Updated (4:00 p.m.) with corrections from Quinn surrounding estimated Triboro RX costs: Throughout the course of the NYC mayoral campaign, buses and ferries have come to dominate the transit discussion. These aren’t transformative solutions that address the myriad access issues with the city’s subway network, but rather, they are two modes of transit over which the next mayor can actually assert control. Candidates don’t need to pay lip service to the unrealistic idea of an MTA under city control when they can, by action or fiat, better expand the city’s bus services or ferry networks.
If the right politician saying the right things on the city’s buses came around, we could embrace that person, and in discussions this week about his dreams for the city, Brad Lander did just that. The City Council member recently put forward a bill requiring the Department of Transportation to come up with a comprehensive ten-year plan for the city’s buses that would involve a massive rollout of Select Bus Service. I think the timeline could be reduced significantly, but Lander’s proposal would be a sea change in the way DOT has slowly brought SBS to the city’s streets.
Stephen Smith of The Observer spoke with Lander earlier this week, and he is sick of the slow process that gives too much weight to individual Community Boards in a vacuum:
To Mr. Lander, the piecemeal approach that the MTA and DOT took to the lanes, and their strict policy of not rolling them out without approval from local community boards and elected officials, doesn’t go far enough. “Of course you work with communities to make it happen,” Mr. Lander told The Observer (followers of Mr. Lander on Twitter can attest to the fact that “community” is by far his favorite word), “but I don’t think you can approach it so that each one has to be considered on its own, and any time some interest in a community seeks to block it, that can be enough resistance to stop it from moving forward.”
“The majority of New Yorkers,” he continued, “don’t own cars. We need to improve public transit, but unfortunately often community boards overrepresent car owners, and you can get interest groups to step up on something most people don’t know anything about, and block something that’s absolutely in the broader interest.”
…In addition to quantity, Mr. Lander wants better quality. SBS is not, some detractors claim, robust enough to qualify as true bus rapid transit, and Mr. Lander wants to give SBS routes physically-separated lanes—as opposed to the painted ones they have now, which he’d also like to see better enforced, ideally by cameras on the fronts of buses—and the busiest stops stations instead of mere stops, like with some of the more complete bus rapid transit implementations in Latin America and China. Mr. Lander also said he’d like to see SBS-like features to speed buses routes along streets that are not wide enough for the dedicated lanes that SBS requires. (B35 on Church Avenue, we’re looking at you!)
Lander, in closing, said that the next mayor could be the “bus mayor” much as Mayor Bloomberg is the “bike mayor.” All it would take is some political will and a solid plan. So does anyone currently in the running for Gracie Mansion have such a plan?
In her latest policy announcement regarding transit, Christine Quinn unveiled a challenger to the Triboro RX rail line. She is instead proposing the Triboro RX Select Bus Service line, and it is an unqualified disaster. The route would essentially mirror the Triboro RX line over 25 miles from Yankee Stadium to Bay Ridge but with enough twists and turns that it’s hard to see how it could be an express bus, let along a dedicated Select Bus Service/BRT combination, as she has proposed.
For starters, though, her heart is in the right place. “We need to update our city’s transportation to meet the needs of real New Yorkers,” she said in a statement. “Our subway system was completed in the 1950’s, when more than half of New Yorkers lived in Manhattan and less than 200,000 lived in Queens. Times have changed, and today Brooklyn and Queens together have nearly 5 million residents. Many of them commute to boroughs other than Manhattan. It’s time we make the MTA work for all New Yorkers.”
But otherwise, Quinn’s proposal is a mess. Without citing any studies — largely because there aren’t any — Quinn claimed that Triboro RX would cost $25 billion to build and take 40 years to construct. Those are figures for a surface rail system that would run on preexisting track and right of way. She claims Triboro RX could be up and running in a year and at a cost of $25 million instead, all numbers plucked from a 17-year-old, far more comprehensive regional report from the RPA [PDF].
After speaking of the $25 billion cost and originally printing it on her website, Quinn later revised estimates downward to $1 billion for the entire Triboro RX rail line. At that price point, why are we even considering a cockamamie bus route?
(As an added zinger, Quinn claimed that “we need to do a better job involving communities in the input process, in the development process.” I’m assuming she’s taking about the M60 SBS debacle, but as many have mentioned, the community input wasn’t the problem; rather, obstructionist politicians concerned about their parking spots and with a disproportionately loud voice were.)
Proponents at the Pratt Center spoke with Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York and seemed ready to chop up the Triboro RX SBS while embracing it. Joan Byron claimed that the Triboro RX SBS “wouldn’t clog up railroads that could be used to get more freight rail off city streets.” She also proposed “several different routes instead of trying to do it all with one.” I’m pretty sure that’s called a local bus network, and we already have that.
But this is the state of the campaign. No one has the vision for rail, and while the plan is out their for a bus mayor to embrace it, we get empty promises that can’t, won’t and likely shouldn’t be fulfilled. If all it takes to run for mayor is the ability to draw a bunch of connected lines on a map, well, we all should be out there campaigning.