Defining Success for Indy BRT

BRT System (image course: Indianapolis MPO Study)
BRT System (image course: Indianapolis MPO Study)

The study for Indianapolis’ coming bus rapid transit (BRT) lines will commence early in 2013. These will be the first rapid transit lines designed from the Indy Connect regional transit plan. Urban Indy has reported on this previously and details can be obtained here and here and here.

Moving forward, the project teams will conduct an alternative analysis for 2 lines, one east/west along the Washington Street Corridor from the far east side to the airport and one north/south roughly along the Meridian Street Corridor and stretching as far east as College Ave from Carmel to Greenwood. The study being conducted is loosely referred to as the “Central Corridors”.

A lengthy workshop document was released from the Indianapolis MPO laying out possible design scenarios and the important criteria that must be satisfied in order for the design to be considered successful. In engineering terms, we would define a “problem statement” that sounds something like this,

“Provide rapid transit in the corridor that is of fixed route type, provides all day service, focuses on high demand, substantially improves travel time vs current service and may operate on a “fixed guideway”

As you can see, that is a lengthy statement. However, it defines what the design teams will keep in front of them when it comes to laying out the options and deciding what trade-0ffs best satisfy the problem. Lets explore each of those a little more in detail.

Rapid Transit

What is rapid transit? According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA),

“In the U.S., in order to qualify as a Small Start under FTA guidelines, a corridor-based bus project is required to offer as a minimum 10-minute service during peak periods and 15-minute service during off peak times, for at least 14 hours per day in total.”

The MPO’s BRT workshop presentation states the same thing. Although there will be some negotiating of this to include perhaps 7.5 minute headways during peak commute hours, it is safe to say that at least 10 minute headways are a reasonable expectation and thus, “rapid”. All Day service could also be included under this heading as defined in the APTA definition of 14 hours a day.

Fixed Route

Fixed route simply means that there is a known and unchanging route that the bus line will follow. The foundation of any transit system is the fixed route.  Not to confuse any further, but fixed routes in Indy are all the numbered routes, ie: 8, 10, 39, 17, 19, etc… simply put, people need to know where the bus runs and that it will never change.

High Demand Corridors

Defining high demand corridors may also be a gray era. What is “high demand”? If we simply look at the existing “high demand” IndyGo lines, the 8, 10 & 39 and to a lesser extent the 19 & 17, it begins to paint a picture of the current high demand routes. Indeed, the 2013 service improvements center on the 8, 10 & 39 for increased frequency to meet the demand currently existing for transit service in those corridors. Thus, the Washington Street (east/west) and Meridian (north/south) corridors make logical sense.

Fixed Guideway

The  streets that the new bus lines are selected to run upon, will likely become a hotly contested debate. Nearly as hot, will be how the service will physically “look” on said streets. The design will also be key in determining how succesful the new lines will be. Will the buses have their own lanes? Will there be paint stripes separating them from autos or will there be a curb? How many automobile lanes will need to be displaced to do this?  To be sure, there will be a lot of opportunities to excel along any BRT line in Indianapolis. A large portion of potential streets that are being considered for BRT already have 4 or 5 lanes in the cross section currently dedicated to serving automobiles and existing IndyGo fixed route service. If we look across the world at successful “fixed guideway” BRT, Central America takes the award for arguably most successful. Bogota’s Transmilenio is world renowned for it’s success in delivering a large amount of rides. Pictured below, you can see it has a generous amount of the roadway allowing buses to run unimpeded between stations while private use automobiles sit in traffic relegated to watching. Other’s may describe this as a “1st Class ” running way which is to say, it does not share usage with other modes or vehicles.

Bogota BRT (image credit: Claudio Olivares Medina)
Bogota BRT (image credit: Claudio Olivares Medina)

It is probably a long stretch to expect anything of this nature along either the N/S or E/W corridors. While they are currently high demand transit corridors, they are also high demand automobile corridors. Displacing the amount of cars needed to create a 1st class guideway would likely create way too much political static for any politician to handle; especially in conservative Indianapolis.

Nantes, FR Busway (image credit: Flickr User IngolfBLN)
Nantes, FR Busway (image credit: Flickr User IngolfBLN)

What sort of compromises can be made then? For this, there are 2nd class or 3rd class guideways. 2nd class guideways are defined as those in which dedicated lanes may be given to the transit mode, yet it still interacts with automobiles, freight trains, etc along it’s running way. Pictured above, is Nantes France where a 6km busway exists and provides rapid service to its citizens. Cleveland’s Healthline, which we have also written about, could be considered a 2nd class guideway. 3rd class is lesser still in that it may only have dedicated lanes near station areas or have dedicated lanes at only certain times of the day. Kansas City’s MAX is a good example of a 3rd class BRT.

Kansas City MAX at a "station"
Kansas City MAX at a “station”

If you were to ask me what I think, what we will likely end up with in Indy is a mix of a 2nd & 3rd class system. Some portions will likely have their own dedicated way, while other portions of the line will be designed to run mixed with traffic. To qualify for Small Starts Federal Funding, 50% of the line must be fixed guideway in the peak operating period. So if there is hope to gain federal funds for these projects, the design must include portions of fixed service.


Cleveland BRT (image credit: Matt Johnson of GGW)
Cleveland BRT (image credit: Matt Johnson of GGW)

Along these fixed guideways, buses will run. What will they look like? How fast will they go? As with the federal rules for fixed guideway design, they also specify that the service must be specially branded. The buses will look different than the current 40′ long buses running the streets of Indy. In most cases, BRT lines employ longer, 60′ long articulated buses. This serves a dual function of not only appearing different, but also accommodating the higher number of expected riders of the frequent service. As you can see above, Cleveland’s service has been branded the Healthline, which is sponsored by the Cleveland Clinic and University Hospital.

A station on Cleveland's Healthline BRT
A station on Cleveland’s Healthline BRT

Stations & Ticketing

Included in the fixed guideway portion should be something about station design and ticketing. Indeed, the hallmark of a successful transit line is how many people use it. Providing incentives that make the service attractive and easy to use will be key in drawing people out of their cars and to the service. Thus, providing respectable, attractive and easy to use means of waiting on and boarding the vehicle need to be designed. Shelter spacing, and the only place riders will be allowed to board, will likely be placed in roughly 1/2 mile increments. These distances have shown to be the maximum in which someone would walk to a successful rapid transit station. A successful shelter will provide respite from the weather, provide information on when the next bus will arrive and also provide a means of purchasing tickets ahead of time, kind of like a rail service would. It will also allow easy arrival and departure for the bus. Median placed lanes (and thus station location) have shown to be more successful in reducing the amount of time buses wait at the station (which all bus riders will tell you, tremendously slows the trip). Sidewalk boarding platforms have shown to be susceptible to delay due to parked or turning vehicles (also called friction) as well as providing more space for cars in the middle of the ROW to flow unimpeded resulting in higher traffic speeds and a measure of un-desirable pedestrian environments. In contrast, median bus lanes have been witness to providing a break between speeding automobiles, pushing both travel directions farther away from each other, providing visible infrastructure in the middle of the right of way thus subconsciously causing drivers to slow. Indeed, this last point is debatable but consider the last time you saw an obstruction in the road while you were driving. Did you slow down?


How do we define success? In engineering/planning terms, the above criteria lay out the design hurdles that must be cleared to provide a transit line that “should” offer a service that is 1st class, attractive and looked upon as generally worthy of investment. The design process will be fraught with many hurdles that will involve citizens, politicians, planners and engineers in determining how this will be accomplished. How many automobile lanes are we willing to dedicate to buses? Will stations be located on the sidewalk or in the median? How frequent will the bus be? Will it be quicker to ride the bus downtown versus getting in the car and finding cheap parking? Will a new bus line be quicker than the existing services offered in the same corridor? Stay tuned, the Central Corridors BRT study is about to begin and these are likely to become key talking points.

Comments 21

  • A good resource is the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) Gold Standard for BRT, which defines the elements that comprise a successful BRT system. Hopefully Indy will go the route of high-quality BRT, unlike most other cities in North America.

    • Thanks for the additional link.

    • Check out Lane Transit District in Lane County, Oregon, centered in Eugene, Oregon. Very successful BRT system that is continuing to expand.

    • Nashville was pushing very heavily this past summer about potentially starting constructing on their BRT line, the East/ West Connector, to begin facilitating masses, mostly tourists at this point, to its central district for entertainment. Things have stalled in hopes for federal funding. It received it’s fair share of backlash and there is a lot to be taken into consideration moving forward. Do it the right way Indy and make it a successful beginning to mass transit. This is only the first small step in a larger scheme.

  • Raised, modernized stations are the key to the Cleveland system so you don’t just get a glorified bus route but desireable, frequent transit. Cool vid:

  • This may be unorthodox, but it seems to me that the best place on the central E-W corridor to put separated BRT is on Michigan and New York…but only if we get rid of one (and in some places both) parking lane(s). In most cases, the lights are already optimized for flow and limited stops would make for a faster trip than cars or #3 bus currently.

    Of course, this would only really work if the streets remain one-way.

    • Everything I have been hearing is that fairly soon michigan and new york will both be converted to two way streets at least west of downtown. The reason being, that with the opening of the new Wishard Hospital they think the change will improve traffic flow.

    • At some point west of Meridian, a BRT alignment on Mich/NY would have to drop down to Washington to serve the Airport. It might make sense for that to happen on Capitol/Illinois, which have plenty of capacity to lose a lane, or on West.

    • Or East/College, since the transit center would be at Delaware.

      • Aside from the fact that I think that Michigan & New York being one-way is deleterious to the adjacent neighborhoods, I don’t think that you want to have the eastbound and westbound paths of a BRT separated by 1/4 mile. Any chance of saving money and space by building shared boarding platforms in the center of the street would be lost. Removing on-street parking, especially from both sides of the street, would be very burdensome for many residents as well. I would also think there’d be significantly lower ridership than if located on Washington.

      • East Washington is an important route into downtown for cars and trucks. The Washington Street ROW on the east side can ill afford to give up one or two current traffic lanes for a dedicated transit ROW. The lesser of two evils (a too-far-reduced Washington St. vs. a split route Mich/NY transit corridor) will need careful evaluation.

        • I disagree that Washington can ill afford to give up ROW. To say that we cannot compromise ROW on the highest demand transit line because there are “too many cars” on it, is an argument that can be justified with the multitude of auto through-fares in close proximity to Washington. Michigan. NY. 10th Street. 16th. Mass Ave. I-70.

  • Washington is the only one of those really set up for long-distance (>5 miles, anything east of Emerson) commute from most of Warren Township.

    I-70 requires going at least a couple of miles north of Washington first: Emerson, Shadeland, and Post on-ramps are north of 21st St. Michigan/NY pair ends two blocks east of Emerson, and then PR Parkway ends at Arlington. 10th is one lane each way east of Arlington. English is 4 lanes between Ritter and Rural but from there both English and Southeastern are only one lane each way from Rural most of the way to downtown.

    Removing general (i.e. car and truck) lane capacity from the “alpha” arterials (Washington and Meridian) is a really bad idea.

    • My point is that transit won’t sell if it decreases mobility for a large number of commuters, in this case those who drive cars.

      By definition, a high-transit-share Midwestern city is still going to have 75-90% of trips by car…so their votes will be needed to pass the transit initiative.

      • I see your point. These are the hard conversations that will be had with this project.

        I am in the camp of people who believe making the transit service truly valuable. That would include speeding up the service via dedicated running ways, signal priority and median boarding platforms; features that make it truly a rapid transit service instead of one that meagerly improves the current service.

        My argument would be, why even make the investment if what we get is going to be the equivalent of a watered down drink?

      • And my point is that the place to put first class BRT service is on Michigan and New York west of Emerson or Ritter to downtown, simply because there is the space to create the first class infrastructure there at lower cost (money and congestion costs) than on Washington.

        It would stimulate residential and commercial redevelopment on the mostly dead corridors, including the old RCA site at Sherman. That stimulus is less needed on Washington, as the car counts alone have prevented it from becoming totally bombed out, and in Irvington, it’s almost booming.

  • I’m trying to be open minded here, but having a hard time envisioning BRT stimulating much redevelopment and ridership on New York & Michigan. It’s just not convenient for riders to have a ~1/4 mile between the opposing directions of the line. What about having both directions of BRT on one street, with two-way vehicle traffic on the other street? Perhaps, not ideal for either street. Maybe two-way vehicle traffic on Michigan with two-way BRT and a separated bike trail on New York. That would at least keep both directions of the BRT a short walk from both Washington & Michigan Streets, and slightly higher-volume, two-way traffic on Michigan might help boost business there. There would certainly be some inconvenience to residents on New York if it were closed to private auto traffic, but perhaps a nice separated bike trail would be a good tradeoff.

    • This is actually a very interesting proposition, but I’m still struggling with seeing people agree to it. Indy drivers will revolt to any road diet. Just look at what happened in BRip when they put in the bike lanes on BRAVE.

      Incidentally, I’ve heard no more complaints about traffic and didn’t see any backups when I’ve traveled through there. My guess, the traffic found another route or went away completely. *Shocking*

  • I’m living in Brisbane, Australia at the moment and they have a fantastic bus system. Using a touch-on, touch-off system (like a credit card), the buses are highly modern and clean with reliable systems. Some buses have their own tunnels that go beneath the Brisbane river to other sides of the city. While their system has amazing funding ($500 mil this year alone for public transit), they have made riding the bus reliable, cool, and convenient. For instance, if you ride the bus more than 9 times/wk the rest of the trips after that are free. For seniors, more than 2 rides a day are free (which not only encourages using transit but also gets them out to be active, social, and generating more economic dollars). In Indy I think the best solution would be to cater to students and white-collar folks, two populations that would rely on public transit consistently. Making it convenient for them (provide parking and cost incentives/discounts) and clearly defined routes are the best possible ways to entice these people to continue to use the IndyGo system and recommend it to their friends and family. Also, one solution simply won’t work. Each street and node is different, so while middle median stops are perfect in some areas, others (with less traffic) will need to remain cheap and use sidewalk stops. Technically speaking auto-updates are vital to retaining riders as are affordability and convenience.

  • The item testimonials are a result of this job and vapor cleaners I
    have actually brought for my very own use.

  • I’m not sure why but this site is loading extremely slow for me.
    Is anyone else having this problem or is it a problem on my end?
    I’ll check back later and see if the problem still exists.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *