We’ve acquired a few new commenters who seem intent on replaying the rail vs. BRT battles that were exhausted quite some time ago. Rather than continuing with scattershot comments here’s a post:
1. Getting dedicated right-of-way for buses on the freeway is cheap: you just repaint the thing and make new signs. Maybe you build some fancy stations. It is incredibly cost-effective. The cost is so low that it isn’t mutually exclusive with rail, but it is politically difficult because of SOV interests. Unfortunately, BRT “advocates” spend all their time arguing with rail advocates telling them how to do their project better instead of doing the actual, necessary work of building a coalition to make this lane conversion happen. I’ll take the liberty of speaking for the rail community to say that if there were a measure to turn any existing GP freeway or arterial lane into bus-only, HOV-6, or whatever, you would get overwhelming support from rail advocates. We are not the faction you have to win over.
2. It’s true you can avoid the political problem by building new dedicated right-of-way, but then you’ve forfeited most of the capital cost advantage that led you to the bus in the first place.
3. If capital costs are more or less equal, rail is the clear winner. Ben has already posted on this and we link to it in the sidebar. But briefly: more riders per operator, better ride quality, a stronger guarantee the ROW will not be seized for cars, a better brand identity (and therefore more riders), more intensive development, electric power vs. diesel fuel, etc. As I said, capital costs are not equal, so given the presence of a cheap, high-quality BRT option there’s a legitimate but ultimately subjective discussion on whether the added benefits of rail are worth the added cost. I would say “yes,” of course, but I’m happy to have your BRT system coexist with my rail system. I think our enthusiasm about ST Express, Swift, and certain elements of RapidRide bears that out.
4. There are certain source-destination pairs where the benefits of rail are weak enough that they almost certainly don’t justify the cost. As Jarrett points out in his blog, if you’re going from Downtown Seattle and fanning out into low-density neighborhoods that will never upzone or generate many riders, then yeah, use buses. But for the really high-demand trips, buses aren’t enough because vehicle frequency is limited by bottlenecks at the stops, and each vehicle’s capacity is too low.
To return to #1 briefly, one reason rail advocates won’t ditch their plans in favor of BRT is that they are extremely skeptical the BRT coalition is a genuine one. Once you prove that your wonderfully inexpensive half-loaf is a viable political option, then we can have a conversation on whether the capital cost of the full loaf is worth it. Until then, the choice is Sound Transit Link Light Rail or status quo buses stuck in traffic. And again, nothing about Link prevents the BRT political movement from going forward.
Those interested in a fresh comment war on this can dive in. You’re not going to convince anyone, on either side, but knock yourselves out.