Developing innovative solutions within an existing city layout may be one of the challenges faced by some cities when accommodating for growing populations. It can be time consuming and expensive for a city to rework its pre-existing urban infrastructure. Rather than retrofitting the city’s public transportation infrastructure, it seems to be more feasible for a city to create an innovative solution in collaboration with pre-existing developments.
Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is one approach to incorporating public transportation within a city that may not have the space or fiscal capacity to rework pre-existing infrastructure. The Institute for Transportation & Development defines BRT as, “a high-quality bus-based transit system that delivers fast, comfortable, and cost-effective services at metro-level capacities.”
A successful example of BRT can be found in the city of Curitiba, Brazil, where the public transportation integrates with the city layout and maintains efficiency similar to projects requiring more construction. According to The Guardian, “For much of its existence, Curitiba was a sleepy town eclipsed by São Paulo, its much larger neighbour to the north-east. But by 1960, the city’s population was beginning to grow significantly and within 20 years it had surged from 120,000 people to 361,000.” In 1971, Curitiban architect Jaime Lerner took office as mayor. Lerner realized the importance of public transportation for the growing population, but the addition of subway lines and wider streets for cars would be costly. As a result, Lerner developed a low-cost bus system to run along the streets similar to light rail. The first line opened in 1974, albeit it was not a success at first. In 1979, Lerner established the Rene Integrada de Transporte (Integrated Transport Network) to manage the system and add more routes. To increase efficiency as popularity surged, Lerner renovated the station design from traditional bus stops to futuristic glass tubes with multiple door boarding in October 1991.
Another example of a response to growth and public transportation concerns can be viewed in China’s Transit Elevated Bus (TEB). China’s TEB travels above the streetscape and allows cars to travel underneath the bus. By elevating the TEB above cars then streets do not need to be widened and cars and public transportation can move freely without interference from each other. Engadget reports that the TEB is powered by electricity, can carry up to 300 passengers, and is 72 feet long, 25 feet wide, plus 15 feet tall. Cars less than 6.5 feet tall will be able to drive underneath. It is expected to reach speeds up to around 37 mph. In early August 2016, a test run occurred on a 984-foot demo track. As of December 2016, project development has slowed.
According to Citylab, car ownership in China is soaring with an estimated 20 million new drivers hitting the roads each year. The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in their “Global Status Report on Road Safety 2015” that China had 250 million registered vehicles in 2013. By comparison, Brazil had 81 million in 2013 and the United States had 265 million in 2011. WHO estimates that China had 261,367 traffic fatalities in 2013. Contrastingly, the United States was estimated to have 34,064 in 2013. It appears that China’s TEB is in part a response to the aforementioned data, potentially resulting in an intention to build upwards rather that contribute to urban sprawl.
Both BRT and TEB are truly innovative designs that appear to consider the past, present, and future of their individualized city layouts. The discussed examples leave room for innovative ideas to be further explored, built upon, and applied to urban ecosystems with similar public transportation questions.