Chris Rall – Executive Director Green Wheels Northcoast Environmental Center
1465 G StreetArcata, CA 95521 707.633.4488 email@example.com
Dear Mr. Clifton,
This is a submittal for consideration in the Humboldt County 2008 Regional Transportation Plan. Please make it available to relevant decision makers including the Board and Technical Advisory Committee.
Green Wheels believes emerging issues of energy costs, climate change and health impacts of our current transportation system compel planners to look at modern public transportation projects to address our transportation challenges. This document proposes one such project.
Please let us know if you require additional information. I look forward to discussing the following concept with you in the near future.
Bus Rapid Transit for the
Growing challenges for
Proposed projects in
Modern public transportation offers solutions
A strategy that is more effective at alleviating congestion in the long term is transit improvements coupled with transit-oriented land use. Permanent transit routes have the ability to work in conjunction with land use planning to create transit-oriented development: pedestrian-friendly, high-density, mixed-use development in the vicinity of high-quality fixed-route transit. This can result in large numbers of people having little need to drive to accomplish their daily tasks of work, shopping and recreation.
In our region, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), as opposed to light rail or commuter rail, is the most plausible type of fixed-route transit because of its lower cost, flexibility and potential to be built in phases. BRT is a combination of strategies that enable a bus system to provide transit service on par with rail transit systems. These strategies include: dedicated running ways, signal prioritization and queue jumps to speed service; pre-board ticket purchase and level boarding to shorten stop times; and special amenities to enhance the passenger experience, such as comfortable transit “stations” instead of simple shelters, next-bus arrival displays, and high capacity articulated vehicles. Existing BRT systems incorporate different combinations of these and other strategies.
It’s time for a pre-feasibility study on BRT in Humboldt County
There are many steps and aspects to creating a Bus Rapid Transit system. A successful system requires an approach that coordinates transit development, land use policy, parking policy and design of public spaces. This requires community stakeholders to understand the benefits and risks of the strategy and be supportive of it. Excessive compromise in the implementation of a BRT system can severely hamper its effectiveness to capture ridership. If a transit system is not frequent, fast, and does not serve the areas where people need to go, or if land use and parking policies are not conducive to transit use, the BRT system will be less effective at attracting potential riders, and therefore less effective at reducing congestion, energy use, emissions, inactivity and other negative consequences of automobile dependency.
Call for a Feasibility Study
In order to begin the process of educating stakeholders and the public on the possibilities for such a system, we propose conducting a feasibility study to:
Visualizing BRT for Humboldt County
Using the existing 101 Freeway infrastructure for connective segments between our four major urban areas (Figure 1) could make a high quality transit system relatively inexpensive. In some areas, bus stations in the freeway median could be an effective and inexpensive way of creating fast, efficient transit stops (Figure 2). In other areas, the route may best serve communities by traveling on surface streets. In these areas, several strategies can be employed to make sure transit service is not slowed by traffic congestion. The key to making this work effectively is to think of the bus as a light rail vehicle traveling through the streetscape. In most light rail systems, the light rail right-of-way is separated from private auto-traffic. By providing the same sort of right-of-way for buses, using dedicated lanes and signal prioritization (which makes traffic signals automatically turn green as the bus approaches), we can have a transit system on par with the best light rail systems for a fraction of the cost.
Dedicated rights-of-way come in several forms. A curb lane (Figure 3) is a dedicated right lane for the bus. This type of lane has the advantage of placing the bus on the right side of the road so
1 Extent of potential BRT
system connecting the communities of McKinleyville, Arcata,
Figure 2 Freeway median bus station design. This type of station ensures fast inline bus service, but has less of a positive impact on public space. This type of facility could be most useful in non-urban areas where “park-and-rides” may be appropriate. Note that a BRT system could reduce the need to widen our roads and freeways.
that stations can be positioned on the existing sidewalk or on constructed sidewalk “bus-bulbouts.” However, if allowed, auto use of the lane for right-turning or parallel parking can slow transit service. Median lanes (Figure 4) can provide a distinctly segregated facility and easier passing for express buses. Dedicated streets that prohibit or limit auto-access (Figure 5) offer a solution for narrow roads where a separate dedicated facility won’t fit. Dedicated streets may be the most politically challenging form of dedicated right-of-way, but could also offer the highest quality public space with little traffic noise while waiting at the station or for nearby residents and businesses.
The primary opportunity for
making the transit system competitive with driving for some trips comes in
Figure 6 There are several potential BRT alignments
spaces and rider experience by providing substantial public access while minimizing the impacts of traffic and parking infrastructure on public space.
Landuse with BRT
A BRT system gains effectiveness in changing transportation patterns and enhancing urban settings when it is synchronized with land use policy. While some BRT stations may be oriented toward a “park and ride” ridership, most should be oriented toward pedestrians to improve public urban spaces. Transit-oriented land use provides an opportunity to enhance the economic development and pedestrian experience in the vicinity of each station, and add potential riders and destinations for them to reach within walking distance of each station.
One approach to the land use strategy would be to have “transit land use zones” within ½ mile of each station. Within this half-mile radius, pedestrian-friendly, high-density, mixed-use development would be encouraged. Off-street parking requirements could be made more flexible, reduced or eliminated. On-street parking would be priced at market rates using meters or parking permits. Pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalk widening, bulb-outs, benches, street trees and enhanced crosswalks would take priority in decisions over how to design the streetscape. Services such as short-term car rental could facilitate the reduction in car-ownership for residents living in this type of land use. Reductions in parking and higher densities would provide excellent opportunity for infill development that could enhance urban environments of the County.
Figure 8 Potential alignments for Arcata include the use of freeway median
stations, a dedicated bus street on
It would also be possible to use radii of different lengths to identify different intensities of the approach to land use. For instance, the most stringent pedestrian-oriented policies could apply with ¼ mile of each station, with more moderate policies from ¼ to ½ mile.
It is important to note that this type of focused urban development can improve the quality of urban and rural areas of the County. Reduced automobile-dependency in urban areas can improve the quality of the urban environment by reducing traffic impacts, while the more compact development made possible there can take pressure off of rural working lands.
Is This Realistic?
This project may seem like an overly-ambitious vision. Current Redwood Transit System headways average about 45 minutes, whereas 10 to 15 minutes is generally considered the minimum headway for full-fledged BRT systems. Buses do not run on Sundays, and the operating budget is at its limit.
We recognize these challenges, but it is important to remember that this type of project creates gains in efficiency that make higher bus frequency possible. By combining city buses and RTS buses along a dedicated busway in Arcata or Eureka, for example, and gaining the benefits of having buses move quickly across town rather than stopping at traffic signals and stop signs, contending with congestion and dwelling at stops for long periods, 15 minute headways may be possible with today’s operating budgets on some urban segments of the busway during peak demand. This project can be phased geographically starting with the most densely populated areas, but it can also be phased in terms of quality of improvements. For example, signal prioritization might be implemented before more substantial busway improvements.
As commitment gels at the state and federal level to meet carbon emissions reduction goals and to deal with increasing fuel prices, operating budgets for transit services should improve. By studying the feasibility of this project today and having a plan in place to build it, we will be in a better position to address our own challenges of the 21st Century
A Bus Rapid Transit system for the Humboldt Bay area could play a substantial role in a comprehensive strategy to bring balance to our transportation system, reduce overall transportation costs, reduce dependence on imported fuel, reduce carbon emissions, improve public health, and reinvigorate public spaces so they become places to enjoy. The first step is a feasibility study to see how we can do it.
Appendix A Schematic showing two branched network approaches, one with feeder services to a central BRT system, and the other with dispersed transit corridors sharing a single dense busway corridor. Adapted from a Mission Group presentation: http://www.missiongrouponline.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/BRTForum2005.pdf
 HCAOG. 2006. Regional Transportation Plan, Needs Assessment: http://hcaog.net/docs/RTP.2006/pdf/Needs%20Assessment%202006.pdf
following roads are predicted to be above 100% capacity by 2030: Central Ave.
and School Road in McKinleyville, Harrison Ave. and Myrtle Ave. in Myrtletown,
Elk River Rd., Harris St. and Ridgewood Dr. in South Eureka. The following roads are predicted to be above
200% capacity by 2030: Humboldt Hill
Road, F St., Herrick Ave., Pound Rd. and Trinity St. in South Eureka. Estimates are from the 2007 Community
Infrastructure and Services Technical Report prepared for
 2006 “California Motor Vehicle Stock, Travel and Fuel Forecast” report from Caltrans: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/tsip/otfa/mtab/MVSTAFF/MVSTAFF06.pdf Appendix B, Table 2.
 HCAOG 2006. Regional Transportation Plan, Action Element: http://hcaog.net/docs/RTP.2006/pdf/Action%20Element%202006.pdf Broadway widening project, p. IV-19 and Waterfront Drive Extension, p. IV-13.
 The even if the Waterfront Drive Extension diverts 20% of traffic from Broadway, Broadway will see a 50% increase in noon time delay at the Bayshore Mall in only 15 years. 2004 Waterfront Drive Extension Notice of Preparation, “Project Description”: http://www.eurekawebs.com/cityhall/commdevp/docs/nop_projdescription_finaversion_090304_with_NOP__figures_(no_maps_or_IS).pdf
intitial study indicates potential for significant traffic impacts:
 SB 375 (Steinberg), which has been passed by the California Senate, but not yet by the assembly, would direct region transportation planning agencies to account for greenhouse gass emissions in their transportation planning and mode split in their modeling:
http://info.sen.ca.gov/pub/07-08/bill/sen/sb_0351-0400/sb_375_cfa_20070724_102219_asm_comm.html. In addition, California Senate president Don Perata has ordered a stakeholder-based process to incorporate AB 32 into RTP guidelines: http://www.metroinvestmentreport.com/mir/?module=displaystory&story_id=436&format=html.
 See 7.
 Caltrans. 2007. Bus Rapid Transit: A Handbook for Partners: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/MassTrans/DOCS_PDFS/BRT/BRT_Handbook_0307.pdf.
 Hoffman, Alan. 2004. How to Overcome the Ten Barriers of Effective BRT Planning. Smart Urban Transport Magazine. http://www.missiongrouponline.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/BRTplanning.pdf.
Arcata as an example: Arcata has 3 city
buses that run hourly. The routes of
these buses could be realigned to take advantage of a new transit way. RTS headways provide for 1.5 buses per hour
in each direction (based on 40 minute average headways). One can expect these frequencies to increase
due to increased efficiency of service as buses are less hung up in traffic,
but even leaving this out of the calculation, 4.5 buses per hour is an average
headway of 13 minutes. For Arcata, this
could mean a bus every 13 minutes from HSU to