12th International HOV Systems Conference: Improving Mobility and Accessibility with Managed Lanes, Pricing, and BRT
BREAKOUT SESSION — BUSES, BRT, HOV, AND MANAGED LANES
William Finger, City of Charlotte, Presiding
The Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane: The Nation's Most Productive Managed Lane
Mark Muriello, The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
Mark Muriello discussed the Exclusive Bus Lane (XBL) in New York City. He described the tunnels and bridges operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the operation of the Lincoln Tunnel, and the XBL. He also highlighted recent studies examining options for enhancing operation of the tunnel and increasing capacity.
- The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey operates a number of bridges, tunnels, and terminals in the New York City area. These facilities include the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Goethals Bridge, the Holland Tunnel, and the Lincoln Tunnel.
- The Lincoln tunnel serves the midtown corridor into and out of Manhattan. The tunnel includes three tubes, each with two traffic lanes. In the morning, two tubes, or four traffic lanes operate in-bound toward Manhattan. In the midday, the middle tube operates with one lane in each direction of travel, providing a total of three lanes inbound and three lanes outbound. In the afternoon, two tubes or four traffic lanes, operate outbound from Manhattan.
- The XBL provides priority for buses approaching the Lincoln Tunnel in the morning, inbound direction. The XBL is a contraflow lane for buses only on I-495. The XBL uses the inside lane of the westbound freeway for buses. The configuration provides for three general-purpose lanes and the XBL lane in the eastbound direction and two general-purpose lanes in the westbound direction.
- The XBL is the busiest bus lane in the U.S. Some 1,700 buses use the lanes on a daily basis. These buses serve 62,000 weekday commuters. The XBL serves more commuters to Midtown than PATH, Ferries, or Penn Station commuter rail. The XBL saves commuters 15-20 minutes each day compared to traveling in personal vehicles.
- The Lincoln Tunnel and the XBL are significant parts of the mass transit system in the New York City area. Buses carry nearly 80 percent of all trips through the Lincoln Tunnel during the 6:00 a.m.-to-10:00 a.m. time period. The XBL alone carries over 50 percent of these commuters. Approximately 55 percent of all bus commuters to the Manhattan CBD arrive via the Lincoln Tunnel.
- The number of buses using the XBL has increased significantly over the past 25 years. A number of operational improvements have been made to deal with these increases and to enhance bus operations. A new acceleration lane was added to help maintain travel speeds and traffic flow at merge points. The acceleration lane helped increase throughput of the XBL.
- Capacity shortfalls have also been addressed with operational changes to enhance efficiency. Examples of these operation changes include prohibiting charter buses prior to 9:00 a.m. and prohibiting empty buses at all times. Other examples include the requirement that all XBL buses have E-Z Pass electronic toll payment tags and opening the XBL 15 minutes earlier.
- Planning is also underway examining the long-term transportation needs in the corridor. A range of options for the corridor are being assessed in partnership with an array of partners. These partners include federal, state, regional, and local agencies. Planning activities include a simulation of the Lincoln Tunnel corridor, and XBL expansion feasibility study, and a West Midtown bus parking and staging study. Other efforts include the Lincoln Tunnel HOT/express bus lane options study and the Lincoln Tunnel HOT/commercial vehicle priority lane options study.
- The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) is sponsoring a study to evaluate the feasibility of creating a second priority bus lane. The objective of the study is to increase the passenger throughput of the corridor and to enhance the reliability of the XBL. A full array of options are being explored. These options include operational alternatives to improve traffic flow and safety, physical alternatives for lane separation and ramp connections, and capital options to expand capacity. Capital options include the potential of widening the roadway, removing the center piers in the tunnel, and an elevated roadway scheme. Very limited right-of-way and the geometry of the existing facility provides significant challenges for many of the options.
- The FHWA's Value Pricing Pilot Program is sponsoring a study of pricing options to manage demand on the XBL with HOT lanes. A second XBL lane would be underutilized initially, so the study is examining the potential to fill some of the available capacity with non-bus HOVs or with non-HOV vehicles. The study is exploring pricing options that balance traffic demand with non-HOVs. Stated preference surveys of motorist are being conducted to help determine the tradeoffs between price and LOS variables, including travel time savings and trip-time reliability.
- The Lincoln Tunnel HOT lane study will help quantify and address concerns with potential lane conversion. The study will examine the LOS and delay in the remaining two regular travel lanes. It will also assess traffic queuing in the remaining regular travel lanes and the residual impacts on the local street network. The study will consider the need to balance demand for a new managed lane to ensure bus priority treatment and effective capacity utilization.
- The HOT commercial vehicle priority options study will explore the potential for commercial vehicles to receive priority treatment in a new special-use lane during the shoulders of the morning peak-period. The objective of this study is to find ways to take advantage of the presence of a separated lane to create travel time advantages and reliability improvements for small package and local delivery trucks.
The Evolution of Houston's Express Bus System
Jeff Arndt, Texas Transportation Institute
Jeff Arndt discussed the evolution of the express bus services in Houston associated with the development of the HOV lanes. He described the initial bus services operated with the I-45 contraflow HOV lane demonstration project, the implementation of more extensive services as the HOV lane system developed, and the integrated bus system in operation today.
- The I-45 North contraflow lane demonstration project was implemented in 1979. The bus service initiated with the contraflow lane focused on downtown Houston. Bus service was constrained by very limited access. There was no direct access to and from park-and-ride lots, which limited service flexibility. The concept of premium service, which included over-the-road coaches and other enhancements, was initiated with the contraflow lane. This initial authorized vehicle lane (AVL) concept with a focus on downtown Houston evolved into an HOV systems approach.
- Bus services were expanded as other HOV lanes were implemented. The design of the HOV lanes included direct connector ramps from major park-and-ride lots and transit centers. Service was expanded to non-downtown destinations, such as Uptown and Greenway Plaza. Direct service to these areas was provided from some park-and-ride lots, while connecting service from downtown or other transit centers was used in other cases.
- The continued development of the HOV lane system provided more flexibility in service. Direct non-CBD services continued to be expanded. Commuter route connections at transit centers were also implemented. In addition, a few two-way ramps were developed. Limited off-peak service was provided on some routes.
- The Houston experience highlights some lessons to be shared with other areas. First, the 2+ occupancy level caused some of the HOV lanes to become congested, degrading the travel time savings and trip-time reliability for buses and bus riders. Second, the system changed from trained and tested users to any traveler meeting the occupancy requirement. Over time there has been some erosion of transit incentives and vanpooling has diminished. Recently, there has been a focus on new users. The QuickRide program, which allows two-person carpools to use the I-10 West and the US 290 HOV lanes during the 3+ period for a fee, has been in operation for approximately five years.
- The current transit system in Houston represents a maturing service network. Transit centers provide connections for shuttle services, neighborhood circulation services, and commuter routes using the HOV lanes. There is also a connection to MetroRail, the new LRT line.
- Currently, some 104 miles of HOV lanes are in operation in six freeway corridors in Houston. The system also includes 25 park-and-ride lots and 17 transit centers. In December 2004, some 37,400 daily vehicle trips were made on the HOV lanes accounting for approximately 116,000 person trips. A total of 32,415 parking spaces were available at the park-and-ride lots, with approximately 17,126 parked vehicles on a daily basis.
Bus Rapid Transit Studies in the State of Maryland
Robert Boot, Jr., Parsons Brinckerhoff
Robert Boot discussed BRT studies and projects in Maryland. He described the main characteristics of BRT, summarized current BRT studies and projects in Maryland, and identified potential issues with implementing BRT.
- There are a number of factors influencing the consideration of BRT in communities throughout the world. BRT has lower upfront costs than other fixed guideway modes and can be implemented relatively quickly. BRT provides the opportunity to take advantage of underutilized rights-of-way. BRT provides operating flexibility and a way to increase transit ridership in select corridors. Local busways can also use portions of the dedicated BRT transitway.
- BRT is being considered in Maryland to help respond to increases in travel demand, limited resources, and transportation needs. The new governor and his administration examined future transportation needs and options. The study, Bus Rapid Transit: Flexibility by Design, Offering Mobility Options for Maryland, completed by the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) notes that BRT combines the service and quality of rail with the flexibility of buses.
- The 2004 Maryland Transportation Plan focuses on the goals of efficiency, mobility, safety and security, productivity and quality. The plan includes numerous strategies for addressing mobility needs. Consideration is given to BRT as a viable alternative to provide realistic solutions to customer needs in corridors throughout the state. It includes active consideration of BRT on managed highway lanes to lower vehicle-related emissions and to improve regional air quality while providing viable new transportation alternatives to Maryland's commuters.
- BRT projects in Maryland include the Red Line in Baltimore, the Green Line in Baltimore, the I-270/US 15 Corridor, and the Bi-County Transitway. Planning for the Red Line in Baltimore started in 2000. The project originated from the first comprehensive planning effort in nearly 40 years. In March 2003, the Baltimore Region Transit Plan was completed and adopted. The plan serves as a guide for the expansion of the Baltimore transit system.
- A number of issues had to be addressed with the Red Line project. There was community sensitivity related to possible impacts on property values and environmental concerns. Available right-of-way was limited in many parts of the corridor. There were also concerns about operating BRT in downtown Baltimore without taking an existing traffic lane.
- The Green Line in Baltimore also originated from the 2003 Baltimore Region Transit Plan. Potential issues with the Green Line included the preservation of green space along the roadway, as an existing grass median is the proposed location for the BRT. Determining potential station locations and existing density and ridership are other potential issues.
- The Corridor Cities Transitway (CCT) is proposed in the I-270/US 15 corridor. The corridor stretches from the Shady Grove Metro Station in the south to Briggs Ford Road in the north. The corridor includes both Montgomery and Frederick Counties. The CCT alignment was identified in county master plans in the 1970s. In 1994, a Major Investment Study (MIS) was initiated. Public meetings and workshops were held in 1995 through 1997 as part of this process. The MIS recommended alternatives for a detailed planning study. Informational public workshops were held in 2001 and focus group meetings were conducted in 2001 and 2002. The Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) was completed in 2002 and location/design public hearings were held. Public information meetings on express toll lanes (ETLs) were held in 2004 and minimization options refinements were completed.
- The Bi-County Transitway project was first identified in the Montgomery County Feasibility Studies in the 1980s related to the County's purchase of the Georgetown Branch railroad right-of-way. A transitway/trail was included in the County Master Plans. In 1996 the MTA completed the Georgetown Branch Transitway/Trail MIS/DEIS and the 2002 Capital Beltway/Purple Line Study was conducted. Possible issues with the Bi-County Transitway include potential community and environmental impacts. The jurisdiction in the area has different preferences. Connections with existing Metrorail service may also be a concern.
- There are some general issues that may need to be addressed with all the BRT projects. The first issue is the public perception of buses, which still seems to be lower than other transit modes. A second potential issue is balancing a quality system with possible impacts, including community impacts related to limited right-of-way. Third, there may be a perception that BRT is not conducive to transit oriented development. There may also be short-term and long-term implementation concerns.
Virtual Exclusive Busways (VEBs)
Robert Poole, Reason Foundation
Robert Poole described the virtual exclusive busway concept. He reviewed the early development of HOV lanes, which included a major focus on buses. He discussed how managed lanes and pricing can provide a virtual exclusive busway. He recognized the assistance of Ted Balaker of the Reason Foundation with the study and the presentation.
- Value pricing makes it feasible to realize the promise of exclusive busways by providing high-speed, high-frequency bus service that is sustainable on a long-term basis. In the real world of limited funding, however, there is a need to re-think how special-purpose lanes are used.
- Some HOV lanes began as busways. FHWA/UMTA policy in the 1970s supported busways. There are only a few exclusive busways today, however. These facilities include the Lincoln Tunnel XBL, the Pittsburgh busways, the Miami busway, the Seattle bus tunnel, and surface-street busways in Las Vegas and Orlando.
- Concerns about low use with bus-only lanes led to allowing HOVs. The Shirley Highway busway demonstration project started as buses, vanpools, and 4+ HOVs in 1973. The occupancy requirement was lowered to 3+ in 1989. The Los Angeles El Monte Busway on the San Bernardino Freeway in Los Angeles was opened to 3+ carpools in 1976. The I-10 West HOV lane in Houston began with a carpool definition of 4+. This requirement was lowered to 3+ and then to 2+. Nationwide, the percentage of commuters who carpool has declined since 1980. The lane miles of HOV facilities have increased during this same time period.
- A significant percentage of carpools are formed with family members. This trend was identified in Commuting in America II. Recent surveys in San Francisco, southern California, southeast Wisconsin, and Minneapolis-St. Paul, indicate that family-based carpools account for between 33 percent and 67 percent of total carpools.
- It appears that vanpooling has been hurt by carpool preference. The time-savings realized by HOVs is reduced when the lanes are filled with 2+ carpools. Also a larger time savings is needed to offset the time cost of assembling a vanpool. Vanpooling is a highly cost-effective mode. The cost recovery ratio of vanpools sponsored by public transportation agencies throughout the country range from a low of 30 percent to a high of 117 percent. The overall average of nine vanpool programs was 80 percent. Vanpools are also energy-efficient. Vanpools have the lowest British Thermal Unit (BTU) per passenger mile of transit modes and personal automobiles.
- BRT in HOV lanes is not sustainable. At the 2+ vehicle-occupancy level HOV lanes become congested and travel time savings and trip time reliability to transit is lost. There may not be enough demand at a 3+ vehicle-occupancy level and an HOV lane may suffer from the empty-lane syndrome. There is no way to fine tune occupancy as you cannot have a 2.7 vehicle-occupancy requirement.
- Value pricing offers precise control. The I-15 HOT lane uses quasi-real-time variable pricing. The 91 Express Lanes use a fine-tuned rate schedule, with periodic adjustments. The Express Lanes carry 49 percent of peak traffic with 33 percent of the lane capacity. Both facilities offer reliable high speeds during rush hours.
- The virtual exclusive busway (VEB) concept would use value-priced lanes or networks. Pre-defined capacity would be reserved for buses and super-HOVs. The remaining capacity would be sold through value pricing.
- An example of VEB capacity highlights how the concept would work. First, the capacity of a lane is approximately 1,700 vehicles per lane per hour. Second, space would be allocated for 60 buses per hour, which is the equivalent of 120 personal vehicles an hour. The remaining available capacity in the lane is 1,580 vehicles an hour. A percentage of this capacity would be allocated to vanpools and super-HOVs. The remaining capacity would be allocated to paying customers.
- The managed lanes project on I-10 West in Houston provides a VEB prototype. The project represents a partnership among Houston METRO, TxDOT, and HCTRA. The four new managed lanes in the center of the expanded freeway will use value pricing. HCTRA is helping the fund the lanes and will operate them. METRO is guaranteed 65 buses and hour and 25 percent of capacity for buses and HOVs. A LOS C will be maintained using pricing and occupancy controls.
- The I-10 West managed lanes highlight the benefits to transit of this approach. Although METRO will not receive any toll revenues, it will be able to operate 65 buses an hour, which is above current service levels. FTA approval was granted based on maintaining a LOS C. A 3+ occupancy requirement will be used for carpools to travel for free. All of these elements are covered in a MOU. A VEB can facilitate region-wide express bus/BRT service. A regional network would require construction of new lanes and flyovers. These major capital costs would be paid out of toll revenues.
- A VEB network provides a cost-effective approach. The cost of a 500-lane-mile VEB network has been estimated at $2 billion-to-$3 billion in the Reason Foundation studies. In comparison, FTA data indicates the cost of a 250 route-mile light rail system is $31 billion and the cost of a 250 route-mile heavy rail system is $38 billion. In addition, the VEB guideway would not depend on FTA funding.
- Managed lanes are being considered in a number of metropolitan areas through the country. Some changes in policies are needed for VEB networks. First, there must be clear FTA policy approving HOV to HOT conversions. Second, managed lanes need to be defined as "guideways" in Section 5302 of Title 49. Third, VEB or VEB networks need to be considered an alternative in new starts evaluations. Finally, VEBs should be made eligible for New Starts funding for buses, stations, and park-and-ride facilities.
- Exclusive busways are key to competitive express bus/BRT. Exclusive busways are too costly and are wasteful of capacity. VEB is feasible with value pricing and with agency cooperation. VEB can provide a win-win situation for transit agencies, motorists, and state departments of transportation.