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O-bahn Busway (wikipedia.org)
97 points by widforss on Dec 19, 2018 | hide | past | favorite | 36 comments

The Obahn is pretty good. It's capacity is lacking though, because it's so popular. When they were first testing it they pushed the buses up to 120km/h but they shook so horrifically that they lowered the operating speed to something like 80.

A lot of people criticised the tunnel extension into the city. After all, it only saved ~5 minutes of travel time. I don't think most people in Adelaide fully appreciate public transport yet.

Adelaide is often called the 20 minute city because you can just drive anywhere in under that. But that's changing as our population grows. I really hope there are more projects like this that get funded.

Adelaide used to have _the most extensive tram network in Australia_. It was pulled up around the same time as Sydney pulled theirs but Melbourne didn't (because they're the original hipster). Sydney had the money to reinstall theirs but not Adelaide. There's a lot of politics around fixing our trams - we almost dropped 40 million on a building a right hand turn.


Almost ironically, one of the limiting factors of the the O-Bahn in Adelaide is parking at the major terminals.

The road going past Paradise Interchange is always lined with cars for hundreds of metres on both sides during working hours. Modbury Interchange now has an inner-city style multi-storey car park to feed the demand.

The O-Bahn is almost a victim of it's own popularity and efficiency, but it took 20-odd years to reach that point, and it's still the best way to get into and out of the city during peak hour (with the possible exception of the linear park bike track, which is a beautiful way to see Adelaide 'behind the curtain').

Adelaide also is well past it's moniker of the 20-minute city. It's nowhere near Sydney / Melbourne levels of traffic, but the population is also much smaller.

When I used to use the O-Bahn 15-25 years ago, the speed limit was 100 km/h along most of the track, reducing only near the interchanges. Bus drivers would frequently exceed the speed limit to make up time. I'm not sure what the speed limit is now, but I'd be surprised if it maxed out at 80.

Edit: I just read about its speed limit being limited to 85 km/h due to wear and tear and unevenness on the track. It seems the track is reaching the end of its life.

I used in back in '86 while visiting Adelaide for the F1 GP and remembered it being smooth, fast and super cool at the time.

Things wear out...

This is really cool, and I wish we had more traffic-segregated bus services in the US.

I found this paper from the university of Washington which has a bit more information (DOC warning) https://faculty.washington.edu/jbs/itrans/adelaide-o-bahn-pa...

The 12 km busway cost $97 million in 1999 AUD, which is ~$119 million USD 2018. I have a feeling that a similar project would end up costing something like $75-80 million per mile, just based on transit projects in the US.

Chicago spent $41 million building 8 bus stations and painting a mile of street red. [2] It was billed as BRT, but plans for multi-door boarding, and off-bus fare collection were scrapped.

Projects like this aren't happening in the US because there is no political will. If you are going to have bus lanes you need to have enforcement. Buses should have cameras ticketing other vehicles in the bus lanes. Turn lanes should not merge into bus lanes, drivers should be forced to wait for a green arrow to make a turn across the bus lane.

There is definitely a need for service like this in the US, but we seem to think that the best option is to have people like Elon Musk build private tunnels that wealthy individuals can bring their private cars in. No matter how you design that system there is no way it can provide the same capacity as BRT. It's just another road with low-occupancy vehicles.

[2] https://chi.streetsblog.org/2018/10/17/foia-ed-documents-sho...

It is worth noting that part of the reason it was so cheap was because the government had already purchased the required land for a freeway. Land acquisition, as many infrastructure projects like CAHSR or Texas Central can attest to, is easily some of the most costly and risky part of these projects, even if you do decide to use eminent domain.

BRT has notable disadvantages; buses can move from side to side unlike rail, so the tunnels and bridges have to be bigger or use proprietary guided technology like this one. In general road surfaces wear away much faster than rails. And rail vehicles perform much better once you factor in labor costs. BRT is useful in some cases, like where there is no dominant trunk line and buses can leave the roadway to serve different destinations; but eventually the common trunk gains enough critical mass and you convert to light rail anyways, as Seattle and Ottawa have discovered, and LA is considering for the Orange Line BRT.

BRT would actually be amazingly useful in Chicago because a massive number of people commute to central business district (The Loop).

Chicago owned all of the land used for the Loop link and it still cost $41 million, and has little of the benefits of actual BRT.

People here get incredibly upset when any road diet is discussed. Our politicians rarely ride public transit, and laws and engineering guidelines prevent projects which would reduce the volume of traffic carried. It's absurd.

It costs a lot to modify an existing street vs build a brand new road, mostly because you have to modify drainage (Loop Link had concrete boarding platforms in the middle of the street that certainly would've disrupted existing drainage), bring the street up to modern standards, and keep the existing street open during the work for all the buildings that front it. It's really not all that simple.

In fact, the fact that it was on an existing street would make it very expensive to modify; look at a picture of the O-Bahn and there's plenty of space for construction vehicles and staging to set up, no one to get in the way of, etc.

> Projects like this aren't happening in the US because there is no political will. If you are going to have bus lanes you need to have enforcement. Buses should have cameras ticketing other vehicles in the bus lanes. Turn lanes should not merge into bus lanes, drivers should be forced to wait for a green arrow to make a turn across the bus lane.

I can probably speak to a bit of this as I am from Adelaide... and have also driven in the USA before.

The driver mentality in Adelaide, compared to USA (and even the eastern cities of Australia like sydney / melbourne), is a lot more laid back. Adelaide feels more like a really large country town rather than a city. Speeding isn't that common (still happens but its not every single person) & cutting people off doesnt happen as much in america.

The O-bahn, is mostly designed for only specific public transport busses. About once or twice a year a car or mini bus (usually driven by tourists) gets stuck on it and has to be lifted off. They recently did an extension to connect it into the city via a dedicated bus lane that turns into a tunnel. I drive along this stretch of road every day, and I think i see about 1 or 2 people a month driving in the dedicated bus lane, usually because they didn't know what was going on rather than doing it on purpose.

The O-bahn services about 26% of the workers in Adelaide City.

That's a really cool insight to driving habits. I always thought Adelaide had the worst drivers in the country. At least, that's what the statistics say.

Maybe we don't cut off people as much, but we sure can't do a zip merge without someone getting upset.

Indianapolis approved and is constructing the Red Line, which is a traffic segregated bus lane that connects the downtown core to some of the outer burbs [1]

It makes a ton of sense for medium/large cities with sprawl (versus super-large cities like New York). That traffic segregated lane can also be used by emergency services, and buses can leave it if they have to for parts of their route.

[1] https://www.indygored.com/project-overview/project-info/

We are building a pretty long BRT in Oakland and San Leandro, California. Yeah it’s costing a billion dollars. It does not have a true dedicated right of way since cars can theoretically block the box in front of the bus. But it does have all-door boarding, proof-of-payment with off-vehicle fare terminals, and signal priority.

There's an interesting gradation from buses to trains. I made a picture to show this: https://pics.dllu.net/file/dllu-sc/d089a0155a.png

Everything on the left of the dotted line can go without rails/guidance and everything on the right has to stay on rails.

1) regular buses

2) buses on specialized roads (busways)

3) guided buses which have extra wheels or electronic guidance to follow the busway without the driver steering: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Guided_bus

4) bus/tram hybrids like the Bombardier Guided Light Transit, which usually operates with a guide rail but has the ability to go without any rails: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bombardier_Guided_Light_Transi...

5) rubber tyred light rail systems (e.g. automated guideway transit systems, often seen at airports)

6) rubber tyred heavy rail (e.g. Montreal Metro)

7) heavy rail

The lines between buses and trains will only get more blurred in the future with autonomous bus platoons and the such.

Another dimension is which one pedestrians are OK to walk across on, though I suppose that gets a bit fuzzy.

Yeah, there's a bunch of dimensions involving grade separation and such.

This is such a relief to see purely for personal reasons. I was there as a child, and had some memory of 'buses with little wheels on the side' -- and had eventually convinced myself it was a dream. No one I had ever mentioned it to thought it was real.

With adult eyes it seems over-engineered, but I still want to ride it again just because I want to support whoever thought that was a good idea and managed to convince enough people to build it.

> With adult eyes it seems over-engineered

It surprised me to see they didn't simply use retractable railcar wheels like the railroad maintenance trucks, which is apparently a fairly standard "road-rail vehicle":


Those don't go terribly fast, In addition to the tiny tiny wheels not having a lot of grip leading to slow acceleration and deceleration. Getting those to align with the track is an operation that you'll only want to be doing at standstill.

They aren't the drive wheels so they have no impact on acceleration, the rubber tires are still used for traction.

Alignment could be easily automated today, or a low-tech mechanical guide mechanism could be added for the bus.

I'd expect the maximum comfortable speed to be substantially higher than the guide wheel approach. That guide wheel design seems better suited for aligning the rail wheels than continuous operation.

Curious why you feel it's overengineered?

I travelled along the O-bahn for most of my childhood/uni years and I think it's a brilliantly simple system.

Stick a couple of guide wheels on a bus, and you've now got a safe, fast, relatively low cost transport system, that still has the flexibility (once it exits the track) to go where ever it needs to go.

Is it really over-engineered though? As far as I can tell it's guide wheels welded onto existing busses and some concrete throughs to drive on. It seems to be an exceedingly simple and easy to apply system.

I live in Adelaide, and use it everyday to commute. I live around almost end of the north eastern suburbs, but my travel time is still lesser than few who lives closer to city, thanks to O-bahn. I enjoy my bus ride everyday, the views of Hills, Parks and River on the way are beautiful and refreshing.

I've taken the O-bahn for a couple of years when living locally. It's great. You can't wait to get out of traffic and hear the bus just roar to high speed in a straight line, with only a few stops to being a half-hour away from the city.

I'm sad to read that they limited it to 85kmh. In my time, they definitely were going 100kmh, and every nuts and bolts rumbled on these old buses... Mostly the fault of the cement track, not the bus themselves. :)

I live in Adelaide, shout out if you have any practical questions you’d like answered.

The buses look like normal every day buses but if you look closely you can see the little wheels that protrude out the sides to keep the special buses on the bus way. The bus otherwise drives around like a normal bus until it drives onto the cement track and the little side wheels are then used just to keep the bus from scraping the sides and just rolling along easily.

Is it useful? Is it cost-effective? Are people happy with it? Are there plans to introduce it elsewhere because it's so successful? Could you come to Canada please and convince our government to do it?

It is useful. I don't take it often because it doesn't go my way but I used it once to get to a friends house and it was pretty amazing. Really fast and unobstructed by traffic.

How is it better than a regular dedicated bus roadway without rails?

Since the guide wheels steer the bus, the driver only has to apply accelerator/brake and there is no chance of the bus deviating off the track at high speed. So it can travel at a faster speed more safely.

The track is also more compact than an equivalent two-lane dedicated bus roadway - especially given the safety margins roadways need when you have high-speed vehicles travelling on them.

Being more compact meant the O-Bahn route could follow the Torrens creek which gave it an unobstructed route from the outer suburbs right to the CBD without expensive land purchases etc.

Adelaide, Brisbane [1], and Sydney [2][3] all have busways to some extent, although the O-bahn is the only guided busway.

Brisbane is also in the process of upgrading their busways to something like rubber-tyred trams (bi-articulated busses) with the Brisbane Metro project [4].

[1]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Busways_in_Brisbane [2]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liverpool%E2%80%93Parramatta_T... [3]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North-West_T-way [4]: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brisbane_Metro

Seems similar to the guide-wheel system shown in the Boring Company's demo yesterday: https://www.wired.com/story/elon-musk-boring-company-car-fli...

It seems the Boring Company expects much higher top-end speeds, however. Perhaps smaller vehicles and autonomous driving will help with that.

There's one of these in Cambridge too. It's an completely idiotic idea though. It requires modifying the buses and because it is made of custom concrete blocks made to fairly tight tolerances it is vastly more expensive than a road with rising bollards.

"A conventional road would have been too wide to fit on top of existing railway embankments and across the under-bridges along parts of the route."

So a normal road wasn't possible.


Yeah that's just not true though. The guided busway is at least the width of two buses for the entire length. A road doesn't have to be any wider. Under bridges it could be a single lane.

It's just an excuse to justify it.

It might have been an inspiration for the Busway in Nantes, France: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nantes_Busway

Hiroshima has something similar, if a bit more train than bus: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Astram_Line

It feels cheap and nasty to ride on compared to a train. Still better than a regular bus for speed which means you're not on it for long (usually).

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