Three Reasons for Faster Buses

December 10th, 2013

Priority treatments speed up buses, which saves everyone time and money, uses street space most efficiently, and attracts development.

Bus priority projects, such as those begun through the regional TIGER grant and included in the Metrobus Priority Corridor Network Plan, will improve travel times, increase service reliability, and attract thousand of new riders once fully implemented.

But let’s step back for a moment.  Why are these improvements needed?

November2009_AMSpeedMap (cropped)

Average AM Rush Hour Bus Speeds (Nov. 2009)

Priority Treatments Save Everyone Time and Money

On key arterial streets in the region at rush hour, buses crawl at less than 10 (orange lines on the map) or even 5 mph (red).  Speeding up buses with transit signal priority (TSP) treatments and queue jump lanes, paired with new limited stop services (like MetroExtra) and other measures can boost ridership (PDF) by reducing travel times for riders.  MTA-New York City Transit has seen a 20% increase in bus speeds and added 5,000 new riders with its initial Select Bus Service corridor.

If bus speeds can be increased enough, Metro might even remove buses from operation while still maintaining the same frequency. This would potentially save us millions of dollars each year, or enable us to redeploy the buses elsewhere.

Nostrand Ave Select Bus Service recently opened in Brooklyn (NYC DOT via Streetsblog)

Crowded Buses Deserve More Street Space

The best way to allocate highly coveted street space is based on what moves the most people, not the most vehicles.  For example, Metro’s study of H & I Streets found that buses in that corridor carry about 40% of the people in less than two percent of the vehicles, despite buses traveling 50% slower than prevailing traffic.  On 16th Street NW in the District, Metrobus services combine to carry about half of the people through the corridor, with just three percent of the inbound rush hour vehicles despite operating in heavy traffic each day.

Bus Rapid Transit Can Attract Development

High-end bus rapid transit systems take limited stop bus service to another level with a full range of treatments common to light rail lines such as dedicated lanes, off-board fare collection, and unique branding (PDF)Studies have shown (PDF) that BRT lines can attract development by increasing access from regional destinations to nearby properties.  Here in our region Arlington and Alexandria have seen new development built in advance of the Crystal City/Potomac Yard Transitway, now under construction with the help of federal TIGER funds.

What corridors would you identify as having frequent and full buses stuck in traffic?

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  1. Ab
    December 10th, 2013 at 11:19 | #1

    Wisconsin Ave, 16th St, K St, H St, I st, Columbia Rd, Irving St, 18th St, U St, Florida Ave

  2. jnb
    December 11th, 2013 at 09:31 | #2

    For the H&I and 16th Street studies, I know how you calculated on-board bus ridership, but to calculate the share of person throughput that is on buses, what data source did you use to measure persons in personal vehicles? Is it DDOT traffic counts? Survey data from TPB? Thanks!!

    • Jonathan
      December 12th, 2013 at 10:23 | #3

      @JNB: For my analysis of 16th Street, I included data sources at the bottom of the post but I’ll explain a bit more. Absent paying for project-specific traffic counts, the best source for this data was the TPB’s Regional Transportation Data Clearinghouse. The most recent hourly vehicle counts were available from August 2011, so I took the average of several peak hour/direction counts plus a seasonal adjustment factor (to account for higher “typical” traffic volumes than would be seen during the summer). Looking back at prior years I found that the overall counts have been quite stable, which gave me a sense that the data from 2011 was still accurate enough to make reasonable conclusions for 2013. The vehicle occupancy assumption was taken from the 2007-2008 TPB Household Travel Survey.

      One thing that I didn’t mention in the post on 16th Street is that the transit modes share calculated in the post (53%) may be low. The new short turn S2 service added last March wasn’t included in the ridership data, so I made a conservative assumption about ridership levels on those buses (less than a full-seated load). If the new S2’s were as crowded as the other S-buses in the corridor, the transit share would be even higher than 53%, all else being equal.

  3. jnb
    December 12th, 2013 at 11:10 | #4

    Thanks, Jonathan, very helpful!

    Do you happen to have updated transit person throughput shares for other PCN corridors besides 16th Street and H&I?

    • Jonathan
      December 12th, 2013 at 14:29 | #5

      @JNB: It’s not something we have at the moment but we might look into to it for other PCN corridors.

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