RED lanes can make transit faster
You have likely heard the saying, "Politics is the art of the possible."
That phrase apparently originated 150 years ago this year, by Otto von Bismarck.
Transportation has, or should, have the identical phrasing: "Any traffic engineering/transit improvement is the art of the possible."
To make things more possible in transportation - an industry where projects invariably take too long and cost too much - a push for simplicity can help create understanding and maintain support.
For an example, let's talk about transit.
I have heard some advocates say that in order to have "true" bus rapid transit you have to have lanes dedicated exclusively for transit for the entire corridor.
My response is two-fold. One, that may not be the best use of limited space in an urban area, at least at the current state of a market's evolution and thinking - and two, you may not be able to deliver a dedicated lane in all places and times that you want one.
Clearly, we should look for opportunities to provide a dedicated pathway for transit where possible to keep buses moving through congested locations. Prioritizing transit is helpful, it sends a message of that priority, and it encourages use, which improves the overall system.
And, one of the best improvements in the last few years has been to paint bus lanes red — like in NYC, DC and San Francisco. This simple act has reduced both intentional and inadvertent bus lane violations in cities, and thus improved transit performance.
Thinking about a dedicated lane, one challenge is that even with high frequency transit, it will remain completely empty for up to 10 or 15 minutes at a time between buses. This is not a recipe for public support, particularly in areas where a strong transit culture does not exist.
However, in many cases, you can have limited use of the lanes by other important uses; for example, by first responders heading to an emergency, or by people turning right into the next intersection or to access a business. These are legitimate uses that occur in "dedicated" transit lanes today, and while they can have some negative effects on transit performance, they can also maintain support for having or retaining the lane to begin with.
To encourage support for and understanding of these lanes, my sense is that we could call these dedicated, red-colored bus lanes as “RED” lanes, since Right turns, Emergency response, and Driveway access would also be allowed.
Providing dedicated RED lanes whenever possible will help ensure frequent service and on-time performance.
Wherever possible means - wherever there is money and political support.
Keep in mind - putting RED lanes in where possible now - and not trying to push beyond what is achievable at the current time - can help create the groundwork for future additions to the RED lane network, as success grows and the dynamics of support change.
So let's paint the town RED - at a pace consistent with a market's growth and thinking - and make transit faster.