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Transit Vote 2016: Indianapolis’s Chance to Get a Real Transit System


The Indy Connect plan would dramatically expand frequent transit routes (in red). Maps: Indy Connect. Click to enlarge.

The presidency and Congress aren’t the only things at stake when voters go to the polls next month. In several cities, people will also be deciding the future of their transit and transportation systems. With the odds of increasing federal transit funding looking remote in gridlocked Washington, these local ballot measures take on even more importance. Before the election, Streetsblog will be looking at what’s at stake in some of the big transit ballot initiatives, starting with Indianapolis.

Indianapolis is a growing city, but the region’s bare-bones transit system is not keeping up. Bus routes that provide service at least every 15 minutes are almost non-existent. Only about 2 percent of the city’s commuters take transit to work, compared to 8 percent in Cincinnati and 18 percent in Pittsburgh.

Voters will have a chance to change that in November when they decide on a major expansion of the region’s transit system, funded by a .25 percent income tax hike. If it passes, the Indy region will dramatically expand frequent bus routes, extend service hours, and build three bus rapid transit lines.

Kevin Kastner, who writes at Urban Indy, says right now the bus system does not provide service that people want to use.

“Every 30 minutes is the best you can do,” he said. “The bus I rode this morning, I don’t want to say it was falling apart, but it was in about as bad a shape as a bus can be.”

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All-Door Boarding Works. Why Won’t the MTA Commit to It on Every Bus?

The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since SBS implementation. Image: DOT

The results are in: M86 buses are moving 8 to 11 percent faster since the implementation of all-door boarding. Image: DOT

Buses on the M86 are moving faster and people have noticed — ridership on the crosstown route is on the upswing again after declining for years.

The improved performance is due mainly to two changes the MTA and DOT launched last year: off-board fare collection with all-door boarding, and “queue jumps” at two locations that let buses move up to the front of the line at traffic lights. With faster boarding and less time in traffic, buses are traveling eight to 11 percent faster, and ridership is up about 10 percent from the previous year, according to the agencies [PDF].

These are the same kind of improvements that the NYC Bus Turnaround coalition wants to apply across the whole system. But while DOT has indicated that it supports more queue jumps, the MTA has refused to get behind the idea of all-door boarding on every bus.

Faster boarding is a big deal because the current boarding process, where riders dip a MetroCard or pay in cash one by one, significantly slows down buses. On the B44, for example, buses used to spend more than a quarter of the time stopping to pick up and drop off passengers. After the implementation of all-door boarding and off-board fare collection, that process became 40 percent faster [PDF].

As the MTA considers bids for its new fare payment system, advocates have called on the agency to ensure the system has the necessary technology for all-door boarding. That technology, electronic proof of payment, would allow riders to “tap-and-go” at bus stops or as they board.

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MTA: Don’t Ask Us to Do More for NYC Bus Riders

NYC's buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership in New York City has steadily declined since 2002, and bus riders put up with the slowest average speeds in the nation. But the MTA is in no hurry to fix the problem.

At a City Council hearing this morning, MTA representatives touted the agency’s piecemeal efforts to improve bus service while pushing back against recommendations from transit advocates to address the entire bus system.

Advocacy organizations with the NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition have called for a citywide overhaul of NYC buses. While the scale of their proposal is large, many of the solutions they put forward can be implemented in, say, a single Andrew Cuomo term as governor.

Today, transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and other council members pushed MTA and DOT officials to adopt a comprehensive approach to solve the problems facing the city’s bus system. The MTA insisted that it’s already doing what it can to turn around bus service.

Transit advocates want the MTA to do more, faster. “What we’re calling for in this campaign is much more widespread implementation of those solutions and implementation much more quickly than we’ve been seeing,” TransitCenter’s Tabitha Decker said at a rally before the hearing.

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How Bad Is Bus Service on Your Route? Check This Web Site and See

Just how bad do bus riders have it in NYC? Today the transit advocates with the Bus Turnaround campaign launched a web site that lets you look up any route in the system and see how it performs. Spend a few minutes on the site and you’ll see why ridership has fallen 16 percent citywide since 2002.

There’s a fun (if you can call it that) visualization of the headaches a New Yorker must deal with on a typical bus trip — unpredictable arrivals, slow boarding, frequent stops — and a hypothetical look at the same trip on an improved system where buses are on time, direct, and don’t get bogged down in traffic.

The main feature of the site, though, is a report card for every route, with data on bus speed, bunching, and ridership. You can look up the buses you ride on regular basis or click on routes anywhere in the city. One pattern that emerges — the routes that the most people rely on are doing the worst.

The report cards are based on MTA Bus Time information — a testament to the power of open data.

The Bus Turnaround website was announced at a morning rally where advocats, electeds, and straphangers called for the MTA and NYC DOT to make citywide improvements to the bus network, ahead of a City Council hearing on the subject. Stay tuned for coverage of the hearing later today.


Queue Jumps: A Simple Fix to Speed Up NYC’s Buses

With the City Council set to take on NYC’s declining bus service tomorrow morning, here’s a look at one of the many strategies DOT and the MTA can employ to speed up the city’s slowest-in-the-nation buses: queue jumps.

Queue jumps give buses a green light before other vehicles at an intersection, often via a dedicated “queue jump lane” that allows buses to skip to the front of the line. Using footage from Seattle, Streetfilms’ Clarence Eckerson put together this short to demonstrate the concept.

There are already a few queue jumps in NYC — on the M86 Select Bus Service route, for example — but there should be a lot more of them. In its recent Mobility Report, DOT showed that it can now pinpoint specific street segments where buses get slowed down. These are locations where targeted improvements like queue jumps can make a big difference.

If DOT and the MTA think big about how to turn around NYC bus service, they’ll identify intersections all over town where buses should get a queue jump.


Will the MTA Deliver Bus Service That People Want to Use?

“You have to have a mass transit system that people want to use,” Governor Cuomo asserted at a transportation-themed press event today. At least he got that much right.

USB ports aren’t going to turn around NYC’s troubled bus system.

Cuomo’s transit announcements tend to glorify grand edifices like a new Penn Station train hall, boondoggles like a roundabout AirTrain link to LaGuardia by way of Flushing, or bells and whistles like charging ports and Wi-Fi on buses. The nuts and bolts of transit service “that people want to use” don’t get much attention from the man in charge of the MTA.

The neglect of core service is most apparent in the deterioration of New York City’s bus system. Since 2002, bus ridership in New York has fallen 16 percent, even as population and jobs have rapidly grown. At an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, the MTA operates the slowest bus service in America. Riders can’t rely on buses to come at regular intervals instead of clumped in bunches with long gaps between arrivals.

In a recent report [PDF], TransitCenter prescribes a comprehensive approach to turn around NYC bus service, recommending changes to streets, signals, bus routes, fare payment, and dispatching that will make buses run faster and more reliably.

A coalition of advocates has urged NYC DOT (which controls the streets and signals) and the MTA (which controls the rest) to embrace those recommendations. At a City Council hearing tomorrow, both agencies are expected to testify about how they plan to tackle the problem of poor bus service.

So far, the response from DOT has been promising, TransitCenter reports, but the MTA has not acknowledged the scale of what needs to be done.

Read more…


MTA Bus Driver Kills Anna Colon, 73, on the Lower East Side

An MTA bus driver struck and killed Anna Colon on East Houston Street this morning. The white arrow indicates the direction the victim was walking and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver struck and killed Anna Colon on East Houston Street this morning. The white arrow indicates the direction the victim was walking and the red arrow indicates the approximate path of the driver. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver killed a senior on the Lower East Side this morning.

Anna Colon, 73, was crossing East Houston Street north to south at around 9:50 a.m. when the driver, who was also southbound, hit her while turning left from Avenue D onto East Houston, according to NYPD.

“[The light] was about to turn red when she was crossing the street,” a witness told the Daily News. “The bus was turning and it ran her over. The bus dragged her body for a few feet.”

Anna Colon. Photo via DNAinfo

Anna Colon. Photo via DNAinfo

Colon died at the scene. The NYPD public information office had no details on who had the right of way. A police spokesperson said the investigation was ongoing.

East Houston at Avenue D is a wide two-way street with concrete medians in the crosswalks. Drivers injured 15 people walking at the intersection between 2009 and 2015, and had injured one other person there this year as of August, according to city crash data.

Another witness told the News that speeding, inattentive bus drivers are a hazard in the area.

“I feel afraid every time I cross that corner. I hold my breath and keep an eye out for a bus,” said local resident Rosalind Collazo. “The buses go fast and don’t stop. It’s not the buses, the cars go fast too. They do U-turns when they are not supposed to.”

Today’s crash was the first pedestrian fatality caused by an MTA bus driver in 2016, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog.

The Amalgamated Transit Union says wide A pillars and poorly-designed mirrors on U.S. buses impede driver vision. The ATU has called for a design fix to reduce the number of pedestrians struck by bus drivers.

Anna Colon was killed in the 9th Precinct, where officers ticket an average of one motorist a day for failing to yield, and in the City Council district represented by Rosie Mendez.

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Want Better Bus Service? Share Your “Woes on the Bus” With NYC Electeds

NYC's buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

If you’ve ever taken a New York City bus, you probably have a horror story. Maybe you were late to school thanks to a double-parked motorist idling in the bus lane, or missed an appointment after you waited 20 minutes for a bus to show up, then three arrived all at the same time, already packed with riders. Now you can tell your elected representatives to fix these problems via the Riders Alliance’s “Woes on the Bus” campaign.

With an average speed of 7.4 miles per hour, NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. The good news is that there are lots of proven ideas to turn around the system. A coalition of transit advocates is calling for “tap and go” fare collection and all-door boarding, more dedicated bus lanes, improved dispatching and scheduling practices, and the redesign of the city’s bus network, which hasn’t changed much since the streetcar era.

To win those improvements, advocates have to convince elected officials to make them happen, but a lot of New York pols don’t have bus horror stories, because they don’t ride the bus. If they did, they wouldn’t be promoting Wi-Fi and charging stations as “21st century transportation” or attempting to thwart dedicated bus lanes.

As part of the campaign to turn around NYC bus service, the Riders Alliance wants to hear your “Woes on the Bus” horror stories, which will help make the case for change to elected officials.

You can submit your stories on the Riders Alliance website, and they’ll be compiled and shared with elected officials.

In the meantime, stay tuned next Thursday, when the City Council transportation committee will hold an important oversight hearing on NYC bus service.

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NYC Buses: Time for a Turnaround

New Yorkers take 2.5 million rides on the city’s buses every day. While NYC’s buses provide essential transit, especially in areas beyond the reach of the subway, they are among the nation’s slowest and least reliable.

Now a coalition of transit advocates are promoting practical strategies to improve the performance of NYC buses systemwide.

Transit advocates knew something was wrong when they observed declining bus ridership despite increasing population, a growing economy, and record-high subway ridership. To figure out what could be done about it, they spoke to industry experts and researched successful efforts in peer cities to identify common sense solutions to NYC’s bus problems. This research is summarized in their report “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses”.

The bus system faces big challenges, but these challenges have clear, proven solutions. By transforming how riders get on and off the bus, designing streets to prioritize buses, adopting better methods to keep buses on schedule, and redesigning the bus network and routes, policy makers in city government and the MTA can turn around the decline of the city’s buses and attract riders back to the system.

We’ll get to see how serious public officials are about tackling these problems on October 6, when the City Council transportation committee holds an oversight hearing on how to improve the quality of NYC bus service.

This Streetfilm was produced in partnership with TransitCenter, the second in a series of four films examining transit in American cities. If you enjoyed this one, check out the first film, “High Frequency: Why Houston is Back on the Bus.”


A Closer Look at How the L Train Shutdown Will Disrupt Transit Trips

This diagram shows the alternate routes commuters would have to take to travel between L Train stops. Image: BRT Planning International

Without L train service in Manhattan, trips that used to be a one-seat ride between these origins (y-axis) and destinations (x-axis) will involve multiple transfers and/or long walks. Image: BRT Planning International

The 18-month shutdown of the L train between North Brooklyn and Eighth Avenue may be three years away, but officials still have to move quickly to help hundreds of thousands of L passengers get where they need to go. So far, city officials and the MTA have yet to provide much in the way of specifics.

To get a better sense of how transit service should adapt for the L shutdown, Annie Weinstock and Walter Hook of BRT Planning International analyzed how the loss of the L train west of Bedford Avenue would affect trip times if no measures are taken. Trips between Brooklyn and Manhattan that are currently a one-seat ride will become far more convoluted and inconvenient, as you can see in the top matrix.

Translated into time lost, the effect is most severe for L train riders who cannot conveniently connect to other subway lines at Myrtle/Wyckoff or Broadway Junction. You can see in the matrix below (which includes travel times between a sample of L train stations and other stations) that people by the Brooklyn stops west of Myrtle/Wyckoff are most affected.

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