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DOT Scraps Bus Lanes in Kew Gardens Hills for Flushing-Jamaica SBS

This afternoon, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires DOT to work with the MTA on a citywide Bus Rapid Transit plan to be updated every two years. The vote came a day after DOT told bus lane opponents in eastern Queens that it will water down a Select Bus Service proposal in their neighborhood.

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I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman.

In many ways, the new bill codifies much of the city’s existing BRT planning process. It requires DOT to work with the MTA on a 10-year blueprint for the city’s BRT network updated every two years, taking into consideration the city’s land development patterns and including estimates of how much it will cost to build and operate the routes.

The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, passed 49-1. The lone vote against it: I. Daneek Miller, who objects to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the Q44 between Flushing and Jamaica.

“He supports BRT,” said Miller spokesperson Ali Rasoulinejad. “It’s not so much with BRT as it is with the way this process is conducted… If this is the way this process is going to happen, where community voices are not going to be heard, we might not be ready for it.”

Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment. He also cited the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces and said Miller would like the MTA to focus on other projects, like replacing an over-capacity bus depot in his district. (Before joining the City Council, Miller served as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1056.)

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

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Harlem Bus Lane Foes: Good Streets for Bus Riders “Trampling Our Liberties”

Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Camera-enforced bus lanes have trampled on the freedom to double-park on 125th Street. Photo: NYC DOT/MTA [PDF]

Community board meetings in central Harlem have officially gone off the deep end.

A DOT plan to extend bus lanes and add turn restrictions on 125th Street was shouted down last night by the same hecklers who have filibustered street safety improvements at Community Board 10 for years. Noticeably absent from last night’s meeting: People who ride the bus on 125th Street.

Bus lanes on 125th Street have already sped up bus trips east of Lenox Avenue. Extending them west to Morningside Avenue would spare tens of thousands of bus riders from getting stuck in traffic. Council Member Mark Levine, who represents the western end of 125th, is a big backer of the bus lanes, while Council Member Inez Dickens, who represents the middle section of the street and is closely tied to CB 10, is not.

Last night’s ridiculousness crescendoed when onetime City Council candidate and regular community board attendee Julius Tajiddin channeled Patrick Henry to make his case against dedicating street space to bus riders. “Your progress is trampling on our liberties,” he said. “Give us freedom!” The three-quarters of Harlem households who don’t own cars probably have a different take on “freedom” than Tajiddin.

CB 10 chair Henrietta Lyle nodded in agreement. “It’s a lack of respect… It’s almost like the project is going to go with or without our approval,” she said earlier in the meeting. “It doesn’t take into consideration the cars, the trucks, the tour vans on 125th Street.”

DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione said that while DOT intends to expand bus lanes this summer, it is willing to make tweaks in response to CB 10’s concerns. For example, she said, the agency had already removed proposed left turn bans at St. Nicholas Avenue, and is willing to toss out additional turn restrictions if CB 10 makes even an informal request.

MTA officials had less patience for last night’s nonsense. “Freedom is the ability to get across 125th Street 33 percent faster on a bus,” said Evan Bialostozky, senior transportation planner at MTA New York City Transit.

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Bed-Stuy CB Freaks Out Over Adding Pedestrian Space to Fulton and Utica

Giving more space to pedestrians at a busy transfer point between the bus and the subway? Brooklyn CB 3 isn't interested. Image: DOT [PDF]

Giving more space to pedestrians at a busy transfer point between the bus and the subway? Brooklyn CB 3 isn’t interested. Image: DOT [PDF]

Creating more space for pedestrians at a dangerous, crowded transfer point between bus lines and the subway — sounds like a no-brainer, right? Not at Brooklyn Community Board 3, where the default position is to reflexively reject even the smallest street safety change.

Fulton Street and Utica Avenue are both dangerous streets that the de Blasio administration has targeted at Vision Zero priority corridors in need of safety improvements. There were 58 traffic injuries at the intersection of the two streets between 2009 and 2013, according to DOT.

DOT is proposing to replace “slip lanes,” which allow drivers to make quick right turns from Fulton Street to Utica Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard, with sidewalk extensions that would tighten turns and shorten crossing distances. The additional space would reduce exposure to motor vehicle traffic for people transferring between the B46, B25, and A/C trains [PDF].

Upon seeing the plan Monday night, CB 3 members recoiled, Camille Bautista of DNAinfo reports:

[C]ommunity members said it would bottleneck traffic coming from Atlantic Avenue. Other residents took issue with the elimination of turning lanes, which could add congestion on an already crowded Fulton Street.

“I know that you have your study, but your study really cannot compare to the study I have by using that intersection every day,” said board member C. Doris Pinn, who stressed the potential for more traffic jams and accidents.

The intersection tweaks complement the introduction of Select Bus Service on the B46, New York City’s second-busiest bus route, with nearly 50,000 passengers each day. Four miles of Utica Avenue would receive dedicated bus lanes in the plan, which also got panned at Monday’s CB 3 meeting. “To me it feels like you’re pushing this down the community’s throat,” one woman said, according to DNAinfo.

In the neighborhoods of Brooklyn Community District 3, more than two-thirds of households don’t own cars, according to the U.S. Census. The area is represented in the City Council by Laurie Cumbo, Robert Cornegy, and Darlene Mealy, who each appoint members to CB 3, along with Borough President Eric Adams.

Last year, CB 3 stonewalled a 20 mph Slow Zone requested by neighborhood residents. DOT eventually decided not to extend the slow zone into CB 3’s turf after board chair Tremaine Wright dismissed street safety as a real concern.

Select Bus Service is scheduled to start late this summer or this fall, with related pedestrian safety improvements to be phased in after service begins.

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Bus Lanes Coming to 125th Street in West Harlem This Summer

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West of Lenox Avenue, there are no bus lanes on 125th Street. DOT plans to change that this summer. Photo: josepha/Flickr

Bus riders may not be stuck in crosstown traffic on 125th Street much longer. DOT plans to extend bus lanes from Lenox Avenue to Morningside Avenue this summer [PDF].

The news came last night at a meeting of the Community Board 9 transportation committee. “As far as CB 9 is concerned,” said board chair Rev. Georgette Morgan-Thomas, “I didn’t hear anything that made me think that we should not support the plan.”

Bus lanes on 125th have been held in check by years of political wrangling. But Council Member Mark Levine campaigned on moving forward with them, and his election in 2013 was a breakthrough for the project.

“I think we have great local support and a great need,” Levine said last night, adding that buses “crawl” once the bus lane disappears in West Harlem. “It’s just a great win for people in the community.”

On the section of 125th Street that already has camera-enforced bus lanes and off-board fare collection, the changes have worked wonders for bus riders. The M60 is now 32 to 34 percent faster between Lenox and Second Avenue. Local buses have also sped up between 7 and 20 percent in the bus lanes.

Meanwhile, local buses in West Harlem, which doesn’t yet have bus lanes, have actually slowed slightly between Lenox and Amsterdam Avenues, said Robert Thompson, the MTA’s manager of long-range bus service planning.

While they’ve sped up buses, the new bus lanes haven’t affected car traffic. GPS data from taxis show that eastbound driving trips on 125th are generally faster, while westbound trips have either slowed slightly or not seen any change, according to DOT.

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Woodhaven Select Bus Service May Get Physical Separation in Some Areas

Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Cross Bay Boulevard could get a wide planted median, bus bulbs, and a road diet. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

After unveiling the preferred design for six miles of the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service project earlier this week, DOT and MTA met yesterday with advocates, elected officials, and community board members to go into greater detail. The agencies are considering physical separation for bus lanes at key locations on Woodhaven, and they showed potential designs for the southern stretch of the project on Cross Bay Boulevard.

Sources who attended the meeting said DOT is looking into separating bus lanes with flexible posts, small “armadillo” bollards, or a mountable curb like the one installed on a block of the Sands Street bike lane.

Select Bus Service would run on the Q52 and Q53 lines. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF].

Select Bus Service would run on the Q52 and Q53 lines. Click to enlarge. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF].

Camera enforcement could also keep drivers out of the bus lane, but bus cams on Woodhaven will require state legislation. Either way, it appears DOT is interested in more than just cameras. “[DOT staff] seem to recognize that they can’t count on photo enforcement, even with legislation authorizing it,” said Glendale resident Toby Sheppard Bloch, who went to yesterday’s meeting. “They said that they don’t think paint is good enough.”

The agency confirmed that it is looking at some type of separation for bus lanes on Woodhaven, and its presentation yesterday [PDF] shows a variety of barriers and rumble strips as options.

The presentation also shows how DOT would redesign the Cross Bay Boulevard section of the project (Woodhaven turns into Cross Bay south of Liberty Avenue). The Cross Bay designs call for dedicated bus lanes between the parking lane and general traffic lanes, which is a typical configuration on other SBS routes. The designs would also expand the center median, currently six feet wide, and add trees.

“They put a pretty heavy emphasis on placemaking, on making the boulevard more attractive,” Bloch said of DOT’s presentation.

One option would maintain three car lanes in each direction, creating space for dedicated bus lanes and a slightly wider median by narrowing the general traffic lanes. The better option would add bus lanes while trimming the general traffic lanes to two in each direction. In this scenario, the median would be up to 22 feet wide at some crossings and 12 feet wide at crossings with left-turn pockets.

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DOT’s Design for Woodhaven Blvd Raises the Standard for Select Bus Service

Image: NYC DOT

NYC DOT has selected a design for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, and it goes further than previous SBS projects to keep bus lanes clear of cars.

Under the proposal, buses would run in dedicated lanes set off from local traffic by concrete medians. While the bus lanes wouldn’t be physically separated from through traffic, the design avoids conflicts that have limited the performance of other SBS routes. In the Woodhaven design, buses won’t operate in a lane that attracts drivers trying to access the curb. Turning conflicts at intersections will also be minimized, with motorists turning right from Woodhaven merging across the bus lane mid-block to access the service road.

DOT said it expects the project to improve travel times 25 to 35 percent for the 30,000 daily bus passengers on the corridor.

“This is the kind of ambitious overhaul New York City’s bus riders deserve. This project means faster trips for tens of thousands of riders,” Mayor de Blasio said in a press release. “It means safer streets that save lives. And it means that communities from the Rockaways to Elmhurst that have long been underserved by public transit will see real improvements in their daily commute.”

The design is the same as “Concept 2″ revealed at public workshops last fall, where bus riders and advocates gave it high marks, along with “Concept 3,” which called for a center-running busway [PDF]. The city says the central 6 miles of the 14-mile Woodhaven/Cross Bay project will have the Concept 2 configuration, according to the Daily News. The project will also feature standard SBS ingredients like off-board fare collection and traffic signals that hold green lights for buses. More details may be revealed at a Queens Community Board 5 meeting scheduled for tonight.

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Utica Avenue Select Bus Service Will Roll Out This Fall

The B46 is the second-busiest bus route in New York City, carrying nearly 50,000 passengers each day. A subway line on Utica was planned decades ago but never built, and today bus riders on the B46 struggle with crowded conditions and slow trips. Now service is set to get faster and more reliable with the addition of bus lanes and off-board fare collection later this year [PDF].

B46. Map: DOT/MTA

Almost four miles of Utica Avenue will receive bus lanes as part of B46 SBS. Map: DOT/MTA

Last year, bus lanes were installed along most of the 1.3 miles between Church Avenue and St. John’s Place, the busiest stretch for the B46. The lanes have sped up bus trips between 8 and 15 percent during peak hours, DOT says, while car travel times have also decreased by 20 to 25 percent in the peak direction.

A more complete suite of improvements is on the way, as NYC DOT and the MTA upgrade the B46 to Select Bus Service, scheduled to start operating this fall.

The bus lanes will be extended south another 2.5 miles to Avenue O, near the end of the route at Kings Plaza. All SBS stops will get off-board fare collection, and next year, bus bulbs and real-time arrival signs will be added. Signal priority for buses will also be installed between Broadway and Kings Highway, with the possibility of future expansion.

Service patterns will shift slightly under the SBS plan. Today, the B46 local runs only as far north as DeKalb Avenue, while the B46 Limited makes local stops from DeKalb all the way up Broadway to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. The B46 SBS would replace the limited and run between DeKalb Avenue and Kings Plaza. Local service would be extended round-the-clock up Broadway to the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza.

Tyler Wright, 30, commutes almost two hours each way from Church Avenue to LaGuardia Airport, using two buses and a subway ride. “It is a long commute,” he said at an open house on the plan last night. “There is no easiest way.” Wright uses Select Bus Service on the M60, the final leg on his journey to work, and said the changes have shaved 10 to 15 minutes off his commute.

He’s excited for Select Bus Service on the B46. “You have a bus lane and a car lane. It makes it easier for the buses,” Wright said. “We’re going to go down Utica Avenue fast.”

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Mark Levine Launches Petition to Bring 125th Street Bus Lanes West of Lenox

You don’t see this level of political commitment to repurposing street space that often.

Council Member Mark Levine.

Council Member Mark Levine has launched a petition calling on NYC DOT and the MTA to extend bus lanes on 125th Street west of Lenox Avenue. Select Bus Service on 125th was originally envisioned with river-to-river dedicated bus lanes, but neighborhood power brokers got the city to scale it back. The SBS route debuted last year with a bus lane east of Lenox

In January, DOT and the MTA reported that on the section of 125th Street with bus lanes, SBS is running 32 to 34 percent faster than the service it replaced, while local routes the M100 and Bx15 run 7 to 20 percent faster.

Levine campaigned for a full bus lane when he was elected in 2013, and he’s following through on that now:

125th Street is a vital artery for all uptown, and tens of thousands of local residents rely on bus travel on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines each and every day.

Since May, 2014 bus riders on 125th Street have benefited from a bus-only lane east of Lenox Avenue only. Those traveling along this stretch have enjoyed bus speeds as much as 30 percent faster than before the lane was installed. GPS data from taxis show that cars traveling east of Lenox Avenue are also moving faster.

West of Lenox ave is a very different story. Buses on this stretch creep along at little more than 3 miles per hours on average — barely as fast as walking speed.

There are bus-only lanes in wealthier parts of Manhattan, like the Upper East Side and Midtown. Why not along the whole length of 125th Street?

It is time to give Central and West Harlem the benefit of faster service on the M100, M101, Bx15, M60 and M104 lines by extending the 125th Street bus-only lane west to at least Amsterdam Avenue.

Shades of Melissa Mark-Viverito on the steps of City Hall, clutching a stack of petitions for complete streets in East Harlem back in 2010.

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Trottenberg: DOT Staffing Up to Add More Select Bus Service Routes

The City Council transportation committee held a hearing today on the de Blasio administration’s Bus Rapid Transit plans, giving council members an opportunity to prod DOT about its BRT progress and show their support (or lack thereof) for bus lanes and more robust surface transit improvements than the Select Bus Service program has yielded so far.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifies, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg testifying this afternoon, flanked by Peter Cafiero of the MTA, left, and Eric Beaton of DOT, right. Photo: Brad Lander/Twitter

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the mayor’s preliminary budget, released yesterday, features $295 million for SBS expansion, including $84 million in new funding. Of that, $55 million will go to operational expenses through fiscal year 2018 and $240 million will go to capital projects through 2025.

The funding boost should help enlarge the agency’s SBS project pipeline, paying for staff to both work with community boards and assist with engineering for new SBS routes. The new money replaces some federal funds that were expiring and roughly doubles the size of the SBS unit to 18 staffers, according to DOT Director of Transit Development Eric Beaton.

Here are some more highlights from the hearing:

  • Mark your calendars: The de Blasio administration has committed to adding 13 Select Bus Service routes by the end of 2017, an effort Trottenberg said would require “all hands on deck.” This year, DOT and MTA are aiming to bring SBS improvements to three additional routes. Upgrades to the M86 crosstown, which will feature off-board fare payment and other improvements but not bus lanes, is expected to launch this spring, followed by the B46 on Utica Avenue by the end of the summer and the Q44 between Jamaica and Flushing in the fall. A typical SBS route costs $10 million to launch, Trottenberg said, with more capital-intensive upgrades like bus bulbs continuing to be rolled out after the initial improvements.

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