Proponents of “bus rapid transit” (BRT) like to portray it as a package, but the whole isn’t necessarily greater than the sum of the parts. You can improve performance with just one or two of the “BRT” components, as I learned in San Juan.
Dedicated busways are one such component, and one way to create them is with counterflow lanes. I had used facilities like this in Paris, and they definitely sped up the trip from de Gaulle airport. Now they have them in San Juan.
Photo via CaribbeanBusinessPR.com.
Unlike in Paris, the lanes in San Juan are not physically separated from the other lanes. However, any motorist who tries to use a lane will come face to face with a bus, and that discourages the kind of lane-squatting that’s common here in New York.
In fact, we only saw one instance of lane-squatting during our four days there. When passing the Department of Agriculture the bus stopped. A woman and a man were examining a fence around the building grounds, and the woman apparently felt that she was too important to park anywhere other than a few feet away. She wasn’t going anywhere in particular, so she had the upper hand. The bus eventually had to go around, and it was the bus driver who had to brave a head-on collision.
We never took a bus during rush hour traffic, so I can’t really say how well the counterflow lanes performed relative to that. All of our experiences with the bus getting slowed down by congestion – including one eternal construction delay – were along Ashford Avenue, which is too narrow for a bus lane. It doesn’t even have curbside parking on both sides the whole way.
Counterflow lanes clearly are not enough to make a well-functioning bus system, but with a bit more help (say, increased frequency), they can make a big difference. I wonder how well it would work if the Fifth and Madison Avenue bus lanes were switched in Manhattan.