South Miami Busway likely to be studied for toll express lanes
By Peter Samuel
The South Miami Dade Busway, a 2-lane dedicated road for buses heading southwest out of Miami is likely to be studied for conversion to an express toll road. Miami Dade Metro Planning Organization seems set to vote for a study of alternatives at their July meeting. The busway runs in an abandoned railroad right of way almost alongside US1, known here as South Dixie Highway. It's a congested 2x3 lane divided surface arterial with two or more traffic signals every mile.
Express toll lanes are seen as a potential congestion reliever to US1, offering premium service for a toll compared to the congested conditions on US1.
The Busway begins at the Dadeland South Metrorail station in the South Miami/Pinecrest area some 17km (11mi) southwest of downtown Miami. 2x1 lanes the busway opened in three stages, 1997 to 2007. It extends 31km (just under 20 miles) to the Homestead/Florida City area on the far southern fringe of the Miami metro area.
As a county transit facility it's quite successful. It has been well received locally and attracts about 24k riders/day. Some of the buses use local streets on their trip ends, while elsewhere there are feeders to line haul buses.
Total cost was modest - about $60m including land acquisition or just $3m/mile ($2m/km) and $1.5m/lane-mile ($1m/lane-km)
The 28 busway stations are shelters alongside a second stopping lane. Six stations have major parking lots to attract motorists. In the peak hour in peak direction there are 30 buses/hour - compared to a lane capacity of around 800 buses/hour. Out of peak there are about 10 buses/hour.
Peakhour utilization is not even 4% of lane capacity (30/800) and out of peaks about 1.2% utilization (10/800). This relatively low utilization makes a stark contrast to the congestion on US1 alongside, leading to the suggestion cars could be allowed on the busway for a toll.
Tentative alternatives to be studied are:
1) letting cars into the busway as-is for a toll
2) adding a third lane and movable barrier for 2 lanes in the peak direction, and doing selective grade separations to avoid the busiest intersections
3) building a new elevated toll expressway of 2x2 lanes with ramps for entries and exits for cars and bus access to ground level bus stations
Crashes a major problem
Crashes at the surface intersections have been the major operational failure of the busway.
Motorists entering and exiting US1 regularly run into the path of buses continuing parallel to US1. Buses were intended to have signal priority allowing them to cruise through intersections at 40 to 50mph (65km/h to 80km/h) but collisions have been so frequent buses have been put on a top speed limit of 45mph (72km/h), and are all required to slow to 15mph (22km/h) through the intersections.
Travel times on the busway are therefore only a modest 10% better than on US1.
COMMENT: Our guess is just letting cars into the busway as-is would improve service for motorists modestly, and earn modest toll revenues, but at the expense of compounding the safety problems of the busway. Motorists just aren't accustomed to through traffic traveling across the path of their entry and exit to an intersection.
Houston has similar problems with trolleys crashing into turning cars.
Selective grade separations could help a bit but the facility might still have unacceptable safety problems at the many remaining surface intersections.
Maybe the alternatives analysis should split the project at SW 200 Street.
North of SW 200 St to the beginning of the Palmetto Expressway in Pinecrest it could be a full elevated tollway some 12km (7.5 miles) in length above the busway right of way.
Through buses could use the elevated, while locals would continue to use the ground level busway. The surface busway could be organized for use by cars for hurricane evacuation and by emergency vehicles in normal times as well as local buses, but otherwise would be kept to minimum traffic levels for intersection safety.
Under this option instead of following US1 and the busway further south of SW 200 St the elevated tollway would plug into the HEFT (Homestead Extension of Florida's Turnpike). The busway would stay as-is for buses only for the remaining 19km (12 miles) parallel to HEFT.
Motorists wanting premium service could use the southern stretch of the HEFT.
Traffic and revenue studies and engineering plans could explore the viability of alternatives.