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Posts from the "Select Bus Service" Category

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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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Will de Blasio Make Good on His Pledge to Build Great Bus Rapid Transit?

During his campaign for mayor, Bill de Blasio called for the creation of a citywide, “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit network consisting of at least 20 routes. These new routes would provide a crucial link for communities beyond the reach of subways and speed trips that are poorly served by the city’s Manhattan-centric rail system.

Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/61135621@N03/10930906743/in/photolist-hDVKKn-hDVKQ2-hDVKJR-hDV4r7-hDVL2K-hDV4d1-hDUmsp-hDV4HE-hDVL3r-hDVKwX-f1oBUU-f1oBKY-byEi8c-bDQkXm-bDQm73-deteve-detdRd-7C9G1Q-dwvtyZ-dwvtG2-aZLEg6-8BGt6h-fsrcaf-bzRdWF-br2R68-ga79rs-ga72Uv-ga76tL-im8tYQ-9cWWhF-842X7k-dbhDNz-iAhMCg-dR7Fb5-f19hpM-f1oBSA-f1oBQf-f19hkg-f19haD-f19hkz-8EYxLP-detcU5-bSK3sg-bDQmdW-fC42nb-fBNERP-9KE38J-daxWUc-9UJNum-br2KDF-br2PpP##MTA/Flickr##

Photo: MTA/Flickr

Now that he is mayor, de Blasio will have to build out new routes much more rapidly than his predecessor if he is to keep his campaign promise.

While de Blasio has not offered a timetable for completing the rapid bus network, it took the Bloomberg administration approximately six years to build the city’s first six Select Bus Service routes.

“It’s possible to pick up the pace,” said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development. “The constraint is staffing.”

The Department of Transportation will likely need more planners and community liaisons in order to work on multiple projects at the same time.

“If you have one team working on planning for SBS, you can get one route done per year. If you have two teams you can get two routes done, and so on,” says Byron.

One key challenge for de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg will be to accelerate the public engagement process while following through on his campaign language about “extending [outreach] beyond the community board.” As public advocate, de Blasio criticized Bloomberg and transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan for moving too fast on major street redesigns. Now that he’s mayor, he will likely have to contend with the opposition that has met previous SBS projects.

It’s not impossible to imagine that future Select Bus Service routes will encounter less friction than before. SBS is now up and running successfully in several neighborhoods, and the concept is no longer new and alien to residents and community boards. There is a clear record of success.

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

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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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New CM Mark Levine Will Push NYC DOT for Full 125th Street SBS Route

The deal that brought 125th Street Select Bus Service back to life last fall didn’t revive the full, cross-town enhanced bus route that was originally on the table. With the current plan calling for bus lanes east of Lenox Avenue only, bus riders who travel to or from West Harlem would still get the short end of the stick. Freshman Council Member Mark Levine wants to change that.

Levine, elected this fall to an Upper Manhattan district that includes West Harlem, made full-length SBS a staple of his campaign. Now that he’s in office, he’s banging the drum for his district’s bus riders. In an interview published on DNAinfo today, reporter Jeff Mays asked Levine, “Where will residents first see your mark as a councilman?”

He responded:

Council Member Mark Levine

Council Member Mark Levine

125th Street is a vital commercial spine and transportation corridor for Upper Manhattan…But the [east-west] bus speed is approximately 3.5 miles per hour. It’s slower than walking. Mass transit is moving at a crawl. This has to change.

There’s a [DOT] proposal out there that could significantly improve transit. [With Select Bus Service], buses get a dedicated lane. Riders pay before they get on the bus and there are other enhancements of speed. Unfortunately the plan they’re implementing has an [SBS] bus only east of Lenox Avenue…the plan is crazy and it’s simply not justifiable based on public policy. I am committed to making the DOT make the bus lane the whole length of 125th Street. I think we could see impact on that early in 2014.

Beyond being a positive sign from an incoming council member, Levine’s push for a better SBS route offers a test for Mayor Bill de Blasio and incoming Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. To make make river-to-river bus lanes happen on 125th Street, City Hall and DOT will run up against the neighborhood’s political establishment, particularly its Albany delegation, which attempted to scuttle SBS in the first place.

De Blasio’s mayoral campaign was all about the hurdles faced by working-class New Yorkers. In his transportation platform, he pledged to build at least 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit lines, and on the air he made the connection between transportation and economic opportunity.

The partial 125th Street SBS route is scheduled for implementation in April. Restoring the full route to West Harlem would be a big improvement, though the bus lanes, which will just be paint on the road, won’t qualify as great BRT. If Trottenberg’s DOT is going to pursue “world-class” BRT in the future, though, a simple first step would be standing up for a complete bus lane on 125th Street sooner rather than later.

Update: If she wants to fast-track West Harlem bus lanes, Trottenberg will have to change DOT’s status quo position when she takes over later this month: “There are no plans to alter these [plans] prior to implementation,” a department spokesperson said in an email. ”We welcome the input of Councilmember Levine and will work closely with him…holding discussions on potential for changes west of Lenox in the future.”

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How to Measure the Economic Effect of Livable Streets

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Retail sales on the section of Columbus Avenue with a protected bike lane (the green line) outperformed retail sales on a parallel stretch of Amsterdam Avenue and an adjacent part of Columbus with no bike lane (the pink line). Image: NYC DOT

When a street redesign to prioritize walking, biking, or transit is introduced, the headlines are predictable: A handful of business owners scream bloody murder. Anecdotes from grumpy merchants tend to dominate the news coverage, but what’s the real economic impact of projects like Select Bus Service, pedestrian plazas, road diets and protected bike lanes? How can it be measured?

A report released by NYC DOT last Friday [PDF] describes a new method to measure the economic effect of street redesigns, using sales tax receipts to compare retail activity before and after a project is implemented. DOT and consultants at Bennett Midland examined seven street redesigns — including road diets, plazas, protected bike lanes, and Select Bus Service routes — and compiled data on retail sales in the project areas as well as similar nearby streets where no design changes were implemented.

While the authors do not claim that all of the improvement in sales is directly caused by street redesigns (there are a lot of factors at work), they did conclude that a street’s “gain in retail sales can at least in part be attributed to changes stemming from the higher quality street environment.” The study also found that the impact becomes apparent relatively quickly: Retailers often see a change in sales within a year of a project being implemented.

While it makes intuitive sense that a better pedestrian environment and high-quality transit and bikeways will draw more foot traffic in a city environment than a car-dominated street, evidence that livable streets are good for business tends to be indirect. Customer intercept surveys have shown that most people in urban areas (including New York) walk, bike, or take transit to go shopping. While customers who drive spend more per trip, they also visit less often than shoppers who don’t drive. The net result: Car-free shoppers spend more than their driving counterparts and have a bigger impact on the bottom line of local businesses. Nevertheless, merchants tend to overestimate the percentage of customers arriving by car and insist on the primacy of car parking as means of access.

With this study, DOT used a third-party data source to see how well sales are actually doing in two large categories: retail outlets like grocery stores, clothing stores and florists, and hospitality services like bars, restaurants, and hotels. The study uses state sales tax receipts because they are available on a quarterly basis can be categorized by business type, allowing for an up-to-date and detailed understanding of how retailers are faring on a particular street. Results can be examined before and after a street design change, and compared with sales trends both borough-wide and and on “control streets” nearby that did not receive street design changes.

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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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With Debut of B44 SBS, Major Brooklyn Bus Route Poised to Draw More Riders

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

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes, off-board fare collection, and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

After years of planning, B44 Select Bus Service launched yesterday on the Nostrand Avenue corridor.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast marked the occasion this afternoon at a newly-expanded bus stop at Church and Nostrand.

The B44, which serves nearly 40,000 riders each weekday along a 9.3-mile route between the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, is the sixth SBS line in the city. The upgrade to B44 limited-stop service adds off-board fare collection, curb extensions at bus stops, priority for buses at stop lights (starting next year), and camera-enforced bus lanes. Funded largely by a $28 million federal grant [PDF], B44 SBS is projected to improve travel times by as much as 20 percent.

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

At today’s presser, Bloomberg stressed the need for data-driven transportation policy. “Everybody has a view whether the traffic is better or worse,” he said. “That’s not a way to measure whether traffic is faster or slower.”

Referring to the other five SBS routes, he said, “These things, it turns out, actually do save time. Buses work better and traffic is better. We’re not just trying to guess.”

DOT released a report [PDF] today compiling data from SBS projects on Fordham Road, Webster Avenue, Hylan Boulevard34th Street, and First and Second Avenues. Since 2008, the city has installed 38 miles of SBS lanes. Bus speeds have increased as much as 23 percent while all SBS routes combined have gained 20,000 daily riders after launching.

SBS stops along Nostrand and Rogers Avenues include WalkNYC wayfinding signs featuring area maps and real-time bus arrival information. (Since Bus Time is not scheduled to launch in Brooklyn and Queens until the first half of next year, the signs do not currently show real-time data.) MTA staff assigned to SBS stops during the launch phase were out today showing riders how to pay their fare before boarding the bus.

Local merchants are hoping the speedier buses will draw more customers from the 300,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of the route. Lindiwe Kamau owns a ceramics shop and serves as president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, which represents retailers between Linden Boulevard and Eastern Parkway. ”We have a lot of merchants who come from out of the area, and they drive, so [parking's] been their main concern,” she told Streetsblog. “We’re trying to support them and turn the situation into a plus.” The association is launching a discount program for riders who show their SBS receipts. So far, 21 businesses have signed up, and Kamau is aiming to involve more retailers before Small Business Saturday on November 30.

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Select Bus Service Comes to Brooklyn

Photo: Ben Fried

Boarding at Nostrand and Flushing on the first day of B44 SBS service. Photo: Ben Fried

Yesterday was the first day of service for Brooklyn’s first Select Bus Service route, upgrading the B44 Limited with a dedicated bus lane, off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and fewer stops. It’s the sixth SBS route to enter service, following two in the Bronx, two in Manhattan, and one in Staten Island.

In addition to improving transit speeds, these measures should help reduce bus bunching on what has been one of the most unreliable routes in the city — in 2009 the B44 took home the Straphangers Campaign Schleppie Award for NYC’s least reliable bus route.

At noon, Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan will announce the launch of the new service, and we’ll have a report from the presser later today. Just a note for now about how the coverage of this bus upgrade is playing out: Whenever a new SBS route launches, it takes some time for people to acclimate, and the first stories tend to zero in on how riders have trouble adjusting to the payment system or the elimination of stops. It’s not until several months later, maybe a year, that the performance metrics come in, showing better bus speeds and increased ridership.

The changes to the B44 are more significant than other SBS projects because northbound service is switching from New York Avenue to Rogers and Bedford Avenues, which are wider, one-way streets that can more readily accommodate transit lanes and bus bulbs. (The local B44 northbound will remain on New York, where it provides direct access to Kings County Hospital.) So there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke to two women, Gem and Meg (they swore those were their real names and the palindrome was a coincidence), who were getting off a northbound B44 SBS bus at Fulton Street. They were returning from a trip to visit family at Nostrand and Flatbush, about three and a half miles away. Most passengers were confused about how to pay fares, they said, but the trip was still about 10 minutes faster than it used to be.