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BUS USE OF SHOULDERS SUMMARY In many urban areas, traffic congestion commonly delays bus services and adversely affects schedule reliability. Some communities have adopted policies and regulations that permit buses to use shoulders on arterial roads or freeways to bypass congestion either as interim or long-term treatments. Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Washington, Virginia, British Columbia, and Ontario are among the jurisdictions that have implemented or are considering implementing bus use of shoulder programs. Many jurisdictions, however, have been reluctant to embrace bus use of shoulders for various reasons. Little information has been available about the affects on travel time, reliability, patronage benefits, and safety resulting from the allowed use of shoulders. In parts of the United States, bus use of highway shoulders to bypass congestion has been in operation for more than 10 years. It represents a low-cost and relatively quick strategy to improve bus running times and reliability without requiring costly expansion of the highway right-of-way. Because the bus shoulder operations can be implemented within the highway right-of-way, minimal disruption and traffic impacts result. The shoulder bus operations also facilitate the development of rail transit-like "station stopping" service, because buses can easily enter and exit the highway. This station stopping service can only be accomplished at great expense for bus services that use median high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, because buses on these median facilities generally must maneuver across general traffic to get to and from the HOV lanes and the highway on- and off-ramps. The solution to the weaving prob- lem is to construct expensive HOV direct access ramps. The purpose of this synthesis is to · Identify and obtain information about jurisdictions that allow bus use of shoulders, along with their positive and negative experiences; and · Identify and obtain information about those jurisdictions that have considered, but have not implemented, these treatments and the reasons why. Both the transit and highway perspectives on the bus use of shoulders are explored, rec- ognizing that they must be partners in expanding promising applications for increasing patronage and improving operating efficiency. In this report, BBS stands for bus bypass shoulder operations. This acronym is used by other countries to describe their bus shoulder congestion bypass operations. Screening surveys were distributed to U.S. state departments of transportation, Canadian provincial transit agencies, transit operators, metropolitan planning organizations, and other agencies. Seventy-one responses were received. BBS operations have proven popular with bus passengers who benefit from the improved schedule reliability and quicker travel times. Such operations also have improved bus oper- ating efficiencies and have not drawn significant complaints from general traffic motorists. Positive passenger perception of travel time savings helps to attract patronage. Passengers enjoy the feeling of moving faster than the general traffic. For bus operators, BBS operations
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2 allow them to offer more reliable service, which is particularly important for buses that make more than one peak direction commute period trip; the second peak direction bus trip is more likely to be on time. Other attractive aspects of BBS applications are that they can be imple- mented relatively quickly and are very cost-effective owing to their low cost. BBS projects typically do not require new rights-of-way and visually they are much less obtrusive than other capacity enhancements such as widened highways and direct-ramp interchange. In addition, BBS operations lend themselves to station stopping express bus service on free- ways, because entering and exiting the freeway involve minimal traffic conflicts. From a highway operations and safety viewpoint the BBS use operations raise a number of important concerns. These concerns encompass the loss of basic functions that shoulders are intended to provide (removal and storage of disabled vehicles, emergency vehicle access, and highway maintenance staging), traffic safety risks, and the added costs for maintenance and enforcement. The traffic safety concerns include: · Conflicts at on- and off-ramps; · Sight distance adequacy, particularly at on-ramps; · Conflicts for motorists pulling onto the shoulder; · Loss of safe evasive movement shelter area; · Need for bus driver training; · Speed differential; · Impact on adjacent lane motorists; · Return merge distance adequacy; · Shoulder area debris hazards; · Reduced clearance for buses at bridge abutments; and · Highway drainage. Although a number of agencies have been constructing shoulders to full traffic lane stan- dards, implementing BBS operations on older freeways often necessitates upgrades to shoul- ders. Many highway shoulders are 10 ft wide or less and are not constructed to support high volumes of bus traffic. Buses themselves are nearly 10 ft wide, including mirrors, and are very heavy vehicles. Drainage side slopes and catch basins sometimes also need modifica- tion to provide comfortable bus rides. Signage and pavement markings also must be provided for safe operations. The extent of these modifications varies by jurisdiction and by highway. This synthesis project has further defined the bus use of shoulder facilities in North America and provides added information on its implementation. Not unexpectedly, consis- tently formatted information describing these projects is not available, because they are low cost and not subject to the rigid and structured planning analysis requirements of a single national agency. What appears clear is that with proper operating rules and prudent upgrades to shoulder facilities the bus use of shoulders to bypass congestion has been a success. Successful con- cepts are copied and the bus shoulder congestion bypass concept has been copied and currently appears to be expanding into new communities. Its current use in most communities, however, is limited to a few corridors with significant bus operations, congested traffic conditions, and limited opportunities to widen the highway.