New Bern Ave. Top Pick for Expanded Bus Service

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If the Raleigh City Council is going to approve a major road project, transportation and transit staff thinks it should be the New Bern Avenue corridor.

During a transportation workshop last week, staff identified the corridor as a top-priority project for increased bus service and bicycle and pedestrian access.

Raleigh Transit Administrator David Eatman said New Bern was chosen over other Raleigh corridors because it is already Capital Area Transit’s most heavily used route. Plans for improving the corridor have already begun with the New Bern Avenue Corridor study approved last year.

“It has a lot going for it in the fact that we wouldn’t be starting from scratch,” Eatman told the Record.

bus route map A map showing one of the CAT bus routes along New Bern Avenue.

As part of the overall plan, there would be increased bus service and pedestrian infrastructure, such as sidewalks, which could lead to more economic redevelopment in the area.

Eatman said when the project is fully built out, it will have a rail-like experience, with 12 identified stations that will have electronic bus arrival times and route information.

Lanes on New Bern Avenue will be dedicated for buses and right-turn-only during peak hours, and used for either parking or regular traffic flow during off-peak hours.

The traffic lights on New Bern would have signal prioritization so that late-running buses will get green lights to make up time.

Buses would run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 to 30 minutes during off-peak hours and on the weekends.

Project Funding
In total, the city is looking at spending about $39 million in capital costs on the project.

The city could use its own funding or get federal and state funding, both of which come with a set of pros and cons.

If the city uses bond funding, the project could be up and running within the next two to three years. Local funding also comes with fewer federal and state regulations to comply with and fewer strings attached.

With a bonded project, Eatman said, “You control your destiny.”

Obtaining federal and state funding through a Small Starts grant, could delay the project an additional two years. Federal and state funding also comes with more environmental regulations and competition from other applicants.

If such funding was approved, the federal government would pay for about 50 percent of the total cost. If a 25 percent match came from the state, the city would responsible for about $10 million.

Eatman told the Record that state funding is uncertain.

Either way, Eatman said, the rebuilt corridor and better bus service would cost about $1.7 million in annual operating costs.

As part of staff’s short-term goals for the corridor, Eatman said they are looking at how much it would cost to bring service every 15 minutes during peak hours, every 30 minutes during off peak hours and service on the weekends.

5 thoughts on “New Bern Ave. Top Pick for Expanded Bus Service

  1. I commend David Eatman and his Transportation team for the details of this upgrade to the New Bern corridor. This is THE RIGHT WAY to do it: sidewalk improvements, dedicated bus lanes, 10-15 departure intervals, electronic message boards, etc. And to get it all on-line within 12-36 months would be a big bonus.

    Now if I could just persuade them to give us this same treatment on the Saunders route over here in the fast-growing southwest area… 🙂 I know our numbers could quickly pass up those of the New Bern corridor!

  2. The operating costs alone on this proposed 3-mile corridor would equal 10% of CAT’s annual budget.

    Currently, the bus here (route 15) is packed with people standing, and sometimes even has to pass people on middays and Saturdays. Why? Because the frequency is 30-minutes on middays and 60-minutes on Saturdays. During peak hours when it already runs on 15-minute frequencies, the bus gets busy, but not full. By cutting the peak hour frequency to 20-minutes, CAT could increase the midday frequency to 20-minutes at no additional cost, thus “right-sizing” service without under current budget. The frequency on Saturdays needs to be increased to 30-minutes, which could easily be done under current budget by addressing inefficiencies elsewhere in the system.

    New Bern Ave traffic is not bad even during rush hour, having bus lanes and signal prioritization over 3-miles won’t save more then a couple minutes… certainly there are far better ways to spend $39 million. Additionally, this bus line won’t attract much economic development to justify the cost (like light-rail or true BRT can).

    If this plan is approved, riders will have a comfortable half-empty bus ride down a few miles of New Bern Ave, only to face an hour long wait to transfer buses to go to Southeast Raleigh, Crabtree Valley Mall, or even further down New Bern Ave! CAT could use major improvements, but this is a poor allocation of resources.

  3. A big chunk of the $39 million is for stuff that needs to get done anyway: curb, gutter, sidewalks, street lighting, intersection improvements, aesthetics.

    Regarding bus frequency, in many cases when you increase frequency, ridership grows as well due to the increased convenience. Ridership is not completely inelastic. If you have a fast bus that comes every 5 minutes, obviously more people would use it than a slow bus that comes every 30 minutes.

    Another needed improvement would be an extension, at least as far as the Walmart (The Raleigh one), perhaps even farther.

  4. Orulz,

    Sidewalks are absolutely necessary here and elsewhere in Raleigh. The other proposed capital improvements should be weighed against competing capital needs elsewhere, rather then putting “all eggs into one basket”. For example, there are other places where traffic light priority would make a greater impact (especially the Wilmington and Martin St Intersection); and few bus stops are crowded enough to justify the “super-shelters” (perhaps Hillsborough St @ Brooks Ave would be a good candidate).

    Ridership may grow as frequencies go up, but route 15 currently runs at a desirable 15-minute frequency during peak hours: ridership is good but there’s still empty seats. Also, increasing the frequency to 10-minutes will have little return, because the bus won’t connect with other routes at Moore Square.

    Imagine Dell offers a functional computer with a slow processor, little memory, a cramped keyboard, but a nice screen. Few would be willing to buy this computer, because it’s poor as a system despite one attractive component. Similarly, CAT ridership will not grow much by having one very-short attractive bus line, when almost all of the connecting bus service is poor. CAT should spread the operating cost funding towards adequate service throughout Raleigh, rather then concentrating 10% of system operating costs onto 3-miles of street. More resources should go to areas with higher ridership/potential, but there must be reasonable balance.

  5. Also, if the route will only stop at the 12 new stations, and not every current stop on New Bern Ave, on average people will have a longer walk to the bus stop. Currently, the bus ride from Moore Square to WakeMed takes under 20 minutes, so the change may get this down to 15 minutes. The attractiveness of a marginally quicker trip will be outweighed by the longer walk. The attractiveness of the higher frequency will be outweighed by the low-frequency of the connecting buses.

    Sorry for my lengthy comments; I am very disappointed that when a bond opportunity presents itself that could benefit a poor and underfunded system, CAT decides to blow it all on a 3-mile route. I depend on the bus – including on New Bern Ave – and I’m not sure whether I’d vote yes due to the good aspects of the bond, or no due to the wasteful aspects of the bond.