A series of analytical tools and steps to screen and prioritize BRT corridors can also be used to evaluate urban rail projects or projects involving a combination of modes.
A growing number of stakeholders interested in advancing public transport investments, including city governments, private developers, and higher education campuses, have prompted a need for nontraditional measures of evaluating competing priorities regarding investments in higher quality public transport service. For example, city governments and private developers would like to see greater emphasis placed on economic returns on the capital invested, or on how such investments might shape more sustainable urban growth. Colleges and universities, in addition to wanting public transport to help improve mobility for their students, faculties, and staff, might also want to create a laboratory of advanced technology deployment for a public transport project they are helping to sponsor and fund.
Moreover, multiple entities with interests regarding several candidate projects in a region need tools that can help prioritize such candidates. Complicating the matter further is that such candidate projects might lack even basic bus service in a corridor but might be supported for the previously mentioned reasons or have stronger political or financial support than the other project candidates.
Such situations have arisen multiple times on bus rapid transit (BRT) projects. To address these challenges, WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff staff developed several new screening tools to help prioritize candidate investments competing for limited funds.
Los Angeles’ Screening Process and Techniques
Because of the issues and complexity of the changes being faced, Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (hereafter referred to as Metro) developed a novel, multi-step process to select priorities for future BRT investments. The county already has the largest bus rapid transit (BRT) network in the world, comprising a 400-mile mix of arterial, fixed-guideway, and freeway-based BRT lines. And although Metro is both the largest public transportation agency in Los Angeles County as well as manager of county revenues dedicated to public transportation, it is only one of four operators of BRT service in the county, albeit the largest as operator of 24 BRT lines.
Metro conducted the Los Angeles County Bus Rapid Transit and Street Design Improvement Study to examine the potential for a countywide BRT system that includes dedicated peak period bus lanes. Led by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff, the study was conducted in collaboration with a special project advisory committee consisting of the city of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT), the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works (LACDPW), the Bus Riders Union, Metro Operations, select other transit agencies operating in the county—including the three other BRT operators—and a number of other key stakeholders. Its purpose was to identify, analyze, and develop recommendations for an effective countywide BRT system that includes dedicated peak hour bus lanes along with a number of other general bus speed improvements. The study was also to identify and recommend feasible and cost-effective techniques to improve the quality of streetscape at or near the bus stops along the recommended BRT corridors. It also looked at prospects for catalyzing economic development and potential funding options for the study’s recommended corridors.
Using evaluation and implementation criteria established as part of the study, a four-step approach was taken in evaluating and identifying promising BRT corridors. Figure 1 illustrates the various screening stages of the study along with the defined criteria developed for each.
First, an initial 108 corridors were identified as potentially promising candidates to be included in the BRT network. These corridors included lines operated by Metro and some of the larger municipal transit operators in Los Angeles County. Factors guiding the identification of the initial candidates included recent reports and studies, corridors with headways of 15 minutes or better, recommendations from the project’s technical advisory committee, new corridors that could improve connections to the existing transportation system, or those with the potential to improve regional connectivity and generate political support for new BRT improvements.
Evaluation Techniques Developed
The second screening step involved analysis of the initial 108 corridors using several factors, including existing bus ridership, the strength of possible connections to other high-capacity public transport services, and political support as mentioned earlier. A regional balance of candidate corridors throughout all four stages of screening was maintained by ensuring that a minimum number of corridors were advanced from each sub-region of the county. Several corridors were immediately eliminated at this stage in order to avoid redundancies with other studies or development projects already underway. As a result of this stage, 43 corridors were selected for the next level of evaluation.
At the third stage of screening, additional criteria were used to analyze these 43 transit corridors. These criteria included:
- Ridership potential via a “transit suitability index,” which was a combination of population and employment densities and auto dependence among residents, in order to help evaluate corridors with strong patronage potential but with little existing service;
- The total number of regional connectivity points to major transport facilities (e.g., rail, BRT, airports); and
- Adjacent corridor planning considerations, which could make the corridors under consideration redundant with plans already underway.
The 43 corridors were then ranked based on a combined score in each of the above areas. The results for the 43 corridors were presented to the project’s technical advisory committee (TAC) and other stakeholders for review. Based on their input, 14 corridors were selected to be advanced to the next level of detailed analysis and field reviews. In order to ensure that the potential candidate corridors and recommendations represented a balanced, countywide BRT system that was not confined to a few communities, the TAC members were asked to select two to three corridors from each sub-region of the county among the 14 candidates at this stage.
To begin the final phase of analysis, corridor field reviews were conducted in order to evaluate the most effective ways to implement peak period bus lanes and/or other bus speed improvements where buses experience delay. As a result of the field reviews, a set of recommendations was developed for each of the 14 corridors that included a variety of proposals designed to improve service to BRT standards, as well as recommendations for bus lanes, queue jumps, repaving where needed, implementation of other key BRT attributes such as limited stops, parking restructuring, and installation of transit signal priority (TSP) or optimization of the TSP system where it already exists. Enhancements to the streetscape, as well as each corridor’s economic development potential, were also evaluated during the field reviews stage.
Cost and Benefit Analyses
In order to prioritize and rank the remaining 14 corridors for final recommendations, a cost and benefit analysis was conducted. The cost and benefit analysis compared the capital costs, operating costs, travel time savings, and projected increase in ridership and revenue for each of the 14 corridors. Economic development potential was not measured any further in this study.
The final list of nine regional BRT candidate corridors were identified and recommended for a more detailed corridor level analysis and environmental review. The map in Figure 2 illustrates the final nine corridors recommended for additional study and potential development.
Further steps undertaken for any of the recommended corridors will include a more detailed corridor level analysis and/or environmental review, detailed planning and conceptual design work, public outreach, and further work with the affected jurisdictions along the individual corridors. Two of these studies are currently underway.
With increasing interest in BRT, more and more regions will find a need to efficiently evaluate multiple corridors in order to decide which ones to carry forward. A combination of factors can be used, but the Los Angeles multi-step process was successful only because the stakeholders agreed to support the methodology; assurances that each geographic part of the region would be represented in the final recommendations also ensured support for the study’s outcomes, and also avoided the time and cost that would have resulted from delays needed to build consensus. Finally, while the examples cited herein were employed on BRT projects, they certainly could be used to evaluate urban rail projects, or projects involving a combination of modes, as well.
CASE STUDYPhoenix BRT Implementation Analysis
In November 2004, the voters of Maricopa County, Arizona approved Proposition 400, a $14.3 billion, 20-year half-cent sales tax increase to be spent on surface transportation projects. It built on the original 1985 sales tax. However, while the 1985 tax increment was almost entirely devoted to the construction of new freeways listed in the Maricopa County Association of Governments (MAG) Regional Transportation Plan (RTP), the 2004 Proposition 400 extension allocated a third of the revenue to public transportation investments.
The RTP included 14 proposed new BRT corridors. Soon after the RTP was issued, however, criticism showed deep divisions regarding the priorities in the program. Some argued that too much money was allocated to extending light rail beyond the downtown region into the suburbs, preferring highway and bus service expansion. Others wanted additional investments devoted to their part of the region. Still others, particularly in the city of Phoenix, advocated for more funding for public transport. BRT investment was seen as part of the means to address many of these issues.
However, the Great Recession reduced actual revenue collections to levels that were well below projections in the RTP and subsequent referendum, which necessitated a re-scaling of the Proposition 400 program. Five corridors were selected for a comprehensive implementation study, which was led by WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff. The study also analyzed the prospects for qualifying for federal funds in the Small Starts program for major capital investment projects. However, the study did not compare or prioritize these corridors and thus did not develop a screening process for such prioritization.