Is BRT redundant with BART?

A new comment on my East Bay BRT Q&A post informs me that the BRT route actually overlaps BART, and that BRT is therefore not “the most efficient utilization of our TaxMegaBuxx.”

I would remind the commenter that BART’s per trip subsidy is nearly three times that of AC Transit’s, and that the projected cost of completing the entire BRT route is less than building 2 miles of BART.

Anyway, I maintain that for people actually using transit to get around, BART and the BRT route serve completely different functions. If they didn’t, the line wouldn’t have 25,000 boardings a day, making it among the busiest bus routes in the entire Bay Area. Anyway, here’s a map:

The BRT route is in green, and BART stations are the black dots.

What do you think, readers?

12 thoughts on “Is BRT redundant with BART?

  1. Eric

    The “BRT is redundant” argument is typically propagated by those who are not transit dependent. People who rely exclusively on transit know full well that BART is not nearly comprehensive enough to get everywhere, at least not without walking for miles.

    Market Street in SF has 9 rail lines running in subway, a slew of surface bus lines, and an historic streetcar line to boot. Mission Street south of 16th Street has a BART subway and 14, 14-Limited, and 49 bus lines running directly above the tunnel. Are all those “redundant”? No, because they’re all extremely well used– 14 and 49 buses on Mission are still crush loaded, even with BART running directly underneath the street. The reason, of course, is that BART stations are too far apart to adequately serve riders whose destination is not the immediate vicinity of the station. The buses serve an entirely different from purpose from BART.

    The 1/1R line’s ~25K daily riders are proof enough that BRT and BART aren’t redundant. The
    goal of BRT is not just to make bus service more reliable, but to endow this whole corridor
    with a greater diversity of service: local buses and legitimate rapid/limit service that doesn’t bunch up. And BART provides express/regional service.

  2. Jim Ratliff

    Not redundant, if only for the simple reason that BART stops are spread much farther apart than BRT stops. For many destinations, BART won’t get you close to where you want to go. In many of those cases, BRT can, even though the BRT path may be near the BART path.

  3. Diana

    We live midway between two BART stations (1 mile+ to either) and three blocks from the 1R line. So even if we’re traveling along the BART path to a destination where there’s a BART station (and often we are), our origin is so far from a BART station that we would never be regular riders. The BRT route, with more frequent stops, fills that gap. For many people along the BRT corridor, it’s not BART v. BRT–it’s BRT v. a much slower bus, or v. a bus-to-BART scenario. Duplicating the line in places is an asset, not an issue.

  4. Steve

    Let me first say that I’m flattered that my humble little post has generated this discussion.

    First, I consider the BRT and BART _routes_ very similar, from Berkeley to downtown Oakland. Heck, they overlap in some places, and for appoximately half the distance, are separated by one quarter of a mile or less. Yes, the BART stations are spaced farther apart. I’m a map geek, so to quantify this, I analyzed the locations of BART stations versus the BRT stops, as enumerated in Build Alternative 1 in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. I found that no BRT station, in or to the north of downtown Oakland, is more than 0.8 miles from the nearest BART station, as the crow flies (street grid distance slightly farther), with most BRT stations being much closer.

    Now, down to brass tacks. When I consider the BRT project, I weigh the benefits against the drawbacks. Sure, no doubt, BRT will produce some benefit to frequent travelers along the Telegraph corridor, and residents along and slightly east thereof. We can use my station analysis above to quantify the benefit. It’s not negligible, but in my opinion, not gigantic either.

    At the same time, BRT will cost an awful lot of money, and will cripple a main north Oakland thoroughfare. Imagine trying to traverse 51st and Telegraph in a car, post BRT. Nightmare! Enjoy all the exhaust fumes from the traffic backing onto highway 24, Temescal!

    So, I’m inclined not to support BRT, especially the north Oakland section. But perhaps you can sway me. Not with emotional appeals and handwaving, but numbers, please!

  5. Becks

    Sorry Steve – I don’t have any numbers for you, but I do have a real story of someone who depends on the 1R line but rarely uses BART.

    The truth is that I do live in walking distance from the Rockridge BART station, and I sometimes use this station to get to San Francisco. But never at night. Because to get to the BART station, I have to walk through dimly lit neighborhoods, where friends of mine were robbed at gunpoint and countless other crimes have occurred.

    The 1R stop is a few blocks from my apartment, but I never feel unsafe walking down Telegraph to reach it because the street is well lit and heavily traveled.

    I’m not too lazy to walk to BART but I’m not going to risk my safety for a faster ride. I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels that way.

  6. Eric

    “I found that no BRT station, in or to the north of downtown Oakland, is more than 0.8 miles from the nearest BART station, as the crow flies (street grid distance slightly farther), with most BRT stations being much closer.”

    Of course, this is north of downtown Oakland– you conveniently ignore the majority of the route, which is actually located south of downtown Oakland, because distances are much longer there. But even north of downtown Oakland, I think you’re trivializing the importance of these distances. A distance of 0.8 miles as the crow flies, but a little longer going on streets? Okay, since humans do travel on streets, now we’re up to about a mile, in select locations. If you’re driving, a mile is easy. If you’re walking (as transit dependent folks largely do), this is an extra 15-20 minutes or more. These distances are even more unreasonable if you are elderly or disabled. The fact of the matter is that BART is a regional system more than an urban metro. If BART stops were 2-3 times more frequent than they are now, then you would have a case that BRT is redundant. But under its current scheme, BART — practically speaking, in terms of how far people are realistically willing or able to walk — is not convenient as a local transit option, unless you happen to be moving only between its station neighborhoods.

    You concentrate on the total of cost of BRT, but the fact is, per mile, this BRT project is a small fraction of BART per mile, and yet, idiotic BART extensions have been proposed, gone over budget, and built, even if the numbers didn’t add up — at the direct expense of local bus service. The East Bay BRT project is not only far more cost-effective than BART, but it is actually substantially cheaper per mile than BRT projects currently being pursued in San Francisco. In other words: this is not a bad deal, if you compare this to other capital investments.

    It’s also important to keep in mind that this project speaks to a quality of life issue for bus riders, who have long gotten the short shrift. Over the years, AC Transit has basically been systematically starved of funds it needs to maintain, let alone expand, service. As a result, service has been substantially slashed from where it once was, and local bus riders — who are in large part poor and elderly — have borne the burden of longer waits and a less comprehensive map of routes. Urban transit projects should be studied not just in terms of new riders gained, but in terms of improving the quality of service for existing riders. Quality of service touches on several issues, including: wait time, travel time, reliability, comfort of the ride, and amenities at stops.

    And some final thoughts to consider: Why should a bus holding dozens of passengers receive the same level of priority on the street as a car containing only 1 person? Why do drivers deserve to get to their locations so much more quickly than bus riders? I am having difficulty sympathizing with drivers who may have to wait a minute longer at a stop light before getting onto Highway 24, where they will travel at 60-70 mph, when weighed against bus riders who have stood for 30 minutes waiting for a bus that is delayed because of traffic.

  7. bikerider

    A few comments in regard to Steve’s posting.

    1. Traffic impacts: There has been considerable confusion over the proposed restriping for BRT. While the BRT would remove one through lane in each direction, it makes up for this by introducing dedicated new left-turn pockets all along the route. Since the inner lane is frequently used for turns anyway, the traffic impact of this conversion is negligible. The computer simulations show this, and if you want a real-world example, then drive down Marin Ave in Albany/Berkeley. That arterial has the exact same traffic volume as north Telegraph, and was recently restriped from 4 lanes down to 2 lanes, with new left turn lane. As a result of a lawsuit, Berkeley did a court-mandated traffic impact study after the Marin Ave conversion, and found no change in congestion or speeds.

    2. To analyze the time savings of a project, transportation planners measure ALL elements of the trip. That includes: travel time to bus/BART stop, time spent waiting at a bus/BART stop, and time spent on the transit vehicle itself. BRT would run every 3 minutes (vs 12+ minutes for current 1R, and 7.5 minutes for commute-hour BART service). For many types of trips, BRT stations are more conveniently located, saving considerable walking time. The additional .8-1 mile of walking adds 10-20 minutes to a trip — hardly competitive against the car. Speeding up BART by 20 minutes for these types of trips is not cost-effective or even feasible.

    3. Far from costing an “awful lot of money”, BRT would bring huge costs savings to AC Transit. The agency’s operating budget is in a downward spiral of increasing costs and stagnating ridership. The nice thing about BRT is that AC can do lots more trips with fewer buses, because they are out on the road doing runs instead sitting stuck in traffic. Go back and read the EIR chapter that goes into how much it costs per trip on BRT vs. buses in mixed traffic.

  8. Steve

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone.

    My other question is this…

    A lot of the route generally has fairly low traffic density, and infrequent signals, so buses move smoothly, BRT or not. In the areas where this is not the case, couldn’t we get more-or-less the same result as full-blown BRT by implementing:

    * intelligent signalling
    * special bus-only lanes on the right, carved out of runs of parking spaces
    * bus frequency increases as required?

    I could imagine this setup at all the major signals, near campus, uptown/downtown, under highway 24, and in parts of Temescal.

  9. Eric

    Steve: As it turns out, though, a few parts of the route are marked for right-lane treatment anyway, because street constraints require it. That said, so-called “bus only lanes” on the right side of the street tend to cascade very easily into being shared lanes with cars, unless you prohibit all right turns from cars for those sections of the route, which I’m assuming is not what you are proposing. If cars are using these lanes to turn, that means they are traveling more slowly anyway, stopping for pedestrians, and so forth. The goal of BRT is to remove buses from precisely that sort of traffic.

  10. bikerider

    Steve is apparently referring to a technology called signal “priority” (used on the San Pablo Rapid Bus corridor). In mixed traffic situations, it has virtually no benefit for buses because it is a priority, not an override. On San Pablo, buses only get priority once every 10 minutes — any more than that and it would cause unacceptable congestion on cross streets.

    As noted in the EIR, “intelligent” signaling is only feasible when dispatchers can precisely schedule the arrival of buses at an intersection. Of course, this is only possible with exclusive bus lanes — in mixed traffic situations, the arrival is too unpredictable.

    Regarding Steve’s other points:
    1. Increase in bus frequency is not possible in mixed traffic. As it is, AC cannot manage the 12 minute headways right now. There is considerable bus bunching and delays.

    2. Remove parking for bus-only lanes: removing parking is even more controversial than lane restriping.

  11. Allan

    BRT is certainly not completely redundant with BART – that would be almost impossible. The issue is not would BRT provide some value – of course it would – but is BRT the most effective project to build – is it the way to get the most people out of their cars? I think not.

    Listening to the presentation – BRT is designed with little thought to integrating with BART. BART provides an excellent trunk line service – however its weakness is in getting to a BART station and to your final destination. AC Transit bus service is best suited to handling that part of a trip.

    Most of us do not like changing from BART to AC transit. BART stations are not designed for easy transfer. For the kind of money being spent – we could have integrated BART – bus stations – where you walk across a platform under cover from bus to train and visa versa.

    You should be able to buy one ticket and ride bus to train to bus – no gates – no stairs.

    When BRT was concieved – around 1990 – AC provided pretty good local service. Unfortunately much of this service has deteriorated. For the money being invested – we we should get much better local service – integrated with BART – using the strengths of both.

    Transportation planning should be based on getting people from start to destination – not on the biggest project for one of the competing agencies.