As transportation planners consider alternatives to moving people around the Wasatch Front in future years, one option continues to present itself as both efficient and inexpensive:
|Deseret Morning News graphicBus rapid transitRequires Adobe Acrobat.|
Wait a minute. Those clunky exhaust-producers that can't seem to meet their scheduled arrival times? That unsexy, tiresome transit mode with a reputation for being society's last choice in transportation options?
No, not that bus. This is bus rapid transit, or BRT. Think light rail on wheels.
Bus rapid transit has become a desirable alternative to light rail, trolleys and the regular bus system in cities across North America, from Vancouver, B.C., to Eugene, Ore.
The design of BRT cars and stations makes the system look and operate like light-rail networks. In some cases it's hard to tell the difference except for the absence of rails or power lines.
BRT also costs less to build than light rail only about $10 million a mile compared to between $25 million and $50 million a mile for light rail, according to Wasatch Front Regional Council planner Greg Scott.
Those are some of the reasons the WFRC is studying the possible use of BRT in Utah's urban areas.
WFRC planners have just completed a South Davis Transit Needs Analysis, which is now undergoing internal review. It should be released within the coming months. The study recommends BRT and trolleys (streetcar) as a possible transit mode between Farmington and Salt Lake City along U.S. 89.
The potential south Davis County BRT line could use a dedicated lane on Beck Street as it meets I-15.
"The thing about BRT, a little less so with streetcar, is it can be done incrementally, and so we'd have the potential for some bus lines if it's a BRT or some right-of-way for the future streetcar in the next year," Scott said. "But before you saw a full-fledged (BRT system), we're talking probably 10 years."
Davis County leaders are pushing to have the system sooner. While commuter rail is on track for completion in 2008, South Davis mayors say BRT will be a better alternative into Salt Lake City.
"Commuter rail is good, but for the people on the south end, it's not good for us," said Bountiful Mayor Joe Johnson. "We're not going to go under the freeway, drive two miles and end up on the west side of (Salt Lake City.) What we need is a different form of trans portation."
Johnson has been organizing South Davis mayors, encouraging them to contribute money to the study. Further donations may be needed to complete environmental studies for BRT potential in South Davis something Johnson says mayors should support, considering the tight race for federal transit dollars.
"If you don't start getting a vision set out there and start talking about it, you know what, you might as well go in the cemetery and die because nothing is going to happen," he said. "I just think it's the thing we need to be looking at. If you don't start fighting for it, you won't get it."
Individual city councils in Davis County soon will be asked if lanes in their cities should be dedicated for a BRT or trolley route and what type of design they want for the system. It is possible a single lane could be dedicated for the BRT route. The lane would reverse directions between the morning and evening rush hours.
"If your traffic is very directional, like it is a lot in South Davis, then the bus runs one direction it runs in the (dedicated) lane when it's in the congested flow, and it runs in the general-purpose lane in the other directions," Scott said. "You would do one in the morning, one in the afternoon. And those are some of the questions that need to be resolved still."
BRT routes are also being considered as possible alternatives along 1300 East and Redwood Road in the Salt Lake Valley. UTA and UDOT are considering it in their 3500 South corridor study and along the Mountain View Corridor.
Michael Packard, a construction safety consultant and Sandy resident who has watched local transit trends with a critical eye, says BRT is a winning proposition but not as it is currently being envisioned in Utah.
Rather than being used along the I-15 corridor and in other routes parallel to light rail and the planned Salt Lake City-Weber County commuter rail line, Packard believes BRT should replace those transit systems.
"This (BRT) is the smarter way to go in the future. . . . It's a much cheaper, much more effective replacement," Packard said. "But if you try to put two (transit modes) in parallel, one is going to be stealing ridership from the other. And we have demonstrated already that light rail has stolen tremendous ridership from the regular buses."
Packard also likes the "flexibility" of BRT over fixed guideway systems such as commuter rail, light rail and trolleys. It would be possible, for example, for drivers to take a BRT into the city during rush hour, then return along a local bus route, thus accomplishing two tasks with one vehicle, he said.Ultimately, however, it will come down to what local officials prefer BRT, trolley or some other mode. And Davis County officials now have that decision before them.