Report presents best practices guide for implementing Tactical Transit Lanes

By Chet Edelman

Bus Rapid Transit or BRT has gained popularity in recent decades as a more cost-effective alternative to light rail. In its simplest form, BRT entails setting aside an exclusive lane of traffic for buses so they can travel unencumbered by other vehicles. However, a recent report from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies presents a best practices guide for implementing a more selective form of BRT known as Tactical Transit Lanes or TTL.  While TTL involves bus-exclusive lanes, unlike a full BRT system, these bus lanes are typically less than a mile in length and are strategically placed along a transit route. The aim is to improve bus speeds and run times, while avoiding some of the difficulties and costs of adopting a full-fledged BRT.

The TTL movement falls more broadly under the umbrella of tactical urbanism—a recent type of urban intervention that involves quick, often temporary, and inexpensive projects aimed at improving the urban environment. The goal of tactical urbanism is to take short-term action, with long-term change in mind.

In the case of TTL, implementing a project can be quick, effective, and relatively cheap. In Boston, planners carried out a TTL pilot program by designating a bus-exclusive lane with cones. Over the duration of the pilot, organizers found peak-hour buses ran 28 percent faster than before. Not only was the project quick and effective, it was low cost, requiring approximately $100,000 in funding to implement. This follows a similar trend in cities such as Everett, MA, and Pittsburgh, PA, where grants of $150,000 or less were able to fully fund projects.

In addition to touting the benefits of TTL, the report outlines several considerations cities must make when planning a TTL of their own. These considerations include strategy, public outreach, messaging, and design. One of the biggest challenges, the report notes, is enforcement. A TTL’s performance suffers when buses come into frequent conflict with vehicles. Therefore, cities must be diligent about keeping other vehicles out of bus lanes whether it be through stiff fines or educational campaigns aimed at drivers. More often than not, TTL and BRT projects that have underachieved are those with inadequate enforcement measures.

As with any public works project there are a number of political, administrative, and budgetary hurdles that impede TTL adoption; nevertheless, the barriers to implementation pale in comparison to those of a traditional BRT. For cities and local governments seeking to improve public bus performance, TTL offers an enticing alternative to BRT at a significantly reduced cost.

Chet Edelman is a Project Assistant at SSTI.