, the corridors leading to these centers will become the strongest branch of the busway service.  When one branch starts generating capacity needs that exceed what buses can handle, that would be one signal that it’s time to look at rail.

More questions?

You bet, but this post is already too long.  Here, to sum up, are a few others that clearly matter.  I’m sure comments will suggest more.

  • What about greenhouse gas emissions?  Is there a bus that can match the emissions intensity of an electric rail vehicle?  Note that this may depend on the source of your local electric power.  In San Francisco or points north, you probably run on renewable hydropower, so you’re electricity is emissions free (though it may have disfigured some beautiful mountain valleys).  At the opposite extreme, if you’re in mainland Australia, your electricity is mostly from burning coal.
  • What about localized emissions?  Emissions from the vehicle will still affect the local streetscape and station environment.  What is the emissions standard of the vehicles proposed?
  • What is the overall level of design and amenity?  BRT that aims to be comparable with rail transit should be comparable on these points.

And finally, to pick up on a really important theme of recent posts and comments:

  • How much money have we saved against the rail option, and how much more service will that buy?  Alternatives analyses are not usually framed this way, of course, but it might sometimes be helpful if they were.  Often what I hear from American activists is that BRT was used to make a project cheaper so that more money could be spent on something other than transit.  One way to meet this suspicion head-on would be to show comparisons of short rail lines and longer BRT lines at the same price.  Obviously, the real cost/value tradeoff will depend on local conditions, and there may even be cases where LRT and BRT cost the same.  But if BRT is cheaper, as it often is, it might get greater acceptance if the money its saving went more directly into building a larger network for the same dollar.

72 Responses to Bus Rapid Transit: Some Questions to Ask

  1. Rajan R November 26, 2009 at 6:55 am #

    Just a quick point about emissions: both rail and buses have electrified and non-electrified options. I don’t think, technologically, trolley buses consume more electricity than a similar-capacity trolley streetcar – it doesn’t seem so, at least (Google was not very helpful).
    Does anyone here happen to know the comparison between the average electric bus and tram, as well as the average diesel-powered bus and tram?

  2. EngineerScotty November 26, 2009 at 9:58 am #

    One minor issue with trollybusses is that they require TWO overhead connections (one for supply and one for return currenty), whereas trains with overhead power require only one–the return current is conducted through the steel wheels to the rails, something that doesn’t work with tires on pavement. This, along with the fact that busses generally move in and out of traffic whereas the catenary is FTMP straight, makes them tricky from a reliability issue. It also makes it more difficult, I suspect, to electrified rail and electrified bus in the same corridor.
    Speaking of which–one option I’d like to hear more about, is a setup like the current Portland transit mall, where busses and trains share a corridor, running on rails embedded in pavement. The Portland Mall segment is a low-speed segment, obviously, that performs slightly bettter (from the train’s perspective) than a streetcar; given that the Mall lies at the end of the line (currently) for both the Green and Yellow lines, this isn’t a big issue. (For the cross-town Red and Blue lines, even though they don’t share their ROW with busses, downtown is a bit of a problem).
    My question is–at what speeds could you continue to run this arrangement? If Brisbane were to put rails and catenary in one of their busways, would they then have to close the busway to busses and make it rail-exclusive? What is the maximum speed in which its safe to mix rail and bus in this fashion? (Obviously, an exact answer depends on the specifics of the vehicle in question, but if one were to assume a typically LRT in a 2-4 car consist…)

  3. Alexander Craghead November 26, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    @EngineerScotty: the big attraction I’ve always had for trolley coaches though is the emissions one. And they don’t seem to be going away in SF, Seattle, or Vancouver. I’ve also thought they might be a service improvement that is similar to the streetcar but less development centered and therefore less likely to engender opposition from existing neighborhoods.
    That said I don’t feel we’re likely to see new trolley coach routes. I think they have an old fashioned / old tech image that hinders potential new routes, especially in towns that do not have them now.

  4. Dan Wentzel November 26, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    I haven’t met a single person in Los Angeles who wants to “open up” the Orange Line.
    I have met people who want to upgrade it to light rail. The “stations” are already very lengthly and were obviously created with a light rail upgrade in mind.
    I’ve always found it odd that the San Fernando Valley doesn’t have its transportation advocacy together to the same degree that the San Gabriel Valley does.
    The San Gabriel Valley is going to get at least two Gold Line light-rail extensions with relatively low ridership and there is no comprehensive plan for public transit infrastructure in the San Fernando Valley.
    I think it is because the San Gabriel Valley consists of multiple suburbs that are outside the boundaries of the City of Los Angeles. The San Fernando Valley lies mostly within the City of Los Angeles, who’s public officials are wholly focused on other parts of the city. In California’s “too large” legislative districts, most of the state and local elected officials who represent the denser portions of the southeast San Fernando Valley also represnt the Westside, where most of their voters and power base exists.
    In Measure R, there will be funds to begin a Sepulveda pass based project connecting the Valley with the Westside. It will be interesting to see if that is constructed as LRT or BRT, and whether it is thought of as merely point-to-point service or whether it is conceived as the start of something that will eventually connect down to LAX in the south and be extended north up to Sylmar.

  5. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 26, 2009 at 5:05 pm #

    @ Dan Wentzel. Re opening up the Orange Line, see here: http://metroriderla.com/2007/08/23/the-miami-option/

  6. Alon Levy November 26, 2009 at 5:18 pm #

    Rajan, Wikipedia’s articles on rail transport and rubber-tired metros explains that because steel-on-steel has a much lower friction coefficient than tires-on-asphalt, steel-wheeled rail consumes less energy than anything with rubber tires. This means streetcars are more energy-efficient than trolleys, and standard metros are more energy-efficient than rubber-tired metros. The reason some cities stick to rubber tires anyway is that the higher friction coefficient improves acceleration and deceleration profiles and grade-climbing ability.

  7. Alon Levy November 26, 2009 at 5:19 pm #

    Jarrett, I would ask one additional question about BRT and air quality – I’d ask about air quality near the bus depots. New York has localized asthma problems near bus depots, even though much of the bus fleet is hybrid or runs on low-pollution CNG.

  8. Graeme November 27, 2009 at 8:05 am #

    Has Los Angeles got an answer of whether longer buses than the current model could operate on the Orange Line busway? Why hasn’t North America mimicked the European transit systems which use bi-articulated 80′ buses, trolleybus or otherwise? Some bi-articulated buses in Switzerland and the Netherlands operate in exclusively in mixed traffic too, don’t they?

  9. Dan Wentzel November 27, 2009 at 9:02 am #

    Opening up the Orange Line instead of upgrading to light rail is bad idea.
    Unless there is the unlikely construction of a subway, or even a modern streetcar line, under Ventura Blvd., the only possible east-west rail line in the whole of the San Fernando Valley is an upgrade of the Orange Line. People already ride the Orange Line pretending they are riding a rail line, and having it downgraded to just busway with no pretense or promise of rail would be seen as a major slight.
    If Transit Advocate “A” wants to advocate “opening up the Orange Line” and thus killing off the possibility of upgrading it to light rail and Transit Advocate “B” wants to upgrade it to light rail so that the San Fernando Valley gets its fair share of transit infrastructure, I think “B” is going to have a much easier time and “A” is going to find himself dismissed by most.
    Part of the problem has been branding the Orange and now Silver Lines as if they were as good as having a rail line. If they had just been built without pretending it was to be a “rail like” project and the buses running on them had just been given regular numbers, then no one would notice or care that they were “opened” up. People aren’t stupid. A seat on a bus is not the same as a seat on rail, and riding a “branded” bus service is a bit of a slight.
    Of course, if the “rail like” pretense had been dropped at the construction of the Orange Line project then there would have been insufficient popular support for building the project in the first place.
    In any event, “opening up” the Orange Line is a political non-starter. No politician I know of, or any member of the Metro Authority with an relationship to the San Fernando Valley is going to tell the San Fernando Valley that you’re best and possibly only chance for a light-rail is going to be downgraded for bus service.
    There is the argument that the Orange Line misses this higher ridership destinations near Ventura Blvd. (80% of the time when I go to the valley, it is somewhere on or walking distance to Ventura Blvd. If “open up” advocates could twin their proposal to include an alternative project that somehow brings rail to Ventura Blvd., then I think any “open up” advocates might have more of a response. They wouldn’t be denying rail service to the Valley, they’d merely be proposing an alternative project.
    I just don’t see BRT having a bright future in Los Angeles County. If you build a BRT project anywhere, that area is going to cry discrimination because they didn’t get a rail line like other areas in the county. The mix of race and class and political fueds and patronage just makes it a tough sell.
    The place where I do think BRT could make a more lasting impact is in Orange County and parts of San Bernadino County and Riverside County. There are no light or heavy rail lines, just commuter rail via Metrolink. Orange County is full of people who resent public transit as “paying for someone else’s transportation” and getting transit infrastructure dollars through the freeway-widening religion down there is a challenge. Lower cost BRT projects might do it and no part of the County would be complaining about other parts of the county getting rail that they don’t. The BRT system could feed into Metrolink stations. Right now, while Los Angeles County passed Measure R, Orange County has cut 8% of all its bus service while freeway widening presses full-steam ahead. Orange County is an area where transit riders need all the help they can get.

  10. Ted King November 27, 2009 at 10:00 am #

    Re : Electric trolley buses
    The “Why ?” question has a one word answer – HILLS ! In a city like San Francisco with hills that like to eat diesel buses the ETB’s are veritable mountain goats. I believe Seattle has a similar situation with their ETB’s.
    There was once a block of small diesel buses intended for community service (low ridership, low frequency routes) purchased by the SFMuni. They came equipped with the wrong set of gears. When those buses tried to climb hills like Nob and the flanks of the Twin Peaks they literally crawled.
    Re : T-Third ROW
    You say its ROW “is mostly exclusive” with exceptions (just before point #4). That route has got to be one of the most bastard beasts in existence. Most of the route from Fourth + King on south to Sunnydale has regular cross streets with signals. In the Bayview the trackage shares a lane with cars and trucks with disruption for both parties. The separated stretches have not only lots of pesky stoplights but also a fair number of left turn lanes. And there has been at least one spectacular accident from an illegal left turn by a truck in the Dog Patch sector. The only stretch that is really exclusive is the hump over US101 and even that has a break in the middle.
    My apologies for the heated response. I’ve ridden both the 15-Third+Kearny and the T-Third. The T-Third does NOT perform as well as its predecessor the #15. Also, it is a shining example of politicized capital investment combined with under-funded operations.

  11. Ted King November 27, 2009 at 10:36 am #

    P.S. From Embarcadero Stn to Fouth + King
    This is a fragile ROW due to three elements :
    1) The Embarcadero Switching Yard can choke due to a signal problem or to a broken LRV (been there for both – YUCK !);
    2) The run south and west to Fourth + King has cross-traffic and signals WITH a pedestrian component;
    3) The Fourth + King nightmare – two or so blocks west is a ramp for I-280 and Fourth Street has a sizable load of its own.
    The only explanation for the Fourth + King kludge that makes sense is that this is a temporary, compromise solution pending the extensions to Chinatown (T-Third) and Transbay Terminal (Caltrain). So the riders in that area are going to suffer for at least five years while those are being built. It would be nice if the planners had the guts to explain their SNAFU’s publicly. And come 5 Dec.’9 there will be the mini-TEP that will cause spasms at Embarcadero and reduce access to Fourth + King.
    See N-Judah changes below :

  12. Alon Levy November 27, 2009 at 11:09 am #

    Dan, Ventura is on the margin of the Valley. It’s an important throughfare, but most of the people in the Valley live much further north. The highest densities are on the Valley floor, around Van Nuys.
    And why is the Orange Line the only possible east-west rail line in the Valley? The Ventura County and Antelope Valley Lines already run east-west through the valley. They could be rebuilt as rapid transit lines at much lower cost than it would take to put rapid transit on Ventura or even make the Orange Line useful by extending it to Burbank Station, feeding CAHSR. For the Antelope Valley Line, HSR is going to provide the electrification and grade separations for free, which means all Metrolink would have to do is spend a little extra money on putting catenary wires over the local tracks, purchase lightweight EMUs, and open a few infill stations to be useful for local service.

  13. anonymouse November 27, 2009 at 11:14 am #

    I’d classify Boston’s Waterfront Silver Line as “open”, given that after exiting the tunnel, buses run in mixed traffic to two (formerly three) different destinations. The Washington Street line is just a regular bus with super-expensive stops and painted lanes.

  14. Dan Wentzel November 27, 2009 at 1:50 pm #

    “They could be rebuilt as rapid transit lines at much lower cost than it would take to put rapid transit on Ventura or even make the Orange Line useful by extending it to Burbank Station, feeding CAHSR.”
    Alon, Metrolink, particuarly the Ventura County line, runs in a very low density portion of the San Fernando Valley. That portion of the Valley is much more appropriately suited for Commuter Rail and fortunately it has it.
    Ventura Blvd. may be on the “margins” in terms of a map, but the San Fernando Valley is demographically oriented where there is more density the farther south in the Valley.
    The east-weest rail line needs to be a line further south than Metrolink if is to hit higher density ridership. Most of the potential riders are much closer to Ventura Blvd. and the Orange Line than they are all the way north to the Ventura County Metrolink line.
    My personal choice would be to put in a transit-only lane on Ventura Blvd. than includes a modern streetcar between Universal City and Warner Center, and upgrade the Orange Line to light rail, extending it east to the Burbank Station, or perhaps to the Gold Line in Pasadena via Glendale and Pasadena.
    The Van Nuys density should be served by the north-south Sepulveda pass project included in Measure R, eventually connecting Sylmar Metrolink Station, Van Nuys Metrolink Station, the Van Nuys Orange Line stop and Ventura Blvd. to points on the Westside to LAX.
    Having the main east-west rail line be the current Metrolink commuter rail line is like having a high-speed rail line across Canada, but missing Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal entirely.

  15. Pantheon November 27, 2009 at 3:03 pm #

    This thing about asking questions instead of making statements is brilliant. I’m going to start asking a lot more questions. Here’s one that comes to mind from reading this thread:
    In his post, Jarrett says “Brisbane’s busways are designed to be convertible to light rail but there’s currently not much interest in doing so.”
    In his comment, Dan Wentzel says “People already ride the Orange Line pretending they are riding a rail line, and having it downgraded to just busway with no pretense or promise of rail would be seen as a major slight.” And “Part of the problem has been branding the Orange and now Silver Lines as if they were as good as having a rail line. If they had just been built without pretending it was to be a “rail like” project and the buses running on them had just been given regular numbers, then no one would notice or care that they were “opened” up.”
    He also adds “Of course, if the “rail like” pretense had been dropped at the construction of the Orange Line project then there would have been insufficient popular support for building the project in the first place.”
    So it sounds like there are some unique issues regarding the marketing of the Orange Line that affect people’s acceptance of it as a busway, but the busway wouldn’t exist at all if it had been marketed as anything other than a temporary solution.
    So my question is, why is there such a dramatic difference between the Australians and Americans in how they view busways?

  16. Dan Wentzel November 27, 2009 at 3:27 pm #

    “So it sounds like there are some unique issues regarding the marketing of the Orange Line that affect people’s acceptance of it as a busway, but the busway wouldn’t exist at all if it had been marketed as anything other than a temporary solution.”
    I think that’s fair. Clearly Metro viewed it that way or they wouldn’t have built the stations ready for light-rail.
    But I think the branding of the Orange Line is an issue to unique to Los Angeles County’s history with reestablishing mass transit after the disappearance of the red car and yellow car systems.
    I wouldn’t think that Los Angeles County’s experience with the Orange Line is a defintiive indication of the “American” viewpoint on busways.

  17. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 3:29 pm #

    @ Pantheon. Great question. The answer lies in two things.
    First, the Brisbane busway is separated and exclusive, while the Orange Line is not separated, just exclusive. (See definitions in post above.) So the Orange Line gets hung up by signalized crossings, and this produces noticeably poorer service. Brisbane busway has very few reasons for a bus to stop other than stations. The point here is not just that the Brisbane busway is built to a higher standard, but that most Americans have never seen such a busway and thus can’t imagine it.
    (You have the functional equivalent in LA’s El Monte and Harbor Transitways, but these are incomplete facilities that exist only along the freeway, not through downtown, and we can politely say that their customer experience is not of a rail-transit standard. Just compare the busway stations on the El Monte T-way with the Metrolink commuter rail stations — used by far fewer people — right next to them.)
    So that’s why I keep banging on about Brisbane here.
    Second, the Orange Line corridor has good demand geography for an eventual rail corridor, because although it’s busier at the east end there’s fairly high demand along its entire length. That’s because there are some major high-density demand drivers at the outer end, including Warner Center and the bus connections to Cal State Northridge. Brisbane’s outer ends are far less dense, and the centers of demand are much smaller, so the need to branch out over multiple corridors to gather patronage — something rail can’t do — was much more dominant in the planning and remains a key feature of the design.
    Hypothetically, if they upgraded the look and feel of the El Monte T-Way and put it into some sort of tunnel into downtown, you’d have a good Brisbane-like experiment, because that corridor does look like Brisbane in the relative lack of strong centers at the outer end.

  18. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 3:36 pm #

    Actually, I talk a lot about the LA Orange Line because it's one of America's higher-end examples of exclusive-but-not-separated BRT.  Most Americans have never even seen that, and thus think unconsciously that buses only operate along streets, encountering all kinds of localized delay even if they have an exclusive lane.

  19. Joseph E November 27, 2009 at 4:04 pm #

    Referring to the option of an “open” busway (such as Brisbane or El Monte), you stated “This is the one service pattern for which there is no rail option”.
    This in not precisely true. In the past, many streetcar or light rail systems (such as Pacific Electric in Los Angeles) had main lines with gated or separated crossings where 1 to 2 car trains ran a high speed. Farther out in the suburbs, the streetcar would run at grade in a street median and might even mix with other traffic. I believe this is how the Long Beach line operated back then.
    Today, San Francisco has light rail that starts out in a subway under Market Street (and the Twin Peaks) with stops every 1/2 mile, and then splits off to multiple street-running alignments with stops every 2 blocks. In practice, few would recommend building a light rail system like that in the future, but it could be done. The real advantage for a bus would be the chance to use pre-existing paved streets without having to put in rails. But an “open” rail transitway isn’t impossible.

  20. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 4:54 pm #

    @ Joseph.  By "open" I guess I mean "open to being used in ways not constrained by the infrastructure."

  21. Alon Levy November 27, 2009 at 6:37 pm #

    Dan, the LA Times’ neighborhood map by density shows that the highest density is in the middle of the Valley, peaking in Panorama City. The neighborhoods Ventura passes through – Studio City, Sherman Oaks, Encino – are all low-density. And the most important destination to serve in the Valley, Burbank Station, would be missed completely.

  22. Alon Levy November 27, 2009 at 7:01 pm #

    Jarrett, buses are constrained by infrastructure, too – they need paved roads of a certain width to run smoothly. The US federal government spent tens of billions over decades on making sure suburban roads were all up to ever-increasing standards of motoring. At the time, circa 1920, the restriction to railways was less serious than the restriction to good roads. Even more recently, some cities still have streetcar-era tracks embedded in their streets, but choose to pave them over. LA had such tracks for much of the Orange Line as well as some of its most natural extensions.

  23. Wad November 27, 2009 at 7:51 pm #

    The Orange Line is reasonably productive, but it’s just four stops that account for the bulk of ridership: North Hollywood, Van Nuys and the two community college stations. It’s sort of the 80/20 rule put into practice.
    Warner Center, despite being a central business district on the west end, is not a key driver of ridership.

  24. Joseph E November 27, 2009 at 8:38 pm #

    Jarrett, that’s true, buses can be re-routed much more easily, as long as you have plenty of wide, paved streets already. I believe streetcars more more popular before WW1 partly due to the fact that many streets were still unpaved. Now that we keep streets maintained for cars, the transit operator can use public right-of-way for free. For the same reason, trucking grew grew to the detriment of freight rail.

  25. EngineerScotty November 27, 2009 at 8:39 pm #

    Some the political history of the Orange Line is interesting–a California state law essentially ban light rail (or any rail other than a subway) on the corridor, and LA County’s Proposition A of course makes it difficult to build subways due to revenue limitations.
    At any rate, there is ample evidence of excessive political interference in transit issues. Prop A doesn’t bother me TOO much–subways cost a lot of money, and it’s a local decision. OTOH, for a state legislature to ban a specific mode of transit on a specific corridor, strikes me as a bit bizarre. There are many other examples of that sort of political interference, I’m sure (an anti-tax advocate once tried to pass a statewide referendum in Oregon to ban light rail construction, no matter how funded; that referendum failed, obviously).
    What’s the history behind the “subway only” law? Were local power-brokers trying to ensure they didn’t get “stuck” with anything “less” than a subway–and, in a bit of poetic justice, got “stuck” with a mode of transit widely regarded as even inferior to LRT? (Here I refer to social status rather than mobility or other technical parameters of the modes in question). Given that one of the reasons FOR building a subway is the lack of a suitable surface right-of-way, legislation to declare the ROW off-limits for surface rail strikes me as particularly stupid.
    But hey, it’s California. 🙂

  26. Joseph E November 27, 2009 at 8:58 pm #

    Graeme, you asked “Has Los Angeles got an answer of whether longer buses than the current model could operate on the Orange Line busway?”
    Yes, 80′ buses could be accomodated, especially since the Orange line is “closed” per Jarrett’s nomanclature, allowing people to buy tickets at the station rather than on the bus.
    However, California does not have regulations for buses over 60 feet. Does anyone in North America use buses that big? Metro would have to request a new regulation or waiver, which might take some time and require testing. I have to imagine that a double-articulated, 80 foot bus takes a long time to stop in an emergency, so there may be safety concerns.
    Disney has 171 foot buses – the parking lot “trams”. But those have a max speed of 14 mph (23 kph). I think 80 feet is about the upper limit for rapid buses without a fixed guideway. If those fill up, nothing but rail will be able to increase capacity. A 65 foot bus seats 66, max capacity is 100 “crush-loaded”, while one light rail car carries 220 passengers, for over 600 passengers in a 3-car train.

  27. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 8:59 pm #

    @ Wad. Please post a link to the Orange Line patronage data you’re referencing.

  28. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 9:03 pm #

    Of course, if the bus takes longer to stop, that might help make the case for a more rail-like approach to the Orange Line's many signals!  As far as I know, the inability of rail to stop quickly is the only reason rail has traditionally had pre-emptive rights at signals regardless of intersecting traffic volumes.
    Here in Sydney, the Northwest T-Way was built with signal priority capability for the many signalized intersections, but the state Roads and Traffic Authority simply refused to turn the system on.

  29. EngineerScotty November 27, 2009 at 9:08 pm #

    Furthering Joseph’s point, its worth pointing out that the vehicle that does the most damage to pavement, is the bus. Heavy loads combined with only two axles (here I speak of standard busses, not articulated models) mean that busses chew up pavement quicker than just about any other vehicle on the road (fire trucks come close).
    While ultimately taxpayers foot the bill either way, road damage due to busses is a transit expense which is frequently externalized to other agencies. Of course, this is true for all road users for the most part… and may not apply in the case of BRT, where the transit agency and not the government public works department is responsible for maintaining the ROW.
    Picking on the Orange Line again, parts of it have already been repaved, and other parts of it are in need of repair; rails on a properly-engineered railbed will last far longer.

  30. Joseph E November 27, 2009 at 9:17 pm #

    Having expressed my doubts about BRT, I would like to take a moment to defend buses.
    I have used buses for 10 years (since starting college; my rural home town had no bus service) and have often relied on it exclusively. In the Bay Area I even took AC transit express buses to San Francisco to save money compared to BART fares. I used trolley and diesel buses with friends and even on dates in the city, and to get around near Berkeley.
    My wife took the bus every day in Orange County (!)
    In San Diego, I took a local bus for about 2 miles, walked 1/2 mile to the University Hospital, and then took the (free) express bus to the main campus 15 miles away. This took an hour each way… during medical school. We also took the trolley to SDSU and Tijuana frequently, but usually it was the bus or driving.
    Here in Long Beach, I took the local bus and then transfered to the light rail Blue Line to get to my hospital. Recently I have found that riding a bike takes about the same amount of time and gives me the freedom to get home after midnight when I am on call. But my wife takes the bus to CSU Long Beach every day. We picked our apartment by looking for places within 1/4 mile (200 m) of a bus stop on the main street, and lack of reliable service prevents us from moving closer to the beach as we would like.
    So, though I would prefer streetcars and light rail everywhere, I appreciate the 12 minute headway buses we enjoy now, and I would gladly pay more income, sales and property tax, to get more frequent buses within 1/2 mile of every home and business in Los Angeles county. And because I often have to travel to central Los Angeles or Orange County for work, I acutely feel the lack of rapid transit in my city.
    Although Los Angeles is making the right choice to push for light rail or subways in most new project, I would be happy to see real BRT instead of nothing, given that (false) choice. And in the many low-density suburban parts of the county, frequent bus service with late hours would make a huge difference.
    Especially in Orange County, where the conservative majority has been unwilling to fund real transit improvements for thousands of transit-dependent people, the “Bravo” BRT system could have been a big improvement in transit access for people from Irvine to Long Beach, Fullerton to Costa Mesa. Unfortunately, while the freeway projects continue, OCTA is cutting bus service by 10% or more and probably canceling the BRT project.
    Orange County, with its 8-lane streets (often without street parking) and 45 mph speed limits, is actually a great place for street-level light rail or bus rapid transit, and BRT might not run into capacity problems. Rapid buses would not transform Orange County’s culture or image, like light rail is doing for Phoenix and Salt Lake City, but it would greatly improve access to transit. I hope we don’t have to wait for 200 dollar a barrel oil to see BRT there.

  31. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 27, 2009 at 9:35 pm #

    Note this bit of Joseph’s comment.
    We picked our apartment by looking for places within 1/4 mile (200 m) of a bus stop on the main street
    If you say that good bus service absolutely cannot under any circumstances drive dense development, you’re saying that Joseph and people like him should count for nothing in determining the market for real estate. It’s certainly true that the market responds much more to the preferences of the wealthy, but it’s not true that Joseph counts for nothing, especially if there are a lot of Josephs out there making practical decisions like that.
    Has anyone seen surveys asking how public transit influenced people’s decisions about where to live — not just people buying condos in high-end gentrified districts, but people everywhere, whether buyers or renters?

  32. Brent Palmer November 27, 2009 at 10:26 pm #

    Joseph E, when you said “1/4 mile (200 m), did you mean 400 metres? Or an eighth of a mile? Not meaning to nitpick, but just need claification.

  33. Pantheon November 27, 2009 at 10:49 pm #

    To Jarrett:
    Not sure if this is the kind of thing you were looking for, but it’s interesting. A publication called “Understanding How Individuals Make Travel And Location Decisions: Implications For Public Transportation”. It’s available to read online here:
    I’ve been skimming it. It’s pretty interesting. It starts getting good around Chapter 6 when it begins giving out the survey results, and even more so in Chapter 7 when it groups people into five market segments according to their willingness to move to a compact neighbourhood. “Transit movers” are considered the most likely to move. They go into detail on the “transit movers” on page 63.
    The table on page 64 is interesting. On a scale of 1 (not important at all) to 7 (extremely important), having frequent service transit rated a 4.3 among the full sample. That’s lower than having space to park two cars, but higher than having a large lot. Sounds like progress!

  34. Wad November 28, 2009 at 2:59 pm #

    Engineer Scotty wrote:
    What’s the history behind the “subway only” law? Were local power-brokers trying to ensure they didn’t get “stuck” with anything “less” than a subway–and, in a bit of poetic justice, got “stuck” with a mode of transit widely regarded as even inferior to LRT?
    The only thing the San Fernando Valley wanted on the busway was nothing, and wouldn’t settle for any less.
    Alan Robbins, the state legislator responsible for creating the bill that mandated subway along a protected at-grade right of way (I stress that for dramatic purposes, to illustrate the folly of the law), created subway not to get a subway built but to get nothing built at all.
    It’s an example of equivocation.
    The bill mandated a subway to ensure that any rapid transit extension would be so expensive as to fail any cost-effectiveness metric.
    As for the Orange Line, it’s not an inferior mode by any means. The Orange Line ought to be the standard for the concept known as bus rapid transit. It’s an example of what Jarrett says would improve mobility. And it has.
    It became the busiest bus line in the San Fernando Valley the day it opened. And for a transit-poor area such as the Valley, it’s a huge improvement in quality. The service is fast and frequent.
    The reality on the ground: the Valley was either going to get bus rapid transit or nothing at all. Remember that converting it to rail has two major problems:
    1. What are you going to do with 20,000 riders while the right of way is shut down?
    2. Isn’t there a better use of $1 billion+ than to upgrade an existing service? Any rail upgrade is hampered by the fact that the $425 million spent to build the Orange Line busway will be sunk into the costs of the rail upgrade.

  35. Alon Levy November 28, 2009 at 4:00 pm #

    Wad, there is no need to shut down the ROW during construction. It’s possible to drill streetcar tracks and string catenary at night, when the buses don’t run.

  36. Dan Wentzel November 28, 2009 at 4:21 pm #

    “Isn’t there a better use of $1 billion+ than to upgrade an existing service? Any rail upgrade is hampered by the fact that the $425 million spent to build the Orange Line busway will be sunk into the costs of the rail upgrade.”
    This is a political question. I would say that the upgrade is worth the money. We both know transit advocates in Southern California who might say that grade separating the the existing light-rail lines is a higher priority than any expansion to elsewhere.
    For the reasons Alon Levy stated, since the ROW is does not need to be “closed” or shut down for five years, that excuse to keep the San Fernando Valley stuck with lesser BRT instead of light rail no longer applies.
    It’s not 20 years ago anymore and State Senator Robbins went to jail. You can go sell expanded BRT to the Valley and I will go advocate that they should have a light rail line like all these other parts of the county and let’s see who’s argument they prefer.

  37. Dan Wentzel November 28, 2009 at 4:28 pm #

    Regarding the neighborhood map by density, you make a good point. I’d serve the Van Nuys / Panorama City corridor via the Sepulveda project as Rapid Bus 761 and 733 does now.
    It’s important to consider daytime density too. Former Santa Monica’s Mayor Pam O’Connor stated to Metro that Santa Monica has a daytime population over 2-1/2 times it’s nighttime residential communities. The Westside is an increasing job center in its own right.
    Many bedroom communities in the San Gabriel Valley have daytime populations a fraction of the level of residencies. It’s important not just to consider where people are starting from, but where they are going to. Based on traffic patterns alone, the job centers in the San Fernando Valley are located farther south then the center of residential populations.
    Residential density is only party of the issue of density.

  38. Alon Levy November 28, 2009 at 4:32 pm #

    You still need to have the subway reach those residential areas for the people there to be able to get to the commercial areas.

  39. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 28, 2009 at 4:36 pm #

    Yes, everyone, be careful about density. Activity density matters at least as much as residential density, especially because it’s much more variable.
    Ventura Blvd. remains the valley’s closest thing to Wilshire, which is why it was the #2 Metro Rapid route and still one of the most successful. Sooner or later, we’ll see proper rapid transit there.

  40. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 28, 2009 at 4:43 pm #

    That's not the role of subways in a city like LA.  Dense activity corridors which intersect many frequent perpendicular transit routes have far greater patronage potential than each individual perpendicular corridor does.  That's why the focus is on building a subway along Wilshire, not perpendicular to it.  Ventura Blvd would be similar.

  41. darrell November 28, 2009 at 11:01 pm #

    A few comments on the Orange Line:
    * My understanding is that buses can’t reliably trigger crossing gates like rail vehicles can. The time difference for the Orange Line is the buses take 45+ minutes, slowing or stopping at intersections, that light rail with gated crossings would have done in 30 minutes.
    * The end in Warner Center includes street running, that precludes longer buses.
    * I believe the stations are the length of two 60 foot buses, so two buses can “platoon” (not that they ever have). Their low platforms are not compatible with Los Angeles’ high-floor light rail cars.
    * The Robbins law was in response to vehement neighborhood objections in North Hollywood. For a while its result was a planned shorter subway (to I-405) extension rather than full-length light rail (to Warner Center).
    Financial reality in 1998, followed by Zev’s Prop. A, killed that, just as Zev and others returned from visiting Curitiba. Busways were proposed for the Valley, Eastside, and Exposition, but advocates prevailed for light rail on the latter two.
    * The next priority for the Valley is north-south BRT, likely along Van Nuys Blvd., to serve those high-density neighborhoods mentioned.

  42. calwatch November 29, 2009 at 12:23 am #

    Here is some ridership data: http://www.scribd.com/doc/14037843/FY2008Q3-OnsOffs-by-Stop-by-Line-DX
    The most used Orange Line stations are North Hollywood, Van Nuys, Reseda, and Sepulveda, in that order. Contrary to popular belief, the college stations don’t generate that much ridership.

  43. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 12:44 am #

    Good article.

  44. Alon Levy November 29, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    Jarrett, I thought part of the reason for Wilshire is that it’s a decent east-west corridor. Ventura is, too, but so are the Antelope Valley and Ventura County Lines, which, unlike Ventura-to-Universal-City, serve what’s about to become the most important destination in the Valley, Downtown Burbank.

  45. Nathanael November 29, 2009 at 12:47 am #

    “Here in Sydney, the Northwest T-Way was built with signal priority capability for the many signalized intersections, but the state Roads and Traffic Authority simply refused to turn the system on.”
    Recurring problem. In Toronto, the road authority wouldn’t turn on the priority for the signals on one of the streetcar lines (I think they eventually did after much outcry). Frankly I suspect the only way to deal with it is to submerge the road authorities under the transit authorities when they start pulling crap like this.

  46. Joseph E November 29, 2009 at 12:57 am #

    Brent Palmer, I meant 400 meters. Sorry, not so good at metric. In fact, we live about 350 meters (just under 1/4 mile) from the nearest bus stop on 7th street. On the other hand, the bus I usually use is actually about 550 meters (1/3 mile) away on Anaheim street. But it has the advantage of being very frequent (every 6 to 9 minutes during the day) and suprisingly reliable, unlike the bus my wife takes, which is every 10 to 12 minutes but often bunched or delayed, due to longer, more complicated routes and bad car traffic. She could bike the route in almost the same amount of time, but there are no bike lanes or paths, and cycling is a rather anxiety-inducing activity around hear.
    Jarrett, at some point you should address the challenge of growing bicycle travel for transit systems. If fair-weather, flat cities, bicycling is often faster than local buses, for healthy, young to middle-aged adults. Are subsidized buses discouraging people from getting their exercise? Do local bus stops every 200 meters (1 to 2 blocks) contribute to problems with obesity in many transit-dependent (poor) communities?
    Now that I am used to riding a bike again, I often think that we would be better off if all buses were limited-stop, every 1/2 mile (800 m) on flat ground (maybe every 1/4 mile or 400 m is okay is downtown areas or hilly terrain). Then we could build nicer shelters and call them “stations”, and put in next-bus displays, and maybe even buy ticket machines to have at the “stations”. And what if we could get signal priority or exclusive lanes to make the bus actually faster than bicycling.
    Wait, would that be BRT? 😉
    I think there is much merit in looking at BRT as an incremental improvement for existing buses and bus-only transit systems. If you are going to run buses, why make them stop at every light and pull over at every corner, when faster speeds equal lower operations costs? But I still want an east-west rail line to the South Bay and CSU Long Beach, and a streetcar along the coast for the tourists.

  47. Joseph E November 29, 2009 at 1:05 am #

    Jarrett, why do transit agencies run so many “local” buses? Why do cities like San Francisco run parallel, local lines 400 or 200 meters apart? Why do buses usually stop every 200 meters?
    I imagine that these characteristics are mainly due to inertial. I can see that even a 10 mph street car, stopping at every street corner, would be worth riding if your only alternative was walking. And since the streets in the 1800’s were usually dirt, cobblestone or rough pavement, bikes and carriages would have also been quite slow. (See this video of San Francisco in 1905, where driving or cycling would have been quite scary: http://jalopnik.com/5411454/1905-san-francisco-has-always-been-chill)
    So are we now stuck with 1800’s transit operations, due to buses designed to compete with walking, rather than with bicycling or driving? I could also imagine that elderly or disabled people might reasonably object to eliminating local stops in areas with good transit coverage. But what is with stopping a bus every block on one street, when there isn’t another bus for 1 mile in either direction in a suburban area? If we could speed up existing lines enough, there might be buses and “hours” left over to serve parallel corridors, if the goal is simply to get the bus as close to your door as possible.
    Anyway, I will keep pushing Long Beach Transit to copy metro with the limited-stop “Rapid” buses.

  48. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 29, 2009 at 2:14 am #

    @ Joseph. Spectacular questions, which I often ask myself. Give San Francisco some credit for the Transit Effectiveness Project:
    They’re finally doing the right things.
    Re stop spacing, see here:
    There’s a deeper question, though, which is: Why are local buses the standard product, and limited-stop the supplement? The old standard attitude in the US bus industry was that you add limiteds only when you have frequent locals that are really full. Why couldn’t it be the other way around, so that people woudl be encouraged to use limiteds, and get where they’re going sooner? I believe there are now several Metro Rapid corridors where the locals have died back to lower frequencies than the Rapid, and if so that’s a very important bit of pioneering for which we must thanks LACMTA.

  49. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 29, 2009 at 2:26 am #

    @ Alon.  You may know more than I do about Burbank.  But my ideal network for the Valley would certainly include extending the Orange Line (bus or rail, surface or subway) to Burbank if not Glendale, and I'm not the only person to suggest that.
    I wouldn't set the Metrolink lines on a par with Ventura Blvd.  Ventura Blvd is really continuous high density, commercial backed by dense residential, so lots of demand at every single stop and lots of energy for further redevelopment in the few spots like Tarzana where there are gaps.  Metrolink has, at best, a couple of big dots, Panorama City and Burbank, and I suppose it could drive some serious densification in Chatsworth.  Are we sure that we couldn't get our best outcome in that corridor by triple-tracking it and running lots of Metrolink trains?  Especially if that turns out to be the best way to get serious frequency between Burbank and LA?
    Not sure.  Just thinking out loud.

  50. Dan Wentzel November 29, 2009 at 9:33 am #

    Metrolink is great, and I wish Los Angeles would upgrade its commuter rail network with the same excitement as other transit improvements, but it is nowhere near on part with Ventura Blvd for activity ridership. If someone seriously proposed turning Metrolink into the main East-West rail at the expense of the Orange Line and Ventura Blvd., many people who live here would be laughing at him.
    I absolutely want to Burbank and Glendale integrated into Metrorail, connecting with the North Hollywood and Pasadena stations. Doing that is difficult. There is a desire to connect the Red or Orange Line to the Burbank Airport Metrolink station. There is also a desire to connect the “Burbank Media District” and downtown Burbank. There are not naturally occuring R-O-W’s that allow all of these to be connected via the same project(s).
    Note: Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena are not necessarily considered part of the San Fernando Valley. The “Arroyo Grande” area is considered a “buffer” between the San Fernando and San Gabriel Valleys. This could explain why many discussions about the San Fernando Valley seem to ignore Burbank entirely.
    Look at page 47 of the Long Range Transportation Plan
    It sort of explains why transit planning never seems to connect North Hollywood to Pasadena or anything in between. Metro plans them as if they are a different region.

  51. Tomtakt November 29, 2009 at 2:17 pm #

    I’m not sure if anyone mentioned this, but you said:
    “Open BRT is most likely to be the project that delivers something a rail project cannot do: direct service to many branches without having to build rail on all the branch lines.”
    Yes, of course you’re right, but then you described it as follows:
    “…service that can follow the busway some distance from the CBD but then branch out to cover several suburban corridors. This is the one service pattern for which there is no rail option.”
    I don’t think it should be emphasized as a ‘service pattern’ difference. Rather, it’s an implementation/cost difference, in that you get the same service pattern without any infrastructure investment beyond the trunk line

  52. Alon Levy November 29, 2009 at 2:40 pm #

    Jarrett: well, California HSR is already going to get the LAUS-Sylmar corridor four-tracked and electrified, and repair and electrify the two-track LAUS-Anaheim corridor. So all Metrolink has to do is add a small amount of money for ensuring the electrification covers all four tracks north of LAUS, and start treating Anaheim-LAUS-Sylmar as an RER- or S-Bahn-style rapid transit line. It costs much less than a subway under Ventura, and works better as a network together with the other lines to be built in the region.
    It’s fine for the density not to be continuous. Unlike buses, S-Bahns are configured for serving points, not corridors. The interstation distances are too big for it to make sense to develop the entire corridor; instead, people develop the areas around the stations, at a larger radius than they do the corridor around a bus or streetcar line.
    The point about Burbank isn’t necessarily that it’s more important than the Ventura corridor right now. It’s that Burbank is going to get an HSR station and Ventura isn’t.
    Dan, there is no real basis in the desire to connect the Red Line to Burbank Airport – airports aren’t big traffic generators. So what you’re left with is trying to connect North Hollywood to Burbank. For that, the Orange Line has a natural ROW on Chandler, leftover from Pacific Electric.

  53. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 29, 2009 at 3:15 pm #

    @Alon.  All that is true, but I don't see how it helps to compare the Metrolink corridors with Ventura Blvd.  The latter is an urban corridor that's about serving relatively short trips at high frequency with high capacity.  The Metrolink corridors have much more widely spaced nodes and thus need more emphasis on vehicle speed, somewhat less on frequency, because they're about much longer average trip lengths.  The shortest trip Metrolink will ever need to serve in any volume is something like Van Nuys to Burbank Airport.  By contrast, Ventura Blvd. will serve high volumes of people going just a couple of miles, e.g. Studio City to Universal City or Encino to Sherman Oaks.
    Metrolink might get to RER frequencies someday, but on that same day Ventura Blvd will be supporting 2 minute frequencies, assuming that the city allows infill to continue to occur.

  54. Alon Levy November 29, 2009 at 11:42 pm #

    The wide spacing on Metrolink is part of the problem with its ridership. It misses out on local traffic, even though it connects several dense centers such as San Fernando, Van Nuys, Burbank, and Glendale, all of which are several times denser than Encino and Sherman Oaks. Its average interstation is similar to this of exurban commuter rail, rather than to this of RER and S-Bahn services.
    Infill development will happen on Ventura after the current crop of NIMBYs who live on the hillside move away. But as soon as those NIMBYs move, suddenly the transit activists will stop viewing Ventura as a priority corridor, and find another street serving a string of high-income neighborhoods.

  55. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 29, 2009 at 11:49 pm #

    @ Alon. I’m not sure what your history is with NIMBYs south of Ventura Blvd. But when land is this valuable, it’s often not too hard to bribe NIMBYs with resale value. Just upzone their houses and let them see what they can get if they sell for redevelopment. Everyone has a price.

  56. Alon Levy November 30, 2009 at 1:26 am #

    People tend to resist upzoning in direct proportion to how useful upzoning would be.
    The history is not so much with NIMBYs as with the notion that all rail investment should go to high-income corridors like Wilshire and Ventura and everyone else should transfer from inferior lines like the Gold Line.

  57. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 30, 2009 at 3:01 am #

    @Alon.  You over-simplify the wealth issue.  To the extent that rail is about stimulating redevelopment, it will tend to go where redevelopment potential is high.  That tends to be an area that is neither very wealthy nor very poor.  It may be a former ghetto where there is already some redevelopment energy, especially if it's in a really convenient location like San Francisco's Third Street corridor.  What matters more is proximity to other parts of the city that people value, both what neighborhoods are nearby but also how dense and walkable the place in question already is.  And people value proximity by multiple modes, which is why it's a matter of distance and not just travel time.  That's why in Los Angeles I would bet on further densification where there's already some density and urban momentum, e.g. along Ventura Blvd., before I'd bet on Chatsworth or even Panorama City as the next big redevelopment spot. 

  58. Dan Wentzel November 30, 2009 at 8:04 am #

    “The history is not so much with NIMBYs as with the notion that all rail investment should go to high-income corridors like Wilshire and Ventura and everyone else should transfer from inferior lines like the Gold Line.”
    Oh brother. What nonsense.
    So “ridership” means nothing to you?
    Wilshire Blvd. is the biggest ridership corridor out there. And we shouldn’t build rail there because it is classist?
    So the whole point of making Metrolink the main “east-west” rail line isn’t about mobility, but making sure those evil wealthy prosperous people near Ventura Blvd. don’t get it? Well, that wouldn’t be the first time someone suggested such a thing in Los Angeles. Transit planning politics has as much to do in Los Angeles race and class as it does with mobility.
    I don’t know one single person who travels from outside the Valley to Panaroma City or Van Nuys. I do know people who regularly travel to points near Ventura Blvd. and to the Burbank Media District, where the Valleys big job centers are.
    Of course, Los Angeles County Transit Planning is never free from the debate about whether its role is tro provide “mobility” or whether its role is to make up for a lifetime of social injustice.
    This is why BRT doesn’t have much of a future in Los Angeles County. No one, outside of the discredited Bus Riders “Union” is looking at the Orange Line, as it is, as an example to replicate elsewhere in the county. Go to any majority non-white neigbhorhood and propose BRT instead of rail, then be prepared for shouts of “racism” to drown out all other noises.
    As a side note, just because the Orange Line is an example of closed BRT, doesn’t mean it should stay BRT, just to serve as an example to other parts of the country.
    Debating whether to upgrade the Orange Line to light rail or bringing some form of rail to Ventura Blvd., either streetcar, doable in five years, or subway, doable in fifty is a whole different discussion.

  59. Dan Wentzel November 30, 2009 at 8:08 am #

    “But as soon as those NIMBYs move, suddenly the transit activists will stop viewing Ventura as a priority corridor, and find another street serving a string of high-income neighborhoods.”
    I am assuming this comment is satire as I cannot take it seriously.
    Yes, you are right. Transit advocates all over Los Angeles will just ignore ridership potential and mobility issues just to shill for wealthy neighborhoods.
    How dare I not go to a poor neighborhood with lower ridership potential and put a subway there first.

  60. Chris November 30, 2009 at 11:51 am #

    Re: Joseph
    I work for Long Beach Transit and our currently existing limited stop routes (66 and 96) are not popular and have low ridership. In fact, of the 20 LA metro routes with the heaviest ridership only 2 (720 and 754) are Metro Rapids. I think this is because LA is so low density that there are very few points that have extremely high ridership – therefore most people want to get on and off at local stops.
    I’m sorry you find 7th St service unreliable. Due to the combination of the Cal State UPASS program and OCTA ending service to downtown Long Beach it’s been difficult to adjust the running time to keep it reliable. Having 10 minute service or better pretty much all day in both directions I feel has helped, and a slight schedule adjustment in February will help a bit more.
    I would love to eliminate some local stops. But it’s very politically difficult, as is eliminating under performing routes.
    The Orange Line will never live up to its potential until it no longer has to slow to a crawl at each intersection. And it also will never be a rail line until all other parts of the city get theirs – so look for it in 2100. Until then, the large number of people transferring from it to bus routes on Van Nuys, Sepulveda, and Reseda along with the nearly empty buses on the west side of the valley suggest an opening of it, as was originally planned. Maybe 6 buses an hour the full length of the line the whole way and during rush hours
    2 buses each from North Hollywood to north on Van Nuys, north on Sepulveda, and north on Reseda. Maybe also consider an Orange Line bus that deviated via south on Balboa, east on Ventura, and north on Van Nuys. Due to the abysmally low frequencies on most north/south valley bus routes and the thereby frequent long waits for transfers, in my opinion operating it more as an open suburban style bus way is a better choice.

  61. Dan Wentzel November 30, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    “Due to the abysmally low frequencies on most north/south valley bus routes and the thereby frequent long waits for transfers, in my opinion operating it more as an open suburban style bus way is a better choice.”
    The biggest problem with the “open up” approach to the Orange Line is that it does a disservice to those who are traveling south of the Orange Line to Ventura Blvd.
    Perhaps the bus routes could be staggered so that every other bus goes down to Ventura Blvd., and every other bus joins the Orange Line to North Hollywood, but this sounds like an operational nightmare on corridors with such limited bus service.
    The current north-south Rapids on Reseda, Sepulveda and Van Nuys would all still need to go down to Ventura Blvd.
    Does anyone have in mind a corridor with a north-south bus where the service south of the Orange Line has fewer riders than north of the Orange Line? I cannot think of one.
    I do like the branch “open” up theory in concept, but I don’t see how it would realistically work in this case with the Orange Line, without needlessly punishing the riders on major corridors traveling between Ventura Blvd. and the Orange Line.

  62. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org November 30, 2009 at 1:27 pm #

    Dan is right-on about opening the Orange Line with services branching off to the north. On each of the intersecting north-south boulevards, the result would be more frequency north of the Orange Line than south of it, and that would be exactly backwards when you look at the demand pattern on each of those streets. Think of Ventura Blvd. as a kind of linear downtown for most of the Valley. That still drives the loading patterns, especially east of the 405 where Ventura Blvd is especially dense.

  63. Alon Levy November 30, 2009 at 2:18 pm #

    Jarrett, East LA isn’t a low-density area. And Whittier isn’t a low-ridership route. Ridership on Whittier is lower than on Wilshire or Vermont, but higher than on Expo or Crenshaw. And while we’re at it, one of the top corridors is Western, which would also make a good north-south line because it could go straight north to Burbank Station…
    Dan, the main point of working with the Metrolink lines is that they feed Burbank and work well as a network and Ventura doesn’t (Sepulveda does work well as a network with the other lines, but ideally you’d want to open a Metrolink station at the Ventura County Line/Sepulveda intersection – again, building a network, not single lines). The greatest potential for redevelopment in the Valley is likely to be near HSR stations, because that’s where people who aren’t from LA are going to be able to go to easily.
    Also, your social circle may not represent the average Angeleno. For example, I don’t know a single person who goes to the Bronx and doesn’t live there – or Wall Street, or Williamsburg. By your reasoning I’d have to conclude there’s no ridership potential on the L, or on any of the multiple lines going from Wall Street to the Bronx.
    Besides which, the Valley has well more than a million people, which in other parts of the world would justify subway lines in and of itself. Kawasaki has three rail lines connecting it with Tokyo plus one line within itself.

  64. Dan Wentzel November 30, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    I lived in the San Fernando Valley for six years. (I also lived in Manhattan for seven years and briefly in London.)
    The Bronx and the Valley are apples and oranges. At no point did I state that there shouldn’t be rail service there. That’s a mis-characterization of what I stated. I would serve it differently than you. I would have the north-south Sepulveda based project connecting the Valley to the westside as being how I would hook the area in, not the east-west version you stated. That’s just a difference of opinion we have.
    The L-train ridership is greater inbound in the morning and outbound in the evening. That sort of pattern we are more likely to see in Panorama City. On the other hand, Wilshire Blvd. and Ventura Blvd. would have two-way travel during commuting.
    I actually support your Metrolink proposal. I just ALSO support either upgrading the Orange Line to LRT and/or rail on Ventura Blvd., either in the form of a modern streetcar in a designated transit-only lane or a subway. (Realistically, I’d go for the former because I don’t believe we’d see a subway there for decades.)
    The San Fernando Valley has missed having a comprehensive vision of it’s transit infrastructure.

  65. Alon Levy December 1, 2009 at 1:44 pm #

    Dan: I can’t really argue with the Sepulveda idea. It would work well as a north-south line, complementing the east-west system.
    I think the only thing we really disagree about is whether the Orange Line or Ventura is a better light rail corridor – it basically boils down to serving retail destinations versus connecting well to the rest of the system.

  66. R. W. Rynerson March 24, 2010 at 8:44 am #

    Appending some information from the Denver metro area:
    Although the North I-25/US36 Bus/HOV project that opened into Downtown Denver in 1994 was designed to provide an “open” sort-of-BRT service, most of the peak-hour neighborhood pick-up routes using it failed. Overwhelmingly, customers in the northern suburbs preferred to drive to a major park-n-Ride lot that has all-day service and board a bus for a very LRT-like trip. The exceptions are on the neighborhood pick-up routes that get furthest away from the big park-n-Rides.
    There are various theories as to why it has worked out this way, but the end result is very clear from the data. Perhaps the best “non-modal” theory is that with changes in family life, the neighborhood pick-up route in lower density areas is a hopeless case due to second or third-car ownership, child-care issues and flex-time pressures that favor a quick drive to a park-n-Ride and then short headways on a trunk line of whatever mode. In higher income suburban areas, the same effect has occurred with bus feeder routes to LRT vs. park-n-Ride access. In lower income suburban areas and in urban grid block districts of whatever income, the feeder bus routes to LRT do fine.
    As I don’t own a car, this is annoying to me, but I’ve watched it unfolding over the past two decades and have to deal with it. [I solved the problem for myself by living in areas dense enough to support off-peak bus service.]

  67. Matt Fisher July 7, 2010 at 5:03 am #

    The Orange Line, quite literally, should have been a rail line. I would want it to be an electrified version of Metrolink, a sort of S-Bahn type service, as Alon was talking about.

  68. Adriana December 17, 2010 at 11:47 am #

    Becuase a video is worth more than 1000 words – here are some vids of “full” BRT from Latin America. No rail, but definitely investment in very permanent user-friendly stations.
    start at 0:50 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hncSYjBQBIM
    more footage in the background of this advert:
    A second system:
    A third system:
    And then there is TransMilenio – but everyone has heard of that!

  69. Pete (UK) December 20, 2010 at 9:11 am #

    The Latin American BRT systems are very impressive, I often link to videos when commenting on BRT in the local press, as the concept is not generally understood by the UK public, who have only experienced conventional bus travel, or who are sceptical motorists convinced of the car’s superiority.
    Here is an example of a successful UK BRT system in North Kent Thameside:
    And here is a video of the much delayed Cambridgeshire Guided Busway, which when it opens will be the longest of its type in the world:
    Council website for this project:

  70. Matt Korner January 4, 2011 at 4:54 am #

    San Bernardino, the historic core of the Inland Empire, is making a slew of transit investments and is upzoning and form-based coding 56 existing and proposed T.O.D. pedestrian-sheds around Metrolink, light rail, and B.R.T. stations.
    The first B.R.T. line begins construction in a couple of months, and much of it is well-designed. However, I have a few reservations that I’m not sure have been adequately addressed. The advantages of B.R.T., though, in this situation is that the system will be operating within a major complete-street corridor and should have a potentially-shorter construction time than light rail.
    The other advantage is that rail-ready B.R.T. can, conceivably, help to spur densification and diversification among surrounding land uses that, in turn, increase ridership and justify conversions to L.R.T. at a later date.
    My question that has not been mentioned in this article is the ability of one mode over another to effectively catalyze dense and diverse infill development. Do you know much about the questions that should be asked regarding, for example, the appeal to developers of center-running stations over those that are side-running?

  71. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org January 4, 2011 at 6:10 am #

    Matt.  My own view is that unlike rail, where symbolic value is important to development outcomes, BRT is likely to matter mostly in the actual mobility it provides.  Superior mobility comes from center running.  Side running may appear more integrated with the streetscape but is also more prone to interference from turning vehicles. 

  72. Matt Korner January 4, 2011 at 7:25 am #

    Many thanks…. I’m encouraging everyone involved to try to get as many placemaking benefits as possible from the sbX system because I don’t necessarily think the vehicles need garish livery and inelegant branding to convey the notion that they are fast and frequent.
    I prefer that they complement, instead, the local culture and the branding of the 2015 light-rail service between San Bernardino and Redlands. That line is essentially a reactivation of an old Pacific Electric Railway route, so I would love if the trolleys along it use the “Pacific Electric” and “Red Car” imagery in some way.
    The B.R.T. lines could adopt personalities and identities that are equally strong. More Disneyesque and evocative approaches to transit services should be the norm, especially since almost all of the old pre-war systems had a sense of style and panache.
    Is there any reason to build side-running stations? Most of this first sbX line will use dedicated guideways and center-running stations, but a few side-running stations are also planned. From what I understand, San Bernardino is willing to give the project whatever it requires; however, the City of Loma Linda has been considerably less inclined to provide land for dedicated lanes. The major chokepoint is located on the border between the two cities, and I don’t know how the vehicles will be able to negotiate it effectively if Loma Linda does not provide a dedicated right-of-way.
    I also don’t know how interested developers would be in the areas without center-running stations and dedicated guideways since these seem to be the easiest places to potentially reroute a line, if necessary.