The Bay Area faces a growing transportation crisis, including intense traffic congestion and a declining share of trips taken by public transit, bicycle and on foot. In response to this crisis, Bay Area politicians are proposing an estimated $12 billion in new transportation funding sources in the form of sales taxes and bridge toll increases. This massive transportation funding spree will largely lock in the region's investments for the next twenty years or more and determine the mobility and, in part, the growth patterns of the region for the next generation.
Too often, high-profile but exorbitantly expensive projects are treated as the magic bullet in overcoming our transportation woes. Instead, the real solutions to the crisis require making intelligent, effective use of limited transportation funding. What we need is a revolutionary approach to public transit at a price that the region can afford. Fortunately, there is hope.
In the last few years a quiet revolution has begun sweeping through the public transit world. It is driven by new technologies and innovative new practices that allow "rubber-tire" transit to very closely emulate what we love about rail, but at a much lower cost and with significantly greater flexibility.
This public transit revolution falls under the umbrella term of "Bus Rapid Transit" (BRT). BRT offers the speed, style and dignity that it will take to attract a tremendous number of new transit riders, while dramatically improving service for existing passengers.
With BRT, passengers are whisked to their destinations through the use of dedicated lanes and "smart" traffic lights. New transit stations, boarding platforms, and electronic ticketing make boarding quick and easy. And satellite-tracking systems allow transit agencies to efficiently deploy vehicles and provide real-time bus arrival and departure information with digital message boards at bus stops, online, and by phone.
State-of-the-art, low- and zero-emission buses offer smoother, more comfortable travel. One such vehicle, the Civis, uses a computerized optical guidance system for smoother steering, enabling it to align within centimeters of a boarding platform, and allowing for ultra-fast boarding through four sets of doors.
TALC's proposal, entitled Revolutionizing Bay Area Transit...on a Budget, outlines a BRT network that will provide the fastest, lowest-cost way to dramatically improve the speed and quality of public transit in our region. Our vision segments BRT into three categories:
"Full-Scale" BRT on 81 miles of the region's most heavily-traveled and congested urban corridors. Full-Scale BRT utilizes dedicated bus lanes as well as a broad range of improvements and innovations in the BRT toolkit, including state-of-the-art buses and high-quality stations with boarding platforms. Top priorities for full-scale BRT include the Geary and Van Ness corridors in San Francisco and the International/Telegraph Corridor in the East Bay.
"Enhanced Bus" along 129 miles of urban and suburban corridors. Enhanced Bus applies targeted, cost-effective improvements along corridors where current ridership levels and traffic congestion do not warrant the dedicated lanes of Full-Scale BRT. While not as high-tech, these upgrades - including signal priority, low-floor vehicles, and improved bus stops - would still offer significant time savings in order to attract large numbers of new riders.
An expanded express bus network. Euro-style coaches would utilize the existing 275-mile HOV lane network. This existing infrastructure would be expanded by "optimizing" appropriate existing mixed-flow lanes on key freeways that lack HOV lanes, allowing buses to use shoulders to bypass congestion, and developing strategically located transfer hubs.
The full package of improvements in this proposal would attract a tremendous number of new riders. The authors estimate that the plan would generate at least 60,000,000 new transit trips annually. The benefits would go beyond increased transit ridership, as the proposal would offer great new transit options and opportunities for transit-oriented development, while helping to clean the air we all breathe.