July 15--As San Francisco's first bus rapid transit project continues its slow lurch toward construction, it's running into an obstacle that could reduce its effectiveness.
Bus rapid transit, also called BRT, seeks to run buses like subways, with few stops, dedicated lanes and stations with level boarding. But the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency is recommending the Van Ness Avenue BRT line -- due to begin service in 2018 -- skip the level boarding, considered one of the five basic features of bus rapid transit.
In a report to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, which handled early planning of the line, the MTA is recommending a 6-inch-tall, standard curb-height platform for the city's first BRT line. The most desirable platform for BRT service is 14 inches high.
According to the report, the Americans with Disabilities Act requires bridge plates -- devices that deploy and cover the gap between the bus and platform -- if that gap is more than 3 inches wide. BRT systems in Cleveland and Eugene, Ore., have average gaps ranging from 4 inches to more than 9 inches.
The MTA says the bridge plates would be costly to install and maintain.
The Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, a think tank that promotes bus rapid transit and sets standards, considers level boarding critical.
"Having the bus-station platform level with the bus floor is one of the most important ways of reducing boarding and alighting times per passenger," the institute says in a document outlining its standards. "Passengers climbing even relatively minor steps can mean significant delay, particularly for the elderly, disabled, or people with suitcases or strollers."
The project is in the final design stages.
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