COMMUTE’s BRT Plan: A Denser Network and Interborough Lines

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COMMUTE's proposals for BRT routes in the five boroughs, shown next to DOT's current plan. View an enlarged version.

As part of its "Sustainability Watch" series this week, Gotham Gazette ran a great piece on Bus Rapid Transit by Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development. Byron is one of the organizers at COMMUTE (Communities United for Transportation Equity), a coalition of community groups that has advocated for congestion pricing and BRT as means to address inequities in transit access. Now that pricing is on hold at best, Byron argues that there's even more reason to allocate funds to a cost-effective BRT network:

With both the one-time shot of federal funding and the projected $500 million per year in net revenues from congestion pricing off the table for the moment, BRT may be more important than ever. The MTA Capital Plan has, in words of Straphangers Campaign spokesman Gene Russianoff, "more hole than plan," with less than $12 billion of a five-year, $29 billion shopping list accounted for. As the rail and subway projects envisioned in that plan recede into the future, BRT makes more sense than ever. It will not prevent us from building light rail or subways in the future, but for now it makes intelligent use of the infrastructure we already have -- our streets.

After applauding the roll-out of Select Bus Service in the Bronx, Byron suggests a few ways BRT plans can be pushed further:

The pilot program confined each route to its respective borough, so that the Rogers Avenue/Nostrand Avenue route in Brooklyn would serve a dense and underserved slice of East Flatbush, Crown Heights and Bushwick - but then dump passengers at Williamsburg Bridge plaza, presumably to elbow their way onto already full J, M and Z trains to get into Manhattan. Since the transportation department is already planning to put a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, it would be logical to connect the Brooklyn BRT route to the also-planned First/Second Avenue BRT.

And, if you want another reason to run Sheldon Silver out of Albany, here it is:

Though dedicating lanes to buses presents a political challenge, BRT complements plans to reduce car use by making more efficient use of street space. There are a number of ways to ensure that the lanes are used by buses and buses alone. The lanes can be physically protected, but license plate cameras on the buses themselves are a more elegant solution -- letting the buses themselves nab the drivers who infringe on their space. However, enforcement cameras face an uncertain fate in the state legislature, where Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has thus far resisted pressure to authorize additional red-light cameras in the city.

Image: Pratt Center / Gotham Gazette