In the past five years, Metro’s “Red” Rapid Buses have become a distinctive feature on Los Angeles’s principal boulevards and avenues. With limited and fixed stops – approximately one mile apart – Rapid Bus provides a layer of mobility between the Metro Rail system and local bus service.
Under the guidance of Suisman Urban Design, Rapid Buses are identified not only by their red color (in contrast to the orange local buses), but also by the distinctive teardrop “Rapid” icon, which flies flag-like over each Rapid stop (sadly, Metro’s new paint scheme has removed the Rapid icon from the buses themselves). Where sidewalk space is available, an innovative and simple canopy system also establishes the bus stop. Designed for shade coverage, shelter, and diffuse lighting at night, the canopy additionally marks the exact location the bus doors will open. A modular design, the canopy anticipates the longer, articulated buses that will eventually run along Metro Rapid routes. Herein lies the principle innovation of the Rapid Bus program and design – its incremental implementation strategy. As Rapid Bus proves its viability, as ridership increases, and as funds become available, new levels of infrastructure can be added to each route. Ultimately, L.A.’s Rapid Bus service may evolve into a light-rail system on rubber tires – similar to rapid bus systems in CuritibaBrazil and other South American cities, where “trains” of buses run on dedicated right-of-ways and passengers board at pre-pay platforms. Already, bus-only lanes have been tested on segments of the heavily-traveled Wilshire Boulevard corridor, and a bus transit-way – the Orange Line – is being constructed across the San Fernando Valley.
Perhaps as further investment is made in Rapid routes over time, Rapid Bus will also begin to leverage change in the surrounding real-estate. But to date, there are no viable transit-oriented developments at Rapid stops. Nonetheless, Rapid Bus has proven to be a cost-effective means of improving personal mobility across the entire metro region, in contrast to the multi-million dollar “all at once” costs of rail service; and its iconographic design has re-presented and improved the identity of the bus system as a whole, elevating its second-class status and increasing ridership.