CATA's BRT Falls Shorts of its Goals

Source: Charrette Summary

As a bicyclist and Lansing resident, I value a reliable and robust public transit system. When the weather is terrible, when plans change quickly, or when I just don't feel like cycling, being able to get around without using my car allows me to go about business as usual. In Lansing, we don't have light rail or a subway, we have the CATA bus. CATA has proposed building a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along Route 1 to increase the reliability and robustness of the regional system, but it does not have my support in it's current form.

The BRT will improve the capacity and speed of Route 1, from the Capitol to the Meridian Mall. The overall trip time will be reduced by approximately twelve minutes by using a dedicated bus lane, off-board fare collection at a reduced number of stations, and prioritized signaling for the buses. The majority of the funding of the $130M project will come from an FTA grant of $99M with the remainder being made up from state and local funding.

A requirement of the FTA grant is that CATA maintains existing bicycle infrastructure. In the proposed design, the only bicycle facilities are the buffered bike lanes between Route 127 and Grand River Ave. CATA surveyed local bicyclists and based on those results has proposed the following: a center running mixed-used path that meanders within the median between Route 127 and Grand River Ave. Bicyclists would have to cross traffic to get onto the path and cross traffic to get back out. This design does look great in the design drawings, but would fail cyclists. This is the design you get when bicyclists are assumed to only recreate and not commute.

Source BRT Design Document

In the early days of the project, bicycle facilities were included in many reports as a way to garner support, but have been pushed to the wayside. In 2010, when CATA down selected their options the last line of the report says, "All four alternatives will include enhanced landscaping, streetscaping and bike lanes." In the Goals and Objectives document, CATA lists a goals such as, "Improve safety for all modes of travel", "Provide transportation services and intermodal connectivity that helps retain existing businesses, stimulate revitalization and attract new businesses along the corridor", and "Increase the number of people using transit, walking and biking along the corridor." What has changed? Bicycle infrastructure would help meet all of these goals.

Another proposed goal of the project is to increase economic development along the corridor. If it's easier and faster for people to travel along the corridor, business will thrive. However, according to new research, bicyclists and pedestrians spend more on average than those traveling by car or transit. When people spend more time in a location, they spend more money. When a city block is walkable and inviting, people will walk into multiple shops in one trip. The opposite is also true. How often do you drive to Meijer on Cedar Street and walk around for a bit afterwards vs. walking around Old Town or Reo Town? Economic activity grows when residents and visitors want to spend time in an inviting part of the city. If it takes me five minutes less to get to the Meridian Mall on the bus, I won't go to the Meridian Mall more often.

At the public input meetings held earlier this month, one of the consultants admitted that CATA has not conducted any bicycle counts along the corridor. How does a project that hopes to improve usage for all modes make validated design decisions without knowing existing use patterns? Reading through the charrette summaries, provisions for bicycles along the route comes up again and again. CATA seems to be ignoring this thread of public input.

I would love to get behind CATA's BRT project. I think improving public transit for everyone is a valuable goal. I don't believe the BRT as designed is the best way forward. Are there other options? Of course. CATA could make smaller improvements to all the routes: off-board fare collection and prioritized signalling across the region. Would you get the same gains as having a dedicated bus lane? No. Would you improve the reliability and robustness of the system without a major construction project? Yes. Allow the participating municipalities execute their non-motorized plans along the corridor to slowly improve bicycle and pedestrian facilities as planned. Stay tuned for more information about the BRT.

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