In November 2023, the first of four bus-rapid transit (BRT) routes, years in the making, broke ground. The first route out the gate will be the eastern route. This one services the New Bern Avenue corridor between downtown, WakeMed, and parts around New Hope Road. We just might be riding around in articulated buses some time in 2025.
The increase in bus service is finally happening, kickstarted back in 2016, after Wake County voters decided to increase the sales tax in order to fund expanded transit. The second half of the transit journey comes with the accompanying land use and I think 2024 will be the year Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) becomes a household phrase. (or at least to all you readers out there)
The site of the future Raleigh Union Station Bus Facility, or RUS Bus, is looking fresh as the final portions of the former warehouses have been removed. A subset of the walls from the old warehouses were saved and will be incorporated into the new building. You can see them at the corner of West and Hargett as well as the corner facing the Union Station plaza.
I’m not sure anyone has actually said that quote but maybe someone should. (I’ll take it if it’s up for grabs) The folks I’m really hoping are saying this repeatedly is our own city as they continue to work through the planning efforts of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system.
If you’re coming in fresh to the latest plans on the system then you can jump to the city’s website with an overview of the plans for the four corridors.
Now that it’s 2023, construction should begin on the first corridor of the BRT project. Throughout this year and next, dedicated bus lanes will be added, raised-platform, bus stations will be built, new sidewalks will be added, and traffic signals will be upgraded. We’ll be following along for sure.
What’s even more encouraging about all this are the efforts to slowly shift the dynamic of these BRT corridors by putting in place Transit-Overlay District zoning. It’s great to see the land use compliment the investments in transit.
I see it as a two-sided story. There’s the transit piece, buses, sidewalks, and roads, and then the land use piece requires more urban buildings delivering houses across the income spectrum, spaces for retail that residents can walk to, and office space for businesses. I see it as putting a mix of uses down a single street served by a faster and more reliable form of transportation.
The two stories for New Bern are summed up on these links and I encourage anyone reading to take a look:
I also can’t help but highlight a great map. This one shows the proposed rezoning changes for the New Bern corridor so if you drive down that street or live near it, take a look.
The new BRT changes are coming and as mentioned earlier, construction will kick off this year. The rezoning application is in the final stages and when submitted will hit the Raleigh Planning Commission. I imagine it’ll be a much discussed topic throughout 2023.
For me, you can’t have the BRT running effectively without the right land use so I’m in full support of this rezoning plan. I’m sure there are edge cases that can be tweaked, and that’s fine as it’s a rezoning request across numerous properties, but without the planning piece put in place, I would be nervous about the BRT’s effectiveness for current and future residents in Raleigh.
We also can expect similar rezoning cases come out as the other three corridors mature and come close to their construction dates. BRT will be one of my “most watched” projects this year so I’ll leave this post right here with more thoughts and updates to come in the future.
At a GoTriangle Board meeting this week, there were updates related to RUS Bus that show off some high level updates including a 30% schematic design. For those new to the project, RUS Bus is an extension for Raleigh Union Station (RUS) including a mixed-use development with a bus station on the ground floor.
Located right next to Raleigh Union Station, serving train passengers today and possibly commuter rail passengers in the future, the bus component would be the more local transit connection. It’ll most likely have a bus rapid transit stop as well.
Finally, being in the warehouse district, the location would bring a hub of activity to the west side of downtown. I’ve got lots of love for a project like this, which should come as no surprise to long-time readers.
There are more renderings on the architect’s website, showing preliminary designs which look fantastic, but for me, I’m most interested at this time in the preliminary site plan shown below.
The ground-floor of developments typically interest me because that’s probably what most people are going to use anyway. Some interesting elements I see include:
A bridge directly connecting RUS bus to RUS.
Lots of ground floor mixed-use spaces.
A big connection directly into the current civic plaza.
There’s a lot of function shown here along with elements that could elevate the entire transit station into a destination. If you look at the rendering with towers on top, this could be a pretty nice hub of activity at all times of the day, on weekdays and weekends also.
From the GoTriangle board meeting agenda, we also have some dates.
Planned Construction start date: April 30, 2022
Substantial Completion Date: June 30, 2025
Grant funds must be fully drawn: September 30, 2025
The 2020s will be a big year for transit investments in Raleigh.
This downtown plan attempts to lay out the groundwork for how our future transit system will work within the downtown area. The future bus network of Raleigh will consist of bus-rapid transit lanes and higher frequency bus routes that are running longer hours. Combined with an expanded bicycle network, the downtown portion presents some pretty unique challenges.
The streets aren’t getting any wider so reallocating space is a community-driven conversation that is currently starting. When we talk about dedicated bus lanes for faster service that means less space for other things on our downtown streets.
Full build out is planned for 2027 and with portions relying on state and federal funding, applications are being prepared right now!
When you look at the plan, you’ll see near, mid, and long-term plans for the downtown portion of the bus rapid network. The routes aren’t set in stone as different variables and decisions that haven’t been made may impact those routes.
Below are the maps for the three plans, meshed together for easier viewing. Click for a larger view.
Planned to be up and running in 2023, the east Raleigh BRT line is the first of the rapid transit lines to come online. Moving east/west down New Bern Avenue and Edenton Streets, this route has the least amount of impacts from a historical and infrastructure perspective.
I also think it’s sort of the most obvious when you look at serving the eastern portion of the city. Plus, the current bus route along this corridor has the second-highest ridership in the system. (only behind the Capital Boulevard route)
Mid-term, the BRT routes serving the west and south will come online connecting at GoRaleigh Station. The route down Western Boulevard is also most direct while a choice still exists for the routes to the south. Saunders, McDowell/Dawson, and Wilmington Street could all be possible entry/exit points to downtown. There are still two many outside variables that need to be determined so this has been left open.
Along side all of this is a greatly expanded bicycle network. A mix of protected lanes and non-protected lanes will be added as a way to compliment the bus traffic moving throughout downtown. This is shown through another map below.
There is a lot to consider here when looking at the plan so far. As unpopular as it may sound, I worry about the fact that downtown is on a path to having two bus stations with GoRaleigh’s recent renovations and RUSbus being planned to integrate into train travel (Amtrak and future commuter rail) at Union Station. Won’t this bifurcate the system as it approaches downtown? I fear this may slow things down canceling out the improvements we’ve provided through dedicated lanes.
This BRT plan is still only one layer, one lens of the entire thing though. I’ll be really interested to see the full build out and future plan with all modes coexisting. That means with local bus, rapid bus, commuter rail, and bicycles lanes, the system just might function more robustly and speedier than I think.
What do you think? We have a huge discussion going on the Community. Come share.