Politicians Who Claim to Care About Transit Need to Care About Bus Lanes

A blog about business and economics.
Jan. 21 2014 2:38 PM

Bus Lanes Are Amazing  

154672674-picture-taken-on-october-24-2012-in-rennes-western
Bus lane in Rennes, France.

Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Many politicians make no bones about the fact that they don't care about mass transit. And fair enough. But too many politicians who do say they care about transit lose their nerve when it comes to the lowest-hanging transit fruit around, which typically takes the form of buses.

For example on 16th Street in Washington, D.C., half of all rush-hour commuters are riding the bus with the other half being in private cars. But Muriel Bowser, a D.C. council member who's running for mayor, just says dedicated bus lanes aren't an option. But why aren't they an option? If you created one bus lane in each direction on 16th Street, then the buses would move much faster than they currently do, and the bus mode share would soar above 50 percent. You'd have more than half of the people taking up less than half of the space and creating less air pollution while they do it. Sounds sensible, right? And while the cost of creating and enforcing a bus lane wouldn't be $0, it would be much lower than the cost of a major new infrastructure project.

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And yet even in transit-oriented cities, taking space away from private cars is the real third rail. D.C. will build an expensive streetcar line, but it won't secure a dedicated lane for the streetcar. Because money is just money while dedicated lanes annoy drivers. And yet if you want speedy, practical transit, there's no substitute for transit lanes. Transit deserves a fair share of scarce urban space; simply spending money is no substitute and at times barely even necessary.

Matthew Yglesias is the executive editor of Vox and author of The Rent Is Too Damn High.

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