Politicians and MTA officials pose in front of the new M15 SBS bus. (Photo via NYCTBusStop on Twitter)
After months of planning, the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation announced finalized plans for the East Side’s Select Bus Service. Construction on both new bike lanes and the city’s version of Bus Rapid Transit will commence immediately, and the service will debut along 1st and 2nd Aves. in October.
According to the city, 54,000 daily riders of the M15 will benefit from the speed and service upgrades, and what is now a 90-minute, 8.5-mile ride from South Ferry to 125th St. via bus will be vastly improved. With the Second Ave. Subway half a decade away from even Phase 1, Select Bus Service should help ease the commutes for residents along the East Side.
“Low-cost changes, such as off-board fare payment, new bus lanes and bus-priority signals, will transform Manhattan’s busiest route from an exercise in patience to one of the city’s best bus lines,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. “Re-making First and Second Avenues to improve bus service has also given the City the opportunity to improve safety for every type of street user – drivers, pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists.”
Despite the excitement over this rollout, however, I maintain that this BRT plan is still the wrong one for Manhattan. Glaringly absent are physically separated bus lanes. Instead of standard BRT-format lanes in which buses are protected from straying cars by a physical barrier, the 1st and 2nd Ave. bus lanes will be painted a different color, and drivers will be urged to keep out. Since Albany has to authorize camera enforcement against bus-lane violators, the city will be able to target taxi drivers only in initial enforcement efforts, and politicians and transit advocates are continuing to push Albany for more complete bus-lane enforcement legislation. Whether Select Bus Service can work in Manhattan without dedicated lanes will be the true test of this East Side experiment.
“New York City’s plan to get buses moving and keep people safer on First and Second Avenues will be a godsend for the 54,000 people who ride the M15 every day. Adding over 12 miles of bus lane and features like prepaid boarding will bring faster, more reliable service to New York’s second busiest bus route and give riders more time to spend with family and friends. Because the plan will separate bus and car traffic and add left-turn lanes, drivers will also enjoy faster trips,” the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said in a statement. “The next step to keep bus riders out of gridlock should be the approval of bus enforcement cameras by the City Council and State Legislature. These would keep lanes clear of violators, allowing the NYPD to focus on other important matters.”
The Select Bus Service route will run from Houston St. to 125th St. along the right side of the street. However, within the Second Ave. Subway work zones, buses will run in regular traffic patterns to accommodate the temporary decrease in road space. From Houston St. to 34th St., the city will also install physically protected bike lanes and landscaped pedestrian islands, thus increasing safety for both bikers and pedestrians at the same time.
Work with commence next week as city crews install new street markings and paint the new dedicated lanes. Parking regulations will be changed, and space will be reserved for commercial deliveries. Bus shelters and the pre-board fare collection machines will be installed in September, one month before SBS launch.
While the bulk of the SBS planning will occur in Phase 1, Phase 2 will launch in 2012 and should bring signal prioritization to the avenue. Hopefully, by then, the city will be allowed to install cameras for enforcement and adequately tackle fare-evasion problems as well.