Advancing Bus Rapid Transit and Transit Oriented Corridors in California’s Central Valley
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) has gained attention as a potentially cost-effective form of highcapacity public transportation. This is particularly the case in small to medium-size cities that do not have high enough densities or serious enough peak-period traffic congestion to justify fairly expensive fixed-guideway transit investments. BRT is widely embraced for providing potential rail-like services at a fraction of the cost (Wright, 2011). This study explores possibilities for advancing BRT systems and associated higher density land development in the Central Valley of California. It uses photo-simulations and stakeholder reactions to visual images to gauge public attitudes toward what would be a fairly radical transformation of urban environments in traditionally car-oriented settings. Due to the comparatively low development densities found in the Central Valley relative to California’s larger metropolitan areas, the kinds of transformations that would be needed to economically justify higher quality BRT services will likely require more than better and more frequent bus services. What will also be needed to complement and perhaps even offset the traditionally negative connotations of higher densities are more amenities, in the form of street trees, attractive landscaping, street furniture, improved building facades, bike lanes, and the like. By eliciting views and responses from local stakeholder interests about BRT service design and surrounding development patterns, the work sought to provide a platform for stimulating open public dialogue on factors that could be vital to successful project implementation. We chose the city of Stockton as a case context. This was in good part because Stockton has an existing BRT-like service in place. Extending this to a higher-quality dedicated-lane service matched by higher accompanying urban densities was viewed as less of a stretch in Stockton than other Central Valley cities that we considered. To investigate the possibility of a BRTbased transit-oriented corridor in Stockton, photo-simulations were created for two locations: one downtown and the other in a more residential setting. For each location, three levels of density matched by enhanced amenity packages were photo-simulated and presented to local stakeholders, along with background information on assumed costs and possible ridership impacts. Participants were asked to express what they liked and did not like about the BRT scenarios that were presented. This analysis built upon prior work using photo-simulations to gauge public sentiments toward TODs in California by Cervero and Bosselmann (1998). Besides visually simulating BRT-related transformations that could take place in Stockton, estimates of costs related to various improvements were compiled, as were estimates of ridership increases based on the higher densities of each transit-oriented corridor. The results presented in this paper are just a first step toward designing and implementing a sustainable transportation program for fast-growing, medium-size cities of California where BRT investments could function as a backbone investment toward reshaping community growth.