Author Topic: "BRT" = Better Quality, but not "Rapid Transit"  (Read 2386 times)

Metro Jacksonville

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"BRT" = Better Quality, but not "Rapid Transit"
« on: January 30, 2007, 12:00:00 AM »
"BRT" = Better Quality, but not "Rapid Transit"



If you plan cities for traffic, cars and transit - You get traffic, cars and transit.  If you plan for people, places and transit - You get people, places   transit.For too long, the leaders and transportation planners of this city have focused on  How do we want our transit network to work best?  The question at hand should be  How do we want our city and neighborhoods to work best?Right now our officials are claiming that the future of mass transit in Jacksonville rests on bus rapid transit system that will cost this community over $700 million dollars in construction cost and over 20 years to implement.Jacksonville, its time to wake up and start acting like the progressive 13th largest city in America we claim to be.

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http://www.metrojacksonville.com/content/view/323

RYP

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Hundreds of millions here, hundreds of millions there...
« Reply #1 on: January 30, 2007, 11:01:33 AM »
Long time reader, first-time poster.

I'm afraid that all of the potential projects, mentioned above, be it JTA's express-bus plans or metrojax's urban rail visions, will end up being a colossal waste of money - akin to our infamous Skyway Express.

Our city is simply not dense enough to efficiently support these plans.  John Q. Public, when faced with the choice of commuting in his car to work vs. riding public transport is going to choose the former time and time again.  Why?  Because when you look at the full costs of the trip, he comes out ahead by driving.  The big advantage is the time savings - it's so much quicker to drive, even during rush hour traffic.  

Why don't people ride the Skyway, for example?  Because it takes them 45 minutes to make a trip that will take them 10 minutes max by car.  It may be a cliche, but time is money.

Yes, big cities like NYC, Chicago, etc. have well-utilized public transport options.  They are infinitely more dense than Jacksonville, and the urban core is much more developed.  Try driving into NYC or Chicago to commute to work - it will take forever and when you arrive, welcome to the $30/day parking garage.

When the fully loaded costs (time, gas, parking, intra-day mobility availability) of an automobile trip exceed that of public transport, then we'll start to see some movement towards public transport.  I don't see that tipping point occurring in Jax anytime in the near or long-term future.

So what do we do?  Traffic will continue to grow, of course, as our population and development continues to increase.  I think the answer lies in congestion pricing of our roads, so that we distribute traffic over wider periods of the day.  What a waste to have such pricey road assets get heavily used for 4-5 hours of the day and then become relatively unused for the remainder.  Charge a commuter who uses a busy thoroughfare $2 or $3 to hop on the road at 8am during heavy traffic periods.  If you hop on at 6am, it's free.  People will respond to that pricing, and shift their behavior accordingly - just like they do with the myriad of goods and services that have "peak" and "off-peak" pricing schemes (for a current example, take peek at Singapore - you can't chew gum there but they have perhaps the most efficently run government on the planet).  

Overall congestion pricing would be much more efficient in the long-run that taxing and spending several hundred million dollars with the hope and prayer that if we build it, they will ride.  

thelakelander

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Commuter rail is much more than getting people out of their cars
« Reply #2 on: January 30, 2007, 01:52:05 PM »
Just for clarification, we're talking about urban commuter rail, not heavy rail systems associated with dense cities like NYC or Chicago.  We're talking about rail systems sprawlburgs like Dallas, Orlando, Austin, Nashville, Salt Lake City and Charlotte (many of which have lower densities than us) are successful putting together as opposed to continuouse road construction.  

Mentioning the failure of the Skyway in this converstation as you did makes sense, but not in the way you presented it.  A major reason for the Skyway's failure is it was never completed as originally intended.  What you have today in the Skyway is SR 9A/ I-295 without the Buckman and Dames Point Bridges.  It's imcomplete, so of course it doesn't work.  Futhermore, it won't work until the regional wide system intended to originally feed riders into is complete.  Commuter Rail can easily become that forgotten and long abandoned regionwide rapid transit system.

Also, lets remember that this is much more than getting people out of their cars.  Just as important is the creation of infill transit oriented development in a city who's low density historic landuse patterns have wasted millions of acreage and now present a challenge in preserving land for industrial development.  Simply put, its about introducing an alternative that creates the environment needed for this city to cultivate a lifestyle that makes it just as pedestrian friendly as it is automobile oriented.  To be truthful and honest, even with rail, our highways will continue to clog.  However, with it, citizens also have the option to cater their lifestyle in a fashion to where they have an alternative choice to get around town, instead of being forced to add to that congestion, as we are now.

While I disagree with the notion that Jacksonville doesn't have the urban density for urban commuter rail (If interested, I'd make a strong arguement for why it does have ideal density for this type of system) or that it's better to drop billions in infrastructure straining highways like the Outer Loop, then to invest in a lifestyle of embracing pedestrian activity as much as we do gas guzzling SUVs, you solution is an interesting one.

While, it doesn't do much for bringing economic stability to developed areas of town or enhance the region's quality of life by providing willing residents with a decent affordable option of alternative transit, at least its a quality attempt to improve local gridlock, associated with decades of poor planning.  

Have any American cities successfully attempted what you mention has happened in Singapore?  If not, what gives you the confidence that a city that can't even figure out how to put up bus shelters or light downtown streets in a proper manner, will successful pull of such a unique plan?

Btw, cost wise, its completely logical that we could build a commuter rail system from JIA/River City Marketplace to the Avenues Mall or Flagler Center for under $100 million.  That cost alone is insignificant compared to any other major transportation improvement this city could invest in roads, rail or bus.
"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” - Muhammad Ali

RYP

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« Reply #3 on: January 30, 2007, 02:43:50 PM »
I appreciate the reply.  I am not nearly as well-versed on the history behind these issues as you, so I appreciate the informative post.

Re: Singapore.  I think there are certain aspects of congestion pricing that are starting to percolate around the country.  A key enabler is "open-road tolling" technology that you may have seen in other major cities.  Basically, it allows a driver to pay their fee to the highway without having to lineup and stop (and waste time) at a human collector - instead they can whiz on my a series of sensors that deducts the appropriate charge from a box gizmo that each driver would own - sort of a high-speed prepaid debit card.  I think California may have some early versions of congestion pricing on dedicated highway lanes as well.

I think the big challenge with congestion pricing in this country is the politics around the implemention - it may particularly so in Jacksonville with its prior history with tolls.  There are two arguments I can think of - one from the right and one from the left.  From the anti-tax right, one could complain equate congestion pricing with a "tax."  From the left, an egalitarian notion that it's unfair for certain people (likely those who are wealthier and hence would value their time more highly than the average resident) to simply buy their way through an efficient commute during a peak travel time.

To counter a couple of your points.  We may be able to build a commuter rail system as you proposed for under $100 million.  I'd be willing to bet you a Bubba Burger that if that were actually to be constructed, that estimate would be woefully inadequate.  Major cost over-runs are just a fact of life.

If the Skyway were built as you say it was originally proposed, I'm afraid it would have double/triple/quadruple the waste than it currently is.  A difference of opinion.

Some random closing thoughts:  
Are you familiar with the Center for Neighborhood Technology in Chicago (www.cnt.org)?  If not, I'd check them out, as they have ideas that I believe are right up your alley, particularly related to transit-oriented development.
Re: bus shelters.  Could Jax set up a deal similar to Chicago (can you guess where I've lived previously) with respect to bus shelters.  The city struck a deal with a company, JC Decaux (sic?) where JC built and maintains quality covered bus shelters throughout the city.  There are ads on the shelters, which JC then makes some profit from.  City gets free quality shelters, JC gets a cash-stream.  Win-win.

Thanks for the discussion.

thelakelander

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« Reply #4 on: January 30, 2007, 03:38:47 PM »
The open toll concept only deals with traffic congestion.  It does little in terms of economic development, providing alternative forms of transit and is highly expensive.  Really when you break it down to the basics, Urban Commuter Rail is something that brings more to the table than moving cars at relative little expense, compared to road transit.  Even converting lanes or widening major roads to accomodate toll lanes will cost billions, yet do little in enhancing the pedestrian friendly lifestyle and connectivity needed to land today's first tier educated workforce and the companies that follow them.  Nevertheless, if money was available, then there's no reason why peices of both options shouldn't become a part of the region's transit solutions.

Regarding the cost of rail, I'd be willing to bet you a double Bubber Burger that whether its rail, roads or boats, the longer you prolong the estimates will be higher.  The county courthouse is a perfect example of this.  Yet, I would also be willing to bet that you would get more bang for your dollar paying for a rail system that ran $30 million over, compared to a highway project like the Big Dig that ran billions over.  As you said, cost overuns and government happen to be a fact of life.  But its also a fact of life that urban commuter rail happens to be millions and sometimes billions of dollars cheaper than major road and bus rapid transit solutions.  That's just the way the cookie crumbles.

As for the Skyway, it was developed and funded by the Federal government as a transportation demonstration project.  While, it would have certainly benefited from better route planning, a major component of the original system was that it was supposed to be feed by a regional wide mass transit system.  Without that system, no one should expect anything other than failure.  Furthermore, its important to note that there's a major cost and technology difference between commuter rail and a monorail system such as the skyway.  Monorails cost just as much as heavy rail does (NYC subways, Miami Metrorail, Atlanta's Marta, etc.) and it didn't help that the skyway was over-engineered, further boosting costs.  Nevertheless, typical heavy rail systems cost around $80 million/mile.  Light rail systems (ex. Dallas' DART, Houston's Metro, etc.) cost on average $40 million/mile.  Urban Commuter rail runs as low as $2 million to $10 million/mile, depending on trackage deals you work out with the local frieght rail company who owns the tracks.  Completely apples and oranges, in regards to costs, technology and density requirements.

Btw, I do agree with the info about the bus shelters.  Unfortunately those in charge don't want adds placed on them, thus we have nothing and an inefficient bus system to go along with it.  It's simple things like this that gives mass transit a bad name locally, both politically and to those not familiar with mass transit.

"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” - Muhammad Ali

K

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« Reply #5 on: January 30, 2007, 07:53:07 PM »
Perhaps people will start riding these buses when they realize they can't see around them, as drivers?  I don't have much experience driving with double-buses but wonder if the mixed-traffic situation would be like driving alongside a semi-trailer.  Also, I can imagine that queing an intersection to a double-length bus's arrival would slow things up for other drivers or pedestrians wanting to cross.  If JTA is looking to alleviate traffic issues of the future, then adding to road usage at intersections or in mixed traffic with large buses doesn't seem smart.   Especially in a city where 10-15 mph above the speed limit is commonly thought of as the limit, and yellow lights are just the end of green.  Whatever the outcome, I agree that a transportation solution apart from roads is necessary (not this toy hovercraft JTA is rumored to be perusing!)  Personally, I think nothing is more calming at the end of the workday than a quiet, smooth ride home by train.  

M1EK

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Austin's commuter rail is an impending disaster
« Reply #6 on: February 08, 2007, 09:43:49 AM »
Please remove us from your list of 'successes'. The 2000 light rail plan which almost got done would have put us right up there with the Dallases and Portlands and Minneapolises of the world; but the commuter rail plan we're building now is an unmitigated disaster along the lines of Tri-Rail in South Florida. (Depending on shuttle buses for the last leg of a rail trip is a guarantee that no choice commuter will ever touch the thing).

More at my blog: http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/cat_dont_hurt_us_mr_krusee_well_do_whatever_you_want.html

BRT is almost as bad, of course; it's a code-word for "we'll run express buses in lanes that we can convert later for use by cars" at BEST; most of the time it ends up being fancy-looking buses stuck in the same traffic the old buses were stuck in.

thelakelander

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« Reply #7 on: February 10, 2007, 08:25:13 AM »
I can understand your disappointment with not getting that light rail system, especially since the commuter rail line won't directly tie in to UT, but its still head and heels above what we're getting shoved down or throats.  To make matters worst, we're getting ready to spend as much as $1 billion dollars for a network of buses running 20 years from now (this even cost more than light rail, for crying out loud), while Austin's line will only cost $90 million...and it's 3 miles longer than what our BRT system will be.  Talk about getting the shaft!
"A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.” - Muhammad Ali