Dual Use concept for Durham-Orange corridor

Support for Exploration of Dual Use Transitway  The current plan for the corridor is an exclusive light rail transitway between southern Chapel Hill/UNC, Duke University, and Downtown Durham, and the project achieved its environmental record of decision in early 2016. To optimize the usefulness of the proposed major investment in the Durham-Orange corridor, the RTA and the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce endorsed the consideration of dual use operation for portions of the transitway corridor (e.g., east of Chapel Hill) by “interlining” bus rapid transit operation along the corridor.

Seattle-dual-useRTA observed dual use operation during our visit to the Seattle bus-rail transit tunnel in 2014 during the creation of our video on bus rapid transit, and a similar arrangement in Pittsburgh during our Leadership Tour in 2012.

Potential benefits of Dual Use  Dual use enables multiple transit modes to share a specific travel way for all or a portion of a transit corridor. In this case, dual use for the Durham-Orange corridor would mean that bus rapid transit would share portions of the Durham-Orange light rail travelway which would ideally allow for a more optimized and efficient use of a vital transit capital asset. Dual use would also carry the potential to create a more regional and frequent system, reduce transfers, maximize ridership, and enhance economic development.

Dual use for portions of the Durham-Orange corridor could accelerate strong regional connectivity and enhance operational efficiency by enabling travelers to/from Carrboro, downtown Chapel Hill, southern Durham/Southpoint, RTP, RDU, Wake County, etc. to take advantage of portions of a dedicated transitway corridor.

Funding and scalability  We cannot leave our regional transit future to unexpected changes or limitations in state funding, or federal funding for that matter. The regional business community applauds the prior leadership of the voters and elected officials in Durham and Orange counties for their affirmative referendum votes earlier this decade, we look forward to a successful transit referendum vote in Wake County in 2016, and we remain focused on identifying and accelerating the implementation of vital transit connections across our entire region.

Viability of Dual Use  (April 2016)  After analysis by GoTriangle professional staff, it became clear that the dual use concept presented many challenges, and would not be optimal from either an operational, financial, safety or timing standpoint, and therefore RTA, GoTriangle, and the Chamber have pivoted to exploring a series of scalable transit and other multimodal improvements to the 54 corridor which can complement the light rail.

Frequently Asked Questions – Dual Use

Q. Why did the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce and the Regional Transportation Alliance business coalition support consideration of dual use of portions of the proposed transitway between Chapel Hill and Durham?

Incorporating bus rapid transit along portions of the guideway – particularly the section along NC 54 from UNC Hospitals to Leigh Village at I-40 – would increase the benefits and create the opportunity to minimize transfers for those traveling west beyond the corridor to Downtown Chapel Hill or Carrboro, and/or for those patrons traveling east to SouthPoint, RTP, RDU, and Wake County destinations.  These connections are particularly important to Chapel Hill/Carrboro businesses, many of which are located in or near our respective downtowns, and would complement the proposed bus rapid transit corridor along MLK Boulevard and 15-501 south in Chapel Hill.

Q. Do other existing or proposed transit corridors include the concept of dual use?

D-O-dual-useYes. In fact, a portion of this same proposed Durham-Orange corridor is already slated to incorporate a section of dual use guideway east of Durham bus station in its existing design. In addition, both Pittsburgh and Seattle have portions of reserved guideways that currently operate as dual use with success, and in fact any former trolley or streetcar on an urban street would be an example of dual use.

Q. Are there time or cost implications involved in considering and implementing dual use?

Designing portions of the corridor for dual use would require some time and may create some cost implications. However, the resulting higher ridership, fewer transfers, and stronger regional connections are substantial benefits for the system and for our community that will only grow over time. In addition, the Chamber and the RTA recognized that constructing the corridor for dual use now will be infinitely easier than attempting to retrofit an active light rail line for dual use in the future. The Durham-Orange transit corridor is a long-term investment that will provide decades of use for our community, and the Chamber believes it is worth taking the time to review and incorporate this option now so that we can maximize the regional benefits of this corridor both upon its opening and in the years to come.

Q. Can service quality and ridership can be improved with dual use operation?

The original alternatives analysis for the corridor noted that bus rapid transit alternatives actually “outperform the LRT (light rail transit alternative) in their ability to meet Goal 1: Improve mobility through and within the study corridor, Goal 2: Increase transit efficiency and quality of service, and Goal 3: Improve transit connections” and that “ridership on the BRT‐High and BRT‐Low Alternatives exceeds that of the LRT Alternative, even with a longer travel time.”

While analysis would be required to determine capacity and operational limitations, with light rail trains slated to run only every ten minutes during rush hour and every twenty minutes otherwise, there is clearly the potential to add interlined bus rapid transit along the corridor that would reduce transfers and improve corridor ridership.

Q. How will the use of buses impact the overall environment?

The original alternatives analysis for the corridor noted that “Each of the three alternatives – LRT, BRT‐High, and BRT‐Low also meet Goal 5: Foster environmental stewardship; however, the use of fossil fuels by buses makes LRT a more sustainable and desirable technology over the long term.”

Since the alternatives analysis was performed, electric bus technology has progressed substantially, and indeed the use of fossil fuels is not a requirement for bus operation along this or any corridor.

Q. How will the use of buses impact cost effectiveness?

Additional analysis would be required to determine the specific cost and benefits of dual use. However, the original alternatives analysis for the corridor noted that “From a cost perspective, the BRT‐High and BRT‐Low Alternatives best meet Goal 6: Provide a cost effective transit investment by providing a lower capital cost investment and O&M costs within the planning horizon for the proposed project.”

Q. Can dual use further economic development goals?

While acknowledging that “the BRT Alternatives are competitive regarding most project goals”, the original alternatives analysis for the corridor stated in 2012 that “the LRT Alternative clearly surpasses the BRT Alternatives under Goal 4: Support local and regional economic development and planned growth management initiatives. The LRT Alternative has demonstrated public support and a proven record of producing local and regional economic development benefits by enhancing and focusing growth within LRT corridors. LRT enhances opportunities for transit‐oriented development (TOD), and the resulting TOD can achieve rental rate premiums and higher land values over non‐light rail served properties. Impressive levels of development have been constructed along LRT lines in many examples across the nation. As evidenced by the dollars of investment with LRT corridors such as the Charlotte Blue Line, developers are interested in constructing transit oriented development at LRT stations, as they see the value in the transportation advantage afforded by LRT. Further, in support of planned growth management initiatives, LRT’s proven ability to focus growth would, in the long run have a more substantial impact on mobility because the land use impacts will result in more choices that can reduce impacts to the highway system.”

Cleveland-BRT-econ-devIn January 2016, Transportation for America released a peer-reviewed study that highlighted the positive economic development impacts of bus rapid transit.The study “found strong evidence that BRT systems in the U.S. can indeed generate economic development, attract jobs, retail and affordable housing.” Report author (and 2014 RTA Transit Innovations Series presenter) Dr. Arthur C. Nelson stated that “Unlike the presumptions of some, bus rapid transit systems have important effects on metropolitan development patterns,” report author Dr. Arthur C. Nelson said in the study. “At substantially lower costs, BRT generates important and sometimes impressive development outcomes.”

Q. Was the exploration of dual use worthwhile?  (April 2016)  Yes. While GoTriangle professional staff determined that Dual Use would not be optimal, the conversation on dual use was still an important step because it highlighted the importance of serving additional travel markets complementary to the light rail corridor as the region grows. In addition, some of the potential benefits of BRT for portions of the corridor may be realized along the NC 54 corridor as part of the Multimodal 54 initiative.

Q. What were the original objectives of RTA for the discussion of Dual Use for the Durham-Orange corridor? (September 2015)

We offered the following recommendations for the Durham-Orange corridor as part of the conversation surrounding dual use:

  • RTA endorses dual use of portions of the proposed light rail corridor by bus rapid transit to ensure and accelerate strong regional connectivity and enhance operational efficiency.
  • Sections with dual use would operate as a transitway, similar to the proposed dual use guideway segment east of Durham station.
  • Dual use of portions of the Durham-Orange corridor (pdf) would have several benefits, including:
    – Optimize use of proposed corridor
    – Increase transit ridership along corridor guideway via interlining
    – Higher transit frequency to minimize patron delays
    – Strengthen regional connections and reduce transfers
    – Allow more travel paths to utilize corridor
    – Direct connections from Downtown Chapel Hill, Carrboro with/to Southpoint, RTP, RDU, Wake Co.
    – Leverage existing and future road infrastructure
    – May enhance economic development within and/or beyond route