United States Department of Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx recently delivered some welcome news to proponents of bus rapid transit (BRT) in Indianapolis. "The city is on throes of launching something unique,” Foxx said in April while touring the proposed system's first leg, the 28-mile, $100 million electric bus route known as the Red Line. "Transit can be the difference between someone having a shot and not having one in the 21st-century economy.” Central Indiana has struggled for years to scrape together enough money to expand public transit throughout the metropolitan area under an ambitious $1.2 billion transportation plan, known as IndyConnect. The Red Line is a key component of that plan, eventually connecting Hamilton, Marion, and Johnson Counties with a north-south, electric bus rapid transit route that would stop at local landmarks like the state fairgrounds and the Carmel Arts District. About 100,000 people live within a half mile of the Red Line and 169,000 people work within a half-mile of it, according to the Indianapolis Star. Last year Indianapolis won $2 million from the federal government for an environmental study of the Red Line, adding to a pot of a few million dollars already established by the city and surrounding suburbs. The project is now eligible for a federal construction grant of up to $50 million.
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Michigan's first bus rapid transit line launches this week, whisking passengers from downtown Grand Rapids through the city's “Medical Mile” and south suburbs—a 9.6-mile journey that used to take 45 minutes will now be only a 27-minute commute, reported mlive.com. The Silver Line, as it's called, is offering free rides for one week from its starting date, Monday, August 25. After that a $1.50 rate applies. Supporters of the line say it's an appropriate response to an uptick in ridership, and one that will replicate the success of Cleveland's Health Line. But some say the plan to run express buses—which are equipped with technology that keeps traffic lights green and dedicates bus-only lanes during rush hours—will lose money in the long-term. The Kent County Taxpayers Alliance asserted the service is redundant and expensive. At $40 million, the project is ten percent under budget, but still too pricey for opponents of the public transit investment. Bus rapid transit is also contentious in Chicago, where plans to add two BRT lines along Ashland and Western Avenues are still in planning phases. If the Silver Line is a success, it could boost the chances of realizing a 12-mile “Laker Line” between Grand Rapids and Grand Valley State University. That project is currently the subject of a study.
As part of continuing efforts in the Southwest to develop and improve transit systems, the City of Austin has announced its intention to build an urban rail system known as UltraRail that will run through the city’s eastern downtown. Traffic in east downtown Austin is beastly. It is largely made up of drivers who have short commutes, who together create major congestion during rush hour. For this reason UltraRail is being designed as a light rail/streetcar hybrid. It will be built with sharper control sensibilities, allowing for tighter corner turns, and regularly spaced, relatively close stops along the route that will hopefully make it a viable alternative to driving. But the heavy-duty installation is no light matter. Depending on how plans solidify, UltraRail is estimated to cost $1.6 billion. Half of the money will be paid by federal dollars; the other half will come from obligation bonds. Austin is currently working with stakeholders to determine the exact length and placement of the UltraRail system, and how best to phase the project. In addition to ironing out the technical wrinkles, the usual hurdles remain: nailing down the specifics of budget, design, and pushing through the various planning stages in order to begin building. Completion is presently slated for 2020.
During the discussion that followed the announcement of 2013’s Burnham Prize winners, much was made of the difference between “gold-standard” bus rapid transit and watered-down “express bus” service. The key difference is that the real thing not only runs more smoothly, but that it feels like a special experience. So it was for the honorees of the prize ceremony, which this year included three winners, three honorable mentions, and three citations. Their prompt, “Next Stop,” asked them to design stations for Chicago's burgeoning network of bus rapid transit systems. WINNERS FIRST PRIZE: Project Title: Form vs. Uniform Team: Hesam T. Rostami and Bahareh Atash Winning entry Form vs. Uniform came from a husband-and-wife team who moved to Chicago from Toronto four months ago. They started with a ceiling of concentric wood rings, pulled down at various points to meet the ground. At those points steel supports would bolster the wrap-around glass that enclosed each station. The graceful iterations would “unify and differentiate at the same time” the system’s stops. Its rounded corners and glassy clarity made for a remarkably open feel — a tribute to the city’s modernist mythology, its architects said — but insulated riders from the weather. SECOND PRIZE: Project Title: Enthalpy Team: Aetheric Studio (Goi Artetxe and Elise Renwick) The thin, tubular design of Enthalpy appears ready to vanish in its elegance, with LEDs, heat lamps and glass seemingly draped over a steel frame and guarded by a meadow mesh exterior. “We wanted the architecture to float and be open,” said entrant Elise Renwick. Its “chandelier-like” sleekness was eye-catching, though some jurors worried it would be too fragile. THIRD PRIZE: Project Title: BTA: Bus Transit Authority Team: Aneesha Dharwadker and Conor O’Shea Designed by Chicago natives, bta pays homage to the CTA farecard itself, arching in and out of the pavement in a slender ribbon to shield commuters from the weather, with separate shelters united graphically by the CTA farecard’s off-center black stripe. Jurors cheered its modular design and bright LCD screens, which the architects suggested could be used to display artwork Tweeted by local Chicago Public Schools students, but were skeptical that the relatively small shelters would provide ample protection. HONORABLE MENTION Project title: Torqued Spine Team: HDR Engineering (Janet Gonzalez Jeff Fahs, Lance Thies) Project Title: Halo Team: RTKL Associates Inc., Willoughby Engineering , Halvorson Partners Project Title: Kinesis Team: LC Architects (Ermis Chalvatzis and Natassa Lianou) CITATION Project Title: BuRT Team: Perkins+Will (Branded Environments and Urban Design) Project Title: Plug & Play Team: Francesc Montosa and Marc Torrellas (with Mark Pique and Meritxell Arderiux) Project Title: Hurry Up AND Slow Down Team: Ann Lui and Craig Reschke The 42 entries came from 14 countries. Watch the awards ceremony here:
The Rockefeller Foundation has announced that four cities will receive a combined $1.2 million in grants to foster research, communications, and community outreach efforts in an endeavor to educate local stakeholders about the advantages of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) systems. The Foundation’s solution to “Transform Cities” and promote fiscal growth and quality of life proposes better mass transit investments. Boston, Chicago, Nashville, and Pittsburgh will participate in the project. The high performance mass transit system, referred to as BRT, offers much of the permanence and speed of a rail system in addition to the flexibility of bus systems for a smaller investment in initial infrastructure costs. BRT systems operate high-capacity vehicles that rely on dedicated lanes and elevated platforms to deliver efficient service. For years, the Rockefeller Foundation has supported Chicago’s attempts to build a city-wide BRT. With the grant, the city could potentially assemble and operate the first gold-standard BRT in the country. Currently, Cleveland operates the nation's highest-ranked BRT system at the ITDP's Silver designation. Pittsburgh’s Allegheny County Port Authority’s Transit Development plan recommends a BRT system to link downtown to its Oakland areas. At least forty stakeholder companies are working together to consider BRT system options for Pittsburgh. A projected BRT system in Nashville would run directly through the city’s downtown hub, although the project remains in the planning stage. In Boston, transportation supporters and state officials are currently considering a BRT system amid alternative transit modernization enterprises. The Rockefeller Foundation selected public affairs firm Global Strategy Group to handle the grant by teaming up with local partner organizations in each city. For the past three years, the Foundation has made over $6 million available to encourage the expansion of BRT.
[beforeafter] [/beforeafter] Above: Before & After: Ashland Avenue at Polk. (Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority) Chicago officials released details Friday about a much-anticipated project to roll out bus rapid transit along Ashland Avenue, a major arterial street that runs north-south a bit more than a mile and half west of downtown. Previous plans from the city included a route on Western Avenue as well, but a statement from the Chicago Transit Authority and the Chicago Department of Transportation revealed only plans for Ashland. The $50 million project would reserve one lane in each direction as dedicated bus routes on a 5.3-mile leg between 31st and Cortland streets, leaving cars with just one parking lane and one traffic lane on each side of Ashland. That would eliminate left turns from some points along the avenue, to be revealed at a later date. Future phases would extend the route to 95th Street and Irving Park Road, connecting to seven CTA ‘L’ stops and two Metra stations. Registering 10 million boardings in 2012, Ashland has the highest bus ridership of all CTA routes. The Active Transportation Alliance posted this useful graphic on BRT in the high-demand corridors. Interested citizens are encouraged to stay involved and contact transit officials with comments as additional analyses are performed in 2013. Depending on funding, final designs could be realized next year. [beforeafter] [/beforeafter] Above: Before & After: Ashland Avenue at Chicago. (Courtesy Chicago Transit Authority)
As Chicago rolls out bus rapid transit routes, the benefits of BRT are often presented as a given. But the experiences of bus systems around the world prove design matters. It might bode well for the burgeoning BRT movement in Chicago, then, that the Chicago Architecture Foundation and Chicago Architectural Club have launched a bus rapid transit station design competition. Dubbed “NEXT STOP,” the station design contest will be the subject of the 2013 Burnham Prize Competition. Submit designs for three stations (downtown, near State and Madison; Bucktown-Logan Square at Western Avenue Blue Line ‘L’ Stop; Pilsen near 18th and Ashland) by noon May 13.
Cleveland was the only U.S. city to earn a “Silver Standard” ranking from the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) in its second annual bus rapid transit corridor rankings. Cleveland’s HealthLine, formerly The Euclid Corridor, is a 9.2 mile transit corridor connecting Downtown, University Circle, and East Cleveland with 40 stops along the way. Hybrid articulated buses ferry passengers 24-7, and have brought billions of dollars of investment to the city’s key economic centers. Guangzhou, China topped the “Gold Standard” list, with Latin American cities (Bogotá, Curitiba, Rio de Janeiro, Lima, Guadalajara, and Medellin) monopolizing the rest of those rankings. Some North American cities made the “Bronze Standard” list: Los Angeles; Eugene, OR; Pittsburgh; Las Vegas; and Ottawa.
Bus Rapid Transit: Next Stop, Chicago Chicago Architecture Foundation 224 South Michigan Avenue Chicago, IL Through October 2012 While construction is set to begin on the Jeffrey Boulevard Corridor this summer, the plans for the rest of Chicago’s Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system are far from decided. The Chicago Architecture Foundation hopes to spur public interest and debate with its new exhibition Bus Rapid Transit: Next Stop, Chicago. Bus Rapid Transit emulates the qualities of a rail system while operating on mostly existing infrastructure. The system would bring dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal prioritization, pre-board payment, and arrival information displays to a few select routes connecting to Metra and CTA L stops in addition to other BRT lines. The exhibition outlines the current BRT proposal, including planned routes, street lane configuration plans, and an architect’s rendering of a BRT station on Daley Plaza. Examples of other BRT systems illustrate how the model has been successfully implemented in cities around the world. Visitors can also listen to experts and transit riders alike consider the importance of public transportation to the environmental and social sustainability of Chicago. Lynn Osmond, CAF president and CEO, writes in a statement: “This exhibition offers Chicagoans an opportunity to explore, learn and discuss the aspects of a system that will literally change the way they interact with the city.” A panel discussion will take place tonight at the CAF lecture hall, with transportation leaders from across the country discussing the impact of BRT projects on economic development, urban revitalization, sustainability, and livability. Panelists include Joseph Calabrese, Director of Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority; Michael Schwartz, Transportation Planner, San Francisco County Transportation Authority; Ted Orosz, Director, Long Range Bus Planning MTA New York City Transit; and Gabe Klein, Commissioner, Chicago Department of Transportation. Peter Skosey, Vice President, Metropolitan Planning Council will moderate the conversation and Forrest Claypool, President of Chicago Transit Authority, will offer opening comments.