Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

General Motors bus ad from 1968 promotes a type of bus rapid transit

I don't know much about the history of dedicated transitways in the United States.  In the days of streetcars and interurbans, the former were typically constructed within the street right of way while interurbans, at least in the suburban and exurban portions, tended to have dedicated right of way, as did traditional railroads.

It turns out that the 1950 DC Comprehensive Plan recommended the creation of a set of dedicated busways in the city, and in association with the creation of I-395 and HOV lanes, there was a busway network.

 According to a blog entry in the PlanIt Metro blog ("We had bus lanes a half century ago and we can again"), the network included streets in DC as well as Virginia, but starting in the early 1980s, for the most part these lanes were given over to cars.

DC busway map, 1976.

I was doing some image research over the weekend, and I came across this 1968 ad for the GMC Coach division, which manufactured buses until pretty recently.

It discusses their  work on a proposal in Southeast Wisconsin (which is part of Greater Chicago) for dedicated lanes for transit buses within the expressway system.  (GM sold off its bus division in 1987 to MCI/Motor Coach Industries.)

It's an illustration of my point in this blog entry that GM in fact did see itself as a transportation company, even if for the most part it was focused on vehicles that run on roadways rather than rails.

As most people in the field know, until recently, GM was one of the largest producers of locomotives in North America.  But in 2005 they sold off the company to private equity firms.  In 2010, Caterpillar Corporation purchased the company.

General Motors bus ad from 1968 promotes an early form of bus rapid transit

Perhaps if GM had also manufactured streetcars (like GE), GM wouldn't have been so focused on buses as their primary interest when it came to local transit programs, and wouldn't have been so interested in buying streetcar lines and shutting them down in favor of replacement by buses ("General Motors and the Demise of Streetcars," Transportation Quarterly, 1997).

This ad was pretty interesting and it made me realize that while we talk about bus rapid transit as deriving from the first BRT transit network in Curitiba, Brazil, created by Jaime Lerner in 1974 ("How Curitiba's BRT stations sparked a transport revolution," Guardian), the reality is that you can argue that BRT builds on the concept of transitway networks, including express bus service using freeways, and that transit malls are another kind of derivation of transitways.

-- Los Angeles conducted a study of "Express buses on freeways" in 1953.
-- Bus Facilities on Limited Access Highways, Guide for Geometric Design of Transit Facilities on Highways and Streets
-- Transit Mall Case Studies, San Francisco MTA
-- Pedestrian and Transit Malls Study, Center City Commission, Memphis
PORTLAND TRANSIT MALL: Urban Design Analysis & Vision, City of Portland
-- What is BRT?, Institute for Transportation and Development Policy

However, the importance of the innovations that Jaime Lerner introduced to bus transit service can't be understated.

The first was physical, a complete dedicated road network for the bus-based transit system. Relatedly, the system was based on the use of high capacity buses--first a one-section articulated bus, then a two-section bus capable of carrying 300 people

The second was operational, pre-payment, comparable to subway systems, which significantly reduces boarding time, because people don't have to pause to pay as they enter. Because of pre-payment, all doors can be used for entry, further reducing the time to board or exit (dwell time).

Curitiba’s 357 tube-shaped stations serve the city’s bus rapid transit system. Photograph: Rodolfo Buhrer/Fotoarena/Corbis.

The third is equally important, when the BRT station was introduced in 1991 it was of a startling, forward design.

High quality design of the vehicles and stations, and the graphic design surrounding and complementing these elements is another mark of distinction that Jaime Lerner introduced to bus-based transit systems, which traditionally had been pretty dowdy when it came to design.

Image from Transit Toronto.

Interestingly, it turns out that GM created some test versions of articulated bus designs but never put them into production, although 12 buses were tested in Toronto-area transit systems from 1982-1984.

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