A New Standard for Transit InvestmentsApr 19th, 2012 | By Marisa O'Donnell
Metropolitan Planning Council
The Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) envisions Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) playing a crucial role in the future of transit policy. The Council outlines its ideas in the recent report “Bus Rapid Transit: Chicago’s New Route to Opportunity.”
The report identifies BRT as the quickest and most cost-effective approach to improving the set of transit options in a city, even compared to rail:
“[BRT] takes the best of rail . . . and puts it on the existing street grid, radically lowering construction cost.”
Further, the cost of implementing BRT is about 13% of that of heavy rail and 38% of that of light rail.
The MPC argues that Chicago should go further than the typical standard of measuring transit success by ridership and travel times. Instead, the Council suggests using the Federal Transit Administration’s Livability Principles. The principles focus on quality-of-life factors as important determinants of where to invest public funds. According to the Council, the benefits of this change in measurement parameters would be twofold. First, using the standards would make Chicago more competitive for federal funding. Second, the principles would internalize investors’ primary interests in economic growth, environmental sustainability, and social prosperity.
The MPC measures livability using a weighted ranking consisting of five parts: connectivity, historic standards of ridership, travel times, population and rail access, and space that can be used for future economic development. The Council also considered the four internationally accepted standards for a true BRT system: dedicated lanes, pay-before-boarding stations, level boarding, and signal-prioritized intersections.
The MPC study occurred in four phases. First, the MPC removed routes in Chicago that would be inherently incompatible with BRT, such as those that do not have an additional lane or are not long and straight. Second, they eliminated street sections too narrow for BRT, those with insufficient ridership, and those scoring poorly in livability. Third, they eliminated routes that do not establish connections to existing rail stations. They also reintroduced two routes that did not fit certain criteria, but that they still felt were important to include. This resulted in the MPC recommending 10 BRT routes in Chicago. Finally, they modeled transportation demand based on travel behavior data collected through surveys.
The model showed that the proposed routes, chosen based on the livability principles and accepted BRT standards, would increase ridership demand and trigger changes in land use, population and employment density, and investment.
The MPC’s study demonstrates how to incorporate livability principles into decisions about whether and where to invest in public transit and shows the superiority of these principles to typical methods of selecting transit investments.