On the move: an overview from roads to rails
Most major metropolitan cities in the United States have one thing in common: public transportation. From New York’s subways to San Francisco’s cable cars, moving residents and visitors through a city is a crucial public service.
Since 1990, Huntsville—now Alabama’s largest city—has provided public transportation through its fixed-route and paratransit services. Ridership has risen steadily, but city leaders believe those numbers could skyrocket as more students and young professionals ditch car payments in favor of public transit or ride-sharing services.
For our last episode in The BIG Picture campaignwe’ll take a closer look at Huntsville’s transit offerings and what’s on the horizon.
Assessing our future
Five years ago, when finalizing the master plan for the BIG Picture project, stakeholders expressed interest in improving transportation infrastructure, including public transit. Today, the City operates 15 fixed-route buses that cover 11 routes, Monday through Saturday.
Coincidentally, city planners’ reassessment of The BIG Picture comes as Huntsville Transit officials update their strategic plan. A series of public meetings in September seek community feedback on how the City can improve its transit service.
“We are truly in a unique position to assess not only how we fit into the future of Huntsville, but also take a holistic look at how we operate today,” said Quisha Bryant, director of parking and public transportation for Huntsville. Huntsville. “That’s why it’s important for us to understand the expectations of the public because these feedbacks will be our roadmap for the next few years.”
Huntsville Transit has made positive operational progress over the past two years. A partnership between Huntsville Transit and Token Transit allows passengers to prepay fares on their smartphones. Colleges and businesses can also use the app to purchase student and employee bundle rates.
A new transfer station to open in 2024 will accommodate larger buses to meet growing needs. Bryant said that while the station will allow for expanded service, feedback from upcoming meetings will help guide when and where these changes will be implemented.
In addition to having 14 covered bus platforms, the station is designed with safety in mind. It will include a perimeter security fence and an improved CCTV system. The station will also feature real-time arrival boards for buses and modern signage.
The station will have air-conditioned waiting areas for Orbit customers and will serve as a drop-off and pick-up site for ride-sharing services like Lyft and Uber.
The new station is made possible by a $12.5 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) which will cover 80% of the costs of the new station, with the City covering the remainder. The partnership between the City and the federal government is an example of how successful collaboration benefits public transit. Collaboration between multiple entities will be essential as The BIG Picture calls for the implementation of Bus-Rapid Transit (BRT) corridors.
Dennis Madsen, director of long-range planning and urban planning for Huntsville, said BRT corridors are realistic 5-10 years from reality, but will provide a significant boost to transportation offerings in city common. BRT routes do not include stops at every small bus shelter, but rather stop at larger stations (eg university campuses, industrial parks or downtown).
BRTs will also include a dedicated traffic lane on major arteries and the ability to “skip the queue” or have priority at traffic lights at intersections to move passengers quickly through congested areas.
Madsen said BRT corridors are a natural predecessor to light rail, but he added that serious discussions about rail service are still years away. It will also depend on buy-in from the city, state, Huntsville Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), and regional collaborators who have a viable city-to-city rail plan.
“If we establish BRT corridors and our transit service continues to grow, it will be easier to take that step to light rail,” he said. “I think it will be over 20 years in the making.”
Growth will also be driven by community demand. For special attention to be given to the BRT corridors and light rail transit, Madsen said, the public will have to “empty the pump and try mass transit.”
“If we want to grow, we need community buy-in,” he said. “We need residents to embrace the existing system and become stakeholders through their patronage and feedback.”
Learn more about Huntsville Transit at HuntsvilleAL.gov/Transit. Learn more about how Huntsville Transit fits into The BIG Picture HERE.