Bus rapid transit, in which buses in dedicated lanes perform like rail lines, can not only spur development, but can do so far more efficiently than light rail and streetcars, according to a study due out later this month from the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.
"Both BRT and LRT can leverage many times more development investment than they cost. Now we can say that for sure," according to the institute's director for the U.S. and Africa, Annie Weinstock, who previewed the findings at a Metropolitan Planning Council Roundtable in Chicago last week.
"Per dollar of transit investment, and under similar conditions, BRT can leverage more (development) investment than LRT or streetcars."
For example, Cleveland's Healthline, a BRT project completed on Cleveland's Euclid Avenue in 2008, has generated $5.8 billion in development —$114 for each transit dollar invested. Portland's Blue Line, a light rail project completed in 1986, generated $3.74 per dollar invested.
BRT's efficiency makes sense—bus rapid transit lines are generally cheaper to develop than rail lines (though some transportation experts balk at the comparison)—but the difference has never before been documented, Weinstock said.
"The first conclusion we're able to draw here is that actually BRT is able to leverage development. This is the first time we have an analysis to say that definitively," she said.
"And it can leverage a lot of development. Three of the corridors (studied) leveraged more than a billion dollars in development."
BRT buses run in dedicated lanes, and stop at stations where riders pay before boarding the bus. Buses running on BRT lines may also receive traffic signal priority to speed them along. Though many projects in the United States have been described as BRT, many have only one or two features of BRT, and really are only enhanced bus lines, Weinstock said.
The U.S. has seven authentic BRT lines in Cleveland, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Eugene Ore., and several in Pittsburgh. None achieve the internationally recognized "gold standard" of BRT like Bogota's TransMilenio line. But one planned for Chicago's Ashland Avenue might.
"There's no gold standard BRT in the U.S. yet," Weinstock said, "but if we continue with the Ashland project on the current trajectory, Ashland could be the first gold in the U.S."
Jeff Schreiber from the Chicago Department of Transportation asked Schreiber what share of the development documented in the report can be said to have occurred because of BRT or LRT.
"I don't think we are attributing the development 100 percent to the transit investment," she said. "It's part of the package of all of the importance given to the corridor. It's possible that in a really strong corridor with a lot of goverment support and no transit you might get a lot of development. Probably if you add in transit you would do even better. But importantly in those situations you still need transit in order to create that kind of dense urban environment."