BRT

While there is no silver bullet, it is always encouraging to hear of creative ideas that can affect and change more than one challenge at a time. Obama certainly highlights that the “green revolution” will have transformative effects on our economy that both creates jobs and weans us off of fossil fuels, making us safer from unstable oil-rich threats. Or the revamping of health care will give access to quality treatment for everyone and help lead us out of deficit spending.

Transportation, always a thorny issue in urban planning debates, is also a challenge to the environment as millions of vehicles release millions of tons of CO2. How about a system that can decrease the amount of cars (and trucks and buses) on the road which would simultaneously reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions? And furthermore, do it on the cheap? Many cities around the globe have been implementing Rapid Bus Systems for decades. (I rode workable routes in Pittsburgh and Adelaide, Australia back in the early 90’s).  Trains – both subterranean and surface – definitely have the cool factor, but have proven to be exponentially more expensive to implement than re-organizing existing streets to create dedicated bus lanes. For cash-strapped municipalities, especially in the developing world (where almost all of the 21st century mega-cities will be found), this is a no-brainer. Bogota, population 7 million, is going strong with a growing fleet of low-emission buses and willing passengers. Car congestion is down and so are emissions. Their biggest obstacle? Making sure the bus lanes stay clear of other traffic and convincing riders that bus travel can be cool.

Could this work in the US? Bogota already had a massive population that grew up riding buses. Here we would need to break the car-culture, ingrained in our suburban psyche. The only way to get us out of our cars is to hit our pocket-books and day planners. Spend 2 hours in traffic and $4/gallon on gas and we may just see the light. Oh, and have localized competitions for the bus re-design. Lights, tags, graphics, music, news and entertainment. Zip to work in a fuel-sipping-media-displaying-wheel-spinning-mega-ride.

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