At first glance, Indianapolis, a city best known for a car race, doesn’t have a lot that Auckland could learn from with regards to transport. Sitting on the plans of the mid-west, largely unconstrained by geography, the city of just over 2 million has sprawled in all directions to cover an area almost three times that of Auckland. Correspondingly, it’s transport system is almost entirely focused around the car and its public transport system is one of the least used in the entire US. This is highlighted in the numbers –  in the year to June, there were fewer than 9 million trips on Indy’s buses.

But that could be about to change.

On Sunday they launched the first of three planned Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes, the 20km Red Line which runs North-South through the city. They’re also reorganising their bus routes with the help of Human Transit’s Jarrett Walker in a change much like Auckland made.

The term BRT is used to cover a wide range of bus priority systems. From the huge metro-capacity like systems in some South American cities, to our Northern Busway while in some cities it has been used to refer to what essentially amounts to standard bus lanes. What makes this particular version of BRT interesting is it sits somewhere between bus lanes and a dedicated busway and could be useful for a number of routes across Auckland and with features Auckland Transport should be considering with their Connected Communities programme.

Here are some of the key features:

  • The corridor includes running down the centre of some streets in priority lanes which gets them away from issues with most turning traffic – left turns (right turns for us) are limited to only some locations.
  • Fully electric articulated buses are used and have doors on both sides – articulated buses allow for much faster boarding/alighting than double deckers. But that’s not all that’s done to improve speeds;
  • There are just 28 stations over that 20km. This is further aided by:
    • Off-board fare collection
    • All-door boarding
    • Level boarding
  • Along with bus lanes, they have also employed signal prioritisation.
  • Capped fares both daily and weekly.

All of this should help to speed buses up. An example of the stations that have been built is shown below – I think they look great

But one thing that stood out to me from seeing some images/video on social media is how they’ve dealt some sections. As mentioned earlier, this is a step below a full busway like we have on the North Shore and I’m guessing it was too difficult to remove parking. So they’ve put in a bi-directional bus lane. This can be seen in the video below

And in this one from a platform.

https://twitter.com/Indy_Austin/status/1167185026284474370

What makes these interesting to me is the potential for the concept to be used here where we need some bus priority but we may not want the cost and significant impact of widening roads to achieve it. This could be especially useful on frequent routes that run along two-lane roads with large central medians – such as on frequent routes that don’t go to/from the city centre. It would also tie in with Auckland Transport’s aspiration to have all buses on the frequent network having whole-of-route priority and for priority on many of the lower-frequency connector routes.

The concept of running bi-directional lanes is also not foreign to AT now. The Panmure bridge has dynamic lanes for a long time and AT installed them on Whangaparoa Rd last year. Just yesterday they announced they’d be installing one on Redoubt Rd in Manukau.

For a little bit more on the changes in Indianapolis, Aaron Renn put out this short podcast on it back in June. He also wrote this a few weeks ago.

I’ll be keeping an eye on out to see how this goes.

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39 comments

  1. I have thought for a while that this concept would be great for Karori Road in Wellington, a frequent and well patronised bus route but one that mixes with traffic and there is likely not space to do traffic lanes, bus lanes in both directions and cycle lanes. A single central running bus lane that took at least peak direction buses would be great.

  2. Well. When i visited a friend in (fairly) nearby Muncie a couple of years ago, driving me to and from Indianapolis airport was the only option. I wonder if that’s addressed.

  3. It does seem to be a system that would fit in to our street layout reasonably quickly, due to the proliferation of all the dangerous median strips, which will surely have to go now we have Vision Zero anyway.

    1. Properly implemented flush medians reduce crashes, that’s why they get put in.

      As for having Vision Zero, those are just words. Time will tell if those words mean anything.

      1. I guess ‘properly implemented’ doesn’t include suggesting that they’re a good place for pedestrians to pause when crossing the road.

        1. Like an extra couple of metres crossing distance doesn’t matter to a pedestrian? And that the faster speeds of the cars that the median strips encourage don’t make a difference to injury outcomes? Nor that the added ambiguity they introduce – will a driver use it or not? … isn’t a hazard. Let alone that in placing median strips and claiming they are useful for pedestrians this has let engineers off the hook for providing actually safe crossing infrastructure.

          It’s all part of the killing game. The engineers putting these death traps in and then recommending them as places to pause obviously don’t take their code of ethics seriously, nor understand what it’s like crossing the road as a child or as a person with limited mobility. Hence our DSI.

        2. A well implemented median strip is better for everyone compared with a white line down the road. DSI would be higher without median strips. It is a very easy ethical choice to make.

          Pedestrians crossings every 200m are not even on the table for discussion. The locations of pedestrian crashes are so random, you could be spend millions building crossings all over the network and still make no difference in DSI because you end up missing all those random spots where the crashes happen to occur.

          The most practical option is blanket speed reduction and strong enforcement.

        3. I agree about the speeds.

          I disagree about the median strips – that space could be put to far better use. They are a NZ peculiarity.

          And children need the pedestrian crossings, regardless of speed limits and other infrastructure. It may be fine for an able bodied adult to cope without them, but every design must be for the most vulnerable.

      2. I’m not that convinced about that. They are starting to be used more as a place to overtake and to avoid queues. They are quite scary to be stuck in as a pedestrian. Maybe if everyone stuck to the road code they would be OK.

        I much prefer hard medians with nice planted trees. Any reason not to have those?

    1. Needing to start somewhere is a really key point, isn’t it? Indianapolis seems like a basket case, but who knows how quickly they could transform their networks if they monitor this well and inform the public well about the benefits.

      When you see the rapid expansion of quality transit in cities that suddenly acquire good leadership or where the dictatorship suddenly understands transport, it shows what is technically possible.

      The only thing holding Auckland back is fear of resistance to change – and most of that wouldn’t be there if Council and AT had simply used best practice around managing change.

  4. This what Auckland should be being doing now with dedicated bus lanes, bus ways, bus priority traffic phasing and so on instead of the current mickey mouse bus operations.

    To me, there is no reason for Auckland to have a 4 line BRT using battery buses.

    The difference between Indianapolis and Auckland, Indianapolis has one entity that owns and operates the buses, employs the drivers and owns its depots unlike like Auckland, which has multiple bus companies contracted to operate services who employs their drivers, operate their own depots , etc that has created un coordinated bureaucracy.

  5. Lincoln Road in west Auckland with its planned upgrade that I understand is to put in central barrier, and remove right turning would seem like could be an ideal trial road.
    It also may help Ambulances get to the hospital faster.

    1. It’s metropolitan population is 2 million. It’s a bit like pre-amalgamation Auckland City’s population was just under 400,000 but in reality it was the centre of a metro area with around 1.3 million (1.6 million now).

    2. In the USA a Metro area includes the urban core but also autonomous towns and even the rural bits where people live and have a connection with the core (or at least someone thought they had a connection). So as Jezza says it is a bit like our Auckland Council which includes a huge rural area that have little to do with the city as well as the urban parts.

      1. What constitutes a metro area is well-defined by the US Census Bureau based on contiguousness and economic interaction with the core metropolitan centre. It is based on a certain percentage of the census unit (I think in this case counties) meeting the requirements, so in some cases there are parts of some census units that are included in the metro area that have nothing to do with the city, whereas there are parts of other census units that are connected to the city, but are not included due to their being a minority of the unit.
        If you’re comparing to Auckland or most non-US cities, you have to use the metro area.

        1. I found out a few years ago that bizarrely metropolitan areas are defined by the Office of Management and Budget and used by the other government departments including the Census Bureau for reporting. They also have Combine Statistical Areas where they group many units together. Again I think the budget office specifies them.

  6. You can potentially do a lot of routes like this for the cost of just one rail project. Maybe give decent PT to all instead of really good PT to the lucky few?

    1. It says that AT are happy to go down the “Pseudo Vision Zero” path. That they don’t understand that safe speeds are a critical part of Vision Zero – or for that matter, of any safety approach. It says that AT’s claim that Safety is their top priority is just a PR exercise, nothing more.

      It also says that they don’t understand that the easiest way to transform the transport network to one which is healthy and where people are able to walk and cycle is to adopt the internationally recommended safe speeds. That by making the local roads safe for cycling by implementing safe speeds, people ride bikes again, and the public come on board with plans for implementing safe cycling on arterial routes.

      Provision of a safe transport network was never something that should have been consulted on. It’s simply our right.

      1. “and there needed to be public support for whatever action was taken” – Why? We don’t ask a doctor to take a vote on what medical procedures to use on patients. We don’t crowd source legal judgments to tell judges what decision to make in cases?

        AT should look at the evidence and decide what approach will lead to the least deaths and the highest safety. The answer is Vision Zero as we know from evidence overseas.

        Or otherwise, Shane Ellison should be required to go to every dead person’s family in Auckland in a traffic crash and explain why public opinion was more important than their family member’s life.

        But no, that will be left to the poor police officers.

        Gutless, gutless, gutless by AT.

    2. Nothing surprising. AT says one thing and does another. The people spoke and they want none of this low speed, fewer deaths nonsense. They want blood and carnage!

  7. AT lacked the courage to just ban cars from key areas in the CBD and instead gave them stupidly low speed limits like 10kmh (which most cars probably can’t measure, or be driven at a consistent speed under if a manual) and as a result got more of a backlash than if they’d proposed just eliminating vehicle traffic altogether.

    I mean…what were they expecting?

    1. There aren’t any 10km/h roads from what I understood as the shared spaces are legally all still 50, this proposal was to actually lower those speeds to 10 and be enforceable at that too.

    2. If you can’t drive a car at 10kmh it means you can’t use a driveway, can’t use a parking lot, can’t drive in heavy traffic; and you shouldn’t be driving all.

      So sorry, bullshit claim.

  8. Very interesting this BRT system thanks Matt. The combination of all those upgraded systems (daily caps etc) will surely make a difference.

    Without too much thought perhaps from Panmure to the city through Newmarket these bidirectional lanes would work in places to make things easier/cheaper to implement.

  9. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qQnPHVNsKHo

    Here’s a video from Curitiba, Brasil. Look at the fact that they have three carriage articulated buses.

    We rode it from and to the city on a Sunday and on the return leg the bus seemed to be carrying about 300 people – absolutely and completely packed. Of course Auckland cities already congested bus stops wouldn’t be able to cope with buses of this length.

    Is Lake Road suitable for a design like this?

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