Complementary Transit: BRT in Edmonton


A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned in a blog post on the Century Park Park and Ride that an upgraded system of express buses might be one way to supplement the loss of parking at Century Park. Fortuitously, today’s Transportation Committee featured a discussion of a different sort of bus network, one that could also improve the transit situation in south Edmonton: Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT for short.

The concept of BRT is fairly simple. It’s a designated system of high capacity buses traveling in specialized bus lanes to transport people from A to B quickly and at a high frequency.

Characteristics of BRT

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BRT systems have dedicated lanes aligned to the middle of the road to speed the flow of buses. They also have separated, raised platforms to ease boarding and reduce delays for passengers. For anyone who has ever been caught behind a bus stopping and starting along the side of the road, this may be the answer to your prayers. The platforms are often separated from the car traffic, allowing it to flow unimpeded.

There are lots of positives to BRT when compared to regular bus service: better adherence to scheduling as compared to regular buses, higher capacity, and improved driver and user safety. The cost of implementing a BRT system, while higher than regular bus service, is less than LRT.

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One drawback to BRT is that it generally involves taking away a lane or two of traffic - though to be fair, many of our major corridors already have designated bus lanes on the outside lane, so this could just mean an adjustment to that system. But this does make BRT impractical for some areas with smaller roadways - regular bus service would continue to be necessary in many of those places.

BRT and LRT

Exploring the BRT option in concert with our transit system review allows us to think broadly about how much public transit we can provide in Edmonton. BRT can provide temporary service as a precursor to LRT lines  that aren’t  built yet, which you can see in our LRT route concept plan.

For a low density city like Edmonton, BRT might help provide some options for those neighbourhoods that will likely never see LRT, where the social and environmental costs of strictly car-oriented travel modes are highest. The complementary development of both an LRT and BRT system could open up transportation options to more Edmontonians that we might not be able to achieve otherwise.

BRT development along corridors like 23rd Avenue, Ellerslie Road and 170 Street into areas in the Southwest could also help us to focus our growth and development. Transit-oriented developments around these main corridors would have direct connections to the LRT network via a quick and efficient BRT system. These corridors would be made more accessible, livable, and connected with the addition of a BRT line, and this action is supported by our Complete Streets strategy.

I’m looking forward to seeing the bus rapid transit strategy come back to Council in 2017, along with the rest of the results from our transit strategy review. Hopefully it will provide some options for Council to consider when managing our city’s growth and the transportation challenges that come along with that.

 


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  • commented 2015-10-27 09:40:00 -0600
    BRT can work if there is no dedicated lane, but the road cannot have congestion on a regular basis, even just once a week. Our roads are enormous. Most modern arterial roads have plenty of room for BRT lane, a single motor vehicle through lane and a dedicated cycle track, plus a pair of sidewalks. In older areas of the city, after taking a lane per direction to dedicate to a cycle track, you don’t have the room for bus lanes, but if you have 5 lanes for motor traffic, the central lane can be a reversible lane, used in the peak direction, and with traffic signal removal and priority at the remaining ones, step free access, off board fares, and all door boarding can make a bus much quicker. Stop consolidation also helps. I even managed to squeeze in two one way cycle tracks, and a pair of bus lanes on 109 St in Garneau. Even the ones in downtown. Downtown really shouldn’t be a place for private motor traffic, so banning cars and private trucks in downtown and delivery vehicles only at night and creating dedicated space for transit, cycling and walking works very well. I actually created a diagram of what bus routes can go where: https://www.google.com/maps/d/edit?mid=z2x4ClqUrmuc.kCkBrRqKJDVU&usp=sharing. Most arterials could have this sort of treatment, to make transit much faster than today, less prone to congestion, easier to board and combined with transit oriented development within 400 metres around each stop, a cycle track network, complete and safe at intersections, plus loads of bike parking at stops, makes for a much better network for transit. The bus route serving my community would get less held up by a protected prohibited left turn stage because it can extend the length of that flashing green arrow or add another one before cross traffic begins to go, and can bypass the traffic in queue jump lane or bus lane.
  • commented 2015-10-08 08:24:56 -0600
    Real BRT would be great, but it requires taking away road space from single occupant vehicles. If there isn’t a separate right-of-way, then it’s not rapid transit. This separated right-of-way is doubly important at pinch points in the road network, since that’s where delays happen.

    This council’s track record suggests that even if you have balls to approve such a plan, they will shrivel up the second SOMEONE WITH A CAR complains about a delay, and we’ll pay to put them in and then pay to pull them out again.

    Remember the Stony Plain Road bus lane? That lasted something like 3 weeks. 40 ave bike lane? Pulled out after a year. Basically, Edmonton City Council can talk a good game, but needs a big sunk cost in order to stick with its guns.