Extra-long buses with amenities that resemble those of rail cars will soon run along East Lancaster Avenue, and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority aims to spruce up the area to make it more comfortable for pedestrians.
The articulated buses will run along Route 2, the T's busiest, and will have equipment that turns red lights green to speed up the trip between east Fort Worth and downtown.
The project, dubbed the "enhanced bus corridor," is expected to be up and running by year's end, T President Dick Ruddell said. The T and many other transit agencies are considering modernized bus service as an alternative to rail, especially in areas that lack funding or right of way for rail lines.
"What we're attempting to do is operate bus technology using all the things that make rail so popular -- convenience, speed, safety, the feel of rail," Curvie Hawkins, T planning director, told riders Wednesday during an open house at T headquarters. "We're going to market it incredibly different than what we normally market buses. We're going to market it as we would a new rail line."
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T officials will discuss the plan again during an open house today in east Fort Worth.
No more waiting
Buses already pick up about 3,600 passengers per day along the six miles of East Lancaster Avenue between the Intermodal Transportation Center downtown and the Handley neighborhood. Passengers are picked up about every 15 minutes on weekdays, but many buses fill up quickly during peak periods, forcing riders to wait longer.
The new articulated buses are 60 feet long and carry up to 80 passengers, about triple the capacity of most other T buses. They will travel as far east as Handley, where they will loop through Handley Drive and Church and Halbert streets before heading west back to downtown.
A few parking spaces along Church Street will likely need to be eliminated so the buses have room to turn.
A new Handley/Stop Six feeder route will also stop in the Handley area and connect to the enhanced route.
Drivers are also being trained to carefully maneuver the buses through the East Side Transfer Center, which has a tight circular turn.
The larger buses were bought with $6.4 million in federal stimulus money.
Making East Lancaster more pedestrian-friendly is also part of the plan. In all, the T plans to spend about $1.3 million on new lighted shelters, information kiosks, sidewalk repairs and other improvements; 80 percent of those costs are covered by a federal congestion mitigation grant.
The shelters will also feature electronic signs that, using GPS technology, will display how many minutes remain before the next bus arrives.
Even the bus stops without shelters will feature solar-powered sign poles with a bus schedule, route map and a number that allows riders with smartphones to get a text message with the next bus's arrival time.
Arthur Harris, 59, a disabled veteran who lives on the east side and rides the T daily, was among a handful of residents who attended Wednesday's open house. He applauded the enhanced bus service but also asked the T to put more supervisors on the streets to protect riders at bus stops.
"A supervisor needs to be going up and down the street, checking the shelters," Harris said. "You want people to feel safe."
When the new buses hit the streets, the T will be ending its roughly two-year experiment with the Route 2 Express service from downtown Fort Worth to the East Side Transfer Center. That service runs on the same path as regular Route 2 service but with fewer stops, and it won't be needed when the buses that can change traffic signals arrive, officials said.
Although Route 2 continues west of downtown Fort Worth along Camp Bowie Boulevard, the T plans to split Route 2 into separate east and west routes once the new buses are put in service. As a result, riders coming from east Fort Worth and wishing to go to Ridgmar mall, for example, will have to change buses downtown.
T officials are confident that the new buses will be deployed by the end of the year, possibly early in the fall, Ruddell said. But they haven't announced a firm start date because they must work out an agreement with the Texas Department of Transportation to install the new shelters and make other improvements along East Lancaster Avenue, which is part of the state highway system.
Gordon Dickson, 817-390-7796