City’s Department of Transportation releases report on next phase of fast bus corridors
This week, the New York City Department of Transportation took the next step in the revitalization of bus lines in the city’s five boroughs, publicizing a new report on implementing bus rapid transit (via Tri-State Transpo Campaign). It articulates basic corridors f0r bus speed-ups and is the first step in a years-long process to expand the Select Bus Service project first implemented on Fordham Road in the Bronx last year. But the DOT’s recognition that the Fordham Road line — known as BX12 — isn’t an ideal example of BRT is perhaps the most important conclusion of the study, because it indicates that New York City will have to do more than just paint the road red to improve bus speeds.
The study’s results (PDF) are an impressive read. As shown in the images from the report below (Staten Island not pictured), the city envisions new bus-only lanes criss-crossing the boroughs, with the primary purpose of providing access to areas that currently lack subway service and improving cross-borough commutes that currently are not offered. These objectives are appropriate for this type of transit improvement; the potential corridors for Brooklyn mirror those I pinpointed in my post last week on building streetcar lines in the borough.
Lines proposed for the other boroughs follow similar rules. Queens would get new fast buses in its subway-less eastern half, as well as in Elmhurst and Middle Village; Manhattan would get several crosstown routes and a Westside line; and the Bronx would benefit from service for the central borough and Soundview. These are necessary improvements that would be focused in the correct transit-needy zones.
The images below show how the corridors were picked. In general, the DOT looked at difficult transit trips and underserved areas — where densely populated neighborhoods were more than a 1/4 or 1/2-mile walk from the nearest subway station. Another criterion considered was serving rapidly growing areas, and the report specifies Greenpoint/Williamsburg in Brooklyn, Long Island City in Queens, the South Bronx, and the West Shore of Staten Island as notable examples. If we’re looking to improve transit, these are the relevant criteria.
|Difficult Trips||Underserved Areas|
The report documents the success and the failures of the BX12 Fordham Road line and indicates that future BRT corridors in the city will be more fully featured. While the Bronx line does include red painted lanes (as does the 34th Street “transitway”), because they aren’t separated physically from the adjacent car lanes, they’re subject to frequent vehicle incursions and resulting delays in travel time. Because they’re curbside, illegally parked cars force buses to drive around and into normal traffic. In addition, while the bus line includes more information than typical service — with maps and distinctive signage — customers still aren’t provided exact information about when the vehicles will arrive.
On the other hand, the report suggests a number of improvements that would bolster future BRT service:
- Offset bus lanes: these allow bulb-out bus stations and car parking in the lane’s interior;
- Enhanced signal priority: existing systems activate or extend green lights when buses approach; new ones would give buses lead intervals and dedicated turning phases;
- Bus lane barriers: “soft” or “hard” separations would ensure that car traffic doesn’t enter the bus lane;
- Level boarding: higher platforms would make it possible for wheelchairs to roll directly onto buses without requiring them to “kneel;”
- Real-time information: GPS-linked LED panels at every station would give customers up-t0-date information on the arrival time before the next bus;
- 3-Door buses: for some reason, New York has been left for years with two-door articulated buses, when three doors are common abroad; more entryways allow easier boarding into the vehicle.
The report says that the city will choose eight to ten corridors upon which to focus interventions over the next few months, and then start implementation next year. The 1st/2nd Avenue line in Manhattan and Nostrand Avenue project in Brooklyn (the latter received a “High” rating in the recent New Starts report) have already been planned, and they’re the first up.
These are exciting innovations for a city that desperately needs more transit. Should we be frustrated that the report specifically argues that “New subways are not a feasible solution to most of the city’s transit needs,” even though we know perfectly well that in cities elsewhere in the world with New York densities, new subways are the solution? Probably. And where is the mention of streetcars, a probably even more effective tool for improving transit service? Nowhere. But the study’s BRT solution is an honest assessment of city’s political and financial limitations, and the proposed improvements would be a godsend.
It’s unsurprising that it is the city’s DOT, not the MTA, leading this process, even though the MTA will operate the affected BRT lines. Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn has proven herself an adept proponent of transit-friendly neighborhoods and pedestrian and bike-friendly streets, and she’s not faced with the huge budget deficits that constantly encumber the MTA. And, after all, the city runs the streets that are ultimately affected by BRT projects.
To argue that BRT is the be-all-end-all solution to transit in America’s biggest city would be unrealistic — the metropolis still needs streetcars and new subways. But it’s one element of a whole spectrum of public transportation improvements, and this report provides a strong framework for better bus development.
Images above: from New York City DOT