Albuquerque’s new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line is open, and it’s different from most such projects that we’re seeing in US cities of similar size. Quite simply, most of it is protected from traffic congestion, thanks to a median bus-only lane. It’s the red segment (with green stations) on this map (full map here)
This is why it’s being called a “Gold” standard right of way by the global Institute for Transport and Development Policy (ITDP). ITDP Gold is not just another feel-g0od award; it has a specific meaning in their international BRT standard, and the core point is protection from traffic.
Many, many US BRT projects start out with exclusive lanes, but then make too many compromises along the way. In the worst cases, they end up as a bunch of nice infrastructure but little or no improvement in travel times. My own view is that if a bus does not have protection from traffic in the segments where it is needed to deliver a reliable operation, then it’s not BRT. For example, Las Vegas has a fine segment of busway that delivers buses from the traffic jam of downtown to the traffic jam of the Las Vegas Strip, but it doesn’t exist where it’s most needed, which is to get through those jams.
Albuquerque’s looks like a breakthrough in this regard.
And no, it’s not a problem that the buses continue beyond the end of the right of way to do further things in mixed traffic at the east end of the line. One of the great virtues of BRT is that it can do this. The vehicles are not confined to the infrastructure, as rail transit is, so they can continue to key destinations beyond the busway itself. Of course, if those mixed traffic segments become too congested, the busway will eventually need to be extended further.
So congratulations to Albuquerque. It looks like the opening day went well. I hope the system helps other cities see the benefits of not compromising on the most critical element of BRT — protection from traffic delay.