Guangzhou, China--is under consideration for the Roosevelt Boulevard, as a way to connect the El and the Broad Street Subway, according to Philadelphia's transit chief, deputy mayor Rina Cutler." />

High Speed Buses?

Guangzhou, China BRT

Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)–a huge success in Bogata, Colombia and Guangzhou, China–is under consideration for the Roosevelt Boulevard, as a way to connect the El and the Broad Street Subway, according to deputy mayor for transit Rina Cutler.

BRT applies subway and light rail passenger infrastructure–pre-paid fares, turnstiles, dedicated lanes, constant service–to the bus system at a fraction of the cost of new subway lines. Former Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa notes in the film “Urbanized” that for the same cost of a 25 KM subway line, a city can add 400 KM of BRT.

For a city such as ours whose transit riders overwhelmingly are bus users, it’s worth watching this film, on BRT in Guangzhou. Note how wide roadways, like the Roosevelt Boulevard, are transformed–and the positive impact on pedestrian safety. Also note how BRT spurred advances in bike and pedestrian infrastructure and how attitudes toward bus transit have shifted.

About the author

Nathaniel Popkin is co-editor of the Hidden City Daily and author of three books of non-fiction, including the forthcoming Philadelphia: Finding the Hidden City (Temple Press) and a novel, Lion and Leopard (The Head and the Hand Press). He is the senior writer of the film documentary "Philadelphia: The Great Experiment."


  1. While cheap to implement, BRT would still require a transfer to the Broad Street Line. It would be a wise idea to terminate Boulevard BRT, if implemented, at Erie station (express subway access + Northwest access via 23 + Hunting Park East/Frankford access via 56), in order to make things as quick and smooth for the riders as possible. However–as along West Chester Pike–this must be delivered with the caveat that BRT should be considered a stopgap solution here.

    Potential Boulevard ridership is so high that a BRT implementation–which would have higher labor costs than any other implementation, due to it offering fewer seats per driver–would not actually reduce overall costs over the long run, however. Despite (or more accurately, because of) its high implementation cost, the ideal solution would be a heavy rail line which would offer the most seats per driver, thereby offering the lowest operations cost (cost of labor is the dominant factor in operations costs, with 2/3 to 3/4 a typical transit agency’s operations budget going to labor alone).

    My assessment: Implement an express bus service along the Boulevard between Erie Avenue and either Franklin Mills or Oxford Valley Mall. Make sure it stops at Oxford Circle, Bustleton, Cottman, and a couple other spots, and give it the highest frequency the available operating budget allows. But don’t make it full-fat BRT. This is because this would be provisional infrastructure–in the long term, plan for a thorough reconstruction of the Boulevard as a whole: the express lanes need to be sunk, and when you sink them, you can also add a heavy rail line as well as some infrastructure-lite active uses on top of the expressway below. This is as necessary as it is stupendously expensive, which means now is the time to start to think about how such a long-term project should be implemented and funded.

  2. Would a comparison to the MTA’s express bus routes in Manhattan be more apropos? Have these routes accomplished what they were designed to do? I ask these questions because I don’t know the answers, but imagine that the experiences are transferable, or can at least be taken into account in the design phase.

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