Solving JTA's BRT North Corridor Funding Dilemma

March 1, 2011 55 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Metro Jacksonville takes a closer look at JTA's $21.3 million plan for BRT along Lem Turner Road and presents an affordable alternative to get the ball rolling.



About The BRT North Corridor Plan



The proposed BRT North Corridor Project would be a 9.28-mile alignment on existing surface streets and predominantly within existing right-of-way, connecting Downtown Jacksonville with Walmart at Lem Turner Road and Interstate 295.  Of this length, 7.06 miles would be on mixed use lanes and 2.22 miles on exclusive bus-only lanes.  A total of approximately 0.35 acres of right-of-way may be required in station areas where right-of-way is limited.

Construction is anticipated to begin in 2013 and finish in 2014 at a cost of $21.3 million or $2.30 million/mile. System characteristics include:

- 10 to 15 minute headways

- Dedicated bus-only lanes

- New low floor vehicles

- Substantial and branded transit stations or stops

- Transit signal priority

- Real-time travel information

JTA believes that these improvements will result in lower travel times, greater schedule reliability, easier transfers, shorter wait times, greater customer satisfaction, improved pedestrian features, and increased system operating efficiencies.



JTA's Dilemma

JTA is seeking federal dollars because they do not have the money needed to make this $21.3 million plan a reality.  However, President Barack Obama's proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 only allocates $6.4 million, leaving a $14.9 million gap.

Quote
Northside residents hoping for improved bus service received a financial boost courtesy of President Barack Obama this week.

The president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012 allocates $6.4 million for bus-only lanes in North Jacksonville. The lanes would run in both directions from the Rosa Parks Transfer Station downtown on State Street along Boulevard Street to Golfair Boulevard, then along Brentwood Avenue, continuing north along Norwood Avenue/Lem Turner Road before ending at the Walmart Supercenter just south of Interstate 295.

Construction is scheduled to begin in 2013 and finish in 2014 at a cost of $21.3 million. The Jacksonville Transportation Authority is still looking for more funding opportunities at the state and federal level to offset the $14.9 million it now has to pay, spokeswoman Wendy Morrow  said.
full article: http://jacksonville.com/news/metro/2011-02-15/story/obama’s-proposed-budget-includes-64-million-bus-only-lanes-jacksonville



Metro Jacksonville's Affordable BRT Alternative: Trimming The Fat


Metro Jacksonville's BRT alternative is an affordable solution that establishes the basic components of BRT without investing $22 million or requiring additional federal assistance to do so.

Metro Jacksonville believes BRT can be implemented at a significantly less cost than JTA's proposal.  Here are a few suggestion to help trim the fat.



Transit Signal Priority (TSP)


TSP along Cleveland's Health Line BRT Corridor

1. What is Transit Signal Priority

Quote
Bus priority or transit signal priority is a name for various techniques to speed up bus public transport services at intersections (or junctions) with traffic signals. Buses normally signal their impending arrival (for example via radio systems) and on their arrival at the intersection receive green lights. This is often combined with separate bus lanes, though possibly this may only apply at the intersections themselves.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bus_priority


Why it is not needed along the North Corridor

Transit Signal Priority techniques are best implemented along congested thoroughfares.  However, traffic along the majority of the North Corridor's chosen route flows smoothly at a Level of Service (LOS) B and C.  While there are limited hot spots, such as the Lem Turner Road/Edgewood Avenue intersection, TSP may be something that is not a necessity for providing reliable bus service along this corridor.  In addition, the City of Jacksonville's draft of the 2030 Mobility Plan includes road infrastructure projects intended to relieve the isolated congestion points along the corridor.  



2. Real-Time Passenger Information


An enhanced bus shelter (renamed transit station by BRT proponents) with Real-time information along the Kansas City MAX's route.

What is Real-Time Passenger Information?

Quote
A passenger information [display] system (PIDS) is an electronic information system which provides real-time passenger information. It may include both predictions about arrival and departure times, as well as information about the nature and causes of disruptions. It may be used both physically within a transportation hub and remotely using a web browser or mobile device.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Passenger_information_system


Why it is not a necessity along the North Corridor

According to JTA's plans, buses along the North Corridor will arrive at stops every 10-15 minutes.  At that rate, the frequency of service is strong enough for riders to know that the next bus will be arriving very soon.  This makes the immediate need for real-time passenger information a desire rather than necessity.  Without real-time information, the cost of shelters can be reduced significantly.  In addition, if JTA can get their shelter advertising program worked out, the entire cost of shelters (transit stations) can be provided by the private sector, completely eliminating the burden of this expense on the taxpayer.


Recently installed JTA bus shelter at Main & Bay Streets. While enhanced bus shelters with Real-time information would be great, a bus shelter with a system map that protects riders from the sun and rain will suffice.  Considering a corridor like Philips would be attractive for advertising companies, the cost for these shelters could be financed by the private sector.



3. New Buses


New "branded" buses, as shown above, were a significant expenditure in the implementation of the Kansas City MAX BRT corridor.

The purchase of new bus vehicles could make up as much as 40% of the overall capital cost for this $21.3 million BRT corridor.  


Why aren't new buses needed along the North Corridor?

Maybe its time to better utilize the funds and resources that we do have before asking for more funding?  Recently, it was announced that JTA will be awarded a $4 million grant to purchase eight hybrid buses.

Quote
JTA wins $4 million federal grant for eight hybrid buses

Submitted by Larry Hannan on February 17, 2011 - 12:10pm

The Jacksonville Transportation Authority has won a $4 million grant that will allow it to purchase eight hybrid buses.

These will be the first hybrid buses in JTA's fleet, and are expected to be on the road sometime in 2012. It's estimated that these eight buses will save about 27,000 gallons of fuel per year, about 3,375 gallons per bus.

The buses will go into the regular rotation, and will not be used for any specific route, said JTA spokeswoman Wendy Morrow.

The grant was awarded through the Clean Fuels Grant Program, which supports the United States Department of Transportation's environmental sustainability efforts.
http://jacksonville.com/opinion/blog/400669/larry-hannan/2011-02-17/jta-wins-4-million-federal-grant-eight-hybrid-buses

Perhaps JTA should reconsider their plans to use eight new hybrid buses in the regular rotation instead of a specific route.  With a desire to "brand" or set apart BRT from the rest of JTA's fleet, it would seem using these new hybrid buses for BRT only would help achieve that goal.


Look familiar?  Same bus (as the Kansas City MAX BRT), different color.  Instead of spending millions for new buses to serve the North Corridor, we can use what we already have if its too difficult to place the new hybrid buses into BRT service.


4. Queue Jumps


A Queue Jump is similar to a regular turn lane except buses use the lane to get around stacked automobile traffic at busy intersections. Image from www.oaklandairportconnector.com

Queue jumps, or bypass lanes, allow buses to move to the front of the line at traffic signals.  Instead of buses lining up behind a line of cars at intersections, buses move through a bypass lane on one side of traffic.  This allows the bus to avoid any long lines of automobiles, and results in more efficient transit service and less travel delay.  On occasion, a bus-only right-lane signal may be added to allow buses to travel through the intersection before the automobiles in the adjacent lanes are permitted to proceed.


Why aren't Queue Jumps needed?

The one size fits all solution to problems works with men's tube socks, not mass transit.  Every corridor presents certain challenges.  Queue jumps would be ideal for a congested roadway such as Blanding Blvd. in Orange Park.  The majority of the North Corridor does not back up and will not be backing up anytime in the foreseeable future, making expensive Queue jumps a want instead of a true need for reliable service along this corridor.  



The drive along the path of the North corridor is a pretty smooth one.  Since there is no daily gridlock and none on the horizon, reliable frequent bus service can be established without an immediate investment in Queue Jump and Transit Signal Priority infrastructure.


5. Reliable Headways



The existing map illustrates the existing L8 bus route.

JTA currently operates the L8 bus service along the entirety of the proposed North BRT Corridor route with 15 minute headways. To save funding, time and energy, JTA should consider rebranding the existing L8 as bus rapid transit.  


How to provide reduced headways by modifying existing routes?

A look at JTA's current Northside bus routes indicates that several routes tend to parallel each other and connect to similar destinations, providing duplicate services as they flow into downtown.  Metro Jacksonville suggests taking a look at streamlining the duplication and shifting the operational savings generated to upgrade the L8 route to 10 minute headways.  The graphic below serves as a conceptual example of how sample existing bus routes could modified provide better service to the Southside destinations.


Currently, JTA's L8, L7, N6 and NS17 bus routes provide duplicate service (see highlighted area) along the North Corridor BRT route between the Ribault River and Golfair Boulevard.  This is an area where opportunities to streamline existing services can be found in an effort to improve the L8 to bonafide "BRT" status.



Conclusion

Like JTA, Metro Jacksonville would like to see reliable bus service implemented along several thoroughfares in Jacksonville, especially throughout the Northside.  However, our position is that this can be done with better utilization of existing assets, without FTA financial involvement and for far less than JTA's estimates of $21.3 million.  By utilizing these simplistic solutions with the $6.4 million in the proposed federal budget, reliable bus rapid transit can become a reality in the Northside, sooner rather than later.

Article by Ennis Davis