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TSTC and Manhattanites Call for Port Authority to Improve Bus Facilities

TSTC's Veronica Vanterpool, center, and CB 4 chair Christine Berthet, to her right, outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal today. Photo: Madeline Marvar/TSTC

TSTC’s Veronica Vanterpool, center, and CB 4 chair Christine Berthet, to her right, outside the Port Authority Bus Terminal today. Photo: Madeline Marvar/TSTC

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign joined locals in Hell’s Kitchen today to call on the Port Authority to invest in improved and expanded bus facilities to relieve pressure on local streets.

With no more space left in the authority’s existing facilities, a growing number of buses are parked by curbs near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Locals and advocates have long urged the Port Authority to remove idle buses from neighborhood streets and improve conditions for bus riders with a new garage and renovations to the terminal.

“The asthma rate for our children is the third highest in Manhattan,” said Christine Berthet, chair of Manhattan Community Board 4 and co-founder of CHEKPEDS, in a written statement. “Bus gridlock prevents pedestrians from crossing the streets and retail stores see their revenues plummet. With each residential tower replacing a bus parking lot, the problem has escalated to crisis proportions.”

Today’s event took place before the Port Authority board was scheduled to vote on the 2014-2023 capital program.

“Every day, more than 8,500 buses carry nearly 400,000 people through the PABT and the GWBBS [George Washington Bridge Bus Station] so it’s baffling that there are no funds in the next capital program for a new bus garage or improvements to the bus terminal,” said Veronica Vanterpool, TSTC executive director.

A billion-dollar bus garage was proposed in the authority’s 2007-2013 capital program, but the project was dropped in 2009, Vanterpool told Streetsblog. The authority is looking to build a 100-spot garage annex on W. 39th Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, but that proposal is dependent on a federal grant. It’s also much smaller than the garage that was shelved by the authority, Vanterpool said.

Vanterpool noted that the authority can make year-to-year budget and capital spending adjustments, which leaves room for bus improvements to resurface.

“The annex is certainly something that will help,” said Vanterpool, “but the Port Authority needs to revisit its priorities and start making capital investments for buses.” 

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11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds“ surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible ”headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

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Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99″ to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

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When Will Select Bus Service Get Its Flashing Lights Back?

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the program included blue flashing lights on the front of each bus to help riders distinguish the service from local buses. This is particularly important for Select Bus Service, since most SBS routes require riders to pay their fare at a machine before boarding. The flashing lights help riders know whether they’re boarding an SBS bus, with its special payment system, or a local bus.

The lights have been turned off since last January, thanks to Staten Island legislators. This year, bills to restore the lights have been stuck in committee in Albany, though Manhattan Community Board 6 is trying to generate some momentum with a resolution in support of the lights.

A bus at the 2008 launch event for the city’s first Select Bus Service line, with flashing blue lights. Photo: Brad Aaron

When SBS expanded to Staten Island’s Hylan Boulevard in 2012, Council Member Vincent Ignizio, who badgered the city into watering down the Hylan route until it no longer included median bus lanes, began complaining about the lights, claiming that drivers could get confused between a bus and an emergency vehicle. Citing a state law that reserves the use of flashing blue lights for emergency vehicles, Ignizio and State Senator Andrew Lanza got the MTA to shut the lights off in January 2013.

Seeking a solution, legislators in Albany drafted a bill to bring the lights back after the DMV designated purple as the only option for the buses. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner even crafted their bills to exclude the Hylan SBS route, the only one in the city without pay-before-boarding fare machines.

Lanza and Ignizio scoffed. “At first I thought they were joking,” Lanza told the Times. “This is the best you come back with? Flashing purple?” The bill failed to clear committees in either chamber last year. “You don’t need a flashing light,” Lanza told MTA chairman Tom Prendergast at his confirmation hearing last June.

Representatives of other areas with Select Bus Service think otherwise. Last year, Council Members Dan Garodnick and Melissa Mark-Viverito sent a letter to the MTA urging for the lights to return. Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution asking the state legislature to bring back the blue lights.

On Monday, CB 6′s transportation committee advanced another resolution asking the legislature to pass a bill allowing purple lights. The resolution passed the full board yesterday [PDF]. The Klein and Kellner bills were reintroduced in January, but haven’t advanced passed committee. Will Albany take this small, painless step to make life less stressful for bus riders?

This post has been modified to correctly characterize the resolutions passed by CB 6.

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Eyes on the Street: Real-Time Bus Arrival Display on Nostrand Ave [Updated]

bus_stop

New York finally has real-time bus arrival information and excellent route maps posted at bus stops. Or rather, at least one bus stop has this info, and it looks like the kind of thing that should spread to a lot more bus stops.

NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt posted this photo on Twitter over the weekend, when Bus Time went live in Brooklyn and Queens, bringing real-time arrival information to every borough. This display is at the Church Avenue stop for southbound Nostrand Avenue B44 Select Bus Service.

The bus arrival screen is integrated into one of NYC DOT’s WalkNYC wayfinding boards, which has also been customized with B44 route maps. The display shows how many stops away the next four arrivals are — both local and SBS buses. After years of looking jealously at other cities’ real-time bus stop displays, NYC seems to be on the verge of catching up.

It’s unclear how rapidly the displays will be rolled out. The WalkNYC maps are currently in four neighborhoods. We have a request in with DOT about whether the Bus Time-enabled displays will be coming to more bus stops.

Update: DOT says this is a prototype installed last fall for the launch of B44 SBS, with the arrival info switched on when Bus Time went live this weekend. The prototype is still being tested so there’s no timetable yet for a full rollout, but the plan is to eventually bring these displays to all SBS routes, starting with the B44, M34, and M60.

I went over to Church and Nostrand this afternoon and got a few more up-close shots of the display. (Sidenote: The parking situation on this stretch of Nostrand and Rogers is literally a free-for-all. No meters, double-parking everywhere, drivers bypassing the stopped vehicles by violating the bus lane. To make SBS work as well as it should here, there needs to be a price on the curb.)

Take a look:

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The Tappan Zee Transit Task Force Has Issued Its Report. Now What?

Looks nice, but will the state follow through on building this system before the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in 2018? Map: New NY Bridge

Nice transit map, but will it be complete when the new Tappan Zee Bridge opens in four years? Map: New NY Bridge

On Friday, the Tappan Zee Mass Transit Task Force released its final report [PDF], recommending bus improvements across Westchester and Rockland counties that could be completed when the new Hudson River span opens in 2018. But the path to implementation is vague at best. If these bus upgrades are going to materialize, task force members say it’s up to the governor to push for them.

The transit task force, created by Governor Cuomo in exchange for the backing of his bridge replacement plan by county executives more than 18 months ago, represents the first regional transit planning for the area since the governor ended previous Tappan Zee replacement studies three years ago.

Calling transit one of the “obstacles to building a replacement for the TZB,” the report says, “Governor Cuomo decided to put the development of transit proposals on a separate track from the bridge replacement project.”

The plan released Friday calls for a watered-down version of Bus Rapid Transit, with the potential for future bus or rail expansions after 2018. It is short on details about cost, funding, and implementation.

The bus system would use 50 buses on seven routes. Every route would have buses arrive every 10-15 minutes during peak hours and every 20-30 minutes at other times. The routes are focused on the I-287 corridor and downtown White Plains, with a few spurs to nearby destinations, plus Yonkers and the Bronx. The new system is expected to attract 10,150 new riders daily and speed bus trips by 25 percent on local roads and 20 percent on I-287.

Capital improvements to increase bus speed focus mostly on queue-jump lanes, which allow buses to get a head-start on traffic at red lights at selected intersections, and transit signal priority, which can hold green lights for buses.

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80-Year-Old Pedestrian and MTA Bus Driver Killed in Separate Crashes

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. He was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. Image: Google Maps

Senior Margarita Seda was killed in the middle of the day by a driver making a left turn at a signalized intersection with marked crosswalks. The driver was cited for careless driving and failure to yield. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to reports. Image: Google Maps

In the last 24 hours, an 80-year-old pedestrian and an MTA bus driver were killed in crashes in Brooklyn and Manhattan.

At around 1:35 p.m. Tuesday, Margarita Seda was struck by the driver of a GMC vehicle as she crossed Grand Street at Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, according to WCBS and the Daily News. WCBS reported that Seda was crossing Grand north to south when the driver, traveling north on Graham, struck her while making a left turn onto Grand. Seda suffered head injuries and died at Bellevue Hospital.

The unnamed motorist was summonsed for careless driving and failure to yield to a pedestrian.

Grand Street and Graham Avenue are two-lane streets that meet at a signalized intersection, and there is strong evidence that the victim was in the crosswalk and had a walk signal, based on published reports and the fact that NYPD cited the driver. If it occurred as described, yesterday’s crash appears nearly identical to the one that killed Maude Savage, the 72-year-old who was hit by an unlicensed driver last November while crossing with the signal at Sutter and Euclid Avenues in East New York. The man who killed Savage was charged criminally, but only because he was driving without a license.

This type of crash is not rare. At least 30 NYC pedestrians and cyclists have been killed by turning motorists since January 2013, and for the most part the drivers were breaking the law by failing to yield. As we wrote after Savage’s death, that this deadly behavior does not apparently meet the standard of criminal negligence is a sign that New York’s criminal justice system is failing to hold drivers accountable for killing law-abiding pedestrians.

The crash that killed Margarita Seda occurred in the City Council district represented by Antonio Reynoso, and in the 90th Precinct, where in 2013 local officers cited 35 drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians, and wrote 311 speeding tickets.

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Was the Victim of the Jackson Heights MTA Bus Crash Jaywalking? [Updated]

Crash site, from bus driver's point of view. Image: Google Maps

Crash site, from the bus driver’s point of view. Image: Google Maps

Update: NYPD identified the victim as Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, according to the Times Ledger.

A pedestrian was killed by a Q53 bus driver in Jackson Heights Monday afternoon.

Some published reports say the woman was hit near 74th Street and Broadway, but photos of the scene and the Q53 route map indicate that the crash occurred as the bus driver was turning right from Roosevelt Avenue onto Broadway. FDNY got the call at 5:56 p.m. 

From DNAinfo:

The front window of the bus next to the driver was cracked from the impact and the body of the woman lay under the vehicle near the right front tire a half-hour after the crash.

Commuters heading home after work saw the crash and immediately alerted police, but the woman could not be revived, witnesses said.

“People started screaming,” Carlos Mesia, 28, who saw the woman hesitate before stepping into the street.

He turned away for a moment and heard the bus’s brakes screech. When he turned back, the vehicle rocked like it had just hit a bump.

WCBS reported that the victim, whose name has not been released, was crossing Broadway from west to east. If this is correct — again, judging by photos taken at the scene — she would have been in or near the crosswalk, with the bus to her left. The intersection of Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway is under the elevated 7 track, and there is a stanchion on the southwest corner. On the stanchion is a sign alerting drivers turning right from Roosevelt onto Broadway to yield to pedestrians. Unless there is an exclusive turn phase there, if the driver had a green light, the victim probably also had the signal.

Roosevelt Avenue at Broadway. Image: Google Maps

Roosevelt Avenue at Broadway. Image: Google Maps

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For One Reckless Driving Survivor, “Life Looks a Lot Different Than Before”

Traffic fatality numbers usually get the headlines, but as a measure of how safe or dangerous it is to walk and bike, injuries are the more stable metric. Since 2003, according to state DMV data, an average of just under 14,000 people were injured by motorists while walking and biking in the city each year.

Lalita Rao. Photo: Brad Aaron

Lalita Rao, left, with her daughter Amita. Photo: Brad Aaron

Of the 38 pedestrian and cyclist injury crashes in NYC on an average day, few are investigated by NYPD. Not all pedestrian and cyclist injuries are classified as “serious,” but traffic violence disrupts the lives of thousands of victims — and their loved ones — permanently. For every victim’s story the public sees or hears in the press, dozens go untold.

On May 28 of last year, Lalita Rao was walking home from Elmhurst Hospital, where she worked, when she was hit by a school bus driver making a turn. Lalita got up from the pavement and, believing she was not seriously hurt, was prepared to continue on her way. The bus driver, too, was about to leave the scene before a neighbor intervened. Responders arrived, and Lalita was taken back to Elmhurst, where she would undergo emergency brain surgery to save her life.

Lalita, who spoke at the Elmhurst pedestrian injury summit in December, suffered two brain hematomas. “The fact that I am alive is a miracle,” she said. “I never thought my life would change totally like this.”

Before the crash, Lalita ran every day — she’s run the New York marathon. She was a gardening enthusiast and loved to cook. She traveled a lot. After the crash, Lalita had to relearn how to walk, and how to use her arms and hands. She uses a walker now, and even so needs help keeping her balance. She suffered a seizure and may be on seizure medication the rest of her life.

Lalita can’t cook anymore because of her unstable balance. She can no longer tend to her garden. “Instead of going to work,” she said, “I go to rehab twice a day.”

According to Lalita, the driver who hit her was talking on a cell phone. Because of this, and since there were children on the bus at the time of the crash, she said the bus driver lost his job. But he was not arrested for hitting Lalita, and she does not know if he got a traffic ticket. Lalita and her family members said they didn’t hear much from NYPD after the crash.

“Because of a distracted driver,” said Lalita, “I need help for everything. I went from being independent to total dependency.”

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Manhattan Bus Routes Sweep the 2013 Pokey and Schleppie Awards

The Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives today handed out their annual awards for the slowest and least reliable NYC buses, with Manhattan routes taking the honors.

Photo: ##http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/12/01/manhattans-m50-crosstown-bus-wins-pokey-award/##WCBS##

Photo: WCBS

The M42 and the M50 tied for the 2013 Pokey award. Each crosstown bus was clocked at 3.4 miles per hour at noon on a weekday. That’s slower than a wooden row boat “in still water without wind,” according to a press release announcing the awards. In 2012, the M42 and M50 transported 14,829 and 3,383 riders, respectively, on an average weekday.

The B41 Limited (5.7 mph), the Bx19 (4.9 mph), the Q58 (7 mph), and the S48 (7.7 mph) were the slowest buses in Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island.

Taking home the Schleppie for least reliable bus this year was the M101/2/3. More than 30 percent of the route’s buses were bunched or separated by gaps, Straphangers and TA said.

In 2012, the M101 moved 29,341 riders on an average weekday, the M102 had 15,284 riders, and the M103 transported 12,548 people.

Other least reliable buses, according to Straphangers and TA: the Bx55 in the Bronx, the S74 in Staten Island, the B44 in Brooklyn, and the Q85 in Queens.

The Pokeys always make for a theatrical set piece underscoring the need to upgrade conventional bus routes. Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio has pledged to build a Bus Rapid Transit network of more than 20 lines. This week the Pratt Center for Community Development unveiled a plan for eight potential routes featuring separated busways with platform-level boarding.