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Posts from the Bus Rapid Transit Category


Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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RPA: Growing Outer Boroughs Need New Generation of Transit Investment

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, which forms the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 6 percent. Image: RPA [PDF]

Subways, focused on service to and from the Manhattan core, have seen a 23 percent ridership boost since 2003. Over the same period, bus ridership, the backbone of outer-borough transit, has fallen 7 percent — even though population and jobs in the outer boroughs are growing at a faster rate than in Manhattan. Image: RPA

With the boroughs outside Manhattan adding people and jobs faster than the city core, New York needs to reorient its transit priorities, argues the Regional Plan Association in a new report. The authors warn that increasing travel in the other boroughs will strain the local bus system and lead more people to drive, causing more traffic congestion and imposing the burden of car ownership on more low- and middle-income New Yorkers.

This trend is already apparent. You could call it a tale of two trips.

Trips to and from the Manhattan core are shifting away from cars, with almost 90 percent of commuters to jobs below 60th Street arriving by transit. Subways, the backbone of the network into and out of Manhattan, have seen ridership increase 23 percent since 2003. Major projects are underway to extend subways and commuter rail serving the Manhattan central business district.

By comparison, transit trips that don’t begin or end in Manhattan are slower and less convenient, and they’re getting worse.

While the region may be centered around the Manhattan core, the lives of many New Yorkers are not: 61 percent of NYC workers who live outside Manhattan also work outside Manhattan. Over the last two decades, the number of jobs in the other boroughs has grown twice as fast as Manhattan-based jobs. At the same time, buses — the workhorse of outer-borough travel — have seen ridership fall 7 percent since 2003.

To avoid a future of even more sluggish transit and congested streets, RPA suggests new rail connections, more Bus Rapid Transit lines, and improving access to existing commuter rail service for city residents.

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Trottenberg: DOT Staffing Up to Add More Select Bus Service Routes

The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today on the de Blasio administration’s Bus Rapid Transit plans, giving council members an opportunity to prod DOT about its BRT progress and show their support (or lack thereof) for bus lanes and more robust surface transit improvements than the Select Bus Service program has yielded so far.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifies, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifying this afternoon, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the mayor’s preliminary budget, released yesterday, features $295 million for SBS expansion, including $84 million in new funding. Of that, $55 million will go to operational expenses through fiscal year 2018 and $240 million will go to capital projects through 2025.

The funding boost should help enlarge the agency’s SBS project pipeline, paying for staff to both work with community boards and assist with engineering for new SBS routes. The new money replaces some federal funds that were expiring and roughly doubles the size of the SBS unit to 18 staffers, according to DOT Director of Transit Development Eric Beaton.

Here are some more highlights from the hearing:

  • Mark your calendars: The de Blasio administration has committed to adding 13 Select Bus Service routes by the end of 2017, an effort Trottenberg said would require “all hands on deck.” This year, DOT and MTA are aiming to bring SBS improvements to three additional routes. Upgrades to the M86 crosstown, which will feature off-board fare payment and other improvements but not bus lanes, is expected to launch this spring, followed by the B46 on Utica Avenue by the end of the summer and the Q44 between Jamaica and Flushing in the fall. A typical SBS route costs $10 million to launch, Trottenberg said, with more capital-intensive upgrades like bus bulbs continuing to be rolled out after the initial improvements.

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Progressive Caucus to de Blasio: Let Us Help Build New York’s BRT Network


Select Bus Service has made a big difference for bus riders, but it could be better. Now 17 City Council members are asking Mayor de Blasio for bolder bus improvements. Photo: MTA/Flickr

As a mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio promised a citywide network of more than 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit routes within four years. More than a year into his term, bus riders are still waiting. Now 17 City Council members are asking the administration to take bolder action on BRT and offering to help NYC DOT and the MTA bring the projects to fruition.

Today council members from all five boroughs aligned with the influential Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA Chair Tom Prendergast [PDF] in anticipation of a council hearing on BRT this afternoon.

“The physical and demographic patterns of the city have changed and the transit system is not changing with it fast enough to ensure equal access,” reads the letter. “Building on the successes of the Select Bus Service program, full-featured BRT is a cost-effective, efficient way of making [the city] more equitable, just, and sustainable.”

The council members offered to meet with Trottenberg, Prendergast, and their staffs to discuss how they “can help bring a network of BRT routes to New York City.”

Studies from the Pratt Center and New York University show that huge swaths of New York City’s low- and moderate-income residents live beyond the reach of the subway, but struggle with the high cost of car ownership. Bus Rapid Transit would be a lifeline to these New Yorkers.

To build effective busways where transit riders don’t get bogged down in traffic, the city will have to claim space from general traffic lanes and parking lanes. Inevitably, some elected officials will fight against prioritizing transit on the street. Today’s letter is the counterpoint showing that many council members want City Hall to act boldly and improve bus service for their constituents. Will de Blasio listen to them?

The mayor did highlight BRT as a component of his affordable housing plan during his State of the City address last week, but it played second fiddle to the headline-grabbing initiative to subsidize ferries.

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Bus Rapid Transit, Not Ferry Subsidies, Would Help Struggling New Yorkers

Image: EDC [PDF]

Per rider, ferries need significantly higher subsidies than subways or local buses. Image: EDC [PDF]

In today’s State of the City address, Mayor de Blasio returned to his signature campaign issues of affordability and equity. Focusing mainly on housing, the mayor outlined a plan for growth centered around transit-accessible neighborhoods, and he recommitted to building several new Bus Rapid Transit routes.

But de Blasio missed the mark with his big new transit initiative — a subsidized ferry system. Dollar for dollar, ferries are just not an effective way to spend public money to improve transit options for low-income New Yorkers.

“If we are going to have affordable housing, how are we going to help people get around? What’s the role of transportation in making sure that people have access to opportunity and connecting to where the jobs are all over the five boroughs?” the mayor asked. “Well, we thought about that.”

De Blasio said rides on the new ferry system will cost no more than a MetroCard swipe when it launches in 2017. The system will receive $55 million from the city and serve neighborhoods including Astoria and the Rockaways in Queens, Red Hook in Brooklyn, and Soundview in the Bronx, according to DNAinfo.

“Ferries will be affordable to everyday New Yorkers, just like our subways and buses,” de Blasio said, adding that the ferries will help revitalize commercial corridors near their outer-borough landings.

This sounds great, until you look at how much ferries cost and how many people they would serve compared to better buses and trains.

Even with fares at $3.50 per ride, running ferries from Pier 11 to the Rockaways last year required a subsidy of nearly $30 per rider, according to the Economic Development Corporation. In part, that was because its limited schedule failed to attract much ridership. The more centrally-located East River Ferry has more ridership and a better schedule, but still had a slightly higher per-rider subsidy than bus service in 2013, on top of its $4 fare [PDF]. Dropping the fare to match the bus and subway would likely require additional subsidies.

Even the popular Staten Island Ferry, which is free and has frequent service, had a per-rider subsidy in 2011 more than three times higher than local MTA buses, and more than 10 times higher than the subway [PDF].

The role that ferries can play in the transportation system is limited by the accessibility of waterfront sites and the difficulty of connecting to other transit services. The East River Ferry maxed out at a daily average of 4,000 weekday riders and 6,000 weekend riders in 2013. 

There’s also a disconnect between most of the areas the ferries would serve and the transit needs of low-income neighborhoods. A better way to spend those subsidies to help struggling New Yorkers would be to bolster Bus Rapid Transit improvements across the boroughs.

De Blasio did mention Bus Rapid Transit in the speech, recommitting to his campaign promise to bring the city’s BRT network to a total of 20 routes by the end of his first term. The pace of expansion will have to speed up considerably to hit that target. So far, the administration has cut the ribbon on just one new Select Bus Service route, with a handful of additional routes in the planning stages.

A coalition of groups backing expanded BRT, including the Working Families Party, the Pratt Center for Community Development, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and Riders Alliance, issued statements thanking the mayor for commitment to BRT. City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez also promised to hold a hearing on the future of BRT in New York and the mayor’s plans.

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Streetsblog USA
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The Koch Brothers Win: Nashville Abandons “Amp” BRT Plans

Nashville’s bid to build its first high-capacity transit line is dead, the Tennessean is reporting today. It’s a victory for the Koch brothers-funded local chapter of Americans for Prosperity and a defeat for the city’s near-term hopes of transitioning to less congested, more sustainable streets.

Nashville's 7-mile "Amp" BRT was part of a larger vision for a better connected, more efficient region. Image: AMP Yes

Nashville’s 7-mile “Amp” BRT was envisioned as the beginning of a more connected transit network and less car dependent city. Image: AMP Yes

The project, known as the Amp, called for a 7-mile busway linking growing East Nashville to downtown and parts of the city’s west end. Civic leaders hoped it would be the first of many high-capacity bus routes that would help make the growing city more attractive and competitive.

But Mayor Karl Dean, facing organized opposition to the project, announced late last year that he would not try to start building the project before he leaves office later in 2015.  This week the city’s leading transit official made it official and stopped design work on the Amp, The Tennessean reports.

The opposition group “Stop Amp” was led by local car dealership impresario Lee Beaman and limousine company owner Rick Williams, according to the Tennessean. The group also had help from the Koch brothers, with the local chapter of Americans for Prosperity introducing a bill in the State Senate that would have outlawed dedicated transit lanes throughout  Tennessee. Opponents fell short of that, but Republicans in the legislature were a constant obstacle to the project’s funding.

Transit supporters in Nashville are now left to pick up the pieces and figure out what comes next. “We’ve never come so far in bringing this level of mass transit to Nashville, and we have to continue the conversation to make it a reality,” Dean said in a statement last week.


Stuck in the Middle: When Transit-Dependent Communities Lack Good Transit


NYC neighhorhoods with low household incomes and high unemployment lack the excellent transit access to jobs available in the city’s most affluent areas. Chart: NYU Rudin Center

New Yorkers who live close to the center of town are mostly affluent and have great transit options connecting them to a wealth of job opportunities. On the edges of town, people are not quite as well-off, and most can get to work by driving their own cars. In between are the least affluent neighborhoods, where New Yorkers rely on transit but the number of jobs accessible by train or bus is much smaller than in the city core.

A new report from New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation [PDF] identifies this middle band of neighborhoods as the area where transit improvements can do the most to connect more people to more jobs.

The study ranked the city’s 177 zip codes by the number of jobs accessible by a transit trip lasting 60 minutes or less at 9 a.m. on a weekday. Grouping the neighborhoods into three tiers of transit access, the authors then at income and commute data for each tier.

The top third of transit-accessible neighborhoods have high incomes, and 79 percent of commuters travel by foot or transit. Not surprisingly, the highest-ranked neighborhoods are in or near major employment centers in Manhattan. In the top 59 neighborhoods, the unemployment rate is 8.3 percent and average household income is $108,209.

Things look different in the city’s least transit-accessible neighborhoods, where 53 percent of residents drive to work. These areas, mostly beyond the reach of the subway, include neighborhoods as diverse as the low-income southern reaches of East New York and the wealthy south shore of Staten Island. Combining this mix of demographics, the unemployment rate in these neighborhoods averages 9.7 percent and the average household income is $61,381.

Then there’s the middle third of neighborhoods, where people are heavily dependent on transit but access to jobs via train or bus is mediocre. In this band of New York, 67 percent of workers commute by transit, the unemployment rate, at 11.7 percent, is higher than the rest of the city, and average income is lower, at $46,773.

It’s exactly these commuters, who live just beyond the reach of convenient transit but lack the resources to own a private car, who could benefit most from improvements to the city’s transit network.

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Streetsblog USA
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Vote to Decide the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014


If you’re searching for reasons to feel positive about the future, the street transformations pictured below are a good start. Earlier this month we asked readers to send in their nominations for the best American street redesigns of 2014. These five are the finalists selected by Streetsblog staff. They include new car-free zones, substantial sidewalk expansions, superb bike infrastructure, awesome safety upgrades, and exclusive transit lanes.

Which deserves the distinction of being named the “Best Urban Street Transformation of 2014”? We’re starting the voting today and will post a reminder when we run the rest of the Streetsblog USA Streetsie Award polls next Tuesday. Without further ado, here are the contenders:

Western Avenue, Cambridge, Massachusetts



After. (We're using a rendering because the project is not quite yet 100% complete.)

After. (We’re using a rendering because the project is not quite 100 percent complete.)

The Western Avenue road diet narrowed dangerously wide traffic lanes on this one-way street to make room for safer pedestrian crossings, a raised bike lane, and bus bulbs. Brian DeChambeau of the Cambridge Community Development Department, the lead agency on the project, adds these details about the redesign:

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The Most Important Bus Routes in NYC Tend to Perform the Worst for Riders


The M79 moves slower than flowing lava, reports the Straphangers Campaign. Photo: Kris Arnold/Flickr

The slowest bus in New York City is the M79, and the least reliable is the local M15, according to the Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives, which today awarded these two routes the “uncoveted” Pokey and Schleppie awards, respectively.

On weekdays at noon, Straphangers measured the crosstown M79 at an average speed of 3.2 miles per hour, slower than many people walk. On the M15 local, meanwhile, 33 percent of buses don’t arrive anywhere close to the posted schedule, meaning they’re either bunched tightly together or spread far apart, forcing riders to wait.

The Pokey and Schleppie call attention each year to bus service that gets bogged down by city traffic or delays caused by an inefficient fare payment system. Usually, it’s the bus routes with the most passengers that rank lowest in terms of speed and reliability, because they tend to travel on highly trafficked streets and spend a lot of time stopped as people pay to board.

The M15 local has some of the highest ridership of any local route in Manhattan, and the bus routes that Straphangers and TA singled out for poor performance in the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Staten Island (the Bx19, Bx15, B41, B44, Q58, S48/98, and S78) all have a lot of passengers relative to most other routes in those boroughs. (With about 17,000 average weekday trips, the M79 has substantial but not exceptional ridership for Manhattan.) The takeaway is that the most important bus routes in the city tend to perform the worst for transit riders.

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A 90-Second Appeal to Fix Woodhaven Boulevard With BRT

The BRT for NYC coalition recently released this short video that succinctly makes the case for change on Woodhaven Boulevard in southeast Queens. If you haven’t personally experienced Woodhaven as a pedestrian or bus rider, it’s a good introduction to what’s at stake as NYC DOT and the MTA move forward with a project to improve transit service and street safety along more than 14 miles of this major corridor.

Improving travel times and reliability for the tens of thousands of people who ride the bus on Woodhaven every day will have to go hand in hand with improvements to the pedestrian environment. As you can see in the video, Woodhaven is so wide that people have to run to reach the other side of the street. All of the design options that NYC DOT has shown add more space for walking.

With Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich, and every other City Council member whose district touches the project on the record supporting major changes, there’s a chance to do something bold and great on Woodhaven. The next round of design work for the project may be released early next year.