Often referred to as “light rail on rubber tires,” Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is an enhanced, high-capacity bus system that offers riders faster, more frequent service than traditional bus service. BRT combines the speed of a rail transit system with the comparatively lower cost of a traditional bus system.
BRT combines dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal management that prioritizes BRT buses and pre-paid boarding systems to decrease travel times for commuters. On a BRT system, riders save more than eight minutes per day on travel time in this corridor.
- BRT Only Lanes allow buses to bypass traffic, resulting in faster, more efficient transportation.
- Traffic Signal Priority systems hold green lights longer for approaching BRT vehicles.
- High Capacity, Specialized Vehicles accommodate more riders than traditional buses and feature onboard Wifi and comfortable seating.
- Enhanced Transit Stations feature covered seating, pre-pay ticket machines, improved pedestrian crossings, cyclist access and real-time schedule information.
- Reduced Environmental Pollution for cleaner air quality.
The NSBRT is the Town of Chapel’s planned 8.2 miles modern transit line along the Town’s busiest corridor. It will accommodate travel demand growth along the NS corridor, support emerging modes of transportation and leverage the existing transportation infrastructure to improve connectivity within the corridor.
The NSBRT begins in the north at Eubanks and Martin Luther King Dr. and ends near the Southern Village mixed use development. It is the Town’s major corridor used by residents, pedestrians, commuters and students. Between 2005 and 2012, Chapel Hill Transit ridership has increased by 20 percent and buses operate at near capacity. The NSBRT will provide enhanced capacity to meet growing demand for public transit.
The North-South Bus Rapid Transit (NSBRT) project focuses on a core part of the Town’s transit investment strategy. The NSBRT project follows the Town of Chapel Hill’s North-South Corridor Study. This phase will include the environmental review required by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration, as well as engineering and design of 30 percent of the NSBRT.
During phase one of the North-South Corridor Study, Chapel Hill Transit conducted the study, working with two committees that provided technical guidance and policy oversight. These committees worked with Chapel Hill Transit and its partners and community stakeholders to develop a locally preferred alternative (LPA) that improved transit within the corridor while remaining competitive for federal capital funding. The LPA calls for a BRT route along the 8.2-mile corridor.
By upgrading traditional buses to BRT vehicles that operate primarily in dedicated lanes along the corridor, enhancing stations and optimizing service schedules, the Town will expand capacity, meet future demand for service along the corridor and support the town’s environmental and sustainability priorities.
The results of the study outlined the key priorities for improving transit along the corridor.
- Higher-capacity buses
Using larger buses will provide additional capacity to meet current demand while accommodating continued ridership growth in the corridor.
- Optimized station locations
Optimized stations will include dedicated BRT lanes and transit-signal priority to ensure time-savings for riders.
- Direct connection to UNC Hospitals and the planned Durham/Orange Light Rail
These connections will provide direct access to a major regional employer and activity center and will also provide connectivity to the regional light rail network.
- Dedicated lanes
Along most of the corridor, BRT will operate on dedicated lanes. In certain segments of the corridor, however, dedicated lanes will not be cost-effective or could result in significant, negative traffic impacts. In these cases, a BRT bus may share the lane with other transit and non-transit vehicles.
The BRT line along the NS corridor and new transit stations will complement downtown business locations and provide opportunities for increased customer traffic. BRT will expand the labor pool (people can go farther faster) and increase the timeliness of employees who rely on transit. Businesses along the corridor will be engaged throughout the design phase to ensure business needs, such as efficient loading and unloading, are met and that construction does not impact business.
One of the key benefits of BRT is that buses travel on dedicated lanes where possible, which will improve traffic flow for drivers. Increased BRT and bus ridership will also decrease the number of drivers in the corridor, helping to mitigate increasing roadway congestion.
The BRT will operate in dedicated lanes along the whole corridor EXCEPT when it travels through the UNC Hospitals campus (the U-shaped deviation off of MLK/Columbia), where it will operate in mixed traffic, like existing buses do.
Nearly 9,000 people are expected to use the NSBRT daily. This represents a 43 percent increase over the number of current riders in the corridor.
The NSBRT will run every 8 minutes during the day and every 10 – 20 minutes in early morning and at night. The NSBRT will operate seven days a week between 5 am and 11 pm during the week, and 8 am and 11 pm on the weekends. Part of the study is considering how to optimize the existing local bus network to coordinate with the NSBRT; the existing NS route would be replaced by the NSBRT. Because every CHT route operates through this corridor, investment in the NSBRT will help to spread benefits of improved travel times and connectivity throughout the CHT network.
The NSBRT will enhance connectivity throughout the town for employees, students and residents. The existing bus network will be optimized to connect with the BRT. Bus routes that travel within the BRT corridor will also be able to use the dedicated lanes.
Bike paths and pedestrian walkways will be enhanced along the corridor to improve and support safe access to BRT stations. Details of these enhancements (sharrows, bike lanes, multi-use paths) will be advanced during this project phase.
The capital cost for the construction of the NSBRT is projected to be between $96 – $105.9M; these costs will be refined during the current phase of the project as more detailed engineering is completed. The project qualifies for Federal Transportation Administration funds, which will provide between $50 – $75M for the project. Local capital investment will be between $12M and $50M.
The Chapel Hill 2020 Comprehensive Plan considered transportation corridors and desirable development. As part of the Chapel Hill 2020 exercise, the transportation planning presentation addressed greater use of public transit, bicycling, and walking. The NSBRT project emerged as a priority to address these goals by improving transportation along the corridor and anticipating future demand.
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