The second lesson is that such a low-cost strategy can be implemented quickly and with much lower risk. “If it didn’t work we were out very little money, which is why [former L.A.] Mayor Riordan just told me to do it and analyze later,” says Rex Gephart, the system’s project director.
Third, Los Angeles and other arterial-based BRT networks are examples of how BRT systems can be configured to accommodate rapidly changing population shifts. Fixed guideway solutions require years of planning, design, public input and construction, and by then the population and employment centers could have shifted travel patterns. In fact, it happened in Los Angeles in the early 1990s, when the Green Line was opened. The LRT line was designed to serve part of Los Angeles’ then formidable defense industry. Initial ridership was well off original estimates because of the steep recession in that industry following the end of the Cold War.
Fourth, the scaleable and less-risky approach represents real opportunity for attracting more private capital to these projects. Metro financed part of its Orange Line project in the bond market even though it lost some expected state funding. In the United Kingdom, virtually all BRT-type projects, whether arterial or employing fixed guideways, employ substantial amounts of private financing. Houston and Denver are following suit with part of their BRT financing strategies.
Finally, there is another, undoubtedly even more important rationale for such an incremental BRT approach. Despite record levels of federal funding during the past decade and by all indications from Congress for the foreseeable future, competition for federal transit funding in the Major Capital Investment Program has been acute. Moreover, this does not include many of the BRT projects contemplated by the 80 cities cited recently by WestStart-Calstart data in a study for the FTA. Many of them likely will not ask for Major Capital Investment Program money, relying instead on available state and local funds as well as federal formula grants. Little wonder, then, that low-cost and incremental BRT solutions are becoming more attractive. Indeed, of the 13 PDGAs approved by the FTA to date, 10 are for BRT. Of those, seven are mostly arterial-based BRT projects.
Some argue that incremental BRT is less than desirable, “compromise” BRT. On the contrary, whether to offer higher-quality service to choice riders, change the modal split and mitigate congestion or stimulate economic development, the Los Angeles incremental approach and other relevant experiences around the country demonstrate how a mix of the previously mentioned eight elements will achieve these rationales without spending the highest possible sums.
Cliff Henke is a senior analyst and member of PB's Americas Transit Market Leadership team based in Arcadia, Calif.