Thursday, May 28, 2009
Agency To Consider 'Light Rail' on Rubber
By Lloyd Jojola
Journal Staff Writer
From Rio Rancho to Downtown Albuquerque, where she works, Richelle Hecker thinks she could pare a good 20 minutes off her commute if she drove to work.
But for her, it makes more sense financially it costs about $10 a week and she limits the wear and tear on her vehicle to do what she does now.
She boards ABQ Ride's Route 151 bus to get from Rio Rancho to Los Ranchos/Journal Center Rail Runner station, then takes the train to Downtown.
"I ride it because it's economical, but if it were actually saving time, I think more people would ride it," Hecker said.
That's the thinking behind a proposed study of a "bus rapid transit system" that could connect Rio Rancho and Albuquerque's Northwest Mesa to the city's East Side by way of the Paseo del Norte river crossing.
"There are two goals" behind the study, said Chris Blewett of the Mid-Region Council of Governments, the metro area's regional transportation planning agency. "One is to provide a realistic alternative to auto travel in this corridor from a travel time perspective, but also one that would be used.
"You've got to capture markets. And part of the way you capture markets is you have a higher-speed alternative."
The Rio Metro Regional Transit District will soon be asked to contribute about $100,000 for MRCOG to conduct the bus rapid transit study. The money would be a local match to about $300,000 in federal money.
Often described as light rail on rubber wheels, bus rapid transit uses dedicated bus lanes or rights of way, such as guideways, to give buses a clear path and thus a faster shot to their destinations. It's a way to bypass congestion.
"It really is about trying to get folks across the river and vice versa," said Lawrence Rael, executive director of MRCOG. "Right now, as you look at the major bottlenecks in that system, getting across the river is a major bottleneck."
Rael said a bus rapid transit system could connect areas like Rio Rancho, Intel and Cottonwood Mall with the Los Ranchos/Journal Center Rail Runner station and the Journal Center employment area.
A study would weigh such things as the different systems, routes, stops and local bus connections to the rapid transit system and project phasing.
The Rio Metro board was recently shown the "guided busway system" in Adelaide, Australia. It uses a dedicated guideway that a bus drives into and, using a mechanical device mounted to the bottom, the vehicle is kept in the guideway without the driver even having to steer. Because the bus sits in a fixed route, like a train, it allows for a narrower lane. And when the bus leaves the guideway, it can enter regular streets and function as a normal bus.
"We think for particularly this river crossing issue and other places where you've got fairly long stretches of congestion or areas you want to avoid, this is a really interesting idea," Rael said about the Adelaide system.
Rael said it's a challenge to remove an existing auto traffic lane and turn it into a high-speed bus lane, because cars still dominate the landscape.
"The idea here is to look at the whole facility and say, OK, is there enough room on either side to put in a system like this where a bus can jump into a fixed guideway and, if there's an accident on the main road, it bypasses the entire traffic flow on its own dedicated roadway? And it's flexible enough that, when it gets to Second Street, it pops right back into the main roadway, and it goes to the (train) station."
Then, in theory, the bus can drive back to the guideway, re-enter it and go to Jefferson and the Journal Center area.
Hecker said it's a concept that, on the surface, makes sense for her now-hourlong commute and others would probably be keen on the idea, too.
"I think they would get a lot more riders if they made it a little bit quicker," she said.