Cincinnati to examine bus rapid transit as part of expanding transit network

As Cincinnati moves forward with the development of the Midwest’s first modern streetcar system, a political leader is pushing for even greater transit improvements that would compliment an increasingly diverse collection of alternative forms of transport.

Cincinnati Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls is proposing a robust network of bus rapid transit (BRT) that would connect the region’s commuters with major employment centers like Uptown and Downtown. Qualls believes BRT is a cost-effective and innovative transit strategy.

“Bus rapid transit incorporates many of the advantages of light rail, but is cheaper and can be implemented quickly,” Qualls said in a prepared statement. “Cities around the world and the country are giving commuters a great transit option now with rapid transit.”

Many cities around the United States and internationally are beginning to look at BRT more closely as a cheaper alternative to building dedicated rail transit systems. After first being popularized in Bogotá, Columbia, bus rapid transit now exists in 33 cities throughout the world with an additional 22 systems planned.

What differentiates BRT routes from other bus routes is the dedicated lanes they use. These dedicated corridors are often complimented by signal prioritization and timing that allows for faster travel times over long distances.

“Cities are looking to rapid transit to meet increased commuter demand and to spur development,” Qualls stated. “Because the conversion to rapid transit is faster and cheaper than developing light rail, it is an important interim step that helps build transit ridership and provides a great service in the near term.”

While some transit experts agree that BRT can serve as an integral part of an overall transit system, others believe that BRT can be compromised when pitched as an inexpensive alternative to light rail.

“If you look at Oakland, who was studying BRT, they’ve been working on the project for a long time and recently had the City of Berkeley decline to even study dedicated lanes even though that was the plan all along,” explained Jeff Wood, Chief Cartographer, Reconnecting America.  “They felt like they could do it cheaper than light rail, but now they aren’t even going to get any of the benefits of bus rapid transit.”

As part of Vice Mayor Qualls’ motion, BRT would be a portion of a larger multi-modal transit plan that would include the streetcar and light rail according to Cincinnati’s existing rail plan. Major corridors would include I-75, I-71, Queen City Avenue, Harrison Avenue, Vine Street, Reading Road, Madison Road, and Martin Luther King Drive. Qualls suggested the city aggressively pursue state and federal funds to pay for the development of bus rapid transit.

Those interested in learning more about bus rapid transit have the opportunity to meet with BRT expert Jack Gonsalves at the OKI Regional Council of Governments Board Room (map) on Monday, December 6 at 1pm.  Gonsalves will be joined by a variety of local leaders to discuss BRT and how it might be developed in Cincinnati.

  • If they had a Vine St to Uptown route, people would definitely be using it, between UC and the Veterans Hospital the #78 is always standing room only, an express route would be nice.
    Between that and a 71 route, one of the complaints from UC people is how long their bus commute takes, if they could cut the time down with express routes it would draw more people to use it.

  • So how many square miles of out beautiful city will have to be paved to incorporate an entirely new lane for every bus route in which they are desiring to convert?

  • Jake

    I could see BRT as a compromise on the proposed widening of 75, if the new lanes were only for high occupancy vehicles, buses could run in these lanes from Downtown to Northside quickly, & then up to College Hill.

    It could also work by taking parking lanes on major arterials & turning them into dedicated bus lanes during rush hour, which in conjunction with the proposal for a multinodal SORTA, might bring about a system where stops were located once every 1/2 mile or so.

    But remember that a crowded bus requires more buses on a route, and after a certain point, you need a higher capacity form of transit. Which is why Ottawa is turning a large part of their BRT system into a light rail system, & it’s costing them as much as simply building a light rail system in the first place.

  • Aaron Watkins:

    Dedicated bus lanes will more than likely be incorporated on existing right-of-way and thus not require the destruction of any of our beautiful city.

  • Zachary Schunn

    This seems a good way to appease the anti-rail crowd. Long-term, there are better solutions. Short-term, this can make incremental progress.

    And Jake, doesn’t Pittsburgh do what you’re talking about with bus lanes? I’m sure other cities do but that one specifically stands out in my mind.

  • Many cities talk about implimenting BRT as a compromise and then over the years, converting it to LRT. As Jake has pointed out though, Ottawa is having trouble doing this. The downtown portions of their existing network are so crowded, that taking buses off of the transitway through there, would kill the reliable service that already exists. In trying to upgrade capacity, they would likely kill existing ridership. Would new LRT be able to recapture that share? its possible, but how long would that take? The initial plans for LRT dont look so bad at this point.

    I challenge any city looking at a BRT to LRT plan, to have a good plan initially for getting this done.

  • Jon Moller

    Perhaps a BRT line could also serve as an east-west link (Westwood-Northside-Corryville-Walnut Hills, etc.) complementing the north-south streetcar and other bus lines.

  • Eleanor

    I really love the idea of BRT and would like to see our city explore it more. Part of the reason that buses don’t feel like mass transit (versus a subway system) is because you are sitting in traffic like everyone else! Even the streetcar would have to wait at every intersection.

    I actually understand some of the resistance to the streetcar. To me it seems like a ride to lure rich people downtown instead of a comprehensive transportation system that can efficiently and cleanly move people around their city.

  • @Eleanor:

    Well designed BRT systems are typically separated from vehicular traffic. This is where they gain their benefit in terms of travel speed and ease of use. The comparison you draw to streetcars is not accurate though.

    BRT and light rail systems are designed to move people long distances (like from suburbs to job centers). Streetcars, on the other hand, are designed to move people throughout job and population centers.

  • orbit7er

    You are better to just invest the money upfront in Light Rail to begin with.
    First off BRT seldom gets the riders expected and secondly it winds up being converted to
    Light Rail anyway. Just skip the expense of conversions and double construction and
    build Light Rail to begin with.

    Cincinnati already has many existing Rail lines and tracks which already go to older
    established Main Street communities. Why not just use those?
    The tracks and right of way are already there!