“Cleveland’s 20-year dream takes another step closer toward reality today,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta in October 2004, marking the authorization of federal funds for the city’s ambitious Euclid Corridor Project. Scheduled for completion in 2008, the project represents the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority’s (GCRTA) first bus rapid transit (BRT) system, which has received an $82.2 million funding commitment from the federal government.
The Euclid Corridor, after renovation, will be a section of downtown Cleveland built to better accommodate the transportation demands of the two busiest sections of the city — its Central Business District and University Circle. Additionally, the system is expected to create jobs and spur business in this part of the city.
But in order to accomplish these goals, it was critical that the Euclid Corridor designers settled on the right vehicle. To that end, the GCRTA worked closely with New Flyer to create a customized bus with rapid transit-like qualities and aesthetic appeal. After months of design, the finished product — an over-60-foot articulated, diesel-electric hybrid “bus” — has gone into production.
A long time coming
The idea to improve public transportation in this part of Cleveland has been on the drawing board for many years, says Joe Calabrese, general manager of the GCRTA. “Back in the early ‘50s, the concept was to build a subway system under Euclid Avenue to connect the two biggest employment centers,” he says.
While the public voted to raise money for the installment of this subway, the system was never built. Cleveland picked up the idea again in the mid ‘80s in the form of a light rail line that would travel down the middle of Euclid Avenue. Again, the project was never funded.
The concept was re-energized a third time in 2000 under the banner of a bus rapid transit system. “We had over 1,200 public meetings, tremendous input from the public — businesses, residents, our customers — and great political support, and that’s really why this whole thing happened,” Calabrese says.
The first phase of construction on the corridor officially began in April after the GCRTA received the federal “green light” on the project. Construction is expected to last four years.
Calabrese emphasizes the BRT qualities of the corridor, which offer many similarities to a traditional rail system. Features include stations instead of stops, precision docking, off-board fare collection and, of course, the rail-like vehicles.
Sleeker vehicle design
Paul Smith, vice president of marketing and sales for New Flyer, says that while BRT doesn’t call for a specific type of vehicle, its class is beginning to translate into vehicle design. “I guess what you’d call the ‘breadbox’ bus running around the streets in a higher-end service is not what transit agencies are looking for anymore,” he says. “They want the sleek, rail-like designs at a fraction of the cost.”
Because of the GCRTA’s desire for a rail-like vehicle without the rail, New Flyer was pressed to design a vehicle that would combine the benefits of a railcar with the versatility and low cost of a traditional transit bus.
“The vehicle you’ll see is a combination of a lot of input from certainly the customer, from us as the manufacturer and from the design group that was actually able to draw and prototype the very first parts,” Smith says. “It was a very, very large collaboration of a lot of people’s input.”
The right specifications
New Flyer’s diesel-electric hybrid buses have smaller engines that are connected to an electric motor instead of the drivetrain. The motor provides propulsion to the wheels. This electronically-controlled propulsion system is optimal for stop-and-go service because it provides a higher amount of torque at lower speeds, making acceleration smoother and faster.
This type of system also reduces emissions and increases fuel economy. An electronic control unit selects the most appropriate propulsion system relative to the speed of the vehicle. The electric propulsion system is generally selected for slower speeds, while the diesel engine is selected for higher speeds. A combination of the two can also be used to propel the vehicle.
For convenience and speed, the vehicles will have five doors for passengers to enter and exit through. Three will be on the traditional right side, and two will be on the left side. Riders will pay at an automated ticket booth instead of onboard the vehicle.
The vehicles will also have electronics installed to give them traffic signal priority. Passengers waiting in various stations will be able to see where any given bus is and when it is expected to arrive via a real-time electronic information system. Calabrese says the buses will operate more frequently, leaving every five minutes.
Calabrese boasts that the GCRTA hasn’t encountered any major problems in mapping out and beginning construction on the corridor. There have been minor hitches in the road, though, including adapting to the newness of this type of project.
“The funding parameters were built around rail, so this non-rail project had some difficulties fitting into the form and formula of some of the federal processes,” Calabrese says. He adds that the Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) gusto for BRT has helped them overcome these hurdles. “We’ve had great cooperation working with the FTA to try to integrate or modify what was really a rail, or light rail, funding item to this near-rail project.”
The effects of Hurricane Katrina have also reached the project, tightening its budget because of the increased cost of construction supplies. Calabrese hopes these circumstances won’t negatively affect the project’s timetable.
The GCRTA is working on educating the public on the exclusive lanes the Euclid Corridor buses will use, while also working closely with its transit police force on ways to assist motorists who will be coming and going through the Corridor.
Calabrese feels that Cleveland’s BRT-heavy — as opposed to BRT-light — Euclid Corridor is a project pioneering the way for other urban transportation authorities interested in BRT.