The study for Indianapolis’ coming bus rapid transit (BRT) lines will commence early in 2013. These will be the first rapid transit lines designed from the Indy Connect regional transit plan. Urban Indy has reported on this previously and details can be obtained here and here and here.
Moving forward, the project teams will conduct an alternative analysis for 2 lines, one east/west along the Washington Street Corridor from the far east side to the airport and one north/south roughly along the Meridian Street Corridor and stretching as far east as College Ave from Carmel to Greenwood. The study being conducted is loosely referred to as the “Central Corridors”.
A lengthy workshop document was released from the Indianapolis MPO laying out possible design scenarios and the important criteria that must be satisfied in order for the design to be considered successful. In engineering terms, we would define a “problem statement” that sounds something like this,
“Provide rapid transit in the corridor that is of fixed route type, provides all day service, focuses on high demand, substantially improves travel time vs current service and may operate on a “fixed guideway”
As you can see, that is a lengthy statement. However, it defines what the design teams will keep in front of them when it comes to laying out the options and deciding what trade-0ffs best satisfy the problem. Lets explore each of those a little more in detail.
What is rapid transit? According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),
“In the U.S., in order to qualify as a Small Start under FTA guidelines, a corridor-based bus project is required to offer as a minimum 10-minute service during peak periods and 15-minute service during off peak times, for at least 14 hours per day in total.”
The MPO’s BRT workshop presentation states the same thing. Although there will be some negotiating of this to include perhaps 7.5 minute headways during peak commute hours, it is safe to say that at least 10 minute headways are a reasonable expectation and thus, “rapid”. All Day service could also be included under this heading as defined in the APTA definition of 14 hours a day.
Fixed route simply means that there is a known and unchanging route that the bus line will follow. The foundation of any transit system is the fixed route. Not to confuse any further, but fixed routes in Indy are all the numbered routes, ie: 8, 10, 39, 17, 19, etc… simply put, people need to know where the bus runs and that it will never change.
High Demand Corridors
Defining high demand corridors may also be a gray era. What is “high demand”? If we simply look at the existing “high demand” IndyGo lines, the 8, 10 & 39 and to a lesser extent the 19 & 17, it begins to paint a picture of the current high demand routes. Indeed, the 2013 service improvements center on the 8, 10 & 39 for increased frequency to meet the demand currently existing for transit service in those corridors. Thus, the Washington Street (east/west) and Meridian (north/south) corridors make logical sense.
The streets that the new bus lines are selected to run upon, will likely become a hotly contested debate. Nearly as hot, will be how the service will physically “look” on said streets. The design will also be key in determining how succesful the new lines will be. Will the buses have their own lanes? Will there be paint stripes separating them from autos or will there be a curb? How many automobile lanes will need to be displaced to do this? To be sure, there will be a lot of opportunities to excel along any BRT line in Indianapolis. A large portion of potential streets that are being considered for BRT already have 4 or 5 lanes in the cross section currently dedicated to serving automobiles and existing IndyGo fixed route service. If we look across the world at successful “fixed guideway” BRT, Central America takes the award for arguably most successful. Bogota’s Transmilenio is world renowned for it’s success in delivering a large amount of rides. Pictured below, you can see it has a generous amount of the roadway allowing buses to run unimpeded between stations while private use automobiles sit in traffic relegated to watching. Other’s may describe this as a “1st Class ” running way which is to say, it does not share usage with other modes or vehicles.
It is probably a long stretch to expect anything of this nature along either the N/S or E/W corridors. While they are currently high demand transit corridors, they are also high demand automobile corridors. Displacing the amount of cars needed to create a 1st class guideway would likely create way too much political static for any politician to handle; especially in conservative Indianapolis.
What sort of compromises can be made then? For this, there are 2nd class or 3rd class guideways. 2nd class guideways are defined as those in which dedicated lanes may be given to the transit mode, yet it still interacts with automobiles, freight trains, etc along it’s running way. Pictured above, is Nantes France where a 6km busway exists and provides rapid service to its citizens. Cleveland’s Healthline, which we have also written about, could be considered a 2nd class guideway. 3rd class is lesser still in that it may only have dedicated lanes near station areas or have dedicated lanes at only certain times of the day. Kansas City’s MAX is a good example of a 3rd class BRT.
If you were to ask me what I think, what we will likely end up with in Indy is a mix of a 2nd & 3rd class system. Some portions will likely have their own dedicated way, while other portions of the line will be designed to run mixed with traffic. To qualify for Small Starts Federal Funding, 50% of the line must be fixed guideway in the peak operating period. So if there is hope to gain federal funds for these projects, the design must include portions of fixed service.
Along these fixed guideways, buses will run. What will they look like? How fast will they go? As with the federal rules for fixed guideway design, they also specify that the service must be specially branded. The buses will look different than the current 40′ long buses running the streets of Indy. In most cases, BRT lines employ longer, 60′ long articulated buses. This serves a dual function of not only appearing different, but also accommodating the higher number of expected riders of the frequent service. As you can see above, Cleveland’s service has been branded the Healthline, which is sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital.
Stations & Ticketing
Included in the fixed guideway portion should be something about station design and ticketing. Indeed, the hallmark of a successful transit line is how many people use it. Providing incentives that make the service attractive and easy to use will be key in drawing people out of their cars and to the service. Thus, providing respectable, attractive and easy to use means of waiting on and boarding the vehicle need to be designed. Shelter spacing, and the only place riders will be allowed to board, will likely be placed in roughly 1/2 mile increments. These distances have shown to be the maximum in which someone would walk to a successful rapid transit station. A successful shelter will provide respite from the weather, provide information on when the next bus will arrive and also provide a means of purchasing tickets ahead of time, kind of like a rail service would. It will also allow easy arrival and departure for the bus. Median placed lanes (and thus station location) have shown to be more successful in reducing the amount of time buses wait at the station (which all bus riders will tell you, tremendously slows the trip). Sidewalk boarding platforms have shown to be susceptible to delay due to parked or turning vehicles (also called friction) as well as providing more space for cars in the middle of the ROW to flow unimpeded resulting in higher traffic speeds and a measure of un-desirable pedestrian environments. In contrast, median bus lanes have been witness to providing a break between speeding automobiles, pushing both travel directions farther away from each other, providing visible infrastructure in the middle of the right of way thus subconsciously causing drivers to slow. Indeed, this last point is debatable but consider the last time you saw an obstruction in the road while you were driving. Did you slow down?
How do we define success? In engineering/planning terms, the above criteria lay out the design hurdles that must be cleared to provide a transit line that “should” offer a service that is 1st class, attractive and looked upon as generally worthy of investment. The design process will be fraught with many hurdles that will involve citizens, politicians, planners and engineers in determining how this will be accomplished. How many automobile lanes are we willing to dedicate to buses? Will stations be located on the sidewalk or in the median? How frequent will the bus be? Will it be quicker to ride the bus downtown versus getting in the car and finding cheap parking? Will a new bus line be quicker than the existing services offered in the same corridor? Stay tuned, the Central Corridors BRT study is about to begin and these are likely to become key talking points.