Wiki Wednesday: Zürich, Where Transit Gets Priority on the Street

Ready for some transit system envy? This week’s StreetsWiki entry comes from Livable Streets member Andrew Nash, who fills us in on how surface transit became the mode of choice in Zürich, Switzerland:

The first thing one notices about Zürich is that trams are ubiquitous downtown. The city considered
changing its tram network several times (either placing the trams
underground or replacing the trams with a metro system), but voters
rejected spending money on these ideas. However, in 1977, Zürich voters
did approve an initiative to make the existing surface transit system
work better by providing transit priority for trams and buses.

Transit priority means that public transit vehicles are
given priority over other forms of transportation through such measures
as traffic signal control, transit-only lanes, and traffic regulations.
Watch carefully as a traffic signal changes from red to green just when
a tram arrives at the intersection. Transit priority was not a new
idea, but Zürich has succeeded in implementing it to a greater degree
than almost any other city in the world. Zürich’s public transit
priority program is described in Implementing Zurich’s Transit Priority Program.

Combined with Zürich’s regional rail network, the extensive implementation of transit priority techniques enables the city to provide subway-like service without a subway, Nash explains. If the Zürich article interests you, check out Nash’s entry on optimizing traffic signals for surface transit — he’s looking to add information about other cities that have implemented such systems.

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Council Member Brad Lander addresses the crowd at the first of six workshops for DOT's citywide transit plan. Photo: DOT

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NYC currently has the slowest bus service in the U.S., and ridership has declined 16 percent since 2002. DOT is looking to turn those trends around, speed up buses, improve walking access to transit, and plan service to meet future demand. While the city's buses and subways are run by the MTA, DOT can make a big difference for surface transit through its management of streets, sidewalks, and traffic signals.