A Look at BRT: The Kansas City MAX

August 13, 2010 17 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

As JTA looks into investing our hard earned tax dollars into bus rapid transit, Metro Jacksonville highlights one of the most successful recently completed BRT projects: The Kansas City MAX.

The Background

Nearly a year ago, Metro Jacksonville published an article calling for the Jacksonville Chamber to evaluate the MAX during their Fall 2009 trip to Kansas City.

JTA continues to push the concept of BRT to a city where residents continue to state they prefer rail. Especially for its ability to attract sustainable infill economic development in areas where taxpayers have already invested in adequate infrastructure. In Kansas City, Jacksonville's delegation will have the opportunity to see and use a system similar to JTA's planned system: the Kansas City MAX Bus Rapid Transit line.

Recently constructed rail systems in Tampa, Little Rock, Charlotte, Phoenix, Houston and Dallas have all spurred billions in transit oriented development. In Austin and Norfolk, two cities whose rail projects are still under construction, TOD has also already started to pop up along the proposed transit corridors. BRT has been billed by proponents to be rail on rubber wheels. Completed in 2005, the six-mile Kansas City MAX BRT line has had more than enough time to evaluate its impact on stimulating transit oriented development.

Metro Jacksonville urges the Jacksonville delegation to break away from a few business sessions and take a ride on the MAX. After your ride, ask yourselves if BRT feels like rail, is it stimulating transit oriented development, will it enhance the city's image in the eyes of the Creative Class and will it position our community to the front of the New Economy?
Source: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2009-sep-jax-chamber-headed-to-kansas-city-a-few-pointers

Needless to say, this did not happen so Metro Jacksonville recently visted Kansas City to find out for ourselves.

A Look At The Kansas City MAX

The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority implemented its first Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line, called the Metro Area Express, or MAX, in July 2005.  MAX was an instant success, with ridership in this corridor increasing more than 50%.  While Kansas City's MAX line was not the first BRT line in the United States, its immediate success and affordable execution have garnered recognition across the country.  In fact, the Federal Transit Administration holds it up as a model BRT line.

MAX is a six-mile linear route linking the vibrant River Market, downtown, Union Station, Crown Center and Plaza.  As the region's most significant new public transportation project in decades, MAX provides quick, convenient public transportation that helps reduce traffic congestion and auto emissions.

The outside lane of Kansas City's Main Street is reserved for the MAX buses and cars making right turns.

MAX features distinct characteristics that incorporate state of the art technology to deliver customers a high level of reliability, speed and comfort.  For instance, dedicated lanes help give MAX vehicles a rapid, smooth ride, and special traffic signalization holds a green light longer to keep MAX on schedule.  Limited stops mean that MAX can keep moving to key destinations.

Although the system has signal priority, many times buses can still get caught up in signal stacking situations.

Rail on rubber wheels?  The MAX pulls into the Country Club Plaza "station."

By design, a unique identity was created for MAX, including unique vehicles and easily identifiable "stations," not "stops."  Each station features an 18-foot marker that is well lit at night, serving as a beacon from blocks away.  The new, modern shelters were designed to provide protection from the elements with a roof that is 80% opaque, providing needed shade in the summer, yet allowing 20% of the light through to break the chill in the winter.  One of the most popular features of the stations is the real-time arrival signs.  Customers know exactly when the next MAX will arrive, taking the guesswork out of riding.

MAX at a Glance

- Runs 7 days a week

- 5:30 a.m. to midnight

- Buses arrive every 10 minutes at peak times

- 15-30 minutes most other times

- Plaza to Downtown in 18 minutes

- 3.75 miles of exclusive transit lanes

- 40 Stations

- 13 MAX vehicles featuring unique branding

- Cost: $21 million (80% federal, 20% local)
Source: http://www.kcata.org/documents/uploads/MAX_Fact_Sheet.pdf

Metro Jacksonville's Outlook

"Streetcars do more for economic development than buses.  Rail projects are very expensive but tend to be permanent. And you get the economic development around stops that you normally don't see with bus operations."
Nathaniel Ford - Executive Director of San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency

The MAX works well for what it is, which is a reliable bus service.  This is something that JTA and all transit agencies should seek to achieve without the help of federal dollars or at the expense of community building and job creating mass transit projects.

The Max has failed to be a stimulator of sustainable walkable development in the way that the M-Line Streetcar and DART LRT have been for Dallas (before & after image above).

Where the MAX significantly falls short is in the arena of being a catalyst for transit oriented economic development.  The MAX started serving the streets of Kansas City in 2005.  Five years later, there is little visual evidence of any type of transit oriented development being constructed around the MAX's bus stops or along the corridor because of its presence.

On the other hand, $400 million in private development took place within two blocks of Little Rock's River Rail Streetcar from 2004 to 2007.  Furthermore, in Charlotte there has been $1.87 billion in investment and development along the LYNX Blue Line (light rail) since 2007.  
Source: http://www.metrojacksonville.com/article/2010-jun-before-after-rail-spurs-economic-development

These statistics tend to indicate what Metro Jacksonville has believed all along.  Bus based systems don't spur economic development or create walkable communities.  Moving forward, Jacksonville should ask itself what type of community it wants to be and then design accordingly.

Article by Ennis Davis