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.