The Euclid Corridor Project: Going With the Flow
by Tom Reed
WMV Web News Cleveland
Story filed June 28, 2001

The Euclid Corridor Transportation Project seems to be moving forward at the pace of a bus stalled in rush hour traffic, an apt analogy since the objective is to keep that from happening.

With 30 percent of the design work completed, the RTA updated the status of the project at a late June meeting of the City Planning Commission and other planning and review groups. The presentation answered some questions, raised some new ones, and introduced new jargon such as “median flow”, “ribbon flow”, and “curbside flow.”

The project calls for a landscaped median with “bus only” lanes in the center of Euclid Avenue from Public Square to University Circle. Cars will be relegated to the outside lanes. The original plan was to use electric trolley buses, but this was deemed too expensive. It would cost $38 million just for the overhead electrical system.

As the plan evolved into the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) concept, the completion date was pushed back from 2003 to 2006.

The buses will be unlike anything on the streets today. The RTA has some sketches of what they might look like. But the vehicle they want isn’t available today. As RTA general manager Joseph Calabrese put it at the planning meeting, “we’re showing you a bus we hope someone will build.”

The vehicles will be 60-foot articulated diesel electric buses. Articulated means they bend in the middle so they can make turns. They will have doors on both sides so they can pick up passengers from either the left or right sides. And they will cost an estimated $1.2 million each, more than quadruple the cost of regular buses.

Can RTA realistically expect to order a bus which doesn’t yet exist in time to put it on the streets five years from now?

A project spokesperson points out that 60-foot articulated diesel electric buses are now operating in France and Switzerland, although they do not have doors on both sides, as RTA desires. “Because we are not talking about starting from scratch, there is adequate time to engineer and procure a vehicle,” says Project Officer Kamla Lewis. In addition, a couple of other U.S. cities are considering similar buses. In addition to the special bus lanes, other features will put the word “rapid” in Bus Rapid Transit. There will be fast one-step boarding, fewer stops, an improved fare collection system, and traffic signal prioritization. When buses approach a traffic light, they will send a signal for the light to remain green until they get through.

The new high tech buses will be the only public transit vehicles on Euclid from Public Square to East 17th Street. Passengers will board buses through left side doors, from stations located along the median. This is referred to as ”median flow.”

The design from East 17th to East 107th is called “ribbon flow”. The new BRT vehicles will share the median transit lanes with conventional buses. Since the older buses have only right side doors, all buses will board passengers from the right.

“Curbside flow” will be in effect from East 107th to the Stokes rapid station at Windermere. The new vehicles will use the curb lane and mix with older buses and automobile traffic.

In addition to confusion over the three “flows”, participants at the recent planning meeting raised other questions. What will happen to parade routes? And what about snow removal and the effect of road salt on the median landscaping?

The Bus Rapid Transit system on Euclid Avenue accounts for $220 million of the project’s estimated $292 million cost. The remainder is earmarked for two downtown transit centers, costs associated with re-routing other bus lines, and renovation of three Red Line rail stations.

Even with the $38 million saved by switching over from trolley buses, the project is bumping up against the budget ceiling. In fact, current cost estimates, based on the 30 percent design are over budget now. Some additional savings will be needed to stay within the $292 million.

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Copyright 2001 Tom Reed