What a Vermont Avenue BRT Line Could Look Like

Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble Eugene, OR's EmX BRT line. Photo: ITDP
Future Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on Vermont Avenue could resemble the Emerald Express BRT line in Eugene, OR. Photo: ITDP

At this month’s board meeting, Metro staff reported that they are hiring consultants to shepherd two Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects. Today, SBLA previews one of those: Vermont Avenue BRT.

For the uninitiated, what is BRT? Bus Rapid Transit is high-quality bus service running in its own dedicated right-of-way. It comes in a lot of flavors, but generally operates like a rail line. There are two BRT examples locally. The best one is the Metro Orange Line, which runs on bus-only roads in the San Fernando Valley. Arguably the Metro Silver Line is also BRT as it runs mostly in highway toll lanes. Read this Daniel Jacobson editorial about the potential for BRT to play key roles in L.A. County’s transportation networks.

Briefly, the other BRT project will extend from the San Fernando Valley to the San Gabriel Valley. Connections would include Burbank Airport, and the Metro Gold, Orange, and Red Lines. SBLA will cover this project more as it progresses.

The two BRT projects were given momentum by a July Metro Board motion [PDF] directing Metro staff to advance these projects, including developing a budget and timelines. The Metro Board re-affirmed the July direction in this October board motion [PDF]. This month, Metro staff stated [audio – item 70 at 3:04] that they are preparing scopes of work and that consultant contracts are expected to be awarded in early 2015. Metro Board chair L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti had pressed for Metro to pursue federal Small Starts funding for these BRTs, but Metro staff sounded pessimistic about that program, due to maximum funding of $250 million for each project.

The Vermont Avenue BRT project route has not been finalized, but it is likely to be similar to the current Metro bus lines on Vermont Avenue. Vermont Avenue is one of the nation’s highest ridership bus corridors, and ridership is second only to Wilshire. The Vermont bus lines extend about 12 miles from the Metro Green Line (at the 105 Freeway) to Sunset Boulevard, including connections with Red, Purple, and Expo Lines. Depending on funding and other constraints, BRT could run on some of all of this corridor, converting to express/Rapid service in unimproved areas.

Other alternatives might be under consideration, but the Vermont line is anticipated to be “center-running” (also known as “median-aligned”) BRT. Center-running BRT has been shown to be faster and safer, compared to running along curbs. For a great explanation, watch this fun Lego-animation video.

Here’s a quick tour of some center-running BRT systems up and running elsewhere: 

San Bernardino, CA

San Bernadino's sbx
San Bernadino’s sbX Green Line BRT runs in exclusive bus-only lanes. Photo: Omnitrans

Dana Gabbard previewed Omnitrans sbX Green Line BRT which opened earlier this year. The rail-type bus service includes 5.4 miles of exclusive bus-only lanes in the center of E Street and Hospitality Lane. More details at Omnitrans and ITDP.

Cleveland, OH

Cleveland’s Healthline runs on median-aligned bus-exclusive right-of-way. Photo: ITDP

Cleveland’s 9.2 mile “HealthLine” center-running BRT serves the city’s Euclid Avenue corridor. Details at RTA and ITDP.

Eugene, OR (photo at top of post)

Eugene’s Emerald Express (EmX) chose BRT as it would “significantly enhance transit service and achieve many of the benefits of light rail without the high cost.” EmX features 5.2 miles of exclusive center-running BRT. More details at LTD and ITDP.

Guadalajara, Mexico

Bus Rapid Transit in Guadalajara, Mexico. Photo: ITDP


In March 2009, Mexico’s second largest city, Guadalajara, unveiled a new bus rapid transit (BRT) system. The 27-station, 16-km [10-mile] system services 130,000 passengers per day and feeds into light rail and other bus services, with fully integrated fares. The project has reduced travel time by 30 percent and is expected to cut the city’s (CO2) emissions by 36,000 metric tons per year, equivalent to removing about 7,000 cars from the roads.

Last, but not least, watch these Streetfilms showcasing BRT systems in Guangzhou, China, and Buenos Aires, Argentina.

At the recent board meeting, Mayor Garcetti also directed Metro to host a single-day roundtable symposium of BRT experts, to take place in March 2015.

(Thanks to the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy (ITDP) and national Streetsblog staff for background for this article.)

  • Phantom Commuter

    Van Nuys Blvd. is for Cruise Night ! :-)

  • Phantom Commuter

    Because they can’t afford to live in the trendy neighborhoods of Los Angeles. Only the rich and trust fund kids can afford that. They also do not work convenient 9-5 schedules and frequently have to go to work before service starts etc.


    Your right. There is never any money. As transit advocates we have had to fight for the measly little dollars that we do have, but we have fought and have found a way to “find” more dollars.

    Remember the costs of transit projects, even at the billions of dollars you think is incredibly high (or unapproachable), still pale in comparison to the billions of dollars that we spend every year on highway widening and extension without so much as a peep from folks in the public.

    Transit agencies have to have public review, vetting, sign off, and votes in order to spend billions, while your friendly neighborhood Caltrans does it with impunity without saying a thing to the public.

    I am proposing making Vermont a world-class corridor, with clean, safe, efficient transit above ground and the same below.

    I am not proposing we do one or the other. I say we do them both. Again, Vermont is one of the most heavily traversed corridors in the WORLD.

    And in my opinion implementing a middle running Bronze level BRT is not the answer. If I thought it would only be a stepping stone I would agree, but it will remain and have Vermont below its “great street” potential

  • Dennis_Hindman

    I didn’t say that there is never any money.

    Transit projects that cost a billion+ dollars depend on a large portion of it to be funded by the federal government. The maximum amount of federal funding on any of the recent rail projects is about $1.2 billion. That’s why there was $1.2 billion of Measure R sales tax revenue set aside for the $2.1 billion Crenshaw Line, $925 million for Expo Line phase II, $4 billion for the westside subway extension and $1 billion for a Sepulveda pass transit project.

    To come up with enough money to fund a heavy rail extension project along Vermont Ave would either require that most of that money be taken from Measure R funds for other capital transit projects or else more than 2/3 of voters would have to agree to tax themselves to pay for this project. Congress is very unlikely to continue funding transit projects at the same level as they have in the past with a Republican majority in the House and Senate. The reality is that more of the funding for these projects will have to come from the local level.

    Unfortunately Metro doesn’t print money, only the federal government can do that. The more each transit project costs, the less of them that can be built. If heavy rail was emphasized over light-rail, then a much smaller portion of the miles of Metro rail would have been built.

    The 4-mile Orange Line extension was funded without any federal dollars because it cost under $200 million to build. That and the fact that roadway construction can be completed faster than rail enabled it to be the first Measure R transit project finished and that was in 2012. The first Measure R rail transit project is not expected to be finished until 2016. That’s four years longer that it took the Orange Line extension to be finished. BRT is much faster to build than any light-rail line and heavy rail takes much longer than light-rail. That’s something that Metro explained in the Van Nuys Blvd transit corridor project.

    As for making Vermont Ave a world class corridor, the Orange Line BRT is efficient (higher average speeds than the Expo Line and 2nd busiest bus line that Metro runs), its very safe with few incidents and monitored by cameras and the sheriffs department. Its also very reliable since the buses don’t get stuck in traffic and has very clean, attractive, well maintained stations.

    The question should be can a BRT line handle the volume of passengers along a corridor. If not, then the next highest passenger capacity would be a streetcar, if that’s not enough then light-rail and finally if those are not adequate to handle the demand then it would require heavy rail. The decision shouldn’t be made in favor of heavy rail simply because that’s the most expensive and so lets choose that one. That way of thinking would create very few transit lines which are located in a very small section of the city or else spread out and mostly disconnected from lack of funds to construct very many miles of them.


    I promise you the type of BRT that will end up on Vermont will not be the caliber of the Orange Line. (See the Metro Rapid project history). I do hope that you are right and Vermont gets something halfway decent.

    I do believe BRT has a place in the Metro system, but I truly do not believe it is the right system for Vermont. I’m not suggesting heavy rail because its the most expensive or more glamorous, I am suggesting it because of the ridership and overall capacity.

    I realize money is hard to come by for whatever reason. I just am leery of this project.

    But I do concede your point. If Vermont gets something of Orange Line quality it will be better than what it has.

    (Understand though that the middle of Vermont is not a defunct rail right of way from 50 years ago – so you will never replicate the trip times you get on the Orange Line

    and also the extension is primarily what has increased the ridership of the Orange Line, not that its just a decently well done BRT)

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Orange Line opened in 2005. By 2007, the bus ridership had increased 51% along this corridor. The Orange Line extension did not open until 2012, so this had nothing to do with the 51% increase in bus ridership along the original 14 mile corridor.

    BRT has been proven over and over to increase transit use and the Bronze level Orange Line BRT did just that. The reason for this is the increased level of service. Create a higher quality product and customers will beat a path to your door as the saying goes.

    People commonly misunderstand what the reasons are for more ridership on train corridors than on bus corridors. It mainly has to do with trains having a separate right-of-way that keeps them away from congestion, off board payment, fast all door loading and clean, well lit and secure stations.

    Give those elements to buses as the Orange Line BRT, Transmilenio in Bogota or Curitiba did and the boarding’s increase sharply.

    The technology used to transport people on the Orange Line is exactly the same as Rapid buses on the street. If you picked out the corridors that have the most potential for transit riders, the Orange Line corridor would definitely not be anywhere near the top ten. Yet, the Orange Line has the second highest number of boarding’s of any bus line in the whole Metro system. That is mainly due to the vastly increased level of service that the Orange Line provides compared to the other bus lines, its not because of the technology.

    The Orange Line did not get the advantage of grade separation that the Metro rail lines got. If it had that, then the number of boarding differences between this BRT and the rail lines would be even smaller.

    Metro staff recently created a whole list of relatively minor improvements that could be made to the Orange Line to increase its average speed and capacity without increasing the operational cost.

    There is a huge difference between how bus passengers are treated along Vermont Ave compared to the Orange Line. Just look at Google maps and observe the filth and garbage around the bus stops and frequently no shelter from the sun or rain. Who the hell by choice would want to be treated like that? And then you are required to line up like cattle and get the OK of the driver to board. Your wanting to continue that lousy service because evidently bus riders don’t deserve to be treated as well as those that are fortunate enough to ride the few billion dollar rail lines.


    sigh** we can keep this up if you like.. you might want to email or call.

    (Again, remember, I am not against your point)

    1. The Orange Line ridership jumped it its first 2-years partially due to the fact that Metro reconfigured the bus lines in the area (and closed a few) in order to put more people on the Orange Line (because it made more sense to run folks on a trunk line than running a bunch of parallel buses).

    But yes it is a testament to what BRT can do. I still believe it is operating below its potential.

    2. Obviously I agree with you on the reason why people take transit (grade separation, off board payments system, cleanliness, shelter, etc.) and I am here to tell you that by having that old Pacific Electric rail right-of-way already there gave the Orange Line a leg up because it does not have to integrate with traffic except at crossings. And you’re not having to fight with business and residents about taking parking and taking traffic lanes, which I promise you will dilute the inevitable BRT that may end up on Vermont (I really can’t stress BRT creep enough in this case)

    3. I am aware of Metro’s ideas to increase capacity. And generally agree with them, they actually bring the Orange Line closer to Silver Level BRT and I welcome the change

    4. I conceded in our last exchange that I would love to see Vermont with a BRT to make it a world class street. But again, what I am stipulating is to be aware… the last time someone talked about bringing something clean, fast, efficient, and quick to Vermont it was supposed to look exactly like the stops/shelters/and technology that are used as part of the Metro Rapid Wilshire project.

    Vermont literally got nothing but 60 foot red buses. I don’t even believe they ended up with priority signals.

    Whatever you can do to make the Vermont corridor is better than doing nothing. I just think Vermont is grand enough to be more than a 1/2 way mediocre BRT (if we get the Orange Line on Vermont, I’d be the first to take it)

    Vermont has literally tons of current and potential ridership that I believe warrants bigger thinking than a BRT (as does the Van Nuys corridor) which was my original point.

    But I am aware of the “Don’t let good be the enemy of perfect” here

  • HStreetLandlord

    Yes, I’ve ridden the Transmilenio also. Agreed, rough ride, overcrowded, horrible pedestrian access generally. Nothing we need to emulate in this country. These heavy ridership corridors need at least completely grade separated LR. HR would be ideal …

  • Dennis_Hindman

    The Orange Line has stations an average 1 mile apart. Because of the distance between stops the local bus service on parallel streets still exists.

    Only one of the four build alternatives for the Van Nuys Blvd transit project eliminates local bus service and that’s the streetcar which would make stops every quarter of a mile. The two BRT proposals would stop about every half of a mile and the LRT stations are about one mile apart.

    The reason that the Van Nuys transit project team decided to have the streetcar stop every quarter mile is that most of the bus ridership along this street is from the local buses and not the Rapid. If the streetcar made stops further apart, then those that now use the Rapid buses would get a much better service over those the majority of bus passengers who use the local bus service.

    Some of the ideas that the Metro staff made to the board of directors on how to improve the Orange Line bus service were suggestions that I made. Its absolutely not true that this busway has reached its maximum potential for boarding’s per hour. The way it is now being operated is nearing its capacity, but not the busway. As happened with the Blue Line, the anticipated ridership of the Orange Line was far below what actually occurred and this caused a capacity problem. Just like what happened to the Blue Line, some adjustments could be made to the Orange Line to increase its capacity.

  • Not with benches. But my point is they weree allsupposed to look lime this, and the bus lanes were supposed to be in place already.

  • The_DrewReed

    Hey Damien! Thanks to you, Joe, and the rest of the SB team for keeping me up to speed on what’s going on back home in LA.

  • The_DrewReed

    Thanks. I appreciate the links. Regarding the issue of electric buses, I’ve always wondered why more BRT projects don’t use trolleybuses (would make sense since they’re a fixed route). But the answer seems to be that adding overhead wires bumps up the cost significantly, to the point where it doesn’t really make sense to do unless you’re also going to be turning it into rail as well. I like the idea of “rail ready” as well, I think that there are a number of corridors where that would be the best approach.

  • Jerard Wright

    There lies one of the disadvantages to the true mature BRT service, having buses with doors on both sides is a luxury not a necessity as most transit operators would want flexibility in how they operate the BRT and with what available equipment they have and the more standard the design of the stations and the bus, the more cost effective the transportation investment.

    Keep in mind that there are not many operators who can even afford to invest in mature BRT lines/systems with some of the bells and whistles. This doesn’t mean you’re cheapening out the design, it causes a methodical look at how to maximize the investment and spend the money wisely to make BRT work. This is the exact same dilemma that many starter LRT corridors have.

    Key attributes in a successful BRT corridor; ability to use multiple doors to speed boardings, fast fare payment at the stations/stops, frequent headways, dedicated bus corridor, speedy point-to-point operations.

    For the cost of making this design adjustment for the buses for one transit agency for a special fleet of maybe 15-25 buses with a 12 year operational life does that sacrifice the ability to extend or build more dedicated bus only lanes and right of-way needed to develop more BRT networks across the country to make the BRT work?

  • Alex Brideau III

    I guess that’s the $64,000 question: Does Metro want a longer, but lower-quality BRT line or a shorter but higher-quality BRT line? With LA traffic as it is, I’m more likely to ride the latter, but I worry that Metro will take the BRT-lite approach of establishing a partial right-of-way, settle for weaker traffic priority rather than full preemption, installing some TVMs, slap a different color on their standard-stock buses (and then frequently substituting Local and Rapid buses anyway), and marketing it the new line as “BRT”.

    Metro has shown they can build and operate a bronze-level BRT line. The “Wilshire BRT” project will demonstrate the advantages of rush-hour bus priority lanes. The Silver Line falls somewhere in between, but with a confusing, non-standard fare structure. Can Metro now up its game and demonstrate they can build and operate a silver-level or better BRT line?

  • Come out to San Bernardino and take a trip on the sbX Green Line. It is ahead of anything that LA currently has in that it wasn’t built on an abandoned rail right-of-way like the Orange Line was, it was built into the roadway itself. However, there are plenty of areas where it needs to be improved, such as pedestrian access. Some of the lessons are being incorporated into the Purple Line that is now in the planning phase, but that isn’t a fair comparison either. The Purple Line appears to be going toward just a more limited-stop bus without the dedicated lanes.

  • Carly

    The EmX in Eugene is a really great system.

  • Alex Brideau III

    Alternatively, Metro could use buses with right-side-only doors by using a central platform and running the buses on the left side of the busway. While it might look unusual, I don’t think it’s unprecedented and might save both $$$ and right-of-way space. With only one platform to build per station, perhaps we’d be able to get better station infrastructure (more shade, level boarding, etc.).

  • Frank Mastroly

    First off, I am very impressed with the extent of knowledge that many commenters have demonstrated, One option not discussed is an elevated extension of the Red Line south to the Green Line. There would only be a need for single support columns which would only remove a single traffic lane.

    As for left vs right side doors for a median BRT, I favor right side doors so that any Metro bus can be used.. To avoid left-hand running with right side door busses, you could use a single platform with crossovers as currently used at the I-110/I-105 Green Line station.. Alternately; you could use two separate platforms on either side of an intersection with the busway jogging from side to side to enable busses with right side doors to access the platforms

  • Richard

    A rail alignment could work, but I think it would have to be underground for the first few miles. For one thing where it starts at Wilshire/Vermont the train is already fairly deep and there is not too much room until you get down to perhaps Pico even for an elevated line.

    I think the problem is that heavy rail is perhaps overkill for the route that will parallel the Silver line and not serve downtown. LRT might serve it better, even if it cannot interline with the Red up to the SFV. LRT could also convert to street running when Vermont widens down near 65th street.

    At least from my POV, a LRT line in the median of western might actually be more useful. It would then parallel the red line a few blocks west through dense Koreatown and Hollywood and could be extended to Glendale.

  • Charles Patrick Hobbs

    That’s basically what the lower platform at the I-105/I-110 Silver Line station is….


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