Apr
28

Proposing a better Bus Rapid Transit system

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COMMUTE’s BRT system would unite boroughs in ways the subway system cannot. (Source: COMMUTE’s proposed BRT route map PDF)

One of the great casualties of the congestion pricing failure was the $112 million earmarked for bus rapid transit implementation. While the city missed out on this significant federal contribution, NYC’s Department of Transportation has not allowed that to deter their BRT plans, and they’ve already made significant strides this year with more planned for the next few months.

While the city’s BRT goals are admirable, many transit advocates feel they do not go far enough in supplementing subway service and providing smoother interborough travel. Last week, Joan Byron , director of the Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative at the Pratt Center for Community Development, discussed the Pratt Center’s COMMUTE and their bus rapid transit proposal. It is a far-reaching one that would revolutionize travel through and among the five boroughs:.

Byron writes:

A small but growing number of transit advocates and riders who know what BRT is are clamoring for more routes. COMMUTE!…wants the BRT routes to cross bridges and connect the boroughs, making buses a more serious complement to the subway system.

The pilot program confined each route to its respective borough, so that the Rogers Avenue/Nostrand Avenue route in Brooklyn would serve a dense and underserved slice of East Flatbush, Crown Heights and Bushwick – but then dump passengers at Williamsburg Bridge plaza, presumably to elbow their way onto already full J, M and Z trains to get into Manhattan. Since the transportation department is already planning to put a dedicated bus lane on the Williamsburg Bridge, it would be logical to connect the Brooklyn BRT route to the also-planned First/Second Avenue BRT.

With both the one-time shot of federal funding and the projected $500 million per year in net revenues from congestion pricing off the table for the moment, BRT may be more important than ever … As the rail and subway projects envisioned in [the MTA Capital Plan] recede into the future, BRT makes more sense than ever. It will not prevent us from building light rail or subways in the future, but for now it makes intelligent use of the infrastructure we already have – our streets.

Byron’s plan is shown in the map above this post, and you can see a side-by-side comparison of COMMUTE’s plan and DOT’s proposals in this map.

My initial reaction to the Pratt plan was one of skepticism. Why would the city need BRT lines running on streets above — or, in some cases, below — preexisting subway lines? Couldn’t these BRT routes simply dump their passengers at subway terminals?

As Byron notes, however, BRT could accomplish the noble goal of reducing or, at least, avoiding further overcrowding on the subway. If BRT lines originating in areas of the city that are not subway-accessible were to transport riders to subway hubs, the trains would just be that much more crowded. But if the BRT lines provided one-seat rides from, say, Starrett City to the West Side, the subways wouldn’t see a marked increase in ridership. Meanwhile, the BRT routes would keep cars off the road and would hopefully alleviate congestion. Prioritizing signals would hopefully discourage drivers as well.

The city is, as we well know, at a crossroads in terms of its transportation policy. The MTA is trying to find billions of billions of dollars to get a capital plan off the ground, and the city is trying to figure out how to solve a congestion problem. COMMUTE’s ambitious plan would go alone way toward providing public transit to those under-served areas while relieving the city streets of traffic. Considering the low costs of implementation, it certainly deserves a good, hard look.



Categories : Buses

4 Responses to “Proposing a better Bus Rapid Transit system”

  1. Alfred Beech says:

    Sure, the right of way is cheap, but it’s a shared right of way. The subway doesn’t get stuck in traffic.

    BRT proponents typically tout the lower startup costs, but gloss over the continuing operation costs. Busses require more maintenance than subway cars, the price of their fuel is increasing dramatically, and heavy vehicles cause more damage to roadways.

    Does the MTA really have more money to start up more bus lines?

  2. Alfred, it’s not clear what alternative you’re proposing: let these people continue to have long commutes? The infrastructure work on the current BRT projects is being done by the DOT. A bus may cause more damage to a roadway than a car, but does it cause more damage than twenty cars and twenty SUVs?

    The COMMUTE plan deserves its fair share of criticism, and I give it plenty here, but it’s at least putting ideas on the table beyond the current five BRT pilot projects. I’ve been charitable enough to assume that they’re proposing dedicated (but not grade-separated) rights-of-way for each route, which is why I argue that the ones proposed for four-lane two-way roads are politically challenging.

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  1. [...] 2nd Ave. Subway History « Proposing a better Bus Rapid Transit system [...]

  2. [...] New York, the blow stings a bit. Chicago, in particular, is adopting measures that New York really needs and should have. At a time when many are noting that our own BRT system may be delayed a few years, Chicago’s [...]

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