Cleveland official urges group to consider bus rapid transit
OAKDALE — Metro officials led a forum Monday about the future Gateway Corridor featuring Joseph Calabrese, CEO of the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (GCRTA), at the Oak Marsh Golf Course in Oakdale.
The Gateway project, expected to begin around 2022, connects St. Paul with the east metro and western Wisconsin along Interstate 94. The Gateway Corridor Development Forum brought in Calabrese to suggest using BRT, or bus rapid transit, instead of LRT, or light rail transit. Calabrese was the driving force behind the nation’s first BRT project, called HealthLine.
HealthLine is distinguished from traditional bus lines because it combines features of bus and light rail lines, according to Calabrese.
Along with the flexibility and lower cost of a traditional bus line, HealthLine utilizes off-board fare collection, exclusive right-of-way, level boarding and dedicated stations to create a “first-class” commuter experience. Although the GCRTA originally planned for Light Rail Transit where HealthLine now exists, it kept its options open to new ideas, which led to BRT.
“If we had a rail-or-nothing attitude, BRT never would have happened,” Calabrese said.
Calabrese also combined the development of HealthLine with improvements to landscaping and existing roads along the line. The HealthLine connects downtown Cleveland with University Circle, an area of hospitals and clinics. HealthLine also generated $4.3 billion in retail and residential development in an area that once struggled to keep buildings filled.
HealthLine uses three different traffic configurations. The line’s midtown section uses center median stations, with outbound and inbound vehicles using different stations. There are special lanes used only by HealthLine at a speed limit of 35 mph, 10 miles faster than the other lanes. The areas immediately adjacent to midtown also use center median stations, but the stations share outbound and inbound passengers. The outer parts of HealthLine are not guaranteed right-of-way because of traffic volume. In peak hours, there is a five minute wait between vehicles and during off-peak hours, the wait increases to eight to 15 minutes.
HealthLine was originally going to receive 80 percent of its money from federal funds, but by the time the project was being completed, only 50 percent was funded federally. Twenty-five percent came from the state of Ohio and the rest was evenly divided among the GCRTA, city and the local planning organization.
During the forum, Calabrese participated in a panel along with Peter Frosch, the director of Strategic Partnerships, Greater MSP; Paul Reinke, Oakdale City councilman and president of Silver Oak Development, Inc.; Jay Cowles, chair of Itasca Project Transportation Initiative, and Mark Fabel, project manager of McGough Cos. and Bloomington Central Station. The panel addressed questions posed by moderator Zach Schultz and the those in attendance. Frosch was vocal about the need for a modern, comprehensive transit system in Minnesota.
“We are not ahead in this game nationally,” he said.
All panelists agreed that there will be an “adoption period” when the Gateway Corridor is completed, when passengers are familiarizing themselves with public transportation. They also acknowledged the growing trend in young adults who would rather use public transportation than drive cars.
Panel members urged residents to become informed about the possibility of BRT.
“There is no substitute for a robust, early conversation,” Cowles said.
Visit www.thegatewaycorridor.com for more information about corridor development.