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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.


Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.


DOT and MTA Years Behind Schedule on Traffic Signal Tech to Speed Buses

Equipment for transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a proven track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why is it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Transit signal priority is inexpensive and has a track record of boosting NYC bus speeds. So why are plans to implement it years behind schedule? Image: DOT [PDF]

Bus riders spend a lot of time stopped at red lights, but they don’t have to. A technology called transit signal priority, or TSP, speeds up transit trips by adjusting signal timing so buses hit more green lights and fewer reds. TSP has a proven track record in New York, but on several routes, implementation is years behind schedule.

Transit signal priority uses GPS devices on buses to send a signal to a traffic management center, which can then either hold a green light as the bus approaches or shorten the amount of time a bus is stopped at a red light.

According to NYC DOT, the technology has sped bus trips between 10 and 18.4 percent. A recent evaluation of signal priority on the M15 Select Bus Service [PDF] said “the system is working well… [and] the city has the option to deploy citywide.” The problem is that only a handful of routes are outfitted with TSP.

The city’s 2011 PlaNYC update set a goal of adding transit signal priority to 11 routes citywide, but didn’t set a target completion date. So far, the city and the MTA have rolled out transit signal priority on just three corridors. Seven routes remain in various stages of planning or study.

New York’s first TSP system was installed at 14 intersections along Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard in 2008. Signal priority cut bus travel times by 16 percent during the morning rush hour and 11 percent during the evening [PDF], and 19 additional intersections on the route are in line to get it.

The city’s first Select Bus Service route, the Bx12 on Fordham Road, received TSP later in 2008, covering 35 intersections over 2.4 miles between Broadway in Manhattan and Southern Boulevard in the Bronx.

Since then, the only route to receive upgrades has been the M15 SBS, which in May 2013 received signal priority for 50 buses and 34 intersections along 2.2 miles of its route south of Houston Street. The M15 was the first in the city to use newer technology that communicates with the traffic management center, the MTA says, with Victory Boulevard and Fordham Road relying on older “line of sight” devices.

Bus riders on other routes are still waiting for improvements, in some cases years after blown deadlines.

Read more…


Trottenberg: DOT Skipped Its Legally-Required Data Report Last Year

DOT is almost six months past due on a report card required by city law that measures whether the city is meeting its goals of reducing car use, improving safety, and shifting trips to walking, bicycling, and transit. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says her department is skipping a year and will instead issue a report covering two years of data in the fall.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. Photo: NYC DOT

A city law passed in 2008, known as Local Law 23, requires DOT to issue an annual report measuring citywide data on car and truck volumes, traffic speed, bus ridership, bicycle and pedestrian crashes, and more. The report is due each November, covering data from the previous calendar year. After years of issuing the report later and later (but still on time) as the “Sustainable Streets Index,” DOT is now almost six months past due in releasing the numbers from 2013. The latest available information is from 2012.

The de Blasio administration has issued other transportation-related reports, including a summary of the first year of Vision Zero. But the report didn’t include many of the metrics required by Local Law 23, and failed to analyze the safety impacts of city programs like speed cameras or improved tracking of city-owned vehicles.

DOT will release an updated version of the Sustainable Streets Index “towards the end of this year,” probably in the next six months, Trottenberg said this morning, after an event hosted by the General Contractors Association of New York.

“We’ve come in and taken a fresh look at it,” Trottenberg said. “It’s going to be two years of data. [We’re going to] try and get ourselves caught back up and retool it and look at some fresh indicators… We’re going to keep some of the indicators, but we’re going to add some of the things that are now more of a focus of this administration.”


As Subway Trips Climb, MTA Bus Ridership Continues to Stagnate

Total MTA Subway and Bus Ridership, 1970-2014

While subway ridership hit a 65-year high last year, the story for surface transit in NYC is different. Bus ridership has yet to recover from a major round of service cuts in 2010, and in 2014 it lost some ground, according to new stats from the MTA.

After the MetroCard boom in the late 1990s, bus ridership has dropped 10 percent since 2004. Over the same period, subway ridership increased 23 percent.

The city’s bus network is operated by two different MTA divisions: New York City Transit, which runs most of the routes throughout the city, and MTA Bus, which runs primarily in eastern Queens. NYCT bus ridership fell 1.6 percent in 2014 compared to the previous year. The borough-by-borough picture was mixed, however, with small gains in the Bronx and Staten Island.

The most significant ridership declines in recent years have been in Brooklyn and Manhattan, and in 2014 the drop was again especially sharp in Manhattan, which saw a 5.8 percent decrease. Select Bus Service routes were not immune. On M34 SBS, ridership declined 11.2 percent, and trips fell a combined 8.6 percent on the M15 local and M15 SBS on the East Side. Both routes received SBS upgrades several years ago, leading to increased ridership immediately afterward.

In the two boroughs where total bus ridership went up, so did SBS ridership. The Bx41 on Webster Avenue received SBS upgrades in 2013, and the improvements led to a 21.4 percent ridership gain last year. Trips on the city’s first SBS route, the Bx12, which launched on Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in 2008, increased 3.4 percent in 2014. On Staten Island, ridership climbed 7.2 percent on the S79, which received SBS upgrades in 2012.


Subway Ridership Hits 65-Year High. Does Cuomo Care?

Subway ridership hit a 65-year high in 2014, serving 1.75 billion trips last year, the most since the New York City Transit Authority was formed in 1953. That’s an increase of 2.6 percent over 2013 and 12 percent since 2007, according to the MTA. The subway now serves 5.6 million passenger trips on an average weekday, and 6 million on an average two-day weekend.

"Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership." Photo: MTA/Flickr

“Andrew, we can barely keep up with this ridership.” Photo: MTA/Flickr

The new figures don’t include bus ridership, which has stagnated since a round of service cuts in 2010. However, the growth in subway ridership is a good indication that the transit system continues to absorb the vast majority of additional travel in the city, a trend that goes back to the 1990s. Meanwhile, Governor Andrew Cuomo still hasn’t put forward any ideas to close the $15 billion gap in the MTA’s five-year capital program, which keeps the system from falling apart, adds capacity, and modernizes signals and stations.

Weekday subway ridership grew 2.7 percent in Brooklyn, 2.5 percent in Manhattan, 2.1 percent in the Bronx, and 1.9 percent in Queens. Here are some more highlights from the numbers:

  • Weekday ridership on the L train increased 4.7 percent, with every station on the line seeing an increase in passengers. Stations in Bushwick saw the largest increases, with weekday ridership at Bushwick Avenue-Aberdeen Street  jumping 11.5 percent over the year before.
  • M train stations in Williamsburg, Bushwick, Ridgewood, and Middle Village saw ridership grow 6.2 percent last year, and are up 23.6 percent since the M was rerouted to serve Midtown in 2009.
  • Long Island City also saw big gains, with weekday ridership up 9.7 percent at Court Square and 12 percent the Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue 7 station, where ridership has more than doubled since 2000.
  • The fastest growth in the Bronx was along the 2 and 5 trains, up 3.7 percent. In Manhattan, ridership grew fastest for the 2 and 3 trains on Lenox Avenue, up 3.7 percent over last year.
  • Stations in the Rockaways, which rank among the system’s quietest, saw the highest percentage increase in subway ridership, with many nearly doubling the number of passengers served, as the area continues to recover from Hurricane Sandy.

The subway is hitting record ridership during off-peak hours, which is when most maintenance work is performed. That maintenance is more necessary than ever: The subway also had a dramatic increase in delays last year.

Advocates pressed Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to take action before it’s too late.

Read more…


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


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.

Read more…


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


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.

Read more…


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.

Read more…


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.”

Read more…