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Monday, October 29, 2012

Eugene BRT Guideway

I recently visited Eugene, Oregon to have another look at their 'Emerald Express' (EmX) Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line. I was very impressed. I worked on a similar project for Ogden, Utah. Their solutions to a number of traffic engineering problems were very impressive, both in the quality of the engineering but also in the quality of the investment.

The EmX did well. Franklin Boulevard has a large grassy median, and the EMX carved a couple of bus-ways out of that.

Let me talk about guide-way a little bit. The EmX has a mix of guide-ways.
  • Mixed Traffic
  • Dedicated Lane (Center Running)
  • Dedicated Lane (Side Running)
  • Busway with concrete curbs
  • Double Busway with concrete curbs
'Mixed Traffic' is the same as a normal bus. The western 50% of the EmX line is mixed traffic along a 6-lane wide arterial/state highway. It includes a couple of bridges, one of which is probably a quarter-mile long.

'Dedicated Lanes' is where the bus gets a 'bus only' lane.  In the EmX's case, rather than spending money annually to repaint the 'bus-only' lanes, it seems to have done them in concrete, while the rest of the street is asphalt. (I'm not sure if that was part of the original design, or an upgrade over time). Examining the aerial images, the bus lanes just seem to be re-done turn lanes, with some minor curb-side changes. The center-running were once a center-turn lane, and the side-running is the remainder of a right-turn lane and perhaps parking area. Examining different ages of aerial images (via ESRI and Google Earth), it appears that part of the dedicated lanes were originally Mixed Traffic, and only upgraded later on. Cars don't seem to have an issue crossing the bus lane to access curb-cuts for retail businesses.

I'm a little confused by the decision not to provide a dedicated lane in the Glenwood area between I-5 and the Willamette River.  There is certainly plenty of right of way. When building a fixed guide-way urban transit system, right of way is the killer. It's difficult to acquire, either through takings from property owners, or from the local Department of Transportation. While using DOT property seems simple, they may already have that pavement 'budgeted' for future planned increases in traffic, and loath to give it up today. Perhaps the speed of the road may have made doing so a safety hazard?

'Busway' is where there is a curb, so cars can't cross in front of the bus. It means the bus can travel much faster than in a dedicated lane, because a car cannot veer suddenly from an adjacent lane. Riding the EmX along the Busway was both exciting and a little alarming. I don't think I've ever been on a bus moving faster than 35 mph, and I think the EmX was pushing 60 mph on that segment. It makes about a quarter of the route. It has a middle section with two bus ways, side by side so that buses can pass one another. Most of the Busway is along Franklin Boulevard, which is a state highway with large grassy median, which provided the necessary right of way.

'Frequency' was excellent. The schedule indicated 15 minutes all day, with 10 minute peak times. The buses do not stack up, but neither do they linger. There is one 'stall' for the EmX at each end of it's route. When the arriving bus enters the station, the other bus departs.

The EmX does very well on average speed. The entire journey from boarding to de-boarding was under 20 minutes. Travel time was under 18. Google Earth tells me the route distance was about 3.78 miles. That gives an average travel speed of 12.6 mph.  (For reference, a 'slow' bus travels at an average 3.6 mph). The UTA TRAX, traveling a similar mix of guideway and distance (Arena to Center Point station) takes about 16 minutes, so it's not actually much faster...TRAX through downtown SLC is brutally slow.
The EmX's success does not appear to be entirely contingent on mode. More, I think it is a matter of network design. Both ends of the EmX have substantial transit centers, which are also the terminus for multiple other buses, including a large number of double-articulated buses (functionally identical to the EmX).