OKC Central Live Chat: MAPS 4 to include bus rapid transit, 500 new shelters, additional bus fleet
Steve Lackmeyer was joined by Councilwoman JoBeth Hamon and EMBARK Director Jason Ferbrache on OKC Central Live Chat on Friday as they discussed the MAPS 4 proposal to fund $87 million for new buses, bus rapid transit, park-and-rides, new bus shelters and priority signalization. The following is an abridged recap of the chat.
What is this proposal for MAPS 4 about?
Ferbrache: We are looking at funding for additional rolling stock to further improve frequency whether it’s on our existing routes or new (BRT) rapid bus transit routes. Our goals are to have ADA covered accessible shelters for about half of our bus stops in the system and to have technology used to leverage the timing and reliability of the system to add traffic signal priority to up to half of our signalized intersections in our city.
BRT is a high frequency mode of transit, and it mimics a light rail operation from a standpoint of dedicated stop platforms, faster trips for a fixed route bus, usually an upgraded style vehicle and a lot more technology, real time arrival information and ticketing kiosks at the stop platforms.
We’re looking at adding more BRT routes. The areas we anticipate analyzing first are a route through northeast Oklahoma City and a route to south Oklahoma City.
The vision of a BRT elsewhere in the country is one that includes dedicated lanes. Are we planning for that with northwest corridor that is funded or the ones planned with MAPS 4?
Ferbrache: For the northwest corridor and traditional BRT routes, we believe we can accomplish high frequency and trip times without exclusively dedicated lanes. What that means and what our goal is from Day One with the northwest corridor is to leverage technology to move the vehicles with traffic signal priority and what we would refer to as BAT lanes, which is business access and transit only lanes.
There are a lot of systems that use the signal priority and BAT lanes versus the real estate. But that’s not to say we’re not looking for areas to put in a dedicated corridor. There is a possibility of adding a dedicated lane along Northwest Expressway from Classen to I-44. There is a lot of right of way there. It’s a feasibility question.
Can we do better?
Hamon: Obviously I do want to defer to the expertise of industry transit standards. But I think in general with these conversations, when we talk about right of way, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to talk about taking lanes away from cars. There is a culture that says that is off limits, and that’s something I’d like to chip away at.
You mentioned that BRT is characterized by frequency and travel times. If dedicated bus lanes aren't present to keep the vehicles moving, how will EMBARK make good on the promise of rapid transit?
Ferbrache: To deliver on our promise of high frequency, it will take a combination of industry best practices and combining those with the nuances of our community. It will take a lot of things we've learned from the streetcar, such as traffic signal priority that holds green lights longer for buses or shortens red lights when a bus is approaching. That's really how we shaved eight minutes from our streetcar route. The other part is transit-only turning lanes.
And business access and transit lanes, which mean there would be a dedicated lane for buses and motorists needing to make a right turn into a business or property.
When we consider bus rapid transit and MAPS 4 potentially going to the south such as Capitol Hill and going to the northeast, though it's not a streetcar extension, it is an extension of high frequency transit. BRT frequency can be about 12 minutes, very similar to a streetcar. The Adventure District is being considered. When we began studying the feasibility of BRT for the northeast, we will be looking at connection points and trip generators such as the Oklahoma Health Center, Metro Tech, the zoo, and perhaps as far as the Oklahoma City County Health Campus at NE 63 just east of Martin Luther King. Another advantage to taking BRT to the northeast and connecting Oklahoma Health Center is providing a high frequency transit connection between the center and downtown.
Lackmeyer: About 18,000 people work in the Oklahoma Health Center area just east of downtown.
Can you speak specifically to "further improve frequency" of routes? As a bus rider, what can I expect?
Ferbrache: Included in our MAPS 4 proposal is funding for additional buses aside from any proposed BRT routes. For us to continue improved frequency for fixed route service, we need more buses to put on the street. Specially, and in order of priority, we would add buses to Routes 9, 18 and 14 so that all Oklahoma City routes are 30 minutes or better and we would add buses to our two busiest routes, 5 and 23, to attempt 15-minute frequency.