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B44 Moving 15-30 Percent Faster After Select Bus Service Upgrades

Total travel times have gone down since the implementation of Select Bus Service on the B44 route. Image: DOT/MTA

Total travel times have improved 15-30 percent since the implementation of Select Bus Service on the B44. Image: DOT/MTA

As bus speeds decline in NYC, the few routes that are getting dedicated bus lanes and off-board fare collection are bucking the trend. The newest evidence comes from the B44 route along Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue in Brooklyn, where buses are moving 15-30 percent faster since NYC DOT and the MTA upgraded the line to Select Bus Service, according to an update the agencies released yesterday [PDF]. Ridership on the route increased in 2015, going against the borough-wide pattern, following years of ridership losses before and during SBS implementation.

SBS upgrades make routes faster and more reliable via camera-enforced bus lanes, off-board fare collection, bus bulbs that expand waiting areas and enable bus drivers to make stops without pulling in and out of traffic, stop consolidation, and traffic signals that prioritize buses. On the B44, which runs between Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg, total northbound travel times improved 31 percent during the morning peak and 20 percent in the evening after SBS launched. Southbound travel times improved by 19 percent in the morning and 15 percent in the evening.

The SBS improvements reduced the amount of time B44 buses spend motionless at stops, traffic lights, and stuck behind general traffic. While total time in motion before and after SBS remained relatively steady on the B44, it now accounts for 57 percent of travel time, compared to 45 percent before implementation.

The most substantial reductions in travel time occurred where dedicated bus lanes were installed, primarily north of the intersection of Nostrand and Flatbush Avenue. Between Flatbush and Fulton Street, where most of the bus lanes were installed, northbound travel times improved by 37 percent in the morning and 33 percent in the evening. (The lack of bus lanes on the southern part of the route shows: The agencies note that overall B44 speeds are lower than on other bus lines where DOT installed dedicated lanes along the entire route.)

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Streetsblog USA
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Send Us Your Nominations for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

Last year's winner: this sorry bus stop in greater St. Louis

Last year’s winner, a very sorry bus stop on Lindbergh Boulevard in greater St. Louis.

Streetsblog’s “Sorriest Bus Stop in America” contest is back by popular demand.

Last year, readers nominated dozens of forlorn bus stops to call attention to the daily indignities and dangers that bus riders have to put up with. This sad, windswept patch of grass between two highway-like roads in a St. Louis inner suburb took the prize.

We’ve been hearing from readers and transit advocates who want another shot to name and shame the public agencies who’ve let bus stops go to seed. So the Sorriest Bus Stop competition is back. (If you have a great bus stop you want to recognize, don’t worry, we’ll cover that in a different competition later this year.)

We’ll be doing the contest as a Parking Madness-style, 16-entry single elimination bracket. Below is an early submission from downtown Austin and reader Chris McConnell, who says, “This has to be the saddest #busstop in Austin. It has no shade, no seating, and no stop ID for checking times. AND it’s at the main transfer point downtown. FAIL.”

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MTA Says Proof of Payment May Increase Fare Evasion, History Says Otherwise

The introduction of the MTA's "Eagle Team," which checks for fare compliance on city bus routes, has resulted in a decrease in fare evasion. Image: MTA

The introduction of proof of payment on Select Bus Service routes has resulted in less fare evasion, not more. Image: MTA

Last week, transit advocates called on the MTA to ensure that its next-generation fare payment system allows for “electronic proof of payment” on buses. By enabling bus riders to board without dipping a farecard or carrying a paper receipt, such a system would simplify and speed up the boarding process, saving passengers time on every route in the city.

In response, the MTA cited the “threat of fare evasion” as a reason not to embrace electronic proof of payment. But experience suggests there’s no cause for concern. In fact, in San Francisco and right here in New York, proof of payment systems have led to less fare evasion, not more.

New York’s Select Bus Service routes rely on proof of payment via ticket vending machines and paper receipts to speed up trips. To ensure people don’t cheat the system, inspectors occasionally check for receipts on board. The MTA’s own data show that on these routes, fare evasion is lower with the proof of payment system than without — between 50 and 80 percent lower, depending on the route.

The experience has been similar in San Francisco, where the SF Municipal Transportation Agency implemented proof of payment and all-door boarding on its bus lines in 2012. A 2014 SFMTA report on all-door boarding showed that fare evasion continued to decline after the new fare system was implemented. The rate decreased from 9.5 percent to 7.9 percent between 2009 and 2014.

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Will the MTA Waste Its Opportunity to Save NYC Bus Riders a Ton of Time?

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

Only a few bus routes in NYC, like the B44 Select Bus Service, allow riders to enter at any door. The MTA’s next-generation fare payment system could expand all-door boarding to every route in the city. Photo: Stephen Miller

The MTA’s next-generation fare payment system can greatly speed up buses all over the city by allowing passengers to board much faster, but so far the agency hasn’t required bidders for the fare system contract to include such technology. With proposals due July 13, a coalition led by the Riders Alliance is calling on the MTA to make the most of this opportunity to improve travel times on NYC’s notoriously slow buses.

The system that advocates urge the MTA to adopt, known as “electronic proof of payment,” would allow riders to board without worrying about dipping a farecard or even carrying a paper receipt. Instead, riders could use mobile devices, credit cards, or electronic farecards to pay either before boarding, or by quickly scanning the fare media at any door as they board. The system would be enforced by on-board ticket agents who check whether riders paid their fares.

On crowded bus routes, this would mean a boarding process that currently takes minutes at each stop would only take seconds.

The problem is that electronic proof of payment is not mentioned in the MTA’s request for proposals. Without such a system, the MTA might waste a once-in-a-generation opportunity to improve bus service for millions of passengers each day.

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Ryan Russo on DOT’s “Mobility Report” and the Need for Better Bus Service

bustime_segments

Using vehicle location data from MTA Bus Time, DOT is able to analyze where bus routes need a speed boost with a greater level of specificity. Graphic: NYC DOT

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” [PDF], released earlier this week, is the agency’s first overview of NYC transportation trends in three years. As the number of people and jobs in the city has grown prodigiously in the past five years, DOT reports, the subway system and, increasingly, the bike network have allowed more New Yorkers to get where they need to go. But there are signs of strain — bus ridership is declining and bus speeds are slowing, and traffic congestion in the Manhattan core is rising.

Streetsblog spoke with DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Management & Planning Ryan Russo, who oversees the agency’s long-term strategy and the projects that bring that strategy to fruition, about the report and its implications.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo.

Russo told us what he sees as the big takeaways from the report, why it lends more urgency to the agency’s efforts to improve bus service and bicycling, and how DOT is applying the information it contains. The interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

What are the key themes that come out in this report? Were any of the findings surprising or unexpected?

We think of New York as a built-out place, right? I don’t think people think of it as changing so quickly. And just this half-a-decade is kind of astounding in terms of 500,000 new jobs. You know, many states don’t even have 500,000 jobs, and those are our new jobs. You know, 370,000 new people. And the number of new tourists we have are all the tourists who go to the city of New Orleans in a year.

So that jumped out, that this city’s changed a lot. While we did have the slow down on the streets, all of those new residents, new jobs, new tourists, they all have to move around the city. We did it really on the backs of some wise decisions we made recently, but also decisions that were made a generation ago to reinvest in the transit system.

The subway system has clearly been the workhorse here in serving that growth. We think we’ve been smart and wise in terms of emphasizing the pedestrian environment which helps support transit, building out a bike network, adding bike-share, trying to keep buses moving with the Select Bus Service program and our partnership with New York City Transit. We think DOT has been a pretty big part of this, but it’s really kind of an amazing story that we did all this growth without — you know, we didn’t develop on greenfields in the suburbs, we didn’t build a boatload of parking, and we didn’t add a lot of traffic trips particularly in the core.

I think that’s really the main theme there, but there are these harbingers or challenges that this frames. We all know that the subway system is pretty strapped. And seeing the data now — seeing bus ridership going down, seeing congestion go up — we’re starting to become victims of the success, so we all have to decide together how we’re going to keep this going.

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DOT Mobility Report: As NYC Grows, So Are Transit and Bicycling

nyc_trends

More people and jobs, more subway and bike trips. Note that the subway and bus ridership numbers are annual figures. Graphic adapted from NYC DOT’s Mobility Report.

With New York City’s population swelling to a record size, subways and bikes now account for about 700,000 more trips each day than 16 years ago, according to a new report from NYC DOT [PDF]. Car trips into the Manhattan core, meanwhile, are declining, but so is citywide bus ridership.

DOT’s “New York City Mobility Report” follows in the footsteps of the Bloomberg-era “Sustainable Streets Index” — an annual update on city transportation trends. After skipping two years, DOT is out with its first edition of the report under Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, adding some interesting data.

The stats are a testament to the importance of transit and bicycling to New York’s ability to welcome more people and sustain more economic activity. They’re also sobering. What happens if the subways and streets can no longer keep up with the city’s growth? And why are New Yorkers abandoning the bus?

Ridership is straining the limits of several subway lines, with crowding a frequent source of delays. But capital improvements to increase subway capacity take too long to complete, cost too much, and are backed by a mountain of debt. (Don’t worry, Governor Cuomo’s got this — Wi-Fi and USB ports are on the way.)

The subways are, by and large, beyond the city’s control. But NYC DOT does control the streets, and while the Mobility Report isn’t prescriptive, if you read between the lines the implications are pretty clear.

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Ulrich Back on Board With Woodhaven SBS After DOT Waters Down Turn Bans

DOT has significantly reduced the number of left turn bans in the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service project. Image: DOT

DOT has decided to significantly reduce the number of left turn bans in the Woodhaven Select Bus Service project. Image: DOT

DOT has halved the number of left-turn restrictions and cut about a mile of bus lanes from its plan to enhance bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard.

The changes will dampen the expected improvements in bus speeds and pedestrian safety but have won over Council Member Eric Ulrich, who’s back on board supporting Woodhaven Select Bus Service. Most of the street design, which will add dedicated bus lanes and pedestrian islands along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, remains unchanged since the last iteration of the project, and DOT says the effects will be small.

In January, Ulrich told a meeting of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association — which organized against the plan — that DOT’s proposal “stinks.” Chief among Ulrich’s concerns was a proposed left-turn ban at Jamaica Avenue. “I don’t think it’s good,” he said of the plan. “I think we have to go back to the drawing board.”

Eric Ulrich

Eric Ulrich

It was a disappointing change of stance from an elected official who had been one of the project’s main proponents. In 2014, Ulrich co-authored an op-ed in the Daily News calling for “world-class” bus rapid transit on Woodhaven Boulevard.

Later that year, he told Streetsblog that the project was important to improve safety on Woodhaven, where more people lost their lives than any other street in Queens between July 2012 and December 2014, according to Transportation Alternatives.

“Whatever we’re doing now obviously isn’t working,” Ulrich said at the time.

DOT presented the revised project last week [PDF]. In addition to the left turn at Jamaica Avenue, the updated plan preserves left turns at Pitkin Avenue, Forest Park Drive, Myrtle Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, 67th Road, 62nd Road, and southbound at Rockaway Boulevard — all of which were set for turn bans in the previous iteration of the plan. A section of bus lane between the Belt Parkway and Jamaica Bay has also been cut.

I tweeted at Ulrich to ask if the changes to the project meant he was back on board, to which he responded in the affirmative.

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Will DOT Make Safety Upgrades Over Objections of Sheepshead Bay Cranks?

DOT is reportedly going ahead with a plan add pedestrian space and eliminate B36 turns, including one at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin last December, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

DOT is reportedly going ahead with a plan to add pedestrian space and eliminate B36 turns, including one at the intersection where an MTA bus driver killed Eleonora Shulkin last December, indicated by the red arrows. Image: DOT

Update: DOT confirmed this project is happening.

DOT intends to go ahead with a project to straighten out a bus route and add pedestrian space in Sheepshead Bay, reports the Brooklyn Daily. DOT had let the project stall after Council Member Chaim Deutsch and Community Board 15 opposed it, but after a bus driver killed a pedestrian in December while performing a turn that would have been eliminated under the plan, the improvements now appear to be moving forward.

The plan was first put forward in 2014, when DOT and the MTA proposed eliminating a winding detour on the B36 bus route between E. 17th Street and E. 14th Street, removing bus turns at intersections that see a lot of collisions. Sheepshead Bay Road would be converted to one-way eastbound between Jerome Avenue and E. 14th Street, and a taxi stand would be installed near the B/Q entrance, where livery cab drivers now park illegally to wait for passengers getting off trains.

The plan would also replace a slip lane on E. 17th Street at Sheepshead Bay Road with space for people, and convert one block of E. 15th Street to a public plaza.

Seventy-four people were injured in crashes within the project area between 2009 and 2013, DOT says, and seven people were killed or seriously injured. A driver killed a pedestrian on Avenue Z at E. 15th Street in 2008, according to DOT.

But DOT shelved the plan after CB 15 and Council Member Chaim Deutsch objected to the street design changes and the proposed E. 15th Street plaza. Deutsch said he was concerned about plaza upkeep, and that bus riders would have to walk a block to transfer between the train and the B36. CB 15 chair Theresa Scavo was okay with the taxi stand but otherwise wanted Sheepshead Bay Road to remain as is. “The problem comes down to enforcement,” Scavo told Streetsblog. “If you have proper enforcement, traffic will move on Sheepshead Bay Road.”

Six months later a bus driver making a left turn killed 62-year-old Eleonora Shulkin at Avenue Z and E. 17th Street, an intersection where bus turns would have been eliminated had the redesign been implemented.

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Streetsblog USA
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A New Blueprint for Streets That Put Transit Front and Center

This template shows how transit could be prioritized on a wide suburban-style arterial. Image: NACTO

A template for transit-only lanes and floating bus stops on a wide street with parking-protected bike lanes. Image: NACTO

The National Association of City Transportation Officials has released a new design guide to help cities prioritize transit on their streets.

How can cities integrate bus rapid transit with protected bike lanes? How can bus stops be improved and the boarding process sped up? How should traffic signals be optimized to prioritize buses? The Transit Street Design Guide goes into greater detail on these questions than NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide, released in 2013.

Before the publication of this guide, city transportation officials looking to make streets work better for transit still had to hunt through a few different manuals, said NACTO’s Matthew Roe.

“The kinds of problems that the guide seeks to solve are exactly the kinds of design problems and questions that cities are trying to solve,” said Roe. “How do you get transit to get where it’s going quicker, without degrading the pedestrian environment? Some of that has to do with the details of design.”

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Streetsblog USA
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The Fight for Better Access to Jobs in Detroit and Milwaukee, Using Buses

Low-income residents of Detroit and Milwaukee face formidable obstacles to job access. These two Rust Belt regions are consistently ranked among the most segregated in the country, and neither has a good transit system.

Bus riders in Detroit. Photo: Ditched by DDOT

Bus riders in Detroit. Photo: Ditched By DDOT

In both regions, the places that have been growing and adding jobs fastest have been been overwhelmingly sprawling, suburban areas inaccessible to people without cars.

A 2013 Brookings study ranked Detroit number one in the U.S. in job sprawl. According to that report, 77 percent of the region’s jobs are at least 10 miles outside of downtown. The national average is 43 percent.

Detroit’s woeful job access issues were perhaps best illustrated by James Robertson, a factory worker who commutes to a suburb that “opted out” of the regional transit system. Robertson’s brutal commute went viral, and while it was extreme even for Detroit, it highlighted a disjointed transit network that limits opportunity for many other residents.

Milwaukee faces a similar set of problems. As of December 2014, Milwaukee County had only regained 35 percent of the jobs lost during the recession, while outlying counties had regained 70 percent, according to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analysis. A 2013 study by Public Policy Forum found that about a third of the region’s 29 major job centers were inaccessible by transit. A local civil rights group recently prevailed in a suit against the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for its continued prioritization of costly highway projects at the expense of vital transit connections.

Now, both Detroit and Milwaukee are considering similar measures to improve job access: high-quality bus service that will connect workers from the city to suburban job centers.

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