Another attempt at improving travel to LaGuardiaBy
A few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving and amidst a bunch of stories on the Sandy recovery efforts, Dana Rubinstein wrote a must-read piece for Capital New York on the New York City bus system. Her article is a succinct overview of why the city’s bus system is slow and painful and why the Select Bus System, forever under construction and barely making a dent in travel patterns, is so sub-par. It deserves a full read.
Long-time SAS readers will be familiar with Rubinstein’s argument. Buses are slowed by inefficient boarding procedures, surface congestion and red lights. Select Bus Service, ostensibly a version of bus rapid transit but not one well regarded by transit experts and urban planning academics, doesn’t allow for dedicated lanes or signal prioritization, and the city has been far too willing to give into the demands of NIMBYs who cry foul over curb access. The 34th Street we never had is the one the city so desperate needs.
Yet, buses are the mode of transportation that keep trying to pull everyone in. It’s cheap to install a “bus lane” whereas it’s prohibitively expensive to build a subway line. Buses don’t have to adhere to fixed travel patterns because they’re on wheels and not tracks. Buses won’t flood as the subways did during Hurricane Sandy. Without a major rethinking of bus routes, interconnectedness and a willingness to take away street space from cars and trucks, though, buses will remain a second- or third-class mode of travel in New York City.
Still, various bus efforts are moving forward. In mid-October, DOT and the MTA unveiled a LaGuardia-focused SBS treatment aimed at improving travel times to and from the Queens airport for both workers and airline passengers. Now, MTA head Joe Lhota wants more. In a talk with Rubinstein, he opined on a fleet of express buses bound for LaGuardia.
The post-Sandy bus bridge showed the MTA what a fleet of buses could do with the right resources, and now, they want more. “Why not have an express bus from downtown Brooklyn to LaGuardia Airport?” Lhota said. “We should do that. We’re talking about it internally.”
Rubinstein has more:
Lhota says the bus bridge demonstrated the viability of Barclays Center as a bus hub. “I haven’t talked to the folks at Barclays, but what a great place to tell people to go to,” said Lhota. “Eleven different subway lines come into place there, you can bring your luggage on the subway from south Brooklyn, come to Barclays Center, and then say, every hour on the hour, we’ve got a bus leaving to go to LaGuardia Airport.
The M.T.A. is considering other locations, too. “You can do it from Midtown,” he said. “You can do it from upper Manhattan. You can do it from from lower Manhattan. And how about one from Jamaica, as well, an express bus or [Select Bus Service] bus that goes from Jamaica to LaGuardia Airport.”
“If you’re on the west side in New York, the fastest way to get to LaGuardia would be get on the Long Island Railroad,” Lhota continued. “In nine minutes you’ll be in Jamaica and you’ll take an express bus and you’ll be there very fast. We do need more of that.”
For anyone trying to get to LaGuardia, such an option would be a welcome one. It’s not a rail-accessible airport, and the local buses are both painfully slow and painfully crowded. It’s currently unclear how the MTA’s current discussions differ from the Select Bus Service plans, but on one front — timing — the MTA has the flexibility to act quickly and unilaterally. One of my biggest gripes with SBS is how it takes literally half a decade for routes to go from the planning stages to implementation whereas MTA officials could run these express buses from midtown to LaGuardia beginning tomorrow morning if they say choose.
Yet, I’m not that excited about this type of initiative unless the MTA can bring about true street space reform — and it can’t without DOT’s help. They can’t implement dedicated lanes, signal prioritization or any other real BRT measures. They can remove stops, add some pre-boarding fare payment machines and call it an express bus, but that won’t solve too many problems.
We don’t have a subway to LaGuardia due to Queens NIMBYs; we don’t have a real bus rapid transit network due to a lack of imagination and also Manhattan NIMBYs. Maybe one day, we’ll have a fast and reliable transit option to LaGuardia, but until these problems are solved and obstacles overcome, it’s tough to get too excited about anything bus-related in New York City.