The Politics of Prioritizing Transit on City Streets

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - north america, place - urban, mode - bus rapid transit, policy - sustainable, land use - planning, planning - service improvement, infrastructure - bus/tram priority


sustainable transportation, transit priority, transit agencies


Transportation planning has become increasingly interested in the institutional changes needed to implement sustainable transportation measures. This research looks at six U.S. metropolitan areas that are implementing or have recently implemented transit priority projects—Seattle, Portland, Denver, Chicago, New York, and Boston—using interviews with local planners, media accounts, and analyses of project documents. It explores what policy statements and arguments were used to support transit priority, the leadership needed to support implementation, innovative funding arrangements, and the institutional changes within agencies that led to a virtuous cycle of transit improvement. The research found that cities that talked about their transit priority as a way to accommodate growth without cars or to manage street space efficiently were more effective than those who put forth transit priority, and particularly bus rapid transit, as a cheap solution to improve transit. It also found that leadership within city transportation agencies was more important than elected official champions, and that transit agencies can use the promise of increased frequency to leverage city funding for street improvements. Lastly, it found that city streets agencies that are serious about prioritizing transit develop transit planning programs, staffing capabilities, and set regular meetings with transit agencies that they view as partners in improving transit.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by SAGE, copyright remains with them.