Will a new rapid-transit system change El Paso’s walking habits?

Pedestrians prepare to board a bus.

Image: College of Architecture

A team of Texas A&M urban planning and public health researchers is studying whether El Paso’s new bus rapid transit line is changing walking habits of residents who live close to the line’s stations.

Also known as a BRT, a bus rapid transit line has dedicated lanes designed to mimic the efficiency of rail transit. El Paso’s BRT system, Brio, will feature more than 20 miles of routes when the new line opens in fall 2018. In addition to traveling on dedicated lanes, the high-capacity buses, which run every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during non-peak hours, have traffic signal-aided priority at intersections.

“Use of public transportation is associated with increased physical activity, such as residents walking to transit stops, and is considered a promising approach to reduce the risk of obesity and other age-related chronic conditions such as cancer, diabetes, and heart disease,” said Chanam Lee, a professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture and Urban Planning. “Little is known, however, about the physical activity impact of bus rapid transit, an increasingly popular concept that combines the capacity, speed, and reliability of rail transit with the flexibility and lower cost of a conventional bus system.”

Lee is co-leading a five-year, $2.6 million study funded by the National Institutes of Health that will compare the walking frequency of El Paso residents who live within a half-mile of BRT stations opening in fall 2018 with those of residents who live elsewhere in the city.

The study’s respondents will monitor their modes of transportation and physical activities using mobile devices such as smartphones, Fitbit activity trackers or by noting them in a travel diary.

“The BRT station openings offer a unique, time-sensitive opportunity to evaluate whether, how, and why new BRT service increases physical activity,” said Wei Li, a professor of landscape architecture and urban planning

Lee and Li are leading the study with Marcia Ory, University Distinguished Professor and Regents Professor in the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, School of Public Health.

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