The Dispatch has some more details, including potential alignments, on the Cleveland Avenue transit study being undertaken by COTA.
The Central Ohio Transit Authority wants to study something called “bus rapid transit” – a dedicated lane on Cleveland Avenue that could accommodate bigger, better buses.
The souped-up bus resembles a toned-down light-rail train and would be designed to get people to their destinations faster than traditional buses but would cost far less than rail.
The COTA line would run between Downtown and either Rt. 161 or Westerville. Officials say there are frequent requests for more service in that corridor.
“The whole objective is to reduce travel time and make it more user-friendly,” said William J. Lhota, COTA’s president and chief executive.
The authority will use $300,000 from the Federal Transit Administration and $100,000 of its own money to study bus rapid transit and other potential improvements along Cleveland Avenue. Costs and timetables for implementation depend on what officials decide to do. The study is to take 16 months.
Based on the study cost, I’m guessing this will fall into the FTA’s “Very Small Starts” category, but it could be “Small Start” if the total project costs exceed $50 million or $3 million per mile (excluding vehicle costs). Knowing this tells us a few things about the design of the project because Small Starts and Very Small Starts projects are required to have the following components to be eligible for Section 5309 funding:
- Substantial Transit Stations – At a minimum this will mean a nice shelter with seating, route and system maps, probably some kind of real-time information displays, and possibly ticket vending machines.
- Signal Priority/Pre-emption – This will allow buses to extend green lights or call an early green to reduce delays, but not necessarily at every signalized intersection.
- Low-Floor Vehicles or Level Boarding – Low floor vehicles are pretty much standard now, so this isn’t a hard requirement to meet. Nevertheless, level boarding can reduce boarding delays markedly, so higher curbs at stations and a bus docking system should be considered.
- Branding of the Proposed Service – The buses will probably have a nice wrap to look different from the regular buses. There will be a consistent design to the stations and passenger information displays. They will also have to name it something different than the #1 to distinguish it from the standard bus service. It could be a colored line, or some new acronym like Metro Area Express (MAX). Cleveland branded their Euclid Corridor route as the Silver Line before selling the naming rights to area hospitals for $12 million to call it the Health Line. That’s a good funding technique that COTA should consider.
- Frequent Service – Service has to run at least every 10 minutes in the peak and 15 minutes in the off-peak for 14 hours per weekday. This is similar to the existing service levels on the #1, which operates this definition of frequent service for 12-14 hours per day, but only up to Northern Lights shopping center at Innis Road. This is a big deal though. Frequency is what allows people to rely on transit and think about giving up a car. I believe there is a 20-year commitment required for this service level with financial proof of the ability to operate it.
As for alignments, I think it might make sense to branch off to Westerville (Option 2) AND Easton (Option 3). Also, if you’re going all the way to Westerville, consider getting the route into Uptown instead of ending at St. Ann’s Hospital. This would really help turn Westerville into the region’s premier suburban downtown. Lastly, if a major objective is to reduce travel time as Mr. Lhota said in the article, then they should consider using the Mt. Vernon Secondary right-of-way for a Northeast Busway as one alternative. This would likely be much more expensive though, so it’s probably not a likely option.