Can we unlock our cities with transit malls?

TRANSIT took note of this very interesting post from Jarrett Walker of the Human Transit blog describing changes to the existing contra-flow bus lanes in downtown Minneapolis, USA.

Walker’s proposal which was implemented in Minneapolis (as part of the Access Minneapolis 10 Year Transport Plan) was to consolidate north-south bus routes on two main streets, but expand the existing, single contra-flow bus lane to create 2 side-by-side bus lanes. The extra lane allowed buses to pass each other, giving the bus lanes additional capacity – in fact, doubling the number of lanes led to a 3x increase in capacity!

New double, contra-flow bus lanes on Marquette and Second Ave. in Minneapolis. Image courtesy of the City of Minneapolis.

As soon as we read the post, we were interested in considering the possibilities of implementing this in Kuala Lumpur and other cities in Malaysia. More info and details of Jarrett’s proposal after the jump.

minneapolis: unlocking downtown with transit malls (Human Transit)

In the old arrangement, the major volumes of buses that needed to get through downtown Minneapolis mostly ran in single-lane bus lanes with no passing capability, where every bus was as slow as the slowest bus. Buses were also spread all over downtown, with a few running on almost every street, creating an arrangement that was illegible for passengers.  The spread-out pattern also meant relatively few buses at any stop, hence relatively few passengers waiting, hence poor shelter from the city’s harsh climate and often personal safety concerns. [TRANSIT: Minneapolis is astoundingly cold, but similar concerns could describe KL]

Image of new Marquette Ave. bus lanes courtesy of City of Minneapolis.

After years of study, meetings, and spirited discussions, we recommended a new arrangement.  North-south buses (the largest volume) would mostly be consolidated on just two north-south streets right through the center of downtown — Marquette Avenue and Second Avenue South.  Each street would have a double-width bus lane in one direction (similar to the Portland transit mall minus light rail) with car traffic in the other direction.  I’m always surprised there aren’t more two-lane bus lane arrangements, because although they’re a big commitment, they use space really well: A single-width lane with no passing capability starts getting seriously gummed up around 60 buses/hour, but double-width lanes handle 180 buses/hourDoubling the width triples the capacity. It can also dramatically increase speed and reliability.

TRANSIT Says:

We have long called for contra-flow bus lanes on major parallel 1-way streets in downtown KL as a way to improve traffic flow and make bus services more frequent and reliable.

In fact, contra-flow bus lanes did exist in the past but they were removed due to protests from drivers (sadly, TRANSIT did not exist at the time else we would have spoken up in favour of the bus lanes).

But the proposal as implemented in Minneapolis is very interesting because of the commitment to introduce double-width, contra-flow bus lanes. Clearly the city was committed to improving public transport movements and making the service more reliable and not worrying about complaints (and you can imagine, there were complaints) from the motoring public.

What is also interesting is the anticipated increase in congestion did not happen, partly because of the consolidation of bus service. And apparently, reducing the number of lanes for cars does not have as much of a negative impact as compared to the positive benefit of creating the additional bus lane.

This is something to be considered for Kuala Lumpur – with two major parallel streets (Jalan Raja Laut and Jalan Tunku Abdul Rahman) in the downtown that are perpetually jammed, double contra-flow bus lanes would be an excellent way to get public transport moving and make the service more reliable.

A similar consolidation of bus routes is also needed in KL – a project like this would be an excellent way to get things started.

For more information on the Marquette and Second Ave. project, please see the following links:

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27 thoughts on “Can we unlock our cities with transit malls?”

  1. Metrobus, Bus Len Seng, Bus Selangor will be among the first strongly opposed about it. I don’t want to elaborate further, it’s so tiring. But I believe quite a few of you know what are the reasons behind it. As long as our government is not firm and stern about it, we can forget about unlock our cities with transit malls.

    1. So you’re saying that bus companies will reject a proposal to double up the existing bus lanes on major roads, which would allow their services to run faster, more frequently and more reliably?

      Have to wonder how / why these operators are still in business.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  2. I think the issue with those bus companies is that they dont operate in an organize way. Like thier busses are parked at the side of roads, take passengers where ever they like, drive recklessly etc

    I also wonder how they can be still in business up to today

    1. @Lanwm

      That is a very good point – and we know that this is partly because of lax enforcement from the CVLB, combined with the ‘entrepreneurial’ spirit of the permit owners who pajak their buses out to these drivers.

      TRANSIT hopes that one thing SPAD will start doing, beginning this February, is to bring the full pressure of the government to bear on these permit owners and the bus drivers.

      In addition, a more organized approach to public transport will have to be introduced – starting with a Local Public Transport Authority for KL/Greater Klang Valley (comprising DBKL, FT Ministry, SPAD, Local council and representatives from Prasarana and PMBOA) that will control all bus routes and contract out service to private companies – provided they can meet the standards set out by the Authority.

      At the very least, that will improve the service standards and quality to a level that is expected for the largest city in Malaysia and absolutely necessary for any attempt to be ‘world class’.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  3. the major objections will come from businesses along those affected roads.

    however, is the govt fishing for political points by not doing anything at all? there is just not enough strong political will to do the right thing for the long term benefits of the country. But we must still voice out our concerns, mustn’t we?

    There is an urgency to reduce the number of cars on the road.

    I hope one day, KL will not be as congested as Bangkok, Mumbai or Beijing!

    1. @Jerping

      That is a good point – but then it would depend very much on the road itself. For example, a northbound bus lane on Jalan TAR (southbound road) would be on the west side where the sidewalks are quite wide and there are also drop off areas. And the other road, Jalan Raja Laut has mostly office buildings rather than shops.

      Another advantage of the bus lanes would be that commuters can be encouraged to take Komuter and LRT into the city, then use a shuttle bus to get around faster and more easily.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  4. I believe with consolidation of support systems under a single local transit organizing authority (which funds infra and operational payouts), together with proper education and engagement,

    operators will be motivated to serve according to the contract the best that they can instead of cutting corners and ‘steal’ passengers to survive,

    business owners will be happier to know that transit mall will generate less and less car traffic (noise/smoke/illegal parking) and more and more foot traffic (and more and more customers),

    property owners will be jubilant on prospects of higher land yield,

    city councils will be glad to reap more quit rents (and channel a portion back to transit),

    city goers will find it easier to work live and play as commute time is reduced,

    and everyone will benefit in the long term.

    Zul for TRANSIT

  5. It’s not that I want to be rude. But the whole world knows that almost all of our bus operators are nothing but a bunch of money and profit driven morons. Their employees and bosses/employers majority are very very very low in civic conscious. Worst still, it was wide known that a lot of former politicians have high stake in these bus operating companies.

    1. Jeffrey

      It is ok to be rude to those who are continuously rude and unkind – the bus operators.

      In fact, we hope that SPAD will be very rude to them starting 1 February 2011 (or maybe 2 February, give them a holiday first).

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  6. dear jeffrey, there is nothing wrong being profit motivated. otherwise, there won’t be any entrepreneurship left in the country. but it must be balanced by social responsibilities, which can be enforced on them, voluntarily or not, by the relevant authorities, who will safeguard the interests of the commuters and public at large.

    for example, SBS Transit and SMRT in singapore is doing really well in terms of revenues, profitability and service satisfaction. there is always a balance. it is also up to the operators to enforce the attitudes of its employees towards providing good customer service.

    in singapore too, the 2 companies, i believe, have some board members who are politically-linked one way or another. but they are very professional about their jobs. they dun answer to their political masters (PAP) directly, but to the government of Singapore. i am wrong about this?

  7. At least SMRT and SBS Transit are not a bunch of non-civic morons and non-social responsible morons like our local bus companies!!!

    1. Singapore’s social and political system does not allow the ‘morons’ to make the decisions.

      And more importantly, even if you are smart and wealthy, you cannot succeed in Singapore without being civic-minded and socially responsible.

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  8. Well, Jerping it sounds like you are somehow related to the bus operators by always being on their side. Let me tell you one fact first before I tell you a true story I witness personally 15 years ago.

    First, METROBUS can wait up to 45 minutes at Wangsa Maju lrt station or even at the busy Jalan Genting Klang road (to KL city centre/Jalan Pahang direction) in the congested morning hours to pick up passengers.

    15 years ago when I was still a college student in PJ, I took METROBUS number 12 in SS2 to my college because I stayed in SS2. One day evening, I took the same bus back to SS2, when I reached the road beside UIAM (now is no more UIAM), there was an old Indian lady bringing along her grandson trying to board the same bus (METROBUS 12). But before the old lady andher grandson managed to board the bus properly, the idiotic, moron, no brain METROBUS already started to take off. The old Indian lady and her grandson were fell of the bus staircases, everybody was shouting. Luckily the bus driver stopped the bus on time, but it was a bit too late. The old lady’s head and her grandson’s leg were already bruises and bleeding, but not very serious, she was still conscious and look ok.

    After that, some of the passengers including me told the bus driver to take the old Indian lady and her grandson to Universiti Hospital first because it’s quite nearby for treatment. But the F*****G stupid idiotic moronic bus driver dare to tell us that he has to reach the final stop at SS2 first before he can bring them to the hospital because his BOSS will scold him changing the route half way. And the bus drivers really did that, he don’t care other’s people opinions and advise and still finish the whole bus journey in front of POH KONG in SS2 before sending the old Indian lady and her grandson to the hospital.

    Since then I told myself, if it’s possible, I will not ever take METROBUS again in my life unless it was forced to do so (if there is no other choices at all)!!! Judge by your good conscious (良知/良心) and humanity mind properly. Jerping!!!

  9. dear Jeffrey, i hope your bad experience can be used to help shed light to the problems of public transportation in KL. We all do not wish this situation recurring again. I hope you will recover fully from that psychological trauma. but i do agree that metrobus and sj buses have lower standards of cleanliness, compliance and professionalism than rapidKL. why are the authorities not monitoring the performance of these bus companies?

  10. btw, i do wish that all bus operators make some profits, otherwise they will have no motivation to improve. if they don’t make a profit, who wants to invest in running the operations? we would be left with no public bus services.

  11. Jerping, do yo know that SMRT, SBS, Lothian bus In Edinburgh, London bus and Underground, New York Subway, Tokyo Metro and etc all of them are losing money each year but??? But they are still in the business.

    1. Many of these companies either receive money from the government (which understands that public transport is macroeconomic) or benefit from cross-subsidy (property ownership).

      Regards, Moaz for TRANSIT

  12. dear jeffrey, i am not sure about others around the world, but have you seen the latest financial reports of SMRT and SBS Transit? They are published on their websites. Please have a look.

  13. SBS Transit 2009
    -bus operations revenue: S$546m profit: S$60m
    -rail operations revenue: S$109m profit :S$14m

    SMRT 2010
    -train operations revenue: S$480m profit: S$129m
    -LRT operations revenue:S$8.7m loss: S$0.36m
    -bus operations revenue: S$199m loss: S$1.9m
    -total revenue: S$895m profit: S$197m

    Hong Kong MTR 2009
    -turnover: HK$18.8trillion profit: HK$13trillion
    -operation margin: 50%

  14. Jerping, obviously you didn’t know that among all these years SMRT and SBS lost a lot of profits before they managed to get some profits in this decade ONLY.

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