From Dave Van Hattum, Policy and Program Manager

When a bus acts like a train, can it spur compact development? In Ottawa, Canada’s capitol, the answer is yes. And after the development comes, the plan is for the bus rapid transit (BRT) corridor to mature into light rail.

In the mid-1970’s, Ottawa began building an impressive regional BRT system. Alain Miguelez, with Ottawa Transport, shared this success story at an Urban Land Institute workshop on December 15th. At the workshop, John Levin from Metro Transit provided an overview of planning for BRT in the Twin Cities.

The 30 mile BRT system, along with a five mile light rail transit (LRT) line, has led to a 22% transit mode share for work trips. Approximately 100 million transit trips a year are taken in the Ottawa metro area, a figure equal to that of the Twin Cities, in a region with about half the population. The farebox recovery rate is an impressive 40% and there has been substantial transit oriented development at most stations along the BRT corridors.

The BRT system consists primarily of dedicated right of-ways, 22 to 24-hour service and 3 minute headways. Buses occasionally run in tunnels, with commercial activity above, or in old streetcar trenches, and most transit stations are heated.

Interestingly, the public funding for transit in Ottawa comes nearly entirely from a municipal government property tax. The city had the foresight over two decades ago to plan the corridors–exclusive rights-of-way and station design—with the potential for conversion to LRT.

With the Ottawa BRT system as a backdrop, a panel of city representatives (Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, Bloomington Mayor Gene Winstead, and the Apple Valley Economic Development Director) shared strategies for local land use planning underway to support emerging BRT corridors along I-35W South and Cedar Avenue.

A number of promising planning strategies are being employed to encourage bus ridership and to increase housing and commercial activity in close proximity to the transit stations. These include density minimums, density bonuses, shared parking, orienting buildings toward the transit stations and prohibiting drive-thru restaurants. BRT on I-35W and Cedar Avenue is a work in progress as new stations and the extent of exclusive right-of-way for the buses is expanded. Bus ridership on these corridors is already very substantial. TLC will continue to provide updates on growing ridership and the success of transit oriented development as these BRT corridors mature.

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