Home Buses East Side Select Bus Service plans coming into view

East Side Select Bus Service plans coming into view

by Benjamin Kabak


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.

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AK November 13, 2009 - 9:04 am

You’ve gotta love the utter irrationality (bordering on stupidity) of some of our adversaries. Quoting from the article, “Some of the committee members were concerned about the bus lanes causing greater congestion among commercial and car traffic.” [Fairly reasonable, though, as Ben said, clearly myopic]…

“Others said that buses do not always stay in their lanes when an obstacle like a parked car is standing in their way. Cars in the regular lane often need to “stop short” to let buses in.” WHAAAAAT!?!? I’m sorry, should buses simply remain in the bus lane when a PARKED CAR is in the lane? Cars need to stop short?? Yeah, when another citizen inconveniences his fellow denizens and the environment by idling/parking his car in a bus lane. Please. I hope that quote is taken out of context, because if the committee members are going to blame buses for leaving their lane when a parked car is in front of them…well let’s just say I’m pessimistic about future reform…

rhywun November 13, 2009 - 9:34 pm

Yeah, that’s silly, but… isn’t the express bus going to have to pull into the car lane in order to pass a local bus…? Assuming they keep the local bus.

AK November 16, 2009 - 9:25 am

Yes, but that is the case on all lines. Unless DOT’s prepared to have TWO bus lanes (like Lower Broadway) on 2nd Ave., we’ll have to live with that (although NYC could pass a local ordinance requiring drivers to yield to a merging bus)…

Eric November 13, 2009 - 11:54 am

Anyone else confused by the “BRT Station” legend on that map? Took me a second to realize it stood for Bus Rapid Transit.

As for physically-separated bus lanes, I’m for them, but the problem is street parking. If you move street parking to the outside of the bus lane, you now have eliminated that wall for pedestrians and have put them directly beside moving vehicles.

Adam G November 13, 2009 - 11:57 am

Hope this doesn’t get used as an excuse to further delay/kill SAS, if /it/ gets off the ground…

SEAN November 13, 2009 - 12:32 pm

Portland uses bolbouts for it’s streetcar line stations & they are the size of one parking space. Seperated lanes with cameras & rumblestrips should keep cars away from busses allowing for faster travel. If nessessary, parking may need to be removed on the bording side of the street to facilitate faster travel as well. Although I wouldn’t take out parking spaces unless it had to be done.

AlexB November 13, 2009 - 12:54 pm

This is really encouraging, and even though it won’t have a separated lane, I am sure this will help. The Bx12 didn’t have physical separation and people seem to be pleased with the improvements there.

I have a few issues with the route in lower Manhattan. There is nothing that can be done about poor subway connections in midtown because all first Manhattan stops are at Lex, but only connecting to the L, F and R at South Ferry is not super helpful.

South of Houston, if the route shifted to the Bowery, Park Row, then Broadway/Church, it could hit every subway, and would probably have much higher ridership and usefulness. Water St doesn’t really have anything to do with 2nd Ave or the East Village. Many of the M15s don’t go that far anyway. If they want a route on Water St, it should be an extension of the Broadway/Trinity portion past South Ferry and up Water St. to the Seaport, creating a “hook” at the bottom. If you are traveling from the UES to downtown, you are probably not going to take the bus the whole way anyway. It would be faster to walk from 1st or 2nd Ave to the 456 and take a quick shuttle from Bowling Green.

AK November 13, 2009 - 1:40 pm

Good points Alex. I wonder, based on the cautious comment of Adam, if MTA is covering its behind by making the route mimic phase IV of SAS…Once that region (especially the tourist-mecca of the Seaport) gets express bus service, it becomes more politically palatable to drop Phase IV.

I would also add anecdotally that downtown can be a dark, lonely (scary) place after business hours and that an express bus route (as opposed to having to walk West for a few blocks to a subway hub) through the neighborhood would improve the viability of the neighborhood’s housing stock, an increasingly important part of the downtown landscape post 9/11.

AlexB November 13, 2009 - 3:10 pm

This is all true, but the proposal for downtown doesn’t include bus-only lanes. I am pretty sure Broadway and Church already have bus lanes. Their greater enforcement would benefit many people. Lots of express buses use those lanes too.

They would have to offer much better improvements for anything to compare with dropping phase IV. If I am downtown late at night, I definitely do want a useful bus to get me out, but I don’t really think I’d want it to take me to the LES. I’d much rather connect to the 123 or 456 or ACE along Chambers, for example. Maybe, though, the entirety of the East River area from the Wburg Bridge to South Ferry will become more active and built up and the service will make more sense.

AK November 13, 2009 - 3:13 pm

Totally with you that it doesn’t make up for dropping Phase IV. Just doing my best to be a cynical SAS reader 🙂 Possible that with further residential development downtown, you’d see crosstown service down there, but I would think it would be more likely that MTA would institute a “water” service from the Seaport or Chinatown, around the Battery, to BPC…

AK November 13, 2009 - 3:15 pm

I should clarify– the “water” route would be a shortened version of the M9, designed for downtown denizens (rather than to specifically get downtown denizens to hubs to go to Midtown…)

Justin Samuels November 13, 2009 - 5:27 pm

During the 70s, the MTA already built parts of the second avenue subway, including a downtown tunnel from canal street to water street. No, the faster bus service won’t make then any more likely to drop 2nd Avenue subway construction. As long as the MTA can get grants from the federal and state governments, they will continue with new subway construction…………………

Also keep in mind, even with the full length second avenue subway service on the east side, it will only be local service from Harlem to downtown. So the MTA would STILL need express bus service, as the 2nd avenue subway has only two tracks. The West side of Manhattan has two four track subways, the 8th avenue line and the 7th avenue line. The east side will only have one four track (lexington) and one two track (second)

Alon Levy November 13, 2009 - 8:10 pm

During the 70s, the MTA already built parts of the second avenue subway, including a downtown tunnel from canal street to water street.

No, it didn’t. It dug parts around 8th Street but then filled them back in. The only extant tunnels on the route are a few sections north of 96th, plus a tunnel under Chrystie that Phase 4 may or may not be able to use.

even with the full length second avenue subway service on the east side, it will only be local service from Harlem to downtown. So the MTA would STILL need express bus service

Why would it? Even the local SAS service will make fewer stops than the express bus – and unlike the bus, it will be grade separated and have off-board fare collection.

Andrew November 14, 2009 - 6:58 pm

The route south of Houston is simply the current M15 route south of Houston (on the full-time South Ferry branch). The Bowery tends to get terribly congested, and it’s already covered by the M103.

Henry Man November 22, 2009 - 12:24 am

The Allen Street alignment is favoured more because of its nature. Vehicles move faster on Allen than on Bowery. Bowery tends to have a lot of vehicles travelling up and down the area. Consider the Manhattan Bridge entrance area. That area is a chokepoint itself.

Even if there are tour buses and new bike lanes, Allen still preserves a lot of free movement for vehicles compared to Bowery.

Jerrold November 13, 2009 - 1:31 pm

Just WHAT IS a “bus bulb”?

Eric November 13, 2009 - 1:45 pm


A bus bulb is an extension of the curb at a bus stop so the bus can stop to discharge and pick up passengers without having to pull over.

Jerrold November 13, 2009 - 2:29 pm

Thanks for answering!

Dear Abby in Need of Advice - City Room Blog - NYTimes.com November 13, 2009 - 2:01 pm

[…] East Side of Manhattan is going to get speedier bus service; a look behind the plans. [Second Aveunue […]

Alon Levy November 13, 2009 - 8:12 pm

True BRT requires off-board fare collection, or at worst swiping at multiple entrances on the bus, as well as some measure of separation from all other traffic, at a minimum signal priority. If you don’t have that, then you have a nicer-looking express bus. Such service already exists on 5th Avenue and is not much faster than ordinary bus service.

Andrew November 14, 2009 - 7:02 pm

Off-board fare collection is part of the plan.

I’m not thrilled with the placement of the bus lane. Sandwiched between the general traffic lanes and the parking lane, it’s not an exclusive lane at all – anyone heading to or from a parking space has no choice but to pass through it. Parallel parking can take some time, especially if it’s a tight space or the driver isn’t very experienced, and that whole time, there’s a private car blocking the bus lane (legally, presumably). And what about one car waiting for another car to pull out?

peter knox November 14, 2009 - 10:37 pm

Not that any readers of this site really care about the SAS, but, guess what, very little continues to be done. Almost no work was done today between 91st and 96th, and I almost never see anything being done in the 80s or 70s. The MTA has now been working at this thing for 31 months, and they still have not built one inch of the subway. No way they build a tunnel 30 blocks long and build 4 stations in less than 10 or 15 years. The project is dead. So much money wasted, fares and taxes raised, small businesses destroyed, the elderly kept as prisoners in their homes. And for what? It is a crime. But then it is NYC. And NYC is mad as a hatter. No more money can come from the government, because the government, pick one, federal, state, city, is broke and is going to stay that way until taxes are cut, etc. A disaster.

Alon Levy November 16, 2009 - 12:04 am

Let me get this straight. You complain that the government is broke, and then propose tax cuts as a way of making it not broke?

Excuse me, but are you insane?

cmdryknes November 15, 2009 - 9:09 am

I think BRT is a really bad idea, pushed by oil/motor lobbies to keep us dependent on building roads and burning fossil fuel. These busses aren’t going to go any faster then the busses that are already on 2nd avenue. They are still going to bunch up at the bridges. They are still going to get stuck in gridlock. Thanks but no thanks.

phil November 15, 2009 - 1:02 pm

good way to waste money, MTA and DOT. these buses will go no faster than normal buses. you could, you know, take the time and resources spent on this project and divert them to your agonizingly slow 2nd ave subway.

DOT ‘might’ include separated lanes for East Side SBS :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog November 18, 2009 - 12:02 pm

[…] we talked about the MTA/DOT plans for the 1st and 2nd Aves. Select Bus Service routes late last week, it was with dismay that we realized physically separated lanes were not a part of […]

Politicians call for separated bus lanes along 1st and 2nd Aves. :: Second Ave. Sagas | A New York City Subway Blog December 17, 2009 - 11:50 am

[…] Bus Service, the New York City modification of a bus rapid transit plan. Last month, the two sides unveiled the plans for the 1st and 2nd Aves. bus routes, and most transit advocates were dismayed to see that the […]

DivTen March 12, 2010 - 8:59 am

While not perfect, it will be significantly faster than current service, if the Bx12 SBS is any indication. A physically separated bus lane would be best but just because you cant get everything doesn’t mean its a total waste. From taking the Bx12 the biggest time savings is by far from off board fare collection not the bus lane. Especially when the bus with 3 doors comes. It gets in and out of stations more like a subway than a bus. Just don’t run for the bus and expect for them to wait for you to pay at the machines..


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