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Development & Transportation

Port Authority Bus Rapid Transit System Receives National Honor from Global Transportation Group

BRT Award 1.jpg
Deanna Garcia

The Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway in Pittsburgh has been designated as only one of five in the nation that meet Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) standards. It has been awarded the Bronze Standard by the Institute for Transportation Development Policy out of basic BRT, bronze, silver or gold designations.

“Being a Bronze Standard BRT puts the Pittsburgh Martin Luther King Jr. East Busway among such systems internationally as Cape Town in South Africa; Nantes in France; Jakarta in Indonesia; Los Angeles; Ottowa, Canada; Ahmedabad, India and just a few others,” said ITDP U.S. Country Director Annie Weinstock.

Of the seven BRT systems in the U.S., Pittsburgh has three. The East Busway’s Bronze Standard was given for several reasons.

“The fact that you have a fully dedicated busway completely separated from traffic, that is about the most important thing that you can do here," Weinstock said. "You have passing lanes at the stations which allow many buses and many different types of bus services to use the busway, which makes it the only system in the United States that has passing lanes, and this is an international best practice.

ITDP said that when done right, BRT systems can provide speed and quality of service, as well passenger capacity that is as high as or higher than metro or light rail systems. And BRTs cost about 1/5 of what light rail systems cost.

The Port Authority’s East Busway spans nine miles from Downtown Pittsburgh to Swissvale and serves about 25,000 riders daily. It was among the nation’s first Bus Rapid Transit Corridors and has continued to grow over the past two decades.

“There are some plans to do some work in the downtown and continuing into Oakland, and I think the public should really rally to support those systems,” said ITDP CEO Walter Hook. “Pittsburgh really was the first Bus Rapid Transit in the United States, and I’d like them to be the first gold rapid transit in the United States.”

The expansion into Oakland is also expected to spur investment along the corridor in areas such as Downtown Pittsburgh, Uptown and the Hill District. Hook cited Cleveland’s Health Line, which has experienced more than $5.8 billion in investment for surrounding areas.

The Health Line was the only one ranked higher than Pittsburgh. It obtained the Silver Standard, which officials say is within reach for Allegheny County.

“If the Port Authority added off-board fare collection to the stations or the buses, upgraded the stations along the busway to somewhat more weather protected stations, stations with platform-level boarding where passengers could step right onto the bus, these things would probably bring the corridor to silver,” Weinstock said.

To obtain the Gold Standard, Weinstock said integrated bike lanes or bike sharing systems at stations would need to be included along with improved pedestrian access.

Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said he, members of the BRT Advisory Board and others will travel to Cleveland in June to see how that city has benefited from BRT and what can be done here to emulate successes experienced there.