Although Phase I of the Second Ave. Subway is still at least seven or eight years away from completion, residents of Manhattan’s East Side will be getting speedier north-south options within the next twelve months. The MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation are hard at work planning the Select Bus Service — New York’s version of a bus rapid transit system — for the East Side, and earlier this week, the agencies informed Community Board 1 of the plans.
In general, as the above map shows, the Select Bus Service will follow a path similar to that of the current M15 Limited. Buses will travel north up 1st Ave., and south down 2nd Ave. with a northern turnaround at 125th St. and a southern terminal at the Staten Island Ferry building. The buses will stop approximately every 10 blocks with no stops at 72nd, 28th or 8th Sts. “Faster and more reliable” were the buzzwords city officials used this week, according to Downtown Express’ Leslie Picker.
With the route in place, the MTA and DOT are trying to figure out how to make this service effective, and with out major exception, the ideas are falling into place. As preliminary designs, below, indicate, the city will install bus bulbs on blocks with stops. These bus areas will feature pre-boarding systems similar to those in place along Fordham Road in the Bronx and will allow for loading or parking areas in front of the bus stop.
As you can see from the picture, though, the plans call for an off-set bus lane but not a physically separated bus lane. Businesses along 1st and 2nd Aves., oblivious to the fact that buses would be far more beneficial than road space or parking spots, are not too keen on separated lanes, and community leaders are concerned about increased traffic due to the potential elimination of road space for bus lanes. In turn, though, DOT and MTA officials warned that the city would push for increased bus lane enforcement. Whether the NYPD alone can enforce the contours of a non-separated dedicated bus lane remain to be seen.
If the MTA and DOT can adhere to their published schedules, Select Bus Service will come to the East Side by the summer of 2010. This early roll-out, though, will be missing a few features of the overall service. Phase 1 will include better service patterns and pre-board fare payment as well as what the agencies are calling “enhanced bus lanes. Phase 2, set to arrive in mid-2011, will feature the bus bulbs and, more importantly, a preferred signaling system for transit vehicles. In other words, buses will enjoy longer green lights and fewer red lights.
For now, with the Second Ave. Subway inching along, this East Side corridor needs its bus rapid transit service. Even after Phase I of the SAS opens, the MTA claims that “passenger demand on the M15 will remain high.” The problem though of dedicated lanes persists. Until the buses can lay claim to their own spaces, enforcement costs will be high and a lack of enforcement would not significantly speed up bus service along these crowded avenues.