LA’s First Street Film: Looking at BRT

Last month Street Films’ Nicholas Whitaker visited Los Angeles for a series of shoots that would lead to the first "Street Films" Series for Los Angeles.  The first of these films is finished and looks at how Bus Rapid Transit has grown in Los Angeles and how it should evolve into light rail eventually. 

Expect to see some familar faces.   Council member Wendy Greuel, the Director of L.A.’s County Regional Transit Planning, Rex Gephardt, and Executive Director of the Transit Coalition, Bart Reed all appear.

Expect future Street Films on the Eco-Village, pedestrian rights, and transportation planning in Los Angeles.

  • Nice work!

  • Ditto. Nice work!!!

    Now let’s get this upgraded to rail as it should have been from the beginning.

  • Holy Jesus! That is awesome!

    There are so many good transit stories out there to be done in L.A.!

    I can’t wait to see what you guys have cooked up for us next time.

  • Bart Reed is right, that line would have been rocking as rail, and 15 minutes faster.

  • There were far too many reasons why that line should have been built as light rail but wasn’t…you got about 5 or 6 hours to hear the whole story?

    Maybe someday when all the politicians who wouldn’t stand up for rail are dead or out of office, this line can be converted to rail again.

  • It would have been great as rail … but it would have taken eons to get built. It would have cost a lot more to build too.

    I’ve taken the Orange Line about 6 or 7 times now (I’m rarely in the Valley), and I think it works rather well. If a similar BRT lane could be placed on several major thoroughfares in L.A., I think we’d be looking at a relatively inexpensive way of moving people around.

  • It has helped to shift thinking in how the Valley sees itself. Which is good, because greater density is coming to the southeast San Fernando Valley whether the delusional NIMBYs still living in Sam Yorty’s Los Angeles like it or not.

    It will need to be upgraded at light rail at some point. The beloved Sepulveda LRT we all want may start as a busway. There still isn’t serious thought I’ve seen been by the MTA to provide a reliable public transit alternative for the countless people who snakes through passes and canyons every day between the Valley and the Westside.

    But, the Orange Line has been a success. That’s an argument to “settle” for busways. That’s an argument to begin transit with busways that can eventually be upgraded to rail once the ridership proves itself as the Orange Line had done rapidly.

  • brt is the poor man’s light rail.

  • Bob Zwolinski

    True, Bart Reed had a point. The orange line was originally planned to be an extension of the red line subway. Had it been built as the heavy rail extension or a separate light rail line, it would be moving many more people than the BRT currently does, since a rail line would be at least 25% faster, enticing more folks to ride.
    But hey, at least the line was built and it is very successful and the valley has something!
    This is a good thing!
    But the reasons why it was not built as a high-capacity rapid rail line make me ill.

  • Alek F

    Yes, Bart Reed – great job!
    I totally agree with Bart.
    BRT should have been a LRT line from day one. Ridership would have been much higher.
    Light-rail would ensure better ride, faster ride, much higher capacity, lower operating costs.
    Light-rail is always a win-win situation!

  • Clarence

    BRT vs. LRT is always a fun debate. And which is better totally depends on structure and place.

    For example, folks might be right that BRT should eventually be replaced by LRT on the Orange Line. But once it is, they might want to think about creating other BRT spines to get people to the LRT.

    In NYC there is a huge debate over BRT. It is coming, but I would think that alot of the BRT lines we create will not turn to LRT. Why? It is going to be all about moving people from the outer areas of Brooklyn/Queens/Bronx to get them closer to a subway. OR to drastically speed up the miserable commutes of people stuck in buses.

    So I think BRT def. has a permanent place in some areas, others, yes it is a first step on the way to rail.

  • Marcotico

    The whole BRT v LRT debate really distracts from the idea of a transit toolbox full of many tools all right for different jobs. For example how would LRT have handled the terminus at the Warner Center and then the now proposed north ward branch? Also what are the environmental clearances necessary for LRT v BRT?

    BRT has a lot of potential for going from urban to suburban areas, because in teh suburban areas the vehicles can leave the dedicated guideway and resume travel on surface streets. BRT may also take fewer passengers per vehicle, but that may mean it needs more vehicles per hour. So in the end shorter headways could be a better thing.

    I think activists should be conentrateing on getting the Orange line quiet crossing gates like they are putting at Metrolink crossings. This will a) improve the travel time b) elevate the status of BRT c) be a first step in the long-term conversion of the line to LRT.

  • Jerard

    But to in order to obtain those short headways you need greater grade separation in order to acheive it or a design that could enable the buses to be trained together.

    In the case of LRT all they would have to do is lengthen the train within the existing at-grade infrastructure.

  • Marcotico

    I see what you mean, but my point is that with LRT you could have fewer trains meet the current demand, which is good from a cost and efficiencly perspective, but that would mean longer headways, and longer waits in between trains.

    I completely agree that LRT is a transit advocates preferred technology, but that ignores that BRT is a valuable tool and shouldn’t be ignored or disparaged. My other technical advantage still holds. When the Orange line comes to its end the vehilce can leave the guiedway and proceed to Warner center. I’ve driven that area and in-street track would have been very difficult, and probably politically impossible in that area.

    On top of all the technical reasons, at the end of the day BRT is more (much more) politically expedient. If the Orange Line had been developed as LRT we would still be waiting for it. Period.

  • Jerard

    With those longer waits mean there is more future capacity left because we can always add more trains along the right-of-way for future capacity.

    The political expediency is the only advantage BRT in an at-grade form has and its not a very good one unless its along a major boulevard.

    Had this been a full grade separated BRT like the El Monte Transitway then it would take the same amount of time and possibly cost the same and provide greater benefit because from day one we could serve a greater catchment of riders from Ventura County to the West to as far east as Pasadena via the 134 HOV lanes. Could we still do this? Theoretically yes, realisitcally no, because there’s no capacity left on the at-grade busway with the signal pre-emption for extra buses.

    Personally, I have no problems with BRT as long as it’s done correctly. The only BRT that really works is the one on the El Monte Transitway that enables fast speeds and flexible regional one seat trips. I use the buses on the busway every day and I can reach my office in the San Gabriel Valley from Mid-Wilshire within 30-35 minutes everyday, which is time competitive with the private auto.

  • John F. in Minnesota

    What a wonderful and respectful dialog. Makes me think we just might make it here on this planet after all.

    I rode the El Monte BRT when I was 12 (it was new then) with the old double deck buses (sweet ride). It rocked then and I look forward to trying out the Orange Line on my next visit to LA.

  • Rich Quodomine

    I think BRT is an excellent technology to employ because of the buildout costs of LRT. This is not to denigrate LRT at all, after all, I live in the State of New York, and had this article forwarded to me. In many cities, BRT achieves a compromise between the environmental and congestion-based demands for more rapid transit, and the high cost factor of buildout. Remember, alot of the costs of rail buildout are borne by the FTA, and the Federal Government only has so much money allocated. [Please note: Not trying to start a war funding debate here, just transit.]

    NYC and Albany are advancing BRT projects, Rochester has the matter under study. I think it can be a long-term solution for many cities, even large ones like LA, and as many people have noted, it’s a tool in the transit toolbox that I think has a bright future.

  • JW

    “When the Orange line comes to its end the vehilce can leave the guiedway and proceed to Warner center. I’ve driven that area and in-street track would have been very difficult, and probably politically impossible in that area.”

    Considering the Warner Center Transit Hub, I doubt that. I think it simply would have been a stub end terminal rather than a loop.

    “On top of all the technical reasons, at the end of the day BRT is more (much more) politically expedient. If the Orange Line had been developed as LRT we would still be waiting for it. Period.”

    I would agree with you on that aspect, but again that depends on how much infrastructure we put into it and how long we are expecting this infrastructure to last. If we had developed the Orange Line as an appropriately high capacity BRT, with either horizontal track guidance (Sao Paulo and Adelaide Austrailia are examples of this) or with grade separations at Sepulveda, Van Nuys and around Valley College we would still be waiting just as long for it but would be an excellent way to connect the entire Valley along a transit corridor and serve the outer regions off the guideway all on one trip.

    The other piece of political expendency was the fact that a certain bill in a certain area prevented any at or above grade rail be built.

  • For some (possibly aesthetic?) reason I too prefer light rail to BRT, but I think if you do a real cost-benefit analysis, BRT is likely to come out on top. Search around for information on the transportation history of Curitiba, Brasil. They’ve been using primarily BRT for the last 30-40 years, to great effect. Actually, here’s a talk by the former mayor (also an urban planner!):

    They chose BRT because it was much cheaper than any rail option. They’re now integrating it with subway into one unified system.

    I guess one risk with BRT is that it’s dangerously easy to re-purpose as additional freeway lanes (which light rail doesn’t have to worry about).


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