The ability to regenerate urban corridors and stimulate economic growth is often a primary reason for proposing investments in rapid transit systems. However, the recent nature of most BRT applications in the United States limits the extent to which their long-term impact on land use can be understood, and BRT is often criticized as being inferior in this respect in comparison to other fixed-guideway modes such as heavy and light rail. Such modes are often perceived as more attractive to land developers due to the sense of permanence conveyed by the major capital investments in rail infrastructure.
Though relatively rare, initial signs of BRT's influence on land use in the United States are beginning to emerge. Boston claims that more than $650 million in development has occurred along the Silver Line corridor, while Pittsburgh has witnessed the addition of 53 new developments between 1983-1996 along the Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway.
While evidence of the impact of BRT on land use is only just beginning to emerge in the United States, more significant impacts have been observed in other North American cities. More than 1 billion Canadian dollars has been spent on new construction around stations along Ottawa's BRT Transitway, including six new office buildings, a cinema and expansions of an adjacent shopping center and hospital. The regional planning department found that between 1998 and 1996, more than $600 million was spent on the construction of 3,211 residential units and 436,858 square meters of institutional and commercial buildings near Transitway stations. While important differences exist between Canada and the United States in terms of planning legislation, the Transitway remains a good example of the potential for transit-oriented development (TOD) in a North American urban context.
NBRTI is currently conducting a research study to obtain a better understanding of the relationship between land use, development and BRT. This research will focus primarily on the impact that fixed-guideway projects have on existing and future land uses and economic development. The research will include an effort to quantify the positive and negative impacts of BRT on surrounding land uses, attribute the measured impact to potential causes and compare the results to findings from other transit modes (particularly rail). Completion of the project is expected in fall 2007.
The Metro Rapid – Los Angeles, CA**
The Metro Rapid is a network of arterial rapid bus routes incorporating a variety of BRT treatments and operating in mixed traffic. The Rapid began operation on the Wilshire-Whittier and Ventura Boulevards in 2000, and now a total of 28 corridors have been identified as part of the Metro Rapid Program, to be completed in 2008. Once complete, Metro Rapid will operate a network of 450 miles throughout Los Angeles County. Delays are minimized on Metro Rapid routes through the use of low-floor buses, headway-based schedules, more widely spaced stops and bus signal priority. The total capital cost of implementing the Rapid Bus on the Wilshire-Whittier and Ventura corridors (42.4 miles of service) was $8.3 million, equating to a capital cost per mile of $195,000 (Transportation Management and Design Inc. 2002). Other elements that the Metro Rapid provides include stations with real-time information, lighting and canopies. The Metro Rapid bus is painted red, and Metro Rapid stops are easily identifiable. High-capacity 60-foot articulated buses have recently been introduced on six lines.
Metro Rapid implementation has reduced passenger travel times by as much as 29 percent and ridership has increased by 40 percent in the initial two corridors (Metropolitan Transportation Authority, 2007). In addition, nearly one-third of the ridership increase is patrons that previously did not ride transit. The Metro Rapid provides evidence of what can be achieved using low-cost BRT treatments on urban arterials that are typical across the United States. Its success has led to the Metro Rapid "model" being applied in other cities, such as the San Pablo Rapid in Oakland, Calif.