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Tuesday, December 27, 2016

BRT and Congestion

The principle of equilibrium assignment suggests that it is unlikely that congestion will change much on the corridor. If BRT successfully reduces automobile congestion on the corridor, travel will be faster in that corridor, and Down’s ‘triple convergence’[1] from alternate routes, times and modes will occur. In that context, the amount of congestion experienced by automobile drivers on the BRT corridor is unlikely to change significantly. However, from a system user perspective, the BRT may provide substantial benefits by actually reducing the amount of diversion (and out of direction travel) that is currently occurring. If this is so, it would be reasonable to expect a drop in volumes along the diversion corridors. It seems likely that the combination of ITS features and dedicated transit guideway will serve to increase the overall capacity of the roadway, and that a drop in traffic volumes on the diversion corridors is a reasonable hypothesis.

However, if congestion increases, a ‘triple divergence’ to alternate routes, times, and modes will occur. How much diversion occurs will depend on how attractive the alternatives are. Assuming no significant addition in roadway capacity on alternate corridors, diversion to alternate routes will result in a slight worsening in overall congestion. Diversion to alternate times will make the ‘peak hour’ longer (AKA ‘peak spreading’). Diversion to other modes may or may not reduce 

Buses in general traffic lanes reduce capacity and increase congestion, a phenomenon well asserted both by the literature and by experience. The core principle of making transit ‘rapid’ is removing transit vehicles from general traffic lanes. This serves to both remove the effect of their operations on automobile traffic, and remove the effect of automobile congestion on transit vehicles.

As a thought experiment, assume the BRT is very attractive (in terms of time or cost), and attracts a large number of riders. This reduces automobile congestion along the alignment, making it faster. Drivers diverge from other modes and other routes, and the corridor becomes congested again. But only for automobiles--due to exclusive guideway, the BRT is less affected, and remains an attractive alternative. For drivers on the BRT corridor, there is no net benefit. For transportation system users, there are two classes of beneficiaries: BRT riders, and drivers on the diversion corridors.

A caveat to the benefits to drivers: The benefits to drivers on the alternate routes is going to get ‘lost in the noise’. They will be dispersed over a large number of roads, and reflected in small changes in the duration of peak periods, or in minor traffic volumes in a large number of roads. Provo-Orem is a rapidly growing metropolitan area, with substantial development taking place both north and south of the study area. Any minor advantage from the BRT to drivers will be rapidly eroded by additional land use changes.

A caveat to the benefits for riders: ‘rapid transit’ implies exclusive guideway; most BRT systems are only ‘semi-rapid’. While provided with transit signal priority, time separation (at intersections) provides a reasonable analogue to rapid transit conditions. However, the Provo-Orem BRT has only 51% exclusive guideway. Where the BRT lacks dedicated guideway, it will be exposed to the effects of congestion. In ideal circumstances, this guideway will be placed in the most effective location; where congestion is most intense. Congestion also tends to be greatest near intersections. Thus, roadways tend to be widest at intersections, where the road shoulder is used to provide turn lanes. Many worthwhile BRT projects have been subjected to the ‘death of a thousand cuts’; minor sacrifices made in the name of preserving automobile capacity (or worse:maintaining on-street parking).

However, given the number of routes that the also service parts of the BRT corridor[2], it is unlikely that all of the delay induced by local buses will be eliminated. In the context, it seems likely that the corridor will stay at a very similar level of congestion.