Earlier this month RTA led one of our largest leadership briefings and tours to date, with more than 75 elected officials, transportation partners, and RTA members visiting the City of Richmond and Henrico County, Virginia to experience their brand-new Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system.

The Pulse BRT – and accompanying frequent bus network redesign and corridor land use plan – offered several insights as our region advances six proposed Rapid transit lines:  four BRT corridors in Raleigh and Cary, one BRT line in Chapel Hill, and the light rail corridor between Durham and Chapel Hill.

Richmond showed us an attractive, functional, and cost-effective BRT system – around 7.5 miles in length for about $65 million, or around $9 million per mile – that took advantage of favorable geography, generous existing boulevard width, and a conducive adjacent street grid. We are anticipating spending somewhat more than that – perhaps $15 to $18 million per mile on average – for our five BRT lines given our resources and conditions here in Cary, Chapel Hill, Garner, and Raleigh.

Our group had a number of takeaways from the tour. To keep things simple, here are 5 “F” observations about the benefits of the Richmond BRT and this month’s RTA Tour:

  • Frequent – While the new Pulse BRT and all five proposed Triangle BRT lines will have 10 minute or better peak frequency, the Pulse BRT will also have 10 minute frequency for weekday off-peak periods starting in October. While Chapel Hill will also have 10 minute weekday off-peak service, Wake BRT lines are currently projected to have 15 minute headways. The Pulse experience should encourage us to evaluate the option for extending 10-minute frequent all-day BRT service, including ways to fund it. (VCU in Richmond is contributing about $1 million annually for the system to create the more frequent service for all patrons).
  • Faster – The existence of an open and attractive BRT line in nearby Richmond should catalyze efforts to quickly move our projects along from planning to implementation, leveraging the scalable nature of BRT to deliver enhanced service as soon as possible. Hopefully we can initiate 15-minute service and new or interim stations even prior to completion of dedicated lanes, so that our community can gain the mobility and focused land use benefits of BRT sooner.
  • “Floor” – The Pulse BRT incorporates beautiful stations, off-board fare collection, real time information, near-level boarding, and more to make the experience simpler, easier, and more pleasant for the passenger. Given the far higher resources available for transit in our market – more than $100 million annually for new transit in Wake County alone – these service characteristics and amenities should be the “floor” or our minimum expectations of what is acceptable here.
  • Focused land use – Last year, Richmond City Council unanimously approved the Pulse corridor plan to appropriately increase density, focus development, and provide equitable access along the corridor. One of our speakers, Richmond Director of Planning and Development Review Mark Olinger, highlighted Richmond’s approach for designing the corridor not as a neighborhood edge, but a place and center in its own right.
  • Front page – The RTA Tour provided focus on the issue and elevated the topic. WRAL-TV and the Raleigh News & Observer both sent reporters to Virginia to participate; the 75 plus attendee RTA tour was the front-page story earlier this month in the N&O. This tells us that the future of enhanced transit is vitally important to our regional community, and we have to get it right.

See more takeaways from tour participants below, captured by Richard Stradling with the N&O and Mandy Mitchell with WRAL.

More information about our visit, including all of the presentations and materials, is available at letsgetmoving.org/tour. In addition, several of our regional partners helped us compile this BRT comparator that highlights the features of the six existing and planned BRT corridors in central Va. and central NC. Thank you to Kelly Blazey with the Town of Cary and Matt Cecil with the Town of Chapel Hill for your tremendous assistance with this.

Looking ahead   BRT plus the associated 50+ mile frequent network expansion will transform mobility and accessibility in Wake County. Chapel Hill’s BRT will provide excellent service and provide a vital complement to the future light rail in Durham and Orange counties. We will go from zero to five bus rapid transit lines in less than ten years in our region – this is game-changing for transit and travel in our region for both residents and visitors. The Pulse gave us a glimpse of the possible, and what our future will be.

While there are currently five approved bus rapid transit corridors, I am confident there will be more BRT lines proposed for Wake, Durham, Orange and nearby counties as the months and years progress, technology improves, and awareness increases of the opportunities and network benefits of an attractive, cost-effective, and very useful transit solution that can be tailored for each community.

Let’s get moving,

Joe

Joe Milazzo II, PE
RTA Executive Director


Quotes from RTA Tour participants via News & Observer and WRAL-TV

“It’s bus service the way you always wanted it to be. It’s faster, it’s more efficient, and it’s more comfortable.” – Michael Parker, Chapel Hill Town Council, and GoTriangle Board of Trustees

“Everybody’s on the bus of all ages and I think it’s great – that’s what we want in our system.”Corey Branch, Raleigh City Council

“There was a lot of thought made to how to get people on and off the bus quickly and easily and safely. The stations here are quite beautiful, they’re kind of iconic.” Lori Bush, Cary Town Council

“The value is that we’re seeing in Richmond what we’re going to have in Wake County with bus rapid transit—a brand new technology that our citizens are going to be able to access. The stations are larger, so it has a lot of the feel of a rail-type system.”  – Sig Hutchinson, Wake County Board of Commissioners, and GoTriangle Board of Trustees

“I mean this is really nice. The ease of use is fantastic. It’s not a diesel vehicle; if it doesn’t smell like a school bus you’ll be more apt to use it, right? So I think there’s a lot of elements here that kind of have that sexy factor.” Jennifer Robinson, Cary Town Council, and chair of the GoTriangle Board of Trustees