Buford Highway’s Route 39 MARTA bus service could be speeded up by reducing the number of stops or adding a new express line, says a new transit study commissioned by the city of Brookhaven. And either way, the study says, the bus should have dedicated lanes and other speed and safety improvements.

Route 39 runs an 8-mile line between MARTA’s Doraville and Buckhead’s Lindbergh Center stations, carrying a pre-pandemic average of 5,400 daily riders. MARTA says it’s the system’s busiest bus route. Even during the pandemic, when the transit agency is reducing most of its service, it added buses to serve the Route 39 demand.

One option in the VHB study shows stops on the Route 39 reduced from 90 to 23.

The “Buford Highway Transit Evaluation” study by the civil engineering firm VHB was commissioned by the city last year for $30,000. VHB transportation planner Olen Daelhousen presented the two alternative findings to the City Council April 28.

In the first alternative, the report recommended consolidating route 39 from its current 90 stops down to 23.

“That’s a lot of stops, and one of the issues that that leads to is it currently takes the bus a long time to traverse the entire Buford Highway,” Daelhousen said.

The consolidated route would feature “expanded weekday peak service” — more buses on the line — for especially busy hours 5-10 a.m.. and 3-8 p.m. Buses would run every 10 minutes during peak hours, and every 20 off-peak. That alternative option touts shorter trip times and improved service frequency, Daelhousen said.

“Right now, [the stops] are spaced pretty tightly,” Daelhousen said. “I think MARTA has them about 1/8 of a mile apart. So, we looked at where the highest ridership stops were and how we could consolidate them and still provide service to the most number of people, but really cut the stops to improve the speed of service.”

A second alternative would move express bus service from Lindbergh Station to Chamblee Station. The new 16-stop express line, running along Buford Highway and Clairmont Road, would operate in addition to Route 39.

“One of our takeaways from noting that the most heavily used stations were in the southern end of the corridor was to take the express service, and, instead of going all the way to Doraville, to take a left turn onto Clairmont road or a right turn southbound, and connect directly to the Chamblee Station to speed up the trip,” Daelhousen said.

It is possible that the proposed express bus route could run exclusively during weekday peak hours, Daelhousen said.

The report called for dedicated bus lanes so MARTA buses would not have to pull out of traffic to reach their stops. Daelhousen also recommended the revamping of transit stops, introducing level-platform loading and adding Breeze Card machines to reduce congestion and hasten the boarding process. Further recommendations included sidewalk improvements and expanded mid-block crossings along Buford Highway.

MARTA is conducting its own Buford Highway study, and the VHB report recommended that Brookhaven work with the transit agency on alternatives. The study also said the city should collaborate with other local governments, including DeKalb, Fulton and Gwinnett counties and the cities of Atlanta, Chamblee and Doraville.

–Ryan Kolakowski