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Posts from the "Bus Rapid Transit" Category

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The Case for Center-Running Bus Lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

The proposal to improve bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens is the most exciting street redesign in the works in New York City right now, with the potential to break new ground for bus riders and dramatically improve safety. With as many as five lanes in each direction, Woodhaven Boulevard has plenty of space that can be devoted to exclusive transitways and concrete pedestrian safety measures.

NYC DOT and the MTA are holding a series of public workshops to inform the project, with initial improvements scheduled for this year and more permanent changes coming later. This is a chance for the city and the MTA to build center-running transit lanes that will speed bus trips more than previous Select Bus Service routes, where buses often have to navigate around illegally-parked cars. Critical design decisions could be made this summer.

Kathi Ko at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has filed dispatches from the first round of public meetings, and she reports that participants ranged from change-averse to eager for “big and bold ideas.”

Of course, it’s the change-averse who sit on the community boards and are getting most of the local press attention. Queens Community Board 9 transportation committee chair Kenichi Wilson told DOT that “the only way I would support” the project is if it doesn’t affect curbside parking, according to the Queens Chronicle. At an earlier meeting, the first vice chair of Queens CB 10, John Calcagnile, predicted that the elimination of parking to make way for interim bus lanes “will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area.”

Experience with Select Bus Service suggests otherwise. Along Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, parking was eliminated and meters were added to side streets in order to run curbside buses for the city’s first SBS route. Merchants objected at first, but three years later, retail sales had improved 71 percent — triple the borough-wide average.

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Every Bus Should Get Priority at NYC Traffic Signals

Some inexpensive technology could bring some substantial time savings to NYC bus riders. Image: DOT

Some inexpensive technology could bring substantial time savings to NYC bus riders. Image: DOT

New York City buses serve more than two million trips on an average weekday — more than twice the ridership as Los Angeles, which has the nation’s second-largest bus system.

And yet the city’s buses are also notoriously slow and unreliable. Gridlocked traffic, long boarding queues, and the succession of traffic lights bog down surface transit in NYC and keep many New Yorkers from riding the bus. This may be part of the reason why bus ridership has dipped seven percent since 2007, even as subway ridership is up 9 percent.

NYC DOT and the MTA have rolled out seven Select Bus Service lines that bypass congestion with dedicated lanes and tame boarding delays with pre-paid fare collection. The de Blasio administration plans to build out at least 13 more SBS lines — an important effort — but some of these gains in bus speeds can be realized without being tied to an SBS project.

Specifically, DOT could quickly improve bus speeds across the city by making a relatively small investment in traffic signal priority.

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Select Bus Service Launches on 125th Street

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg speaks at today's event marking the launch of Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg speaks at today’s event marking the launch of Select Bus Service on 125th Street. Behind the podium are City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Council Member Mark Levine, Carmen Bianco of New York City Transit, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, and City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: Stephen Miller

On Sunday, Select Bus Service launched on a route that stretches from 125th Street in Harlem to LaGuardia Airport. Public officials marked the occasion — the first SBS route to debut during the de Blasio era — at a Harlem press conference today. With off-board fare collection and dedicated bus lanes (on part of the route), the upgrades will speed cross-town trips for 33,000 bus riders daily, on both the M60 SBS route and local routes that will benefit from the bus lanes only.

Not that long ago, it seemed like SBS on 125th Street might never happen. The bus lanes were originally planned to extend between Second and Morningside Avenues, but after State Senator Bill Perkins led objections to the planning process, the plan was scaled back, calling for bus lanes between Second Avenue and Lenox. The entire project appeared dead soon after, then was revived in October after closed-door meetings with Perkins and other erstwhile opponents.

At today’s press conference, elected officials made the case for extending the bus lanes west to Morningside.

“While it’s a fabulous day for East Harlem, it’s a slightly less wonderful day for Central and West Harlem, because a key feature of this route, which is the bus-only lane you see right here, stops — comes to an abrupt halt — at Lenox Avenue,” said Council Member Mark Levine. ”That’s simply not fair to residents in the western part of this wonderful street.”

Levine, whose call for extending the bus lane was echoed by State Senator Adriano Espaillat, said he hoped that it could be implemented as soon as this fall.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito thinks success on the initial segment will lead to westward expansion. “Once people start using this and really seeing the benefits, you’re going to start getting the support of people asking and clamoring for more,” she said. ”Some of us, we thought this wouldn’t move forward.”

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Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York

atlantic_parking

With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

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You Can Now Bring Street Transformations to Life With Google Street View

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If you ever want to show someone that it’s possible to change streets and cities for the better, Google Street View can now help you do it.

Google recently made it possible to view archived Street View images. This means it’s easier than ever to show what streets looked like before and after a redesign. (Thanks to the Institute for Quality Communities at the University of Oklahoma for bringing our attention to this new feature.)

We were able to animate a few street transformations from around the country with the new Street View feature. Above you can see the arrival of the Indianapolis Cultural Trail on North Street. People for Bikes called the project the second-best protected bike lane in the United States.

Allen Street on New York City’s Lower East Side features one of New York City’s most unique bikeways, which runs in the center of the street and is part of a boulevard-style median, complete with small plazas like this one in what used to be the middle of intersections:

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Trottenberg: The Goal Is to Roll Out 13 New SBS Routes in Four Years

It’s been a big week for buses. Public meetings kicked off for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, signs of SBS are starting to crop up on 125th Street, and news broke that bus lanes are coming to Utica Avenue. After Wednesday’s infrastructure forum, I caught up with Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to discuss the de Blasio administration’s commitment to speed up bus service citywide.

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says New Yorkers should expect 13 more Select Bus Service routes in the next four years. Photo: MTA/Flickr

Trottenberg says she plans to paint the town — or 13 bus routes, at least — red. Photo: MTA/Flickr

During the campaign, de Blasio promised “to phase in the creation of a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 lines.”

Trottenberg said the goal of 20 lines includes existing SBS routes. “The mayor has committed to, in his first term, 20 SBS routes altogether. 125th Street will be number seven, and we’re going to try to do 13 on top of that,” she said.

That’s not quite 20 new full-fledged BRT lines, but 13 routes in four years is a big step up from the current rate of approximately one new SBS route each year.

Select Bus Service includes a number of components to speed bus trips. DOT and the MTA have implemented some of these, like limited-stop service, bus lanes, and transit signal priority, outside of the SBS program. Other upgrades, such as having riders pay at a machine before boarding, are restricted to SBS routes.

Off-board fare collection is unlikely to expand beyond the SBS program anytime soon. Echoing comments made by MTA Chair Tom Prendergast last year, Trottenberg said widespread deployment of fare machines will likely be on hold until at least 2019, when the MTA is scheduled to implement the long-delayed replacement for the MetroCard.

The MTA says each off-board ticket machine costs $25,000, not including installation and maintenance. “We’re trying to be smart,” Trottenberg said. “You don’t want to invest in too many new machines that then maybe we’re going to have to change.”

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State Interference in Nashville BRT Could Have National Implications

Annie Weinstock is the regional director for the U.S. and Africa at the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

Nashville's BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: ITDP

Nashville’s BRT project, the Amp, would devote a small amount of this asphalt to transit. Photo: Wikimedia

Last week saw the quiet death of the misguided, Koch brothers-funded Tennessee Senate Bill 2243, which would have effectively banned real bus rapid transit in Tennessee. The Senate’s outrageous overreach, attempting to prohibit transit from using dedicated lanes, was conferenced with a far milder House bill, and the compromise allows the use of separate lanes — including the center-running transit lanes the Amp BRT project intends to use. However, the bill requires such projects to get approval from the state legislature, even if they don’t use any state funding.

The compromise deal still spells trouble for the 7.1-mile Amp BRT line, but it sets a far less dangerous precedent than the Senate bill. The Senate’s version, one of the most anti-mass transit pieces of legislation in recent memory, would have hurt Nashville and other Tennessee cities environmentally, socially, and economically.

-Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged 5.8 billion in development, while the city’s contribution to the project was only 200 million. Photo: ITDP

Cleveland’s HealthLine BRT, a median-aligned silver-standard corridor on Euclid Avenue, has leveraged $5.8 billion in development, while the total cost of the project was only $200 million. Photo: ITDP

But even though the Senate bill did not fully succeed, this coordinated attack on high quality transit could still have national implications. When the Tennessee Senate first took up the bill, it raised eyebrows nationally for its unusually specific prohibition on “any bus rapid transit system using a separate lane, or other separate right-of-way, dedicated solely to the use of such bus rapid transit system.” Such a direct attack on BRT from a state authority is unprecedented, and is a clear threat to the ability of one of Tennessee’s major cities to remain competitive.

The U.S. is still woefully behind European, Asian, and Latin American cities in building modern and efficient transport innovations such as BRT and bike-share. In the past decade, U.S. cities have finally been waking up to the fact that in order to be modern and economically competitive, they have to make their transportation systems cleaner, more attractive, and more efficient. With much of the electorate opposed to increased taxation, cost-effective BRT represents one of the few areas where the U.S. has made progress.

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Long Arm of the Koch Brothers Extends to Nashville to Slap Down Transit

Fossil fuel billionaires Charles and David Koch are meddling in local Nashville transit politics. Image: screenshot from the “Koch Brothers Exposed” trailer, via Salon

On Tuesday, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean announced that he might do away with dedicated transit lanes on two stretches of the Amp, the proposed seven-mile bus rapid transit line that could set an important precedent for the car-centric city. Dean is the main political backer of the project, so the fact that he’s buckling says something about the mounting pressure to water down or kill the Amp. And that pressure isn’t going to let up any time soon, because Dean and other supporters of effective transit in Nashville are up against opponents with very deep pockets.

Until recently, the anti-transit campaign in Nashville — organized under the umbrella of a group called Stop AMP — seemed like garden variety NIMBYism. Some nearby residents don’t want to transfer any street space from cars to buses, and they had a fitting ringleader in local car dealer Lee Beaman. But when the Tennessee State Senate passed a bill that would ban transit lanes, that raised some eyebrows.

Where did Stop AMP get the muscle to move a bill through the State Senate? “Concerned citizens writing us checks for $100 here, $200 there,” Richard Fulton of Stop AMP told Streetsblog. Fulton is the son of former Nashville mayor and Tennessee state senator Dick Fulton.

Yup, $100 checks — and oh right, a lobbyist paid by the Koch brothers, billionaire funders of the Tea Party movement and smart growth paranoia everywhere. “They do have a lobbyist that has been assisting us and helping lobby but mainly because he’s a citizen of Nashville and against the Amp,” Fulton admitted.

Americans for Prosperity, the most illustrious of the political organizations financed by Charles and David Koch, has a new chapter in Tennessee. It’s just nine months old but with the State Senate vote it already has a big win under its belt.

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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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