Route 7 BRT proposal communicates the reality that the DC area doesn't adequately conduct transportation planning at the metropolitan-scale
GGW has a piece on the proposal for a Route 7 Bus Rapid Transit service in Northern Virginia ("BRT on Route 7 is getting closer to actually happening"). I've been meaning to write about that service in a different context and will get to it.
But the comment thread reminded me of and reiterated a point I've made for many years, that the DC area doesn't do metropolitan-scaled transit planning.
The various proposed and extant bus rapid transit services in the area illustrate the point.
WMATA runs a service in Alexandria and Arlington called Metroway, as well as separately branded bus services called Rex on Richmond Highway/Route 1 and PikeRide on Columbia Pike, Montgomery County is planning its own BRT program. There is a kind of BRT special Route 1 bus service in Prince George's County. Now there this proposal for Route 7.
(Some people will argue that these other services I mention aren't BRT. They're right. But they are limited stop services--"rapider bus"--that could be converted to BRT and are the foundation of an arterial corridors focused BRT system.)
That's potentially six different BRT services, with no coordination or integration between them. Plus it costs more to design different branding, shelter, and design services for each separate service.
A framework for transit planning at the metropolitan scale. I did a presentation about my idealized framework for doing transit planning at the metropolitan and regional scales at the Institute for Public Administration at the University of Delaware six years ago:
-- "Metropolitan Mass Transit Planning presentation"
I argue that the MPO should be the transportation at the metropolitan and regional scales, defining the preferred breadth and depth of the network, and expectations for level of service and level of quality, and contract with operators to provide that service, separating the planning and operating functions.
The basic points hold although it needs some tweaks in terms of recommending a system of dedicated transitways for surface service (buses), and more about branding, and later points about transit infrastructure as an element of civic architecture. These entries cover those points:
-- "Making the case for intra-city (vs. inter-city) transit planning" (2011)
-- "Making bus service sexy and more equitable" (2012)
-- "Design as a city branding strategy: transit edition" (2012)
-- "Transit, stations, and placemaking: stations as entrypoints into neighborhoods" (2013)
While "metropolitan planning organizations" are tasked by the federal government to do this, the DC area's MPO doesn't really do so.
In the DC area, the closest to a metropolitan transit planner is WMATA, the operator of Metrorail and Metrobus, but their agenda is very much shaped by their two primary services, and don't seem to be too amenable to other modes and types of transit, and definitely aren't focused on creating an integrated transit system that is transparent to the user. Not to mention that budgetary considerations shape their service in ways that can be counter to maximal access.
While I tout European examples of integrated transit systems in cities like Hamburg, London, or Paris (there is a recent paper on this topic, Regional Coordination in Public Transportation, [Mid-Atlantic University Transportation Center], although I find it somewhat wanting), the reality is that there are other MPOs in the US that do comparable work, although no US transit system operates at the metropolitan scale in the US in the way that the best practice European systems do. In Minneapolis the MPO also runs the transit service.
BRT services elsewhere are a mode within an integrated transit service system. By contrast, King County, Washington; Minneapolis; proposals for Detroit, the system in Los Angeles County, the Viva service in York Region, Ontario, the new Mi-Way service in Mississauga, etc., are developing and implementing unified and singularly branded bus rapid transit systems.
For example, all the BRT services in King County are branded as RapidRide. In York Region they are Viva, etc.
Wouldn't it make sense for the DC area to have an integrated BRT system as an element of the transit network at the scale of the metropolitan, suburban, and center city transit subnetworks?
But that's not what's happening.
Planning that way, bus rapid transit would function as a network at multiple scales.
For example the proposed Montgomery County network becomes the foundational component of that county's bus transit network (at the scale of what I call the suburban transit sub-network), complementing Metrorail and MARC train service in the county, while simultaneously serving as a component of cross-suburban services and an element of the transit network at the metropolitan scale.
Brochure by Seattle DOT on bus rapid transit.
Promotional flyer for the creation of a bus rapid transit system in Montgomery County, 2014.
BRT as an element of a complete transit system. I have written a bunch about BRT over the years too. at first I was overfocused on how typically BRT as a mode is over touted and misrepresented ("BRT: an interesting contradiction").
But now I recognize that BRT has a role to play, as a key element within an integrated transit system.
-- "More (reconsideration by me") on Bus Rapid Transit as a legitimate transit mode" (2012)
-- "Better bus (rapid transit) service revisited" (2012)
-- "Transit stuff #3: bus rapid transit vs. the creation of foundational suburban mass transit systems" (2014)
-- Advanced Network Planning for Bus Rapid Transit: The “Quickway” Model as a Modal Alternative to “Light Rail Lite”, National Bus Rapid Transit Institute
-- Developing the Next Frontier: Capitalizing on Bus Rapid Transit to Build Community, ULI Seattle
Note that in North America, probably the best example of BRT is in Ottawa, the capital city of Canada, where 200,000 people ride the BRT system.
However, it is the exception that proves the rule, that without a number of other complementary policy changes which were put into effect along with the bus service, likely the ridership would have been minimal. Plus, unlike the services proposed for DC's suburbs, it is a service focused on serving the central business district, which because it is the national capital, is the primary destination in the metropolitan area. Detractors point out that Ottawa already had high bus ridership--which has dropped since the introduction of BRT--and hasn't found a significant amount of new development being spurred by proximity to the BRT system
Key policies in Ottawa that support transit use include:
-- land use planning requirements that 40% of new jobs (office construction) must be located at BRT stops, along with retail and denser residential development;
-- limited provision of parking in Downtown Ottawa -- they have 300 spaces/1,000 workers where most North American downtowns have 600 parking spaces/1,000 workers
-- eliminating to the extent possible, the provision of free parking for employees downtown, especially for federal workers
-- encouraging flextime and other practices that time shift and extend the workday so that bus utilization can be maximized.