Select Bus Service Done Wrong

Select Bus Service or Bus Rapid Transit is a topic I have opined about on many occasions. I happen to be a fan of the idea as I find it serves many solid purposes to help the commutes of many. So one would most likely assume I am thrilled at yesterday’s announcement of the service coming to the east side of Manhattan. Unfortunately I am not as the proposed service is severely flawed.

Let us first take a look at a report from Sunday prior to the announcement by the New York Times’ Michael M. Grynbaum:

Buses in New York are as slow as snails. It is as sure a thing as Yankees wearing pinstripes and congestion on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

But an ambitious $10 million project to bring European-style rapid-transit buses to First and Second Avenues — among the most highly used and heavily congested bus routes in the nation — is aiming to turn that truism on its head.

Starting in October, buses will be granted an exclusive lane to speed up travel on those avenues from Houston Street to 125th Street, a trip that can last an hour and a half — the length of an Amtrak ride from Pennsylvania Station to Philadelphia.

Tickets will be sold at sidewalk kiosks, allowing passengers to board without stopping to fumble for change or a MetroCard.

Riders will be on the honor system: passengers will not have to produce a ticket unless asked. (A $100 fine awaits the dishonest.) And the buses will be equipped with three doors for quicker boarding and exiting.

The plan, to be announced on Monday, represents the latest move by the Bloomberg administration to siphon away space from private automobiles in favor of other forms of transport. Once dominated by trucks, cars and taxicabs, First and Second Avenues will now gain cycling lanes and concrete pedestrian islands, as well as a bus route meant to function more like a subway.

The city’s Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hope that bus travel times will improve by about 20 percent.

That could benefit more than 50,000 riders on Manhattan’s transit-starved far East Side, still waiting for its subway line after 80 years.

“New Yorkers are tired of waiting years and decades for changes to make their streets work better,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner. “We want to give buses the red carpet.”

Click here for the complete report.

Now let us take a look at an information piece posted by the MTA on their website:

Bus riders will soon have faster and more reliable bus service along the east side of Manhattan with this week’s announcement that new Select Bus Service is coming to First and Second Avenues. MTA Chairman and CEO Jay H. Walder joined Mayor Bloomberg, and Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan to announce the start of construction on dedicated bus-only lanes that will benefit 54,000 daily riders of the M15 bus line.

The first phase of the project will create dedicated bus lanes from 125th Street to Houston Street along the right side of the street on both First and Second Avenues. Select Bus Service along this corridor also calls for use of new articulated three-door buses.

Riders will be able to pay their fare at on-street machines before boarding, some sidewalks will be extended to allow buses to pick up and discharge passengers without having to exit and reenter traffic, buses will be given traffic signal priority and the new service will make fewer stops than the current M15 Limited.

“SBS is the real deal, bringing together faster bus boarding, enforced bus lanes and signal prioritization to improve bus service for New Yorkers,” Chairman Walder said. “It’s a terrific example of the growing partnership between New York City and the MTA, but we’re not stopping there. We’re working with the City to make it clear to drivers that bus lanes throughout the City are for buses only, and a new smart card pilot will pave the way for faster boarding on all of our buses.”

The lack of transit options on Manhattan’s East Side have made the M15 bus on First and Second Avenues the busiest bus route in Manhattan, traveling at less than six miles per hour. The improvement could help increase ridership by more than 10 percent.

Implementation of the bus lanes will begin this month, with street resurfacing starting next week. By October, the dedicated lanes will be completed and in use, while additional improvements continue to be installed.

NYPD enforcement will help keep the dedicated bus lanes clear of vehicles, and taxis will be deterred from using lanes through violations issued by the Taxi & Limousine Commission by using cameras. The City is barred from using cameras to issue violations to motorists using dedicated bus-only lanes, but the Administration has been aggressively seeking the authority utilize cameras to enforce bus-only lanes – a new State law is required to give the City enforcement ability.

The City and MTA will continue community outreach throughout the summer. Phase Two of the project, which will begin in 2011, will include bus priority traffic signals and “bus bulb” curb extensions that will further improve bus lane performance.

Select Bus Service has been highly successful on Fordham Road in the Bronx, where the first route on the Bx12 was implemented in 2008. Travel times improved by as much as 24 percent and ridership increased by 30 percent.

As I said, I support Select Bus Service or Bus Rapid Transit as it is a very smart way to improve the commute for many riders. However I only support these measures when done right & the announced version for the east side of Manhattan is the exact opposite of that.

The biggest issue with this version is the lack of dedicated bus lanes for the project. There is zero debating that the most important aspects of SBS or BRT is dedicated lanes for bus operation along with 100% enforcement of these lanes being for buses only. To say that they will strongly enforce it is nothing but hot air. When the service debuts, the enforcement will be there. However as time passes, non-bus drivers will get away with using these lanes to their advantage.

To put this bluntly, if the MTA & New York City Department Of Transportation think that painting lanes a different color for buses will help this service reach its full potential, they have a rude awakening coming. Don’t come back & complain later as all I will say is I told you so.

xoxo Transit Blogger

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[…] a lesson the Metropolitan Transportation Authority might do well to learn, Transit Blogger writes of the planned dedicated bus lanes on the East Side: “To put this bluntly, if the MTA & […]

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