Bus rapid transit – led by Cleveland’s HealthLine – is proving to be a form of mass transit that efficiently sparks urban development, according to a study of 21 North American transit corridors released this morning.
“It can move an urban economy forward quickly and efficiently,” said Walter Hook, head of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy. Hook said bus rapid transit first emerged as a mode of city transportation in Latin America and is now being adopted in the United States and Canada. After about a decade of use in the U.S., it has become established enough to track results, he said.
What those results show (see study in document viewer below) is Cleveland ranks at the very top when it comes to bang for the buck.
The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority's Euclid Avenue HealthLinegenerated $114.54 in economic development for every dollar spent on the bus corridor, the researchers concluded.
That’s based on a $50 million price tag for the HealthLine, or strictly the costs of the transit components -- its customized articulated buses, stations and signage – and a calculation that the project leveraged $5.8 billion in transit-oriented development.
Local planners say the Euclid Avenue bus system, which takes passengers from Public Square through University Circle to East Cleveland, had another $150 million in curb and sidewalk work, sewer and water line replacements, and landscaping that involved planting 1,500 trees, among other features. It opened in October 2008.
Annie Weinstock, one of the report's authors, said all of the bus rapid transit and light rail systems in the study were analyzed according to their core transportation costs.
Other cities have had returns ranging from a $101.96 for every dollar spent on a bus system in Kansas City to 71 cents for every dollar for a light rail system in Denver. Another five cities had “nominal” impacts too weak to quantify.
Portland’s MAX Blue Line light rail generated more investment than Cleveland’s HealthLine – some $6.6 billion. But the steep cost of building light rail resulted in a return of only $3.74 on every transit dollar spent.
Therein was a key rationale for the research – dispelling the notion that light rail is necessarily the premier choice for urban transportation.
“We did the report because we had found a lot of understanding that light rail had the ability to stimulate development," Weinstock said. "But there was little knowledge or belief that bus rapid transit could do the same."
The study described “true” bus rapid transit as having five features: Dedicated street lanes, placement of those lanes away from general traffic, priority at intersections, platform-level boarding and fare payment before entering the bus.
The researchers found only seven U.S. corridors that fit those criteria. Of those, only Cleveland’s HealthLine received a “silver” designation, according to a rating system designed to methodically score existing and planned systems.
Cleveland is the showcase for how bus rapid transit can revitalize urban areas once in decline, Weinstock said.
The report found that government support is the best predictor of transit-oriented development, regardless of what type it is.
Grace Gallucci, director of the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency, was at RTA as the head of its office of management and budget when the Euclid system was on the drawing board.
She wrote the financial plan for the project, which included estimates on its economic impact.
“It’s probably even greater than we thought it would be,” Gallucci said Monday.
RTA Chief Joe Calabrese said it was flattering but not completely surprising to learn that the HealthLine ranked so well in the cost-benefit analysis.
“We’ve been getting nothing but continuous attention since it opened,” he said.
Calabrese said the key to the spinoff results lay with “the support of the business community.
“They made investments that led to the return on investment,” he said.
Making sure it was not “light” bus rapid transit, but instead included enhancements such as public art and landscaped medians, was a critical factor in making it "a place where people wanted to buy and move their businesses, and where people wanted to live,” Calabrese said.