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Better Buses: Signal Priority

I recently got back from a trip to Albuquerque, and had a chance to ride the Rapid Ride buses which have been speeding bus passengers along the Central Avenue route since 2004. They use 60-foot articulated buses like here in New York, but theirs are low-floor and have three sets of doors instead of two. Getting off at the Frontier restaurant (announced by name, presumably sponsored, awesome green chile cheeseburgers), a woman tried to exit the front door to retrieve her bike, but the driver told her she had to exit through the middle doors. That would definitely speed boarding, as I discussed the other day.

Another feature that can speed the buses is signal priority: traffic lights will stay yellow a little longer for the bus, or change to green a bit sooner. I’d heard about it but never seen it in action. However, I had sure spent my share of time waiting at stoplights during my two years in Albuquerque! This week, I noticed several points when the buses went through lights that seemed to stay yellow for an awfully long time. I remember hardly any red lights, but those few seemed to be over pretty quick. Mainly, I just had the impression that the bus got from downtown to campus or Old Town a lot quicker than I remembered from 1999.

The third feature is that the Rapid Ride routes are limited-stop, like our limited routes in New York. Both of the current routes have corresponding local routes for people who want the intermediate stops.

Building on the success of the Central Avenue “Red Line,” in 2007 the city inaugurated the “Blue Line” along Coors, I-40 and Lomas. I had dinner with a friend who lives in the West Mesa sprawl and was the last person I would have expected to see on the bus. But she told me that she now takes the Blue Line to campus and has been saving lots of money.

I’d love to see signal priority implemented here in New York. PlaNYC recommended it for the Q18 bus to Astoria, which is a good pilot route. All I know is that I’d get around town a lot faster if buses didn’t spend so much time at red lights.

Again, this is a feature that is often touted as “BRT,” but it doesn’t have to be implemented as part of a BRT package. Rapid Ride has several of the fingerprints of BRT consultants (name, logo, limited stops, low-floor articulated buses) but not exclusive right-of-way or prepayment.

I honestly think my friend would have taken it even without the name or logo. The speed was obviously a big factor, but convenience was too: when I lived there, getting to the West Mesa from campus involved taking two local buses and transferring; the express buses ran only a few times a day. Now the Rapid Ride Blue runs every 15-20 minutes until 6PM, and every half hour after that until 9PM. She also mentioned that the free bus passes for UNM faculty, staff and students were a big factor in getting her to try the service. I honestly don’t know why more colleges don’t offer free bus passes; it’s cheaper than building parking lots!

Photo: wastemanagementdude / Flickr

grvsmth (Author)

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