Bus rapid transit (BRT) systems are sprouting up in metropolitan areas, small and large, across the United States, following international trends as BRT moves from Curitiba, Brazil, to Brisbane, Australia, to Ottawa, Canada, and most recently to Johannesburg, South Africa, as it prepared for the 2010 World Cup.

Going under a variety of names—metro rapid, express, busway, transitway, or a named line such as the Orange Line in Los Angeles or Cleveland’s Healthline—bus rapid transit is not really just a bus. It is better described as a movement that is applying creativity and innovation to bus service, with a special focus on medium-length and longer trips. While some innovations improve the rider experience, other innovations begin to make a statement in the landscape. Bus infrastructure no longer means just a sign and maybe a bench by the side of the road.

Although transit-oriented development (TOD) is typically associated with rail transit, BRT may open opportunities to coordinate transit service with demand for compact, mixed-use, walkable development in communities that are not large enough to support rail. The same is true for suburban areas not dense enough to support rail.

Because BRT innovations are new and evolving, BRT seems to play out differently in every community. Even within a community, different types of bus infrastructure and service may all be called BRT. Transportation and land use decision makers from both the public and private sectors need to share the specifics of what is being planned and developed. Only then will it be clear whether there are opportunities to turn your community’s BRT into BRTOD.

The following five questions assess whether the BRT systems planned for your community may add amenity value to development:

  1. Speed to Destinations. How “rapid” is the bus service, especially compared with traveling by car? Is it possible for the bus to beat the car to major destinations, especially during rush hour? How convenient are connections to local or regular bus service?
  2. Corridor. Is the rapid transit corridor open to multiple bus routes and/or service providers, including private shuttles? Without transferring to another bus, is there a way to link land not within walking distance of stations to the rapid transit corridor?
  3. Frequency. How frequent is the bus service? How long do riders need to wait between buses? What’s the time penalty for missing a bus?
  4. Stations. How impressive are the stations? Does the station infrastructure—the building, boarding areas, signs, walkways, landscaping, and parking facilities—signal a strong identity and leave a positive impression?
  5. Connections to the surrounding neighborhood. How easy, pleasant, and safe is it to walk around the area within a half mile of the stations?