Lessons

A number of challenges and lessons for the BRT planning process emerged from the workshop.

Working Together

Working in international and interdisciplinary teams generated a number of communication challenges. In addition to language barriers, students had to overcome differences between discipline-specific working styles and communication norms. Except during the two weeklong charrettes, they also faced the difficulties of working remotely on inherently hands-on, drawing-heavy design tasks. While videoconferencing facilitated limited communication, the coordination efforts in some cases curtailed focus on producing design work. Compounding these difficulties initially may have been an aversion to delegating work and establishing hierarchies within the teams. By the midpoint of the semester, students generally shifted away from a model of consensus decisionmaking within the groups, which had been exacerbating some of the communication difficulties, to a model that allowed for more independent work that better took advantage of students’ specializations while still attempting some level of coordination.

Stakeholder Involvement and Evaluation

Meeting with Chile's Metropolitan Public Transport Agency

Meeting with Chile’s Metropolitan Public Transport Agency

Local transit agencies, planning organizations, municipalities, and advocacy groups briefed the students at the start of each of the weeklong charettes. While some students reached out to these groups as they developed their designs, they lacked the time and resources to solicit and respond to stakeholder perspectives on an ongoing basis. Feedback during the semester’s two sets of final presentations did provide the opportunity to engage with some of these perspectives, but a clear formal framework for evaluating proposals was not established.

Institutional Structure

Connecting to existing anchor institutions and programs may be an important way to advance BRT corridor projects. In Boston, existing transportation management agencies were identified as potential implementation allies. In both settings, proposed partnerships with existing educational and industrial anchor institutions drew on salient links to BRT corridor infrastructure, whether through garden plots adjacent to the right of way linked to an existing university urban agriculture training program, an electric propulsion facility linked to an existing lithium technology research center, or a cluster of maintenance facilities linked to a vocational training program. In short, not only can a BRT corridor project connect educational and industry clusters more efficiently, improving their competitiveness, but it can also involve imaginative ways of connecting these anchor institutions to the corridor itself.

In both Boston and Santiago, proposals for design, funding, and policy cut across existing jurisdictional boundaries. In particular, land value capture, employer levies, and equitable housing policies were proposals that would be especially difficult to implement within current institutional structures. Students proposed various strategies for addressing these institutional concerns, but evaluating the feasibility of their proposed institutions and political incentives is a difficult task. More research is needed on the constraints that institutional inertia imposes on integrated corridor projects like these. If such constraints can be overcome, the potential synergies that these proposals identified could help maximize the benefits of BRT projects.

Service Planning

Planning BRT corridor service in relation to other transit service was an key part of the proposals. Students proposed a range of complementary transit services, from local circulators to rail stations to freeway express routes, that were not necessarily constrained by a rigid trunk/feeder distinction. Phasing the implementation of these families of services with changes in other parts of the network, such as the inauguration of Metro Lines 3 and 6 and the upgrading of Metrotren suburban rail service in Santiago or the inauguration of diesel multiple unit service and the Green Line Extension in Boston, is a key part of the BRT corridor service planning.

Urban Design

A number of urban design priorities, common to both contexts, emerged from the workshop. Intermodal transfer stations, where the BRT corridors intersect existing or proposed rail lines, were focal points for interventions. The existing La Cisterna Intermodal Station was identified as a liability for the Gran Avenida Corridor; its redesign, and designs proposed for new intermodal stations, sought to open the stations and create multimodal transit districts. Instead of insular buildings, these nodes were conceptualized as centers of a permeable, walkable urban fabric.

The importance of thinking about streetscape transversely — not just along the corridor, but also across it — was clear in the designs. Active retail, street furniture, and public space along intersecting streets, especially in San Miguel, La Cisterna, and El Bosque in Santiago, and Brookline and Roxbury in Boston, were important parts of the proposals.

The physical design of corridors and surrounding streets should reflect paradigm shifts about urban mobility. Proposals in Santiago argued that the Autopista Central highway provides the regional automobile access that Gran Avenida once provided, so the latter no longer needs to be so automobile centric; similarly, highway projects in Boston like the Big Dig call into question the need for the automobile centric designs of the antiquated McGrath Highway and the Charles River Basin waterfront. The need for such extensive capacity for automobile traffic also deserves to be questioned given the trend of declining private vehicle kilometers traveled, in per capita and absolute terms, in the United States.

Bus rapid transit projects offer the opportunity to rethink and reallocate urban street space. The proposals for these corridors emphasize the importance of prioritizing connectivity for nonmotorized modes as the planning process engages with such reallocation. Whether in the historic urban fabric of downtown Santiago or the postindustrial redevelopment of Somerville’s Inner Belt, improved pedestrian and bicycle amenities and connectivity were deemed key to fostering transit oriented development around the new corridors. These proposals highlight bus rapid transit’s potential as not only as transportation infrastructure, but also as a tool to catalyze change in a city’s development.