Saturday, January 22, 2011

Ride the AIRLINE - The Backbone of Worcester's Future Public Transportation System

The AIRLINE Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) proposal for Worcester has come together in a series of posts over the past few months (the original Union Station - ORH line, the Union Station - Fairlawn branch to Shrewsbury and the Union Station - QCC branch), so I thought it might be helpful to step back and look at the BRT system in its entirety for a change.

The Proposed AIRLINE BRT System for Worcester, MA
AIRLINE (Orange) - AIRLINE East (Red) - AIRLINE North (Blue)
 The current WRTA bus system (map) is run as a hub and spoke system with City Hall playing the role of the hub. This system worked well for many years when most Worcester County businesses and retailers were downtown, but started to become less effective when businesses and retailers could locate just about anywhere thanks to the new highways built after World War II. Today, just as many public transit users need to get across town as downtown, but the system is still setup as if we were still in the 1950's.

Ideally, the WRTA would revamp it's bus routes using more of a grid plan like those found in NYC and Philadelphia. A grid system is great for transit users as it gives them more than one option for getting to their destination (e.g., you can go up, then across, or across and then up, etc.) while with a hub and spoke system you are largely tied to the one spoke that runs to your destination. Practically speaking, Worcester's terrain and existing road infrastructure outside of the downtown core does not make a true grid system practical, so the best I think Worcester could do is a hybrid transit system with Union Station serving as the primary hub.

I've heard here and there that the WRTA is planning on moving its hub from City Hall to Union Station at some point, but I have not heard much about it lately. The AIRLINE BRT would serve as the backbone of this redesigned system, providing efficient, frequent service along Worcester's primary business corridors and connecting to ORH. The next step would be to lay out traditional bus routes that would serve the secondary business corridors and residential areas and cross over (like a grid) the BRT lines at secondary hubs (e.g., Lincoln Square, Webster Square, etc.) - the objective would be to get riders on the traditional bus routes to the BRT system as quickly as possible where they can then transfer to the BRT and get to their ultimate destination quickly. Alternatively, as the bus line would cross the BRT line, the rider would have the option to stay on the bus (or perhaps take the bus in the opposite direction) and take an alternate route to their destination. I'll layout a sample route next post to demonstrate what I am thinking here.

1 comment:

  1. Eric, I'm surprised you're not getting more comments on the public transit posts. This was a major issue in Worcester about a decade ago and seems to have fallen off the map; it almost seems as if we have defered to the State on what a regional transportation master plan might look like. It's no surprise the State has moved forward on one of the touchstone issues--increased commuter rail service--with Murray in the State House, but no "smart growth" or comprehensive development strategy is going to work without an equally comprehensive transportation plan that addresses specific local needs. There needs to be a collective effort to reduce the number of cars on the road and increase ridership, biking walking and perhaps light rail. In my eyes this should be a policy and operational imperative. The WRTA has made some some very obvious improvements to their fleet, but I don't think it's made much of dent in the habits of Worcester residents. You're right to be focusing so much attention on this issue, because along with major infrastructure and educational improvements, transportaion is among the most important components of a liveable city that have profound effects for both the existing residents and the way prospective residents view us.