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Will Bus Rapid Transit Replace Light Rails Across the Country?

Hampton Roads, Va., will conduct a study to measure the effectiveness of a rapid bus system rather than a light rail system.

by Jordan Pascale, The Virginian-Pilot / February 12, 2016

(TNS) -- A transit concept new to Hampton Roads may be here in the next decade.

Bus Rapid Transit – larger buses that have a dedicated lane, fancier station and faster, more reliable and more regular service – will be studied for use on the Peninsula.

Planners tell people to think of it like light rail on wheels, with a route that never changes.

A Hampton Roads Transit subcommittee on Thursday recommended approving a $1.4 million contract with Kimley-Horn and Associates. The full HRT governing board will have the final vote later this month.

The study is expected to last 18 months and is paid for with federal grant money. It will look for feasible corridors to connect major employment and other popular destinations in Newport News and Hampton.

Future studies will take a more in-depth look at those routes and their environmental impacts.

“This is an exciting project, something we’ve pushed for for a long time,” said William Harrell, HRT director. “It’s important to have a significant project on the northside as we study two major projects on the southside as well.”

Newport News Councilwoman Patricia Woodbury, who sits on the HRT board, said she was thankful the study was finally happening.

“We’ve been wanting this for eight years,” Woodbury said.

The process from concept to reality could take five years or more. If HRT seeks federal funding, it could take as long as a decade, but a local option will be explored first.

So what puts the “rapid” in BRT? Here’s a look at features in other cities:

Buses: They run more often than any other route, sometimes as much as every 10 minutes at peak periods and 20 minutes in off hours. The buses are usually larger, fitting 80 to 100 people, and have sliding doors similar to The Tide that can let large groups on and off quickly, speeding up the line.

Stations: Like light rail, passengers pay for tickets at stations before boarding, avoiding delays from people having to fish for money or tickets to get on board. Real-time arrival information gives riders an idea of when to be ready for the bus. An elevated platform will make for level boarding that is easier and quicker for the elderly or those with disabilities.

Signal priority: In some cities, buses have the technology to manipulate traffic signals to give buses green lights all the way along its route.

Queue jumping: A designated lane or a right-turn lane could serve as a way for buses to jump the line at congested intersections with red lights.

While the BRT concept is new to Hampton Roads, it’s been used in cities across the world and the United States, including in Northern Virginia.

Earlier this week, Richmond’s City Council voted to start building a $54 million, 7.6-mile BRT line down Broad Street from the city’s West End, through downtown to East End. The line, called The Pulse, would begin operation in late 2017.

©2016 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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