TransMilenio Lessons for North American Cities

Mid-sized North American cities are grappling with effective public transportation. Buses have maintained a stereotype of being inefficient, unreliable and, often times, unsafe. Light rail often stands as the poster child for successful public transportation in mid-sized cities (e.g. Portland, Salt Lake), although the hefty price tag is hardly likely for most cities that continue to see deficits in their budgets. How can these cities provide effective public transit while maintaining streetscapes that are conducive to the pedestrian?

Bogotá’s bus rapid transit system, TransMilenio, addresses both public transit and livable streetscapes. How can North American cities learn from the lessons of Bogotá? Bogotá’s TransMilenio and Why Is the TransMilenio Still So Special? provide information on its positive impact to public transit Bogotá.

As someone who experienced the transformation of the city pre and post-TransMilenio, it should be discussed the positive impact the TransMilenio has given to the streetscape in the exterior arterials, urban core and how this could positively effect our North American cities. A bus rapid transit system is intended to provide a fast and safe transit option. The arterials around the city (image on the left) reflect large thoroughfares that already existed. The city either added additional lanes to accommodate the BRT or expropriated car lanes. Elevated bridges allow pedestrians safe access to the buses. The inner median is often lined with newly planted eucalyptus trees to counter the car exhaust smell. Once these buses enter the urban core, many automotive streets have been converted to solely BRT, bicycle and pedestrian streets (image on the right). By removing cars from these streets, North American cities can learn from the lessons of Bogotá’s changing streetscapes. Cyclists feel safer surrounded by pedestrians; therefore, promoting more sustainable cities. A clearly marked bus route acknowledges the shared space with the pedestrian. My providing gracious pedestrian-only streets, foot traffic increases providing more opportunities for local economy. These streets generate people, not cars – an important lesson most cities need to adapt in the 21st century.

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