The absurdly painfully slow process of bringing simple bus lane improvements to one street in one borough has claimed another victim as the city and MTA are examining ways to speed up transit along Webster Ave. in the Bronx. This time around, the various stakeholders are looking at the B44, a so-called Phase 2 route. After identifying the route in 2009 as SBS-ready, the city hopes to launch service in late 2013. What a ridiculous timeframe.
Anyway, as the project ambles along slower than a crosstown bus at rush hour, the MTA and DOT hosted an open house on the Webster Ave. line. This routing is a north-south one that parallels the 4 and the B/D subway lines and connects the 2 and 5 trains at one end with the, uh, 2 and 5 trains at the other end. It also intersects with the Bx12 SBS route, and of the 125000 residents who live within a quarter mile of the route, the vast majority of them do not own cars. Currently, an end-to-end run on the bus can take up to an hour.
Last night at the open house, potential plans were laid out for all to see, and they finally included median bus lanes. Noah Kazis from Streetsblog was on hand to file a report. While the MTA and NYC are also considering curbside and offset bus lanes, the center lanes stole the show. Kazis writes:
Since bus riders wouldn’t be able to wait on the sidewalk to board the bus, DOT would build new protected platforms in the street. If the platforms are built totally level with the bus floor, as on the subway, this would make boarding the bus much faster, especially for the elderly or disabled. As on all SBS routes, passengers would pay their fares before boarding, allowing buses to spend time moving rather than waiting for each passenger to dip their MetroCard in turn.
Median-running bus lanes and platform-level boarding are two of the most important features of world-class BRT identified in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Standard scorecard. Existing Select Bus Service routes haven’t met the threshold for bus rapid transit according to ITDP’s system; the Webster Avenue route, it seems, could break the mold.
The Webster Avenue project is still in a very early stage and all three options are little more than concepts at this point. However, the potential for serious transit improvements is especially high here, because there’s already strong political support for Select Bus Service. Both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson have endorsed Webster Avenue SBS, though they have not spoken about particular designs. More than 50 people participated in Wednesday’s open house, said a DOT spokesperson, and were broadly supportive of the transit improvements.
Of course, as the before-and-after diagrams from the SBS presentation [pdf] make perfectly clear, parking spots will be lost and traffic lanes as well. The regular slew of NIMBY business owners will raise a stink, and perhaps, the city will “settle” for something less groundbreaking in another 15 months.
To this, I say, “Prove me wrong.” It’s bad enough that these SBS routes don’t cross borough boundaries and deliver people from the Bronx to, say, a job hub or an airport in Queens. But let’s bring truly dedicated lanes to an area that needs traffic mitigation and transit improvements. The next step will be doing it in less than 48 months but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.