What is Bus Rapid Transit?
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is a highly efficient, bus-based mass transportation system.
As the name implies, BRT is intended to be a rapid service. There are five basic elements that distinguish BRT from other standard or express bus services:
- Dedicated bus-only lanes
- Minimize opportunities for automobiles to turn/stop in front of buses
- Fare payment occurs before boarding the bus
- Priority for approaching buses at signalized intersections (e.g., extended green light to allow a bus to make it through the intersection), a technique known as transit-signal priority
- Raised platforms at stations to allow for level boarding
Additional BRT features can include things like expanded hours of operation, real-time information at stations, higher-frequency service, precision-docking systems to minimize the gap between buses and the station platform, and low-emission buses. Sometimes called “light rail on wheels” BRT provides many of the same service perks and amenities as light rail but at a fraction of the cost.
How is BRT different from light rail or a streetcar?
BRT, light rail, and streetcar can all provide fast and reliable service in a dedicated right-of-way, increase capacity, and spur economic development. However, because BRT operates rubber-tired vehicles on paved roadways, it is generally more flexible than light rail and streetcar, which run on tracks and typically require an overhead electrical system for power.
The CATA BRT team studied all three options during the initial stages of the project in 2009-2011. BRT was the only service that met the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) standard for cost effectiveness, making it eligible for the federal funding necessary to build the project.
Why do we need BRT?
In the initial stages of this project, CATA was looking for a solution that would increase capacity on Route 1: Downtown Lansing – Meridian Mall. Route 1 serves the Michigan Avenue/Grand River Avenue corridor and provides about 1.7 million passenger trips annually. Buses on this route are frequently at capacity during peak hours, getting so full that they sometimes have to pass by crowded bus stops because there is no room for additional riders to board.
However, as the CATA BRT project has progressed, the project team has learned that increased public transit capacity is only one of many regional needs that this project can help meet. Other benefits include:
- Encourage and support economic growth
- Improve corridor safety by adding controlled intersections, pedestrian crossings, and medians
- Improve traffic flow for automobiles by removing frequently stopping buses from automobile lanes
- Improve non-motorized connections
- Improve pedestrian safety
Why can’t we just add more buses on Route 1?
Route 1 buses are at capacity during peak hours, even with service operating as frequently as every 9 minutes. To meet the demand, CATA would need to increase service to a 6-minute frequency (meaning that a bus would arrive every 6 minutes at a Route 1 stop). While this may provide adequate capacity today, it isn’t a sustainable long-term solution for this corridor, which is projected to see travel demand growth over the next 25 years at almost twice the rate of the region.
Transportation models show that if nothing is done, peak hour traffic along this corridor will be at a virtual standstill at some locations by the year 2035. The models also demonstrate that removing buses from automobile lanes will allow automobile traffic to flow as it does today even as travel demand in the corridor grows. Beyond expanding the corridor’s transportation capacity, the CATA BRT project provides an opportunity to improve multimodal connections, grow economic development, and build unique public spaces that are a reflection of our community.
Do we need dedicated bus lanes?
Dedicated lanes are one of the five basic elements of BRT and a key component to maintaining the “rapid” in Bus Rapid Transit. Without dedicated lanes, automobiles will continue to be hindered by the stop-and-go pattern of buses. Dedicated bus lanes improve traffic flow for both buses and automobiles. As demand for public transit grows in proportion with the millennial generation, CATA can increase frequency on the BRT without having any impact on automobile traffic.
It is also worth noting that CATA is proposing to allow emergency vehicles to travel in the BRT-dedicated lanes.
What about the condition of our roads?
Roadway construction is planned on Michigan Avenue, from Bingham Street to Charles Street, and on Grand River Avenue, from Campus Hill Drive to Dobie Road, regardless of the BRT project. However, CATA has coordinated on these projects with the City of Lansing and the Michigan Department of Transportation to complete the work at the same time as the CATA BRT project. This is cost efficient and reduces the impact of construction on local residents and businesses.
What are the anticipated impacts on automobile traffic?
As with all road construction projects, there may be minor delays during the BRT construction phase. CATA will work with the road owners and the construction management team to design a phased construction that will limit impacts on traffic and local businesses.
After opening day of the BRT, automobile traffic flow is expected to be the same as or better than it is today in the corridor. This is based on traffic model outputs, which used Tri-County Regional Planning Commission travel demand and growth projections, as well as data from traffic counts performed at 55 locations along and near the corridor in 2014.
Conversely, if capacity isn’t added in this corridor, congestion will lead to significant delays for automobiles and buses by 2035, particularly during peak hours.
How much time will the BRT save bus riders compared to the existing Route 1?
During peak hours, riders could expect as much as 10-12 minutes in time savings compared to current Route 1 travel times from end-to-end. BRT run times will also be more reliable and consistent since it will be less impacted by variables such as traffic, passenger fare payment, red lights, etc.
How frequently will buses run?
A preliminary service plan for the BRT increases peak-hour service to every 6 minutes to meet existing demand. Current Route 1 service operates every 9 minutes during peak hours.
Does it cost more to transfer between BRT and other routes?
Riding the BRT will cost the same as any other fixed route. Customers will be able to transfer between BRT buses and regular buses at no additional cost.
Will the bus lanes be center running or side running?
In the westerly direction, the BRT lanes will be center running. Going east, the BRT will be center running from Grand Avenue to Detroit Street and from Brookfield Drive to Okemos Road. Between Detroit Street and Bogue Street, the eastbound BRT lane will transition to operate in the south curb lane. It will then move into mixed traffic from Bogue Street to Brookfield Drive. The south curb lane design was developed during the East Lansing charrette process and through other community involvement opportunities. It is uniquely possible here because the Michigan State University campus, which borders this section, has only a small number of driveways.
How many vehicle lanes will be maintained in each direction?
There will be two automobile lanes in each direction, with turn lanes at signalized intersections throughout Meridian Township, the City of East Lansing, and the eastern portion of the City of Lansing. Traffic demand on the western portion of the BRT route does not sufficiently support two auto lanes in each direction. Beginning near Detroit Street the roadway drops to one automobile through-lane in each direction, with turn lanes at major intersections. For the most part, the Capitol Loop in downtown Lansing will have three lanes operating in a one-way direction.
This configuration has been studied using regional growth projections and recent traffic data to ensure automobile traffic flow is maintained or improved.
What is the Environmental Assessment and why is it needed?
The Environmental Assessment (EA) is a process used to determine whether a project will have significant impacts on the human environment. Elements considered include land use, economic development, environmental justice, noise and vibration, traffic, air quality, water quality, etc.
If no major project impacts are found or if project impacts are mitigatable, a Finding of No Significant Impact (FONSI) will be issued by the federal agency overseeing the project. In this case, the oversight agency is the FTA.
The CATA BRT project will be built entirely within the existing right-of-way. No additional land will be acquired as a part of the project. CATA anticipates receiving a FONSI sometime in 2016.
Why are medians needed?
A median is necessary to prevent left turns across the center-running BRT lanes. Some municipalities, such as East Lansing, place a high value on their median and have worked closely with CATA to ensure that it is maintained, to the greatest extent possible, in the BRT design plans.
Medians are a significant safety improvement, reducing pedestrian accident rates by as much as 46 percent. Additionally, medians in other cities have led to higher foot traffic and increased sales.
Has this been successfully implemented in other cities?
Yes. BRT has been popular internationally for years, but more recently has been recognized as a high-value transportation solution in the United States. Examples of U.S. cities that have benefited from similar BRT systems include Cleveland, Ohio; Eugene, Ore; Kansas City, Mo; and Los Angeles, Calif.
How has the community been involved?
In March 2014, a five-day community design charrette was held to identify design solutions for the downtown East Lansing portion of the proposed BRT corridor. A charrette is a collaborative planning event which, in this case, included a hands-on design studio, community polling, work-in-progress presentation, an open design studio, and a final-outcomes presentation. Subsequent to the charrette, nine community input sessions were held at various times, days, and locations along the corridor. The feedback gathered at these events was summarized in the project’s Public Involvement Executive Summary.
Since this initial design phase, CATA has hosted or presented at more than two dozen public meetings and other events within the community. This includes two recent open houses CATA held to solicit input on bicycles in the corridor. CATA also encourages people to provide comment any time via the online portal on the BRT website.
A public hearing on the full EA will be held towards the end of 2016.
Where will the proposed signals be located compared to existing traffic signals?
Download a map of Existing and proposed traffic signals along proposed CATA BRT route in Meridian Township
How will the spacing of BRT stations differ from the current spacing between bus stops?
Click here to download a map of Existing Route 1 bus stops in Meridian Township compared to proposed CATA BRT stations
What is the cost to build the BRT?
Project costs are developed through an iterative process based on the information available at each stage of the design process. As the plan details are further defined, the cost estimate for the project is also further refined.
Initially, during the Alternatives Analysis phase, the project cost was estimated at $194 million. This estimate was developed during the project’s planning phase when there were no specific construction details available. At this stage, cost estimates tend to be high.
As the project moved forward into the preliminary design phase, the project scope was more specifically defined with fewer design assumptions and the estimated cost came down to $155 million. This is known as the 10% design phase.
Additional work has now been done to further define the project details, including a topographic survey, additional analysis of utilities, a preliminary service plan, and a revised station design. This is known as the 30% design phase. Based on this level of design information, the project cost estimate has been reduced to $133 million.
How will the project construction be funded?
The project is eligible to receive up to 80 percent of its funding through an FTA Small Starts grant. This grant program is reserved for fixed-guideway transit projects such as BRT. The remaining balance will be paid for through other federal and state grants, local investment, public-private partnerships, and state funding specifically reserved to match federal transit dollars.
CATA-BRT Estimated Construction Costs (PDF)
How much will it cost to operate the BRT?
The BRT will replace existing Route 1: Downtown Lansing – Meridian Mall service and the Entertainment Express. The funding for these routes, combined with existing CATA funding sources, will be used to operate the BRT. Maintenance of the medians and other elements introduced by the BRT will be covered with existing resources and/or partnership with local jurisdictions or private companies.
Will my taxes go up?
The current financial plan does not rely on increased taxes.
Will the fare for BRT be higher than the fare for regular bus service?
The BRT fare will be the same as for other fixed-route buses. Transfers from other routes to/from the BRT will be accepted.
How will I turn left to access businesses?
A raised median will be implemented as part of this project. This will prevent direct left turns from being made into driveways or side streets. To access driveways and streets on the left, drivers will make U-turns at signalized intersections.
This design is not only an opportunity for beautification, public art, and storm-water management, but also a significant safety improvement. Studies show that medians reduce accident rates on busy roadways. Pedestrians also benefit from medians, which act as a refuge or mid-crossing resting point when traversing multiple lanes of traffic. Pedestrian accident rates are reduced by as much as 46 percent where medians are present.
Are there economic benefits from building the BRT?
BRT is a proven catalyst for economic development. BRT often increases property values, and BRT corridors were found to bounce back better than other areas after the recession. The BRT in Cleveland, Ohio, produced more than $6 billion in development in that corridor alone. That amounts to roughly $114 in development for every dollar invested in the BRT project.
There is great potential for BRT to have a similar impact on our region. Since the beginning of the EA process, half a billion dollars in economic development along the corridor has been constructed or is being planned. Medians alone have been shown to increase sales and daily customer visits for local businesses.