The Case for a Regional Bus System

BART can’t go everywhere and never will be able to go everywhere. Therefore, to get the Region out of gridlock something else will be necessary. The activation of a regional bus system is one promising opportunity.  

A high-quality, out-of-congestion, regional bus system has been talked about ever since MTC formed in 1971. Yet every year struggling to get to where BART can’t go or pushing into increasingly jammed BART trains becomes more time-consuming and difficult. 

Whatever is done must be attractive enough to cause a significant number of solo drivers to become less dependent on their automobiles. The network of longer distance buses would therefore have to be highly efficient. Buses would need to travel faster than the adjacent traffic as well as be safe, reliable, and comfortable. In order for any of this to work the buses would have to operate in their own lanes, separate from mixed-flow traffic.

Because of safety, operational issues, cost and possible land use conflicts , getting such a system up and running in the Bay Area will not be easy. Since there is no one-size-fits-all solution, ascertaining which treatment would work best where, would require a significant amount of field work and follow-up design.

Questions to be answered:

             Operating in the median versus running on the outside lanes or shoulders of the roadway. Operating in medians of roadways would be safer and faster, but would cost more and require space for loading platforms as well as bus lanes. Running on outside lanes or shoulders would require buses to  cross mixed-flow traffic lanes at points of access and egress.

               Remaining on highways or other  trunk line roadways  versus detouring to off-highway transit stops. Going off-highway might make transferring easier. On the other hand, slowing down the “through service” to achieve this effect could easily discourage more through riders than could be gained from transfers.   Trains don’t leave their rights-of-way to pick up passengers.    

Several elaborate in-office regional bus studies have been developed. None of these studies is ready for release and all are much too complicated to dump on the entire region all at once. A better approach would be to start with one or perhaps two “starter lines”, chosen for their likelihood of success and ease of implementation and call that Phase I….with the rest to follow.

In terms of reducing regional traffic congestion, it’s become painfully clear that neither highway expansions, nor BART extensions nor regional bus service would work for long, unless accompanied by well thought out and vigorously enforced land use policies. Such policies would need to be carefully designed to prevent rapacious housing developers from taking advantage of added infrastructure by sprawling their projects ever farther from job centers. Instead, the emphasis should be developing self-contained villages and regional centers, complete with significant job opportunities, pedestrian amenities, commercial outlets, schools, public institutions and medical centers. To avoid the need for so much driving these centers would need to be easily traversed by bicycle or scooter and linked to one another by fast trains or buses traveling in bus-only lanes 

A solution to the current transportation/land use malaise is possible, but to get the job done will require responsible political leadership.  Is “responsible political leadership” an oxymoron in the Bay Area?  Many think so. BATWG remains more hopeful.


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