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NYC buses still pretty slow, sez Straphanger survey

by Benjamin Kabak

Every year, the Straphangers Campaign goes through the pomp and circumstance of their Schleppie and Pokey Awards, and every year the outcome is the same. Some crosstown Manhattan bus is the slowest, and some north-south route is usually the least reliable. This year was no different as the M66 and M42 shared the Schleppie Award, and the M4 took home the Pokey.

The Straphangers’ report — full findings here — says that the two crosstown buses average around 3.9 miles per hour during their 12 noon runs. I’d imagine that time is even slower during rush hour when 42nd St. grows congested. “The M66 and M42 would lose a race to an amusement park bumper car,” Straphangers head Gene Russianoff said, “and be a lot less fun. A bumper car can go 4.3 miles per hour compared to the 3.9 miles of the Pokey Award winning buses.” The M4, meanwhile, suffered the most from problematic bus bunching and scheduling inaccuracies.

Of course, knowing that the buses are slow and unreliable is half the battle and barely news. While nodding at the city’s Select Bus Service as a clear sign of improvement, the Straphangers and Transportation Alternatives called for “investment,” but what kind of investment? The city should devote dedicated street space to buses, implement pre-board fare payment at most major routes and develop signal prioritization. Only then will buses begin to move faster than a healthy young adult can walk across town.

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25 comments

D in Bushwick December 11, 2012 - 5:02 pm

It’s counterproductive to put bus lines on the busiest streets where traffic is already terrible.
Eliminate the right parking lane on 40th & 39th Streets for full time bus lanes which have very little traffic congestion.
The same could be done on 33rd St and a single opposing bus lane on 31st St to fix the M34 slow poke.

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Spendmore Wastemore December 11, 2012 - 10:39 pm

I suggest digging a couple east-west auto tunnels (far cheaper than rail, especially with an exemption to Davis-Bacon) and using the traffic relief to install limited-stop crosstown bus lanes on 2 avenues. You would sometimes be stuck walking a full block, but only on whatever two avenues get the treatment. Such buses would run the full with of Manhattan and stop to connect with the AC, 1-2-3, Broadway and Lex. Those may be unevenly spaced, so be it.

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Tower18 December 12, 2012 - 11:39 am

IMO this actually should get some consideration, somehow, someday. We must come up with a way to more efficiently get LINJ traffic to their destinations without cutting through Manhattan. The Robert Moses-era expressways were bad ideas, but a tunnel for through traffic would be a great idea.

Actually, you could make the argument that we should implement a thru tunnel with no Manhattan exits, and then implement congestion pricing, making the thru tunnel free. Do that and watch the traffic on Canal St, 34th St, and 42nd St disappear overnight.

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Nathanael December 13, 2012 - 3:50 am

Auto tunnels are always more expensive than rail tunnels due to the really large ventilation requirements.

This might change if only electric cars and trucks were allowed in the tunnels, rather than gasoline and diesel.

They’re still generally more expensive due to requiring wider tunnel bores, though.

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Someone December 11, 2012 - 5:38 pm

Close 42 and 66 Streets put light rail on both streets.

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LLQBTT December 12, 2012 - 3:10 pm

Or just make them dedeicated busways.

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Alon Levy December 12, 2012 - 10:12 pm

Why those and not 86th, or 125th, or 14th, or 23rd, or 79th? All of those have higher ridership than the M42 and the M66, sometimes by a considerable margin.

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Nathanael December 13, 2012 - 3:48 am

Why not all of ’em? I mean, you still need room for delivery trucks, of course.

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metsgl December 11, 2012 - 6:42 pm

What is amazing to me is that it is usually faster to take 2 to shuttle to 4 to get from west side to east side than bus. Often by a lot during rush hour.

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Andrew December 11, 2012 - 7:12 pm

Bear in mind that only 34 routes were measured (in some cases only the limited and not the local) for the Pokey Award – one round trip each, all during the summer (June 1 – September 11), when traffic patterns are different and ridership is down on most lines.

I’m no statistician, but this study seems pretty meaningless to me.

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LLQBTT December 12, 2012 - 3:12 pm

maybe they can do a +SBS+ Pokey Award for the slowest +SBS+ route. that will also provide a trove of useful info

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Spendmore Wastemore December 11, 2012 - 10:22 pm

Throwing more money and street space down the bus hole might make sense in limited cases, but mostly it’s bureaucrat aggrandization.

Currently, the crosstown buses themselves block each other and the entire traffic column on some key streets. You can see this on 125th in particular. To a lesser degree this happens an every crosstown route. Even on streets with bus lanes, the bus sometimes ignores its dedicated lane and hogs traffic space.

Buses will block . One is often sitting insolently still at a green light in deference to a bus half-pulled to the stop across the light. If that one is not already straddling both lanes, another will pull up to its left, and stop.

Same happens at stops: They often stop in the travel lane, not at the curb. The next but then stops offset from the first, not behind it. Thus the MTA not only blocks everyone who pays their bills (taxis, delivery and service vehicles) they also block themselves.

Fortunately there’s overtime to be paid.

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Andrew December 11, 2012 - 11:08 pm

Actually, what I see on 125th Street is lots and lots of illegally parked cars getting in the way of bus service. If a car is parked at a bus stop, the bus has to stop in the travel lane – there really isn’t anywhere else for it to go.

Buses are not obligated to use bus lanes. If traffic is flowing better in another lane – for instance, if the bus lane is blocked by an illegally parked car – then the bus should get out of the bus lane and use a different lane. There’s nothing wrong with that.

Or maybe you’d prefer if all those people on the bus instead were driving cars?

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BrooklynBus December 12, 2012 - 12:29 pm

Of course in your eyes the MTA is always a victim and never responsible for anything such as irregularities in bus service. While traffic is a major consideration and is beyond the MTA’s control to a large extent (and I will explain later why I say a large extent as opposed to entirely) there are measures they can take like proper dispatching of buses and better regulation and better routes that would greatly improve bus service, that they are not taking. Admittedly, other than more SBS and Limited service, those measures will have a limited effect on bus speeds. I said “a large extent” because if service was more regular and some routes were more direct, there would be less of a need for a car, and therefore less congestion.

Those living in or near Manhattan do not realize that in the outer boroughs cars are a necessity as long as it takes up two two hours and three buses and two fares to get from places like Sheepshead Bay to Gateway Shopping Center in Spring Creek, when the same trip by auto takes as little as 15 minutes. All you do is cite statistics like less than 50% of households have cars to misleadingly imply that no one needs a car. That is just not true.

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Patrick December 12, 2012 - 12:47 pm

Don’t get me started on Gateway. Gateway & East New York got shafted by transit options & I know this because I live in East New York. Any bus route that starts in East New York (except the B83 & the 4 Queens routes) has a long route & ass-backwards scheduling, as if the MTA just realized this area exists.

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Patrick December 12, 2012 - 12:51 pm

I actually live in Starrett City, which is still East New York

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LLQBTT December 12, 2012 - 3:26 pm

Same for Sheepshead Bay to Bay Ridge: Car = 10 minutes, Bus, B4 + 1 transfer (to final destination) = 50 minutes, Train, Q to Coney, N to 59 St, R to final destination = 50 minutes.

That’s a big reason why so many people have cars.

Take 1 big cross town route such as the B1 and give it +SBS+ treatment at least It connects to ALL subway lines in the area.

The B3, like so many other local bus routes has the exact same problems it has had for over 40 years.

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Alon Levy December 12, 2012 - 7:24 pm

I recently missed a Metro-North train because the M60 was slow, at a time when the lane on 125th was clear. The bus was running at horsecar speeds even when there was not much traffic.

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Andrew December 12, 2012 - 11:07 pm

It is a fact that there is rampant illegal parking and double-parking on 125th Street. All the dispatching in the world cannot solve that problem.

Last I checked, 125th Street is in Manhattan. It passes through three City Council districts – 7, 8, and 9 – with 78%, 82%, and 79% car-free households, respectively. This is no Sheepshead Bay, and I’m not sure what Sheepshead Bay has to do with this discussion.

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Matthias December 12, 2012 - 2:20 pm

Dedicated lanes and abolishing the practice of queuing at the farebox would do a lot to solve this problem. If buses didn’t have to sit at the stop for so long, and then wait to merge back into traffic, they would not tangle one another up so much.

Every time I take a bus, I swear I will never do it again. Until we catch up with London…

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LLQBTT December 12, 2012 - 3:17 pm

agreed. and they also won’t pass 1 another (usually). last night i was walking past a s/b bus stop on 3rd Ave and about 18 St. 2 people were (clearly) waiting for the M103 as the M102 pulled into the stop. But what does the M103 following that M102 do? It blows by the stop! But that’s OK because another M102 pulled in right behind and then about 3 M101 Limited’s passed in short order moments later. Poor souls, hope they didn’t have to wait much longer for a M103 to stop.

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BenW December 14, 2012 - 4:07 pm

Sitting “insolently?” Should the bus be doffing its cap and excusing itself to the drivers around it? Or should it be pulling up halfway across the intersection so as to be close to the bus stop it can’t pull into (because, as you’ve said, the stop is occupied), on the chance that it might be able to block four lanes of traffic on the cross street when the light changes and the preceding bus is still loading passengers?

Or should the driver just say “screw it”, and blow past the stop entirely?

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Spendmore Wastemore December 11, 2012 - 10:27 pm

Huh, no edit function. For “Buses will block” I had intended “Buses block both lanes”.

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For the MTA, it’s BusTime vs. Countdown Clocks :: Second Ave. Sagas December 12, 2012 - 9:53 am

[…] « NYC buses still pretty slow, sez Straphanger survey Dec […]

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David Bexter July 31, 2014 - 6:01 pm

You know why the buses run so slow? Because the drivers can’t seem to pace themselves out with the other buses. Read more of my explanation on this here: http://www.davidtheexpert.com/.....un_on_time

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