In cities considering a light rail project, it’s common for transit opponents to suddenly cast themselves as big believers in bus rapid transit. They don’t really want to build BRT, they just want to derail the transit expansion. The light rail advocates then have to make their case not only on the merits of the project, but also in relation to the strawman BRT project.
That’s the position supporters of Seattle’s big transit expansion ballot measure, ST3, find themselves in right now. Taking on the faux pro-BRT crowd in a recent post, Anton Babadjanov at Seattle Transit Blog argues that building a BRT equivalent of the proposed light rail lines wouldn’t be that simple or cheap:
How do we get this? We can’t simply reallocate a general purpose lane for this. This is a political non-starter. While it is relatively cheap to implement, no car commuter wants to lengthen their commute so that “somebody else” can have a better transit or carpool trip. People have never supported this en masse.
The only option we have is to build the new right-of-way — either widen the freeway or build the lanes in a separate structure using viaducts and tunnels as appropriate.
Babadjanov concludes that building BRT with new rights-of-way could save 20 percent compared to light rail, but its capacity would be lower. It’s a reasonable argument for the specific situation Seattle transit advocates are in right now. But I’ve seen the post’s headline — “BRT Is Not Cheaper Than Light Rail” — shared online as though it applies in every situation, which is just not true.