What Would Bus Rapid Transit Look Like?

The 'Rapid' in 'Bus Rapid Transit' is dedicated lanes so that the bus can by-pass traffic. (click to expand.)

The ‘Rapid’ in ‘Bus Rapid Transit’ is dedicated lanes so that the bus can by-pass traffic. (click to expand.) Image credit: Communities For Transit

Bus Rapid Transit has been a hot topic of conversation in the Princeton area for several years. But what would it actually look like?

In recent years, plans to run Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alongside the Dinky train line have been proposed, and NJDOT also developed a wider regional BRT plan that would increase transit options along and around Route 1 (sadly that plan seems to have hit the skids.) Now, a Princeton University-Town committee is considering transit options for Alexander Street and University Place, and ‘some form of BRT’ is one of the options being considered.

But what would BRT look like? Local residents likely have no idea, because no BRT networks exist near Princeton- and almost no fully-realized BRT plans exist anywhere in North America. However, Montgomery County in Maryland is currently planning what would be the most ambitious BRT plan in the USA. Montgomery County is an affluent, heavily-suburbanized area, with many similarities to Central Jersey. To help educate local residents about how Bus Rapid Transit would work, the nonprofit group ‘Communities for Transit‘ prepared this video, which shows how BRT would work on local roads:

Check out the 3’47” video and you will see:

  • At 0’30” – how transporting people in buses instead of cars frees up road space, enabling faster transportation and less hectic roads
  • At 0’54” – how dedicating the middle two lanes of a road to BRT enables buses to glide past traffic just like a train on regular rails
  • At 1’39” – how BRT buses avoid getting stuck at re traffic lights by signal prioritization
  • At 1’50” – how reversible central medians allow BRT to work on narrower roadways

Crucially, BRT involves having a dedicated bus-only laneway. Anything beyond that is basically just a bus, and in fact the term ‘enhanced bus‘ is preferred for buses that run in mixed traffic but have elements of light-rail-transit (LRT) systems. In principle, BRT can be really good. A bus operating in its own dedicated lane is quicker than a streetcar operating in mixed traffic. But when you hear people talking about BRT, ask the question, ‘how will dedicated lanes be provided?’. Because without dedicating lanes, there is no ‘rapid’ in BRT- it’s just a regular bus.

What routes in the Princeton area do you think would be most suitable for BRT? Would you ride it? Have you ridden BRT elsewhere? Have your say in the comments below.

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6 Responses to What Would Bus Rapid Transit Look Like?

  1. Lieve Cash says:

    If I could refer you the the Save the Princeton Dinky website, all the above has been researched in depth oh, now 4 years ago. Nothing was done. Nothing was implemented. Nothing was even considered. It was PU’s intention to REmove the Dinky from the start. And that is what is going to happen. They can show all pictures and video’s they can of pretty buses and lovely waiting areas… In reality, not many people like taking the bus. Public transport (especially buses) has a bad reputation unlike in Europe where it is part of everyone’s daily life – and it’s more reliable. They don’t even have proper waiting areas now for bus passengers, who have to stand on the side of the road in all kinds of weather, no shelter. Plus, again, these buses will have to use the roads, alongside cars, and will inevitably get stuck in traffic (not all existing roads can have a central lane, especially downtown Princeton – good luck getting those buses over that narrow bridge at the end of Alexander). No, people will start driving to Princeton Junction and that is that.

    • You can be pro-Dinky and also pro-BRT, because there are many routes in Princeton where there is no Dinky and insufficient transit. It’s far too strong to say that people in Princeton will not ride buses. The Suburban Transit coaches transport hundreds of people from Princeton to the city every day, and those are just regular buses, not even BRT. People will ride buses if they think it is quicker, cheaper or easier than a car trip. It’s unfortunate that people now associate ‘Saving the Dinky’ with being anti-BRT, because it undermines support for a solution that could take cars off our roads. What about 206? Route 27? What about BRT from Highstown to Princeton? Could BRT work on any of these routes? If not, what sort of transit would?

      • Lieve Cash says:

        As far as I can see from your article, Alexander Street/University Place Task Force is only interested in their little corner of the universe. I would love to see more LRT all over, up 206, Route 27 or across town would be a start or from Princeton to the new medical center in Plainsboro… LRT can go where buses can’t go. In the end, as you said, and as the Save the Dinky group has stated many times: BRT without dedicated lanes is just a bus. If you say “People will ride buses if they think it is quicker, cheaper or easier than a car trip” – cheaper maybe, but not the other two.

        And personally, I know very few people who take local buses (except maybe the students on the Tiger ones). Whenever I’ve taken one, it’s been virtually empty. I would guess the one to NYC is an exception, as are national buses or the cheap intercity ones like Megabus: they are aimed at a specific group of people. BRT/LRT should be compared with local buses.

      • Most of the traffic I have encountered on my commute to work seems to be going “through” Princeton to Trenton or Princeton Junction. Today, if I took public transportation to Trenton it would take about 2 hours. It’s 40 minutes in the car in the middle of rush hour traffic.

  2. You know, they could run the BRT on where the train tracks used to go. On an exclusive ROW the BRT would be immune to traffic delays just like the dinky is now. Plus their is no reason why bikes couldn’t share the BRT route with the buses or use it on weekends when BRT maybe doesn’t run.

    • Lieve Cash says:

      Agreed, but why get rid of the Dinky? It is working fine – better in bad weather like snow than a bus ever could. But it will happen. I have no crystal ball and will soon be leaving Princeton, but I bet when I return for a visit, say in 10 years or so, there will be a BRT (or even an ordinary bus since money is always tight) where the Dinky was and no additional BRT lines. If everyone was so concerned about better public transport for Princeton, they would start where it is really needed, not replacing something that works fine. And to clarify: I am pro-BRT as a replacement of ordinary buses but not of rail.

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