Thursday, May 10, 2012

BRT ... Is that something to eat?

Government is infamous for throwing around acronyms. In transportation, BRT is shorthand for Bus Rapid Transit, a transportation node that is part of the long term vision for public transportation in the Lehigh Valley laid out in the Moving LANTA Forward strategic transportation plan the Authority adopted last year.  It’s a term applied to public transportation systems using buses to provide a service that is similar to light rail transit without the rails.

It is a form of transportation pioneered in Curitiba, Brazil! Curitiba, one of the fastest growing, most progressive cities in South America. More than 3 decades ago, Curitiba initiated municipal planning that merged transit friendly designed with land use. Starting with one line along a major corridor, the mode proved so effective that today, all of Curitiba’s main arteries have express bus lanes that are dedicated to ‘bus rapid transit’ service.

The features of this service: it is quick, has limited stops at boarding platforms and uses rubber-tired vehicles that function and provide amenities more akin to subway or light rail service.

See here: ( for an article with more detail about Curitiba.

See here: ( for an excellent video on BRT in Curitiba.

Land use is critical for optimal transit use with higher modes of transportation. LANTA is partnering with Lehigh Valley Planning Commission (LVPC) to dedicate resources to educate the community and municipalities concerning land use and transit oriented design issues.

The Valley already has much of what is needed for an exceptional BRT in place already, but it is not consistent in key corridors.

The Moving LANTA Forward plan calls for service and capital improvements in the short and intermediate terms along “trunk” corridors which can act as a foundation for a future LANTA BRT network. Short and intermediate term service improvements along these trunks include enhancements to the frequency of service and the hours service is available. Potential capital improvements include passenger amenities, technology and ‘transit first’ improvements.

A couple of years ago, there was discussion about ‘rail’ and light rail alternatives in the Valley. When Congressman Dent responded and explored the concept with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) in Washington, given the population density of the Valley, the FTA recommended looking at BRT as a first step. Congressmen Dent promptly obtained a grant to provide LANTA with funds to examine BRT as an alternative and demonstrate its potential.

LANTA Planning staff is working now to begin this alternatives analysis as well as taking steps to define corridors for future BRT projects. Density remains an issue. The Lehigh Valley’s population is 625,000 within Lehigh and Northampton Counties. In urbanized Curitiba, the population is more than twice that: 1.75 million. With the mature BRT system in place today in Curitiba, 90% of this population is served. One of the questions that has to be answered is which comes first: the density or the higher mode of service?  Budget issues may resolve the matter, but there is value in planning.   And in dreaming.

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