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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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Pratt Center Suggests Eight Routes for Robust BRT — Is de Blasio Listening?

The Pratt Center is recommending eight BRT routes, primarily for outer-borough trips beyond the subway’s reach.

The Pratt Center is recommending eight BRT routes, primarily for trips beyond the subway’s reach. Image: Pratt Center

In 2008, a coalition led by the Pratt Center for Community Development laid out a vision for 12 Bus Rapid Transit lines across the city. Nearly six years later, NYC DOT and the MTA have installed six Select Bus Service routes in four boroughs, with plans for more. At a panel discussion this morning, the Pratt Center unveiled a new report [PDF] showing eight routes that are ripe for Bus Rapid Transit, featuring upgrades like separated busways and stations with fare gates and platform-level boarding.

During the mayoral campaign, Bill de Blasio promised to build a BRT network of more than 20 lines citywide. The big question is whether he’ll follow through after January and turn recommendations like the Pratt report into real policy.

“Select Bus Service is a breakthrough for our city,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center. But SBS routes, criticized as “BRT-lite” for relying on striped bus lanes instead of dedicated busways, can only do so much for riders making longer trips in the outer boroughs, she added. “What the neighborhoods that are outside of the reach of the subway need is to put the ‘rapid’ into Bus Rapid Transit.”

The report, funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, identifies eight routes along corridors where 2.3 million people currently live within a half-mile. The routes are split into two phases: The first four are along wide rights-of-way with the capacity to host dedicated busways and stations, Byron said, while the final four are along trickier routes that could be easier to implement after the public judges the success of the first four.

The eight routes in the Pratt Center report are:

  • LaGuardia Airport to the Rockaways via Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard
  • Jamaica to Flushing via Main Street, continuing to Hunts Point in the Bronx via the Whitestone Bridge and Bruckner Boulevard
  • Conversion of a rail corridor on Staten Island’s North Shore to a multi-leg BRT route, currently in planning at the MTA
  • Sunset Park to JFK Airport via Linden Boulevard, connecting with a cluster of medical centers in central Brooklyn
  • Far Rockaway to Jamaica via Nassau Expressway and Rockaway Boulevard
  • Sunset Park to JFK Airport via Kings Highway and Flatlands Avenue
  • East Harlem to Co-Op City via a cluster of medical centers along Eastchester Road in East Bronx
  • Richmond Avenue in Staten Island to Manhattan via Jersey City and the Holland Tunnel

Byron said the Pratt Center focused on these routes because many outer borough neighborhoods are seeing population changes as low-income households are priced out of areas closer to Manhattan with better transit access. ”We’ve had population shifts that we’re just beginning to understand,” she said. ”When I was growing up, this was the land of Archie Bunker.”

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How One Merchant Group Went From Bus Lane Opponent to SBS Supporter

When B44 Select Bus Service launched last month, regular Streetsblog readers may have recognized Lindiwe Kamau’s along with the elected officials celebrating Brooklyn’s first SBS route. Kamau, who is president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, spoke with Mayor Bloomberg at the grand opening and had her photo snapped by the press. Under sunny skies, it was all smiles as passengers boarded the new buses.

Lindiwe Kamau speaks with Mayor Bloomberg at the grand opening of B44 SBS last month. Photo: Stephen Miller

“We hope that it’s going to bring us some more customers, since it’s going to bring more accessibility,” she told Streetsblog earlier that morning. Her group was working with local merchants – there are approximately 300 in the area the association covers, from Linden Boulevard to Eastern Parkway — offering discounts to SBS riders.

Kamau didn’t always have such a positive view of SBS. Just four years ago, she was leading the charge against it. The story of how she came around to support the project has lessons for the rest of the city, especially in light of Bill de Blasio’s campaign pledge to create a Bus Rapid Transit network of more than 20 lines.

In November 2009, days before the general election, Kamau organized a campaign stop with a who’s-who of candidates — including Bill Thompson, Tish James and Bill de Blasio — to rally against the SBS plan. At the event, Nostrand Avenue merchants were outnumbered by reporters, who were themselves dwarfed by the size of the nearby crowd waiting for the B44. The route clocked in last year as the city’s fifth-busiest bus line and was named by the Straphangers Campaign as the city’s least reliable bus in 2009. But at the time, the poor quality of bus service didn’t factor into Kamau’s opinion of SBS so much as the potential reduction in curbside parking.

At that point, the only SBS route in the city was along Fordham Road in the Bronx. Along a section of that route, curbside bus lanes replaced on-street parking, upsetting some local business owners. Although the Fordham Road route launched just as the recession hit, merchants blamed the bus lanes for struggling sales. One deli owner told the Daily News that because his customers had trouble parking to run in and buy a sandwich, his sales had fallen 40 percent.

The reality is that most New York City stores don’t rely on customers who drive and shop. Along Fordham Road, only eight percent of people surveyed on the street arrived by private car, while 91 percent got there by walking or riding transit. In the two State Senate districts surrounding the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association coverage area, approximately two-thirds of households are car-free.

But the data often does not match up with what merchants think. Business owners tend to overestimate the percentage of their customers who drive, in part because they are more likely to drive to their own stores. ”A lot of the merchants themselves do not actually reside here,” Kamau said. “They come from the outside. They come from Long Island, from Queens. Of course they drive.”

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With Debut of B44 SBS, Major Brooklyn Bus Route Poised to Draw More Riders

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes, off-board fare collection, and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

After years of planning, B44 Select Bus Service launched yesterday on the Nostrand Avenue corridor.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast marked the occasion this afternoon at a newly-expanded bus stop at Church and Nostrand.

The B44, which serves nearly 40,000 riders each weekday along a 9.3-mile route between the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, is the sixth SBS line in the city. The upgrade to B44 limited-stop service adds off-board fare collection, curb extensions at bus stops, priority for buses at stop lights (starting next year), and camera-enforced bus lanes. Funded largely by a $28 million federal grant [PDF], B44 SBS is projected to improve travel times by as much as 20 percent.

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

At today’s presser, Bloomberg stressed the need for data-driven transportation policy. “Everybody has a view whether the traffic is better or worse,” he said. “That’s not a way to measure whether traffic is faster or slower.”

Referring to the other five SBS routes, he said, “These things, it turns out, actually do save time. Buses work better and traffic is better. We’re not just trying to guess.”

DOT released a report [PDF] today compiling data from SBS projects on Fordham Road, Webster Avenue, Hylan Boulevard34th Street, and First and Second Avenues. Since 2008, the city has installed 38 miles of SBS lanes. Bus speeds have increased as much as 23 percent while all SBS routes combined have gained 20,000 daily riders after launching.

SBS stops along Nostrand and Rogers Avenues include WalkNYC wayfinding signs featuring area maps and real-time bus arrival information. (Since Bus Time is not scheduled to launch in Brooklyn and Queens until the first half of next year, the signs do not currently show real-time data.) MTA staff assigned to SBS stops during the launch phase were out today showing riders how to pay their fare before boarding the bus.

Local merchants are hoping the speedier buses will draw more customers from the 300,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of the route. Lindiwe Kamau owns a ceramics shop and serves as president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, which represents retailers between Linden Boulevard and Eastern Parkway. ”We have a lot of merchants who come from out of the area, and they drive, so [parking's] been their main concern,” she told Streetsblog. “We’re trying to support them and turn the situation into a plus.” The association is launching a discount program for riders who show their SBS receipts. So far, 21 businesses have signed up, and Kamau is aiming to involve more retailers before Small Business Saturday on November 30.

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Cuomo Administration in Absolutely No Rush to Provide Tappan Zee Transit

After the state dumped transit in its rush to build a new Tappan Zee Bridge, Governor Cuomo announced a transit task force and promised to open the new bridge’s emergency shoulders to buses. But connections for bus riders on either side of the bridge remain a mystery, and the state continues to throw out overblown numbers as its task force is set to relegate land-side bus lanes to a study after the bridge opens in 2018.

Governor Cuomo made it an urgent priority to get shovels in the ground for the new, double-span Tappan Zee Bridge, but he’s shown no urgency to provide good transit options for the Hudson Valley. Photo: Angel Franco/Newsday

The state had previously pegged the cost of bus rapid transit at a lofty $5 billion, ignoring less expensive options and even factoring in unrelated car lanes to inflate the cost of BRT. But why stop at $5 billion? After a panel discussion at an American Planning Association conference on Friday, state DOT Commissioner Joan McDonald tossed around BRT cost estimates three to four times higher. “It shouldn’t be understated that coming up with 15 to 20 billion dollars to build those systems is a huge challenge,” she said. “It depends on how you define BRT.”

Tri-State Transportation Campaign Executive Director Veronica Vanterpool challenged McDonald’s math. Tri-State has championed lower-cost solutions like bus lanes on I-287 and local streets, which both counties are interested in pursuing.

But even modest bus lanes on surface streets aren’t likely to get much attention from the state anytime soon. Vanterpool said the final report being prepared for the project’s transit task force will likely be released early next year and will recommend delaying a study of dedicated bus lanes until after the bridge opens in 2018. In the immediate future, the task force will focus on road efficiencies not specifically related to transit, like ramp meters, she said.

McDonald refused to discuss the task force recommendations. ”We’re in the final stages of our deliberations,” she said. “When the task force finalizes its deliberations, we’ll all be happy to discuss it.”

In the end, the future of transit in the region boils down to Andrew Cuomo. ”We’ve seen a commitment to building a bridge, but we’ve not yet seen a commitment to seeing that transit will be built in this corridor,” Vanterpool said. Tri-State is calling on the governor to commit to a timetable for implementing transit improvements and to appoint a second task force to oversee transit progress after the current group releases its recommendations.

On Friday, Tri-State is hosting a forum featuring BRT projects and experts from Cleveland, Connecticut, and elsewhere around the country. ”We want to show how it has been done in other states,” Vanterpool said.  ”It’s important to show the possibilities and when there’s vision and determination and commitment to a goal,” Vanterpool said. “We’ve not yet seen that with this project.”

There’s also the question of how the new bridge will be paid for. With a federal TIFIA loan all but certain, the governor is set to announce a toll and finance task force before the end of the year, according to Thruway Authority executive director Thomas J. Madison.

In its loan application, the Thruway Authority said the cost of the bridge could rise to $4.8 billion, significantly higher than the rosy recent estimates of $3.9 billion. The pricetag for the double-span, extra-wide bridge has raised alarm about the possibility that the project will need subsidies from the state budget — perhaps draining revenue from New York City transit. The state has recently been walking a fine line, trying to reassure drivers that the rest of the Thruway system won’t subsidize the Tappan Zee, and that Tappan Zee tolls won’t rise in the immediate future.

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MTA Plans Busway Beneath the M Train in Ridgewood

The MTA is working on a plan for a short busway in Ridgewood that would run for six-tenths of a mile beneath the elevated M tracks, between Fresh Pond Road and Palmetto Street. While the project wouldn’t transform a car-choked traffic sewer into a pedestrian-friendly transit boulevard (the right-of-way is currently a series of weed-strewn parking lots), it could be NYC’s first new separated busway since the Fulton Mall opened in the 1970s.

The western end of the Ridgewood Busway route, beneath the elevated M train at Onderdonk Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The busway would have one lane in each direction and three bus stops. (Overhead, the M train stops at Fresh Pond Road, Forest Avenue, and Seneca Avenue.)

In its recently-released 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment [PDF], the MTA said the busway, which leads directly to the Fresh Pond bus depot, ”will reduce travel times and reduce operating costs for several bus routes.” The MTA says the project would save approximately $1 million in operating costs annually.

Buses currently running east-west in the area are the Q58, B13, and B20, which carry a combined 41,428 passengers on an average weekday. Slightly more than two-thirds of that ridership is on the Q58.

Engineering and planning firm Parsons Brinckerhoff performed a conceptual engineering study for the busway in 2012. The project, included in the regional transportation funding plan approved last month by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council [PDF], would be funded by $11.64 million from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program and $2.91 million in matching funds from the MTA scheduled for Fiscal Year 2015. The total project cost is between $12.5 and $19 million; the MTA says the cost has not been finalized and that it has not yet made a decision on whether to proceed with the project.

New York has no bus routes where cars can’t intrude and slow down transit riders. A DOT plan to build a separated busway on 34th Street was scuttled in 2011, resulting in a more modest plan to improve the M34 SBS route. The MTA has proposed a busway along an elevated railroad track on Staten Island’s north shore, but the Ridgewood project looks like it could be up and running first. While it won’t set a precedent for carving a separated busway out of car lanes, it would help show how quickly, smoothly, and reliably buses can run when traffic doesn’t get in the way.

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Eyes on the Street: Painting SBS Bus Lanes on Nostrand Avenue

DOT crews were painting bus lanes on Nostrand Avenue this morning at Carroll Street. Photo: Haruka Horiuchi

Brooklyn’s B44 bus carried more than 12.5 million passengers last year between the base of the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, making it the city’s fifth-busiest bus route. But the B44, which runs primarily along Nostrand Avenue, is notoriously unreliable and spends less than half of each run in motion. Half the time, it’s stuck in traffic or at bus stops and red lights.

There are 300,000 residents within a quarter-mile of the bus route, and 62 percent of households in that area are car-free, according to DOT and the MTA. Since 2009, the two agencies have been working to bring Select Bus Service to the B44. Limited-stop service would be converted to SBS, while local service on the B44 would remain.

Like other SBS projects, this one will add off-board fare collection, camera-enforced dedicated bus lanes, and transit signal priority to keep buses moving with green lights. It will also include curb extensions at bus stops, also known as bus bulbs, to keep the buses from having to move in and out of traffic every time they reach a stop.

The project, which received a $28 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration, is nearing completion. Workers are painting the red bus lanes, and earlier this month, crews were spotted pouring concrete at a bus bulb near the intersection of Bedford Avenue and Fulton Street.

A presentation from last year [PDF] says the project will be complete by “late 2013,” with the more intensive reconstruction of Nostrand Avenue between Flushing and Atlantic Avenues set to wrap by fall 2014.

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ITDP Study: “A Coming Out for Bus-Based Transit-Oriented Development”

Cleveland's HealthLine is widely considered the best bus rapid transit line in the United States, and it's busted some myths about BRT's power to stimulate transit-oriented development. Photo: ITDP

In a new report making the rounds this week, “More Development For Your Transit Dollar: An Analysis of 21 North American Transit Corridors,” the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy does two things.

First, authors Walter Hook, Stephanie Lotshaw, and Annie Weinstock evaluate which factors determine the impact of urban transit on development, coming up with some extremely useful and not necessarily intuitive results.

Second, they show that BRT projects — only a few of which exist in the U.S. — can in fact spur walkable development. Then the authors go a step further, asserting in no uncertain terms that good bus projects yield more development bang for the buck than equivalent rail projects.

What Makes TOD Successful?

ITDP examined 21 light rail, streetcar, and bus routes in 13 cities across the U.S. and Canada to determine how transit lines affect development. While the report does pick a side in the BRT-vs.-rail debate, ITDP found that three factors are much more powerful determinants than transit type in the outcome of transit-oriented development.

First, what ITDP calls “government intervention” is key. There is a direct correlation between robust TOD investment and robust public policy.

Everything from assembling the needed land to offering incentives for tenants falls under the umbrella of government intervention, but perhaps the most important aspect is to make sure the zoning near transit encourages mixed-use, walkable development.

One of the best things policy makers can do, said Weinstock, is to limit parking. She said that the city of Ottawa’s downtown parking restrictions were a huge boost to transit ridership on the Transitway, a bus rapid transit line which blew every other line ITDP studied out of the water with 244,000 weekday riders (four times more than the next runner-up, Denver’s Central Corridor light rail line).

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MTA Planning Chief: NYC’s Next Mayor Needs to Stick Up for Bus Lanes

Until the city commits to dedicating more street space for buses, riders like those on 125th Street will be stuck with slow rides. Photo: Benjamin Engle

After a presentation on regional transit ridership trends at NYU’s Rudin Center this morning, William Wheeler, the MTA’s planning director, said the city’s next mayor needs to firmly support the reallocation of street space for dedicated bus lanes, and should not back down in the face of opposition to changes that take away real estate from cars.

The biggest problem afflicting the city’s bus system right now is simple and widely acknowledged: Buses are just too slow. “In the end, how fast can you get those buses across streets?” Wheeler asked. “If you can make it quickly, you’re going to attract people. And that’s the biggest struggle with the bus system.”

He cited Select Bus Service and transit signal priority, which keeps buses from sitting at red lights, as steps in the right direction, but added that there’s still more to do. ”There’s always a constant struggle to keep vehicles out of devoted lanes,” he said.

The MTA has a wide-ranging plan for future phases of Select Bus Service, and mayoral candidates have spoken highly of Bus Rapid Transit, but reallocating street space for dedicated busways is easier said than done. Even a bus lane for 125th Street set aside with paint and enforcement cameras, not physical separation, drew enough political opposition to get NYC DOT and the MTA to shelve their SBS plan this summer.

After the event, I asked Wheeler how the MTA deals with that type of pushback, and whether he was keeping tabs on Chicago or other cities that are proposing big street design changes to speed up buses.

“You gotta watch the mayoral race,” he said. “The candidates, are they willing to continue this trend of looking at a street and having it not just be a resource for motor vehicles?” He said the next mayor must not only resist calls to roll back existing advances, but also add more bus lanes and other street reallocations. “It’s hard,” he said. “The only thing more important than owning a gun in the United States is having a parking spot.”

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Quinn Proposes Triboro BRT Line With Separated Bus Lanes

Since Scott Stringer left the mayoral field for the comptroller race, the mayoral candidates haven’t spoken much about the Triboro RX, a plan to bring circumferential rail service to Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx using existing tracks and rights of way. But they have spoken highly, if not very specifically, of Bus Rapid Transit. And a few have zeroed in on the transit needs of outer-borough communities, where job growth is outpacing Manhattan, but commute times are lengthening.

Quinn would build a Bus Rapid Transit line instead of rail along the Triboro RX route. Image: Quinn campaign via Capital NY

Today, Christine Quinn came forward with a proposal that merges the Triboro transit concept and her campaign’s emphasis on speedier bus routes. Her proposal would link the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn with a more robust version of Select Bus Service.

Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York reports:

Quinn said that her Triboro line would differ from the city’s existing and relatively ineffective Select Bus Service lines, because it would have real, protected bus lanes, allowing buses to move in rapid succession like street-level subway cars.

The route overlaps part of a plan from the MTA and DOT to extend SBS to LaGuardia Airport. In a policy book released earlier this month, Quinn said her first priority for BRT would be a primarily physically-separated line on the North Shore of Staten Island that is already being planned by the MTA.

Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development told Rubinstein that the general concept of linking the three boroughs is sound, but said it might make more sense to provide some of this service as separate routes. (The Quinn campaign’s map shows several zigzagging turns in Brooklyn.)

Quinn’s proposal comes the day after Council Member Brad Lander introduced a bill that would require DOT to create a comprehensive plan for citywide BRT. When asked about the potential of local political opposition to derail efforts for dedicated bus lanes on city streets, Quinn didn’t exactly strike a politically fearless tone, saying the city should do a better job involving communities in planning the system.

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MTA Maps a Five-Borough Network for Select Bus Service

Present and planned Select Bus Service routes, mapped with subway lines. Click for full-size. Image: MTA via Observer

At a press event yesterday to announce service restorations and upgrades, the MTA also went public with a citywide plan to expand Select Bus Service. With tunnel-boring mega-projects consuming billions of capital dollars apiece, the agency is featuring low-cost bus improvements more prominently in its strategy to increase transit capacity.

Stephen Smith at the Observer reports:

The Second Avenue subway was featured prominently, but one board member conceded that it’s “simply not possible to build more lines and have them during someone’s commuting lifetime” (a depressing admission of defeat for an agency beset by gargantuan construction cost premiums over peer cities like London, Tokyo and Paris), pivoting to the MTA’s transit expansion strategy while we wait for funding on the rest of the Second Avenue line: Select Bus Service.

While the routes that the MTA displayed yesterday are, for the most part, the same as the “phase two” corridors unveiled in 2009, it’s unusual for the agency to put itself front and center when the subject turns to bus improvements — a topic typically handled in conjunction with NYC DOT. With uncertainty about the direction DOT will take when City Hall changes hands, it’s good to see the MTA making a highly visible commitment to SBS.

The new SBS map shows additional corridors along with existing SBS routes and subway lines, for a more complete picture of how the enhanced bus network integrates with rail.

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