Home Buses Future Transit: Select Bus Service’s second phase

Future Transit: Select Bus Service’s second phase

by Benjamin Kabak

As the political turmoil and debate over the future of the MTA recedes into the past of last week, I’m going to take some time today to talk about some future expansion plans for New York City’s transportation network. The later post will be published this afternoon, and both will focus on surface options rather than underground rail plans.

Our tale this morning starts in the Bronx with something called Select Bus Service. This program is a joint pilot effort between the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation. It features dedicated bus lanes and pre-boarding fare payment systems. It has resulted in a 24 percent decrease in travel times, and passengers along Fordham Road love the service.

Next year, as part of this so-called Phase I rollout, Select Bus Service will come to Manhattan. Sections of First and Second Avenues are slated for service. Now, as I’ve discussed now and then in the past, this bus rapid transit system along Second Ave. is a bit of a lightening rod. Opponents of the Second Ave. Subway see it is a viable and cheaper alternative to the expensive and oft-delayed subway line. In terms of capacity, though, a subway line trumps bus service, and for now, the two modes of transportation are both slated for the same avenue.

Eventually, Phase I will include service along Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, along Hylan Boulevard and into Bay Ridge from Staten Island and access to the Jamaica Center hub. Each borough will have its own Select Bus Service within a few years.

In an effort to expand the program to the five boroughs, NYC DOT recently announced plans for a series of workshops this summer in advance of Phase 2 of the Select Bus Service program. Streetsblog broke the news last week. The Department of Transportation will host seven workshops across the five boroughs in an effort to identify as many as 10 routes for future Select Bus Service.

As part of the pre-launch for Phase 2 planning, NYC DOT has released an unnecessarily large and poorly optimized PDF file explaining the needs of the city and the goals of the program. In a nutshell, DOT wants to target areas that are both underserved by preexisting transit options and areas that are suffering through overcrowding. They want to target high-traffic streets with the goal of reducing congestion as well.

There are though some obvious problems with the preliminary Phase 2 plans. The maps in the PDF are very borough-centric. While Staten Island SBS connects into Brooklyn and some Bronx service connects to Manhattan, rare are the buses that run legitimate interborough routes. Mostly, these Select Bus lines drop people off at preexisting subway stops and do not offer a real alternative for a ride through Queens and into Midtown.

I have a series of suggestions, then, for the planners of Select Bus Service:

  1. First, these routes clearly, as I just said, need to be more than just feeder routes. A Select Bus route up Flatbush Ave., for example, should cross the Manhattan Bridge and run more than just a few blocks into Manhattan. It shouldn’t just be an easier way to get to the Atlantic-Pacific hub. It should be an easier way to get into Midtown.
  2. At the same time, some Select Bus routes should be planned as subway connectors. Right now, the Fordham Road SBS service connects to nine different subway lines. Woodhaven Boulevard, for example, could support SBS that connects a series of subway lines and leads to JFK Airport.
  3. The easiest way to accomplish point two would be to implement SBS along the Circumferential route. Such a route would intersect nearly every subway line and would bring riders from Brooklyn through Queens and into the Bronx faster than any subway could
  4. Feed the airports. This is obvious.
  5. Install physically separated lanes, priority signaling and automated lane enforcement efforts. The latter would require action in Albany.

New York City is clearly at a transit crossroads. It needs innovative leaders willing to lobby for plans that challenge the status quo. DOT and the MTA have a blank slate in the form of Select Bus Serivce, and how they proceed this summer will dictate the future of surface transit in the city for the foreseeable future.

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John H May 13, 2009 - 6:05 am

Stop the SAS sinkhole and just do 1st and 2nd Avenue BRT! NOt the same as subway but you cannot compare the ROI. And be up and running next year.

The latest word I heard is the SAS in particular is now delayed to 2019 as a result of the uncertainty around capital funding, resulting in slowing down the contractor hires. Might even be announced this month

Benjamin Kabak May 13, 2009 - 10:36 am

That would be a three-year delay beyond the current projected completion date. Would the MTA really announce that right now? They’d get slammed left and right.

Brian H May 13, 2009 - 6:26 am

I love that the MTA’s idea of SI-Brooklyn interborough service is running a bus line a couple of blocks into Bay Ridge. Good thing the toll on the Verrazano is inexpensive to make up for the lack of transit options from the rest of Brooklyn.

Scott E May 13, 2009 - 9:20 am

Given all the financial and political BS that’s been going on at the MTA lately, I find it hard to get excited about any sort of service expansion. Yes, it’s a pleasant change from the negativity we’ve seen lately, and I recognize that this is just as much a DOT project as an MTA project. However, we’ve got an underfunded agency which two counties want to leave (and a third now wants to leave New York state over), a huge vacancy in its top leadership position, and politicians who probably couldn’t reach an agreement on how to spell MTA.
It’s positive news, but it hardly seems credible right now.

Benjamin Kabak May 13, 2009 - 10:37 am

Well, this is largely a DOT project The MTA already has the rolling stock — buses — needed to do this. If DOT can provide for the access, it’s a very minimal expense for the MTA to set up the pre-boarding fare payments and other physical aspects of it.

As for that vacant leadership role, I think that’s less of a concern. Sander is out on May 22, and then the fun and games begin. I’d be surprised if that hole stays empty for too long.

Rhywun May 13, 2009 - 11:50 am

Now Suffolk? They do realize their economy depends utterly upon functioning trains and subways, right…? If they think they can sail through the collapse of the region’s transit system unscathed, they’re deluding themselves. These poor counties crying “Wahhh!” are just embarrassing themselves.

Scott E May 13, 2009 - 1:34 pm

Ben – I think the new leadership is significant. This needs to be someone who believes in BRT and is willing to advance that agenda. It has to be someone who is not afraid to put cash-handling Metrocard Vending machines on unprotected city sidewalks. Someone who is willing and able to run the required telecommunications infrastructure to all of these “remote” bus stop locations. And, perhaps most importantly, someone who’s willing to work jointly with the same city that it battles over cost overrruns on the #7 extension.

Rhywun – The Suffolk thing is a joke. The politician who is starting it even admitted to it being a publicity stunt. It’s a waste of effort, a waste of time, and a waste of money.

rhywun May 13, 2009 - 7:53 pm

Oh really? So the sponsored legislation and the task forces are a “joke”? Can we impeach these idiots for wasting our time and more importantly our tax dollars on this silliness?

Alon Levy May 13, 2009 - 6:49 pm

I love the way the Suffolk County people complain that their representatives stink. Maybe the Bronx should leave the state too, with its representatives who’re categorically against bridge tolls.

Steven Higashide May 13, 2009 - 12:30 pm

Hey Ben, I’m sure if you haven’t seen this yet you will soon, but we recently reported on the FTA’s Small Starts program and the Nostrand Avenue BRT looks extremely likely to receive federal funds, though it’s not clear whether that will happen this year:


Planner May 13, 2009 - 5:10 pm

SBS planner noting post.

Queens pols back borough-based BRT plans :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog June 8, 2009 - 12:37 pm

[…] about the joint effort between New York City’s Department of Transportation and the MTA to expand the city’s nascent bus rapid transit program. As part of the planning for BRT Stage Two, NYCDOT is hosting seven borough-specific workshops […]


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