Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Mobilien in Paris

with 3 comments

My battle with WordPress and video continues. I found a really nice flash video I wanted to embed into a post here. But it won’t. So please click on this link to visit my other blog (which uses Google’s blogger) that likes embedded videos better than WP

Bus Rapid Transit, so called, is cheap. Very cheap indeed by SkyTrain standards. And yes, Malcolm, we know you don’t like it. But I think that one of the best features of the Parisian implementation is that it shows what can be done with existing streets. A bus lane is a much better user of space than a general purpose lane in terms of people moving capacity.

A gp lane can move around 1,000 vehicles per hour which at our average vehicle occupancy is around 1300 people. A bus lane can move  well over 10,000 people per hour – it is simply a matter of bus frequency. The ideal implementation is to use a section of road which has several bus routes so that the combined headways produce a very high frequency service along the exclusive part.

So taking a lane away from cars and dedicating it to the exclusive use of buses, bikes and taxis makes a very powerful statement. This street is a public space. It is not solely for the exclusive enjoyment of those who insist on driving themselves. Far too many transportation decisions in this region are based on not upsetting drivers – for example the Burrard Bridge bike lane proposal, or the long rancorous debate over a short length of Granville Street which is closed to cars. But if we are going to make this region more sustainable, reducing car use has to be high on the agenda. Since traffic expands to fill the space available we must reduce the amount of space that cars are allowed to use – both moving and parked. A steady war of attrition with a target annual reduction (like they did in Copenhagen) is essential. And once that lane is freed up the easiest thing to do is use it for this type of combined service. Note that the lane width is greater than the average traffic lane – which allows bikes and buses to coexist peacefully.

Not getting caught up in traffic is what makes bus service reliable. This allows for better use of the resources to maintain headways and thus make bus journeys much more predictable for users. It also means there is less need to wait at bus stops – an important gain as time waiting is valued much more highly by users than in vehicle time. Would a tram be better? Probably, but it would cost more and take longer to implement. Is this a good first step to take to get more people onto transit? Of course! Is it going to require an act of political courage – yes, unfortunately. But maybe in this region we can start showing the rest of BC what progressive, sustainable policies look like if we elect someone other than the usual small c conservatives who tend to dominate municipal politics. Of course we are still stuck with a provincially stifled regional transportation authority but that could be changed next year.

Or we could just go on voting for more of the same, just as we did nationally.

To be absolutely clear – I do not think BRT is the sole solution to every transit problem. There is no single, one size fits all solution for every problem. BUT solutions that are on the surface – not under or over it – should be looked at first. Solutions which have been shown to work elsehwere should be adopted before any new innovations are considered. (Let others pay for R&D) And solutions which are cheap and adaptable are much better than those which are expensive and very difficult to adapt once adopted. BRT has to be one of a  range of tools, and there are plenty of guides around to show how to determine which tool is appropriate for each set of circumstances. Ideally we should plan ahead and adopt technologies than have the capacity for “scaling”. Rebuilding the Expo line shows the weakness of the current system. It is going to cost a fortune and will get only a small step forward in capacity. Trying to do that on the yet unfinished Canada Line will be even more costly – because it is in tunnel.   But turning the bus lanes on No 3 Road into tram tracks would have been cheap, easy and effective. Just as utilising the Arbutus line – or the old BCER Interurban – would have been a very much lower cost proposition than what we are about to do now. But even if neither was ideal from some perspectives – and almost any project has to make compromises – the Cost Benefit Ratio nearly always works better for low cost projects.

Dead B Line shelter No 3 at Lansdowne

Dead B Line shelter No 3 at Lansdowne

Written by Stephen Rees

October 18, 2008 at 8:58 pm

Posted in transit

Tagged with ,

3 Responses

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  1. The problem with BRT, is that it becomes more expensive to operate when ridership increases. The savings in operating costs is one of rhe major reasons LRT is built. The O-bahn, in use since the late 1970’s, has been spectacularly unsuccessful in attracting new ridership, with Adelaide being a good example.

    To compete against LRT, there was much investment in guided-bus, but with construction costs approaching LRT and none of the benefits of LRT, guided-bus has reached a dead end – for now.

    The 10,000 pphpd, is the maximum that buses can carry, but operating costs at this number are much higher than light rail. The practical threshold for buses is about 5,000 pphpd, after that light rail definately becomes the cheaper option. One has just look to France, where much study has been done on bus versus LRT and the explosion of new LRT construction.

    I’m not anti bus and in the late 80’s proposed up-grading the Oak St. trolleys to stops every 400 to 500 metres (European practise) and extending trolley service across the Oak. St. Bridge, down #3 Road and ‘T’ing to Steveston and the tunnel at Steveston Hwy. I was laughed out of the meeting. A decade later a B-Line bus appeared, only to be dismantled for a politically driven and politically prestigious metro that defies modern public transport philosophy.

    Malcolm J.

    October 19, 2008 at 7:55 am

  2. I think there needs to be a new definition of BRT. Any sort of bus service that involves a different type of bus, and fewer stops is considered BRT. This needs to change. Agencies need to recognize that a BRT system MUST have it’s own bus lanes from the start. Buying a unique model bus, giving it a fancy name, and build fancy shelters is NOT BRT, and shouldn’t be marketed as such.

    Justin Bernard

    October 21, 2008 at 5:45 am

  3. Quickway and light rail lite have been coined to clear some of this confusion. See:


    October 21, 2008 at 12:02 pm

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