Hylan Blvd SBS Relies More on Fast Payment and Signals, Less on Bus Lanes

The route for proposed Hylan Boulevard Select Bus Service. Bus lanes are planned for the highlighted areas, where congestion is worst. Image: MTA/DOT

When it comes to Staten Island, the Department of Transportation and MTA are considering a different model for Select Bus Service.

The service planned for Hylan Boulevard will provide dedicated bus lanes for less of the route than on existing SBS lines, but high-tech features like transit-friendly traffic lights and even a possible pilot of smart card fare payment technology will be included.

Bus service along Hylan Boulevard is an essential lifeline for transit riders on Staten Island. Sixteen thousand local bus riders travel on the street every weekday, as do another 15,000 express bus riders. One-third of all Staten Island bus commuters live along the corridor. Those numbers might be even higher if transit service weren’t so slow. Almost three-quarters of transit commuters in the area have trips longer than an hour.

A final plan hasn’t been prepared for the new bus service, but DOT and the MTA presented the basic concept at a public meeting last Thursday [PDF]. The project is scheduled to be implemented in 2012 or 2013.

Unlike on the existing Select Bus Service routes on Fordham Road and First and Second Avenue, DOT is not planning to paint dedicated bus lanes along most of the route. Instead, they’re installing bus lanes in the three most congested areas: a roughly two-mile stretch toward the northern end of the route; the area where the S79 bus turns off Hylan and toward the Staten Island Mall; and near the entrance to the mall itself.

The Staten Island service will have a number of features not found in Manhattan and the Bronx, however. “Advance signals” will allow buses to stop a little further forward at an intersection than private vehicles. Currently, buses stopped at the curb and cars trying to turn right have to weave past each other; with advance signals, there’s room to separate the movements, speeding up traffic. The advance signal could also let buses jump to the front of the queue at certain red lights.

Another feature, transit signal priority, holds green lights a few extra seconds when a bus is approaching, giving precedence to vehicles carrying dozens of people rather than one or two. When tested out on Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard, it shaved ten percent of the time off bus trips (and five percent of the time off private automobile trips). This spring’s update of PlaNYC promised that eleven bus routes across the city will get transit signal priority. Hylan Boulevard will be one of them.

Advance signals let buses stop closer to the intersection than cars, allowing everyone to switch lanes more easily. Image: MTA/DOT

Perhaps even more intriguing, Hylan Boulevard might be the site for a pilot of the MTA’s long-awaited smart card fare payment system. Nothing’s been finalized yet, said a DOT spokesperson, but the pilot might start on the Hylan Boulevard SBS when it launches.

Real-time arrival information is also coming to all Staten Island buses by the end of the year, including Hylan Boulevard.

The MTA will replace the local S79 service with the Select Bus Service, which will stop less frequently in order to move faster. The S54 and S78 local buses, which run along the S79 route, will pick up the slack for the local, with service adjusted as necessary.

At the same time as it improves the bus service, DOT will also be using the corridor redesign as an opportunity to improve pedestrian safety. Along the route, DOT plans to extend existing medians into the crosswalk to create pedestrian refuges, and to add pedestrian ramps and sidewalks near bus stops that currently lack them.

Some bus stops will also be relocated to improve safety. The Brooklyn-bound bus stop at Richmond and Yukon Avenues, for example, might be moved from the side of the road to the center pedestrian island, a DOT representative said. Since the right side of the street has neither buildings nor a sidewalk, moving the stop to the median would allow for a better waiting area and reduce crossing distances for bus riders, who currently must cross the entire street.