Bus rapid transit, led by Cleveland’s HealthLine, provides a cost-effective catalyst for urban development in North America, according to a new report released by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy (ITDP). The research highlights the role that government investments and policies play in developing the areas served by mass transportation systems, and also demonstrates that true BRT systems can leverage as much, or more development, as light rail.
“In the 21st century, we are seeing that mass transit can revitalize cities if governments act wisely — and the type of mass transit providing the best bang for the buck is bus rapid transit,” said Walter Hook, chief executive officer of ITDP. “This is a transportation option that first emerged in Latin America and is now being adopted in the United States and Canada. It can move an urban economy forward quickly and efficiently.”
BRT, which is fairly new to North America, has finally become established enough in the U.S. to show results. This transportation system is characterized by five basic elements shared by world class surface mass transportation systems:
- Exclusive lanes on the street
- Placement of those lanes away from traffic conflicts
- Priority at intersections, platform-level boarding
- Fare payment in stations (as opposed to paying when entering the bus)
All of these elements speed up the system by reducing the time that buses do not move.
“In our report, Cleveland’s HealthLine is the showcase for how BRT can revitalize urban areas once in decline,” said Annie Weinstock, ITDP’s director of US Programs and co-author of the report. “More and more U.S. municipalities, still strapped by the last recession, are considering the potential of BRT, light rail and other surface mass transit options as a way to anchor new development. The illusion of the car-driven economy has finally reached a dead end.”
Cleveland System Anchors Local Economy
Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, which launched in 2008, connects the two employment hubs of the city: its downtown area and the University Circle neighborhood. The system’s price tag was $50 million, less than one-fifth of what a light rail line would have cost in the same corridor.
Cleveland also spent $150 million on street improvements and other infrastructure in the corridor to attract development around the HealthLine. Those improvements, along with other types of government support, then helped the initial capital investment leverage $5.8 billion in transit-oriented development (TOD) — $114.54 for every dollar spent on building the HealthLine. The environmental impacts of the HealthLine were also profound; between the diesel-electric hybrid buses and the reductions in car traffic, particulate emissions in the corridor plummeted by 95 percent.
ITDP’s report, “More Development for Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” evaluates 21 surface mass transit corridors in 13 cities across the United States and Canada. The corridors were all rated using The BRT Standard, which assesses how closely the systems conform to international ‘best practices,’ and can be used to evaluate light rail transit (LRT) as easily as it can BRT. The report then discusses how each system has served as a catalyst or anchor for urban development.
The findings of the report include: