Over Thanksgiving weekend, the City of Albuquerque, New Mexico launched a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor, known as Albuquerque Rapid Transit or ART , at a public event with elected officials, business leaders, and community supporters.
ART is the first BRT corridor to achieve a Gold-Standard with ITDP’s BRT Standard scorecard in the USA. The gold designation is awarded for design, with a separate score on operations to be determined after six months. With this score, ART sets a new precedent for cities across the country. It is also the first BRT system in the U.S. to use electric buses with doors on both sides. ART runs along Central Avenue, the city’s main street, and a decommissioned section of the famed route 66 U.S. highway. Central Avenue is the heart of Albuquerque and connects several historic and walkable neighborhoods.
The City of Albuquerque took a comprehensive urban development approach, including ART as part of a strategy to guide development growth as well as mitigate traffic congestion. Revised land use codes along the corridor eliminate parking requirements and allow for greater mixed-use, development density. Alburquerque also upgraded 16 miles of sidewalks, adding new landscaping and pedestrian lighting as well as upgraded 39 intersection signals to give priority to BRT vehicles.
ABQ RIDE, the city’s transportation agency, conducted feasibility studies starting in 2011 under Republican Mayor Richard J. Berry, who championed the project up until its opening and the end of his term-limited tenure. Mayor Berry was adamant to bring his city a high quality transit system despite the political risks and chorus of naysayers. He made sure there was community outreach and involved business perspectives, including the local Chamber of Commerce, to get support for the vision.
Albuquerque Rapid Transit is owned and operated by the city’s transit department, ABQ RIDE. It is the first form of transit in the city of 560,000 to use a dedicated guide way. The project was delivered using the Construction Manager at Risk (CMAR) model of alternative delivery, and is on budget at a projected cost of $133.6 million with $75 million of that budget from the Federal Transit Administration. The corridor has brought new construction jobs to Albuquerque and has already generated over $300 million worth of investments along the corridor.
“ART placed ahead of such groundbreaking and successful BRT systems as Cleveland’s HealthLine, which with a Silver Standard had been the highest ranked BRT system in the U.S.,” said Mayor Richard J. Berry. “ART was also ranked ahead of such noteworthy systems as Eugene, Oregon’s Emerald Express (EmX), Los Angeles’s Orange Line BRT and San Bernardino, California’s sbX system, all of which received Bronze Standards.”
So what makes ART BRT Gold Standard? More than 6.32 of 8.74 miles of the corridor have exclusive lanes (with an additional 1.1 miles of bidirectional lanes). Buses run in the middle of the roadway, avoiding conflict with surrounding traffic and almost all of the signals along the corridor give the bus priority at intersections. All the stations have off-board fare collection with proof of payment and there is platform level boarding at beautifully designed stations that consider local weather conditions.
“This rating is the culmination of hard work and planning by Transit and City staff that began in 2011 and will continue into the future,” said Bruce Rizzieri, Director of ABQ RIDE. “But we believe what put us into the Gold Standard was attention to detail; zero-emissions buses and other touches which make ART a world class, Bus Rapid Transit system.”
ART promises to offer faster and more reliable transit service, improving travel time by at least 15% and on-time performance by 20-25%. With a new Mayor in town, it will be vital to continue championing ART, one of the largest infrastructure projects in the city’s modern history.