Don’t you hate it when you have this really funny line that turns out not that funny and morally requires you to do some research to defend how supposedly funny and/or true the line is?
Yeah, I know. Happens all the time.
What the hell am I talking about? I’ll get to the ostensible “joke” later, but let’s dive into some “facts” first.
Regarding Albuquerque Rapid Transit (ART), we often hear from proponents and CABQ officials that we can be “like Cleveland.” Cleveland has Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) so popular, the BRT line has corporate sponsorship. Cleveland’s “HealthLine” is the ne plus ultra model for BRT in the United States, and Mayor Berry and other ART proponents frequently refer to Cleveland in selling BRT in Burque. So do plenty of other cities with nascent BRT systems, scattered throughout the country.
In fact, plenty of places are trying be Cleveland, so many that there’s a website with a map like this:
Clicking through the interactive webpage depicted above, one can see, eventually (the site is a bit clunky in places), how cities around the country are in various stages of trying to be Cleveland. Some, like Minneapolis, Fort Worth, and Grand Rapids, have somewhat nascent up-and-running BRT systems. Others, like Cleveland and Salt Lake City, have been around long enough to become models, and have research papers written about them.
A quick study made necessary by my poor sense of humor (again, more about that in a bit) shows “BRT” doesn’t mean exactly the same thing This fact is lost somewhat in the polemics of the ART debate in Burque. Looking at other BRT systems, here are some basic differences via questions:
- How frequent is the service? (Every 15 minutes? Every 10? Or as frequent as Cleveland’s 7.5 minutes during peak hours?)
- Did the city perform major road reconstruction in creating its BRT? Some cities (e.g., Cleveland and Las Vegas) have torn up the street big-time, while others, such as Grand Rapids, merely designate existing lanes as BRT-only during peak hours.
- Dedicated lanes or not? I haven’t looked at all of the little icons/BRTs in the visual above, but looking around so far shows plenty of cities that DO NOT have dedicated lanes for their BRT. These places also tend to have buses every 15 minutes instead of 7.5. In other words…these BRTs are, in many ways, like ABQ’s existing Rapid Ride service. Las Vegas has one dedicated lane service, the “Sahara Express,” amid several other non-dedicated lane lines.
- What do the bus stops/stations look like? Minneapolis has fancy, enclosed bus station “stops,” as might be expected in such a northern clime. Other cities have only various degrees of glorified bus stop.
- Bikes on-board, or via front-end racks? One wrinkle in this question is whether the system has on-board bike racks (see below from Minneapolis) or just has riders stand with their bike.
- Is the BRT having trouble even getting built/started? While the map above has plenty of green icons (and other operating systems in cases of cities with lines both up-and-running & planned) there are others in gray. And this “gray area” is more widespread that just Albuquerque:
- Indianapolis is at almost precisely the point Burque is in developing its BRT. The Feds have just dedicated $75m of the estimated $96 in the city’s first phase and Indianapolis is now experiencing the same vehement argument we are having in ABQ.
- Pittsburgh has been talking BRT for years now, with an advisory committee formed to create the project way back in 2009. The line still hasn’t been built. One great idea its proponents at “GetTherePGH” have had in setting up an online “BRT Simulator” that allows users to design and submit individually-created plans for the system. Unfortunately, I couldn’t get the simulator to work, which might be somewhat symbolic of Pittsburgh’s effort at this point.
- Then there’s Nashville. What started as Mayor Karl Dean’s dream of connecting his city through a “trackless trolley” named “The AMP” was killed, the murder being committed in sizable part by the Koch Brothers. Today, Nashville has only BRT “Lite,” the pointedly official name of a line far from Mayor Dean’s dream. Like ABQ, Nashville was awarded federal dollars to create The AMP, and while ART proponents and officials often cite the claim that no city has turned down federal dollars to build BRTs, Nashville basically did exactly that.
Timing is everything in comedy, and I’ll make the unfunny even more so by telling the “rest of the story” a few hundred words too late. I’ve always been struck by the comparisons by ART proponents to Cleveland and figured it had at least a little something to do with our need here in Burque to compare ourselves with other similarly poor reputation towns. To say we have an inferiority complex in Burque is both true and worthy of about 100,000 words that I’ll save for another time. In every ART public meeting I’ve attended, at least one opponent has mentioned that “we’re not New York City” or “that might work in San Francisco” in a way that gives one a “we don’t deserve nice things” bad taste in the mouth. We’re poor and lacking in community self-confidence, so we have to compare ourselves with Cleveland.
But when it comes to BRT, Cleveland really is the “nice things,” former reputation be damned. So my “joke” is unfunny on every level imaginable. Still, BRT means many things around the country, and damn close to only one of those things, currently, is Cleveland. The gray areas are wide, myriad and worth a better look at we get to ART “end game” and construction purportedly begins.