Latin American cities have revolutionized urban mass transportation through the implementation of bus rapid transit (BRT) systems — a transportation mode characterized by infrastructure improvements that prioritize buses over other vehicles, offer off-vehicle fare payment, and allow riders to get on and off quickly. Currently more than 69 cities in Latin America and 176 worldwide have invested in BRT.
Despite the prominent role that Latin American cities have played in BRT adoption and the growing interest in encouraging transit oriented development (TOD) around BRT stops, there is very limited research describing and understanding the built environment around BRT stops. Understanding the current environment around mass transit stops is important to better plan for urban development. This can help improve plans, prioritize which stops require immediate action, raise awareness, and determine how transit-focused development fits within a regional growth plan. In collaboration with Dr. Erik Vergel, Professor at Universidad del Rosario in Bogota, Colombia, we sought to understand development patterns around stops and examine their impact on BRT passenger demand.
Collecting data on pedestrians, as pedestrians
With the help of local planners, we examined 82 representative BRT stops in seven cities including Bogotá (Colombia); Curitiba (Brazil); Goiânia (Brazil); Guatemala City (Guatemala); Guayaquil (Ecuador); Quito (Ecuador); and the São Paulo (Brazil) metro region (ABD Corridor). We identified particular stops that were representative of the entire system, regardless of their development patterns. To overcome the lack of high-resolution data, we walked 10,632 street segments and 2,963 city blocks around BRT stops collecting information on the pedestrian environment, land use, development intensity and quality, presence of public spaces, and vacant land. From these data we calculated 38 variables that characterize the built environment around each stop.
The environment around stops: A tapestry of challenges and opportunities
Our data suggest that development intensity around stops is relatively low. For example, only 8 percent of segments have developments of high density, while 31 percent of segments contain low-density development. Furthermore, only 8 percent of segments had construction activity and 11 percent of them had vacant lots. By contrast, almost half of the segments had development that was already fully built out. This result suggests limited opportunities for growth in undeveloped greenfield sites and underscores the importance of redevelopment as a strategy to encourage BRT-oriented development.
In terms of parking, it is remarkable that 26 percent of segments had on-street parking and 30 percent had commercial and retail activity with off-street parking. This highlights the challenge of managing parking supply (and demand) and may indicate that the environment around BRT stops often is not as friendly to pedestrians and BRT users as it ought to be.
Using factor and cluster analysis, we created a typology consisting of 10 development types around BRT stops (table 1). Two stop types capture city-specific factors — Quito’s city center and several stops unique to Guatemala City, which has the newest system among those studied — while the other eight stop types represent a broad cross-section of stops across several cities.
The development types embody a wide range of possible built environments around BRT. For example, the BRT-oriented Satellite Center type contains significant commercial activities, public facilities, parks, and pedestrian amenities while mixing in multifamily residential and single-family attached housing (figure 1). The Urban Center type is ripe for improved integration with the BRT because it has the densities and mix of uses to support it (figure 2). Nexus stops embody a frequent challenge for local planners (figure 3). Such stops and terminals should be located to facilitate intermodal transfers but this often sacrifices access by local users and the transit orientation of the stop.
Compared to other typologies, we did not find strong evidence for employment and commuter-based stops. This may be due to the relatively muted role played by mixed land uses among stops, since land uses played a significant role in other typologies. One explanation could be the typically high degree of mixed uses already present in Latin American cities, which contributes to a low degree of variation across stop areas.
Next Steps: Understand the performance of BRT-focused development
Two steps follow naturally from this preliminary research. The first one is to consider how the types perform in terms of pedestrian activity, land values, and affordability. This will allow planners to identify types that are performing better than others, and thus more desirable from a planning perspective. In related research we have examined how passenger demand varies by stop type. Our findings confirm that stops with TOD features tend to have higher ridership. Stops that are distant from activity nodes (e.g., Satellite Center and Community Center Terminal types) have been able to more easily recreate some level of transit orientation by arranging land uses and public spaces to support high BRT ridership and pedestrian access.
The second step is to consider the causal factors that have led to the current stop types. Was it a deliberate and coordinated strategy to transform a neighborhood or corridor, accompanied by land management and regulatory instruments? Or was it a lack of consideration or neglect about the built environment? Understanding the stop- and corridor-level actions (and inactions) that accompanied a BRT investment will be helpful in identifying the tools necessary to encourage development that is BRT-focused.
AcknowledgementsThis work was possible through funding from the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and the Lee Schipper Memorial Scholarship.