Archive for Buses
As MTA jobs go, a bus driver may have it the worst. Until recently, drivers had no protection from unruly passengers and were tasked with keeping passengers in line while attempting to collect fares. They have to compete with the city’s streets and other drivers who are seemingly always in it for themselves. It’s a stressful job made slightly easier and safer by partitions in newer buses, but the threat and reality of violence from passengers has always loomed large in the minds of drivers.
Bus drivers though have a responsibility to everyone else around them as well. They drive very big, very heavy, often plodding vehicles up and down the city’s busiest streets. The city’s buses tower over the streets and loom large as a threat to pedestrians, bikers and other drivers. They help get cars off the streets, but they present a separate set of dangers in and of themselves.
Last week, not for the first time, this situation came to a head when a 15-year-old crossing the street with the right of way in Williamsburg was struck by a bus whose driver claimed he did not see the girl. She remains at Bellevue and may lose her left leg. Francisco de Jesus, the bus driver, was booked on a misdemeanor for violating the city’s relatively new Right of Way law. He faces a $250 summons and up to 30 days in jail — though no first-time offenders have been given a jail sentence. The law is part of the Vision Zero plan that is supposed to protect pedestrians from the dangers of vehicles in a dense urban area.
The injury is horrific; the aftermath to the incident has been ugly. A few days before the incident, three City Council members, under intense lobbying from union officials, had introduced a bill to exempt bus drivers from the Right of Way law, and nearly immediate, TWU officials denounced the arrest. “We drive for a living on the busiest streets in America,” J.P. Patafio, a TWU spokesman, said. “The law of averages has it we’re going to get into an accident.”
Over the weekend, TWU President John Samuelsen threatened — if one can call vowing to drive safer a threat — to slow down buses in the name of the safety:
The incidents this past Friday and several weeks ago in which two Bus Operators were arrested for “failure to yield” and “failure to exercise due care” are both heartbreaking tragedies. But they were accidents, not the result of “criminal” reckless driving. Yet, our Operators were treated as if they were criminals by the Highway Police, and they face TA discipline as a result of the arrest. To add insult to blatant injustice, there are some misguided people out there applauding the criminal treatment of our Bus Operators.
Now we must respond appropriately, recognizing that we are being disgracefully and unfairly scapegoated and targeted. It is imperative that we immediately move to defend our livelihoods and protect ourselves against these attacks. Therefore, we MUST Yield/Stop “when a pedestrian or bicyclist has the right of way.” If there is a pedestrian in the crosswalk, Yield/Stop your bus until they are on the sidewalk. We must exercise extreme caution at intersections and on roadways.
Do not move your bus until all is clear. It you do not make your schedule, so be it. If traffic backs up as you await the ability to make an unquestionably “safe” left turn, so be it. If the bosses are displeased, so be it. Do not jeopardize your future for the sake of NYC Transit’s on time bus performance. And if you are pressured or threatened by supervision for taking these necessary steps, notify your union representative immediately.
Samuelsen’s comments intimate that MTA bus drivers are encouraged by supervisors to put speed over safety. An MTA spokesman vehemently denied that characterization. Meanwhile, along the fringes, the sniping has continued. Pete Donohue wrote an incendiary column accusing advocates fighting for sensible street designs and laws aimed at protecting pedestrian safety of having “zero common sense” while the person operating the TWU’s Twitter feed on Saturday and Sunday tried to turn the debate into class warfare. (Gothamist captured some of the comments, but it was a stunning display of how not to run a P.R. campaign.)
The issue is not about class or about online fighting. It’s not about which advocate — those who must protect union members or those who are trying to protect pedestrians — can be the most zealous. This is about an all-encompassing push for safety. It shouldn’t take an arrest for the TWU to promise to allow pedestrians the Right of Way, and driving in New York shouldn’t inherently involve some number of pedestrian casualties or fatalities. The law should apply to everyone driving a vehicle, and it should recognize the power a huge vehicle has over a person. The person will always lose.
In a reasonable world, the union would have looked at Friday’s tragedy as an opportunity to gain the upper hand in this debate. Samuelsen could have ordered the same slowdown but under the guise of promising to work together with city leaders who have prioritized Vision Zero initiatives and want to stress safety. The TWU could have demanded that de Jesus receive a fair trial but stressed that the union will not tolerate members who do not stress safety or follow the laws. Instead, we have a mess and one that highlights the real physical risks that people walking face everyday. A teenager losing a leg shouldn’t be dismissed as the cost of doing business in New York City.
As part of their annual ritual highlighting just how slow and unreliable our city’s local bus system can be, the Straphangers have announced that the M79, with averages speeds of 3.2 miles per hour, is the city’s slowest bus route. The local M15 — subject of many complaints in the post-Select Bus Service era — was named the least reliable with 33% of buses arriving in pairs or worse. Outside of Manhattan’s congested streets, Flatbush Avenue’s B41, the Bronx’s Bx19, Queen’s Q58, and Staten Island’s S48/98 were named the slowest in their respective boroughs, though the latter two attained speeds of at or over 8 mph. The Straphangers have released a full table of their 34 surveyed routes, and the top ten are all in Manhattan.
“New Yorkers know from bitter daily experience that bus service is slow and unreliable,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “But there is real hope for dramatic improvement in Mayor de Blasio’s plan to build a rapid network of 20 ‘Select Bus Service/Bus Rapid Transit’ routes.”
So what happens next? As the Straphangers note, Select Bus Service has improved travel times along those routes that have undergone these upgrades, but as I’ve pointed out again and again, incremental changes such as pre-board fare payment shouldn’t be lauded as much as they are. New York still doesn’t have any true bus rapid transit corridors, and bus lane enforcement is continually under attack by City Council members who prioritize drivers over transit riders. Meanwhile, there is the issue of de Blasio’s 20 bus routes: We’re one year into his administration, and while initial planning is underway, implementation is not exactly around the corner. I’m not holding my breath for 10, let alone 20, and to achieve that goal, de Blasio would have to get seven SBS/BRT routes per year on the streets. For now, local buses remain a blight on the city’s mobility.
For some reason — could be stubborn NIMYBism, could be “it wasn’t invented here” syndrome, could be something else entirely — real bus rapid transit hasn’t made its way to New York City. We’ve been given instead Select Bus Service, a glorified Limited service with some obvious upgrades but no truly dedicated lanes or street prioritization. It’s been a battle too with a small number of residents along 34th St., for instance, throwing up significant roadblocks to progress. Now, though, DOT is narrowing in on a BRT corridor, and Queens’ bus riders may be the ones to benefit.
As Pete Donohue details in the Daily News today, the NYC Department of Transportation is examining Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards in Queens for true Bus Rapid Transit that extends beyond the trappings of Select Bus Service. The route could have physically separated lanes and signal prioritization, and while the study is in its very early stages with a painfully slow four-year rollout plan, it is part of DOT’s “curb to curb” rethink of Woodhaven Boulevard.
“It’s a great candidate for BRT because of its width and also it’s a street where we have some big goals that all work together — making it safer for pedestrians, making the traffic flow better, as well as providing better bus service,” Tom Maguire, a DOT higher-up, said.
Donohue had more:
A Pratt Institute study said using the current transit system, it would take a rider 65 minutes to get from Howard Beach to LaGuardia Airport. But a BRT route would cut it to 45 minutes, a 30% decrease.
The department would like to have a conceptual plan for the corridor, which at points is eight lanes wide, by the end of the year, said Eric Beaton, director of transit development. It would like to see the buses hit the road within four years, said Beaton…
Select buses too often are slowed by cars and trucks that encroach into their unprotected lanes. The answer is BRT and the city can look to Albany for help. Gov. Cuomo’s 2100 Commission, which is looking for ways to improve New York’s infrastructure, recommended the state support an “aggressive expansion” of the transit system with a BRT network, describing it as the next logical step after SBS. “SBS is good,” Gene Russianoff, staff attorney with the Straphangers Campaign, said. “Full-fledged BRT is great, giving bus riders service New York could be proud of.”
This is certainly optimistic news for anyone who’s been hoping for better bus service. Woodhaven is a key artery with very high bus ridership figures, and reallocating street space would benefit the many in this instance. New Yorkers could finally see that real BRT can happen here, and such a move could set the stage for future bus lanes.
That said, I have reason to be skeptical as well. A BRT route from the Rockaways via Cross Bay and Woodhaven winds through numerous Community Boards and will face heavy questioning from some of the areas of Queens with the highest rates of car ownership in the city. Taking away a lane or two of traffic is a direct assault on a way of life that many have grown very accustomed to over the decades. We saw what happened with plans to convert 34th St. to a transitway, and DOT will have to work closely with community leaders to ensure a more successful implementation here.
Still, we’re a few years away from these battles. Right now, NYC DOT is examining this possibility, and that’s a move that should be applauded. It shouldn’t take four years, but progress comes slow in New York City, if it comes at all. Here’s to hoping.
Let’s play catch-up with a few shorter stories:
Upper East Side votes for bus countdown clocks
It’s no secret that the MTA doesn’t plan to spend money bringing countdown clocks to bus stops. Although BusTime is now available on smartphones and via text message on all bus routes throughout the city, the MTA hasn’t shown a willingness to spend money for countdown clocks or identify which stations deserve such clocks. They have, instead, left these clocks up to everyone else. Businesses could supply them in their windows or politicians could pay for them through discretionary funding.
On the Upper East Side, residents want these clocks, and in a recent round of participatory budgeting sponsored by Council member Ben Kallos, his constituents voted for them. While westbound countdown clocks came in second in the voting, they’ve earned $300,000 for installation, and fifteen signs along the M96, M86, M79 and M66 routes will be installed on the East Side. Additionally, Kallos will spend another $340,000 in discretionary funding to install countdown clocks at downtown M31 stops.
This is how countdown clocks will arrive at bus stations and shelters throughout the city, but it’s a very piecemeal approach. These timers will be available at downtown- or west-bound stops only, and anyone headin east or north won’t enjoy easy access to the information. Maybe, eventually, as participatory budgeting and discretionary funds are doled out throughout the years, we’ll see this technology emerge everywhere, but for now, as other entities take over this project, it will be imperfect at best.
MTA Board votes to explore mobile ticketing
Kicking and screaming, the MTA will soon begin to adopt 21st Century ticketing technology. The MTA Board this week voted to approve the LIRR’s and Metro-North’s first foray into mobile ticketing. The contract is with Masabi, LLC, and it will allow the rail road customers to purchase train tickets on their phones, tablets or mobile devices. Conductors can visually verify digital tickets or use handheld devices to scan and validate tickets much as Amtrak conductors do today. (For background on Masabi, check out this Wall Street Journal article. They already provide mobile ticketing for transit services in London, Boston and San Diego.)
“More convenient ticketing options means a better experience using the train,” said Metro-North President Joseph Giulietti. “We want to make riding the train as easy and convenient as we can. We now offer real-time train status via app, and this next step – tickets via app – promises to be another big step toward increased convenience.”
There is, of course, a catch: It’s likely to be a year before mobile ticketing is available for widespread use. Even though this isn’t a new technology, the MTA seems to be suffering from a case of not-invented-here-itis and must test this thing thoroughly. That year, though, is sooner than the Metrocard’s replacement will be ready. At least it has that going for it.
Bustitution, LIRR strike looms
A few weeks ago, the LIRR’s largest union voted to authorize a strike if it cannot reach an agreement on a new contract with MTA management by the end of July. As rank-and-file TWU members are already speaking out against their 8 percent raises, it’s likely that the LIRR union will push hard for a more generous deal. Thus, the likelihood of a strike — with Nowakowski in charge — looms large, and the MTA must plan for it.
After a contentious discussion in which it seemed as though the MTA Board wouldn’t authorize the move, the Board finally approved issuing an RFP for bus service in the event there is no LIRR service come late July. For a few minutes this week, it appeared as though the MTA Board was content to bury its head in the sand and pretend a strike wasn’t a distinct possibility. Ultimately, though, saner minds prevailed, and the RFP is out there. A strike would be very disruptive to Long Island, but at least the MTA has recognized that substitute bus service can’t materialize overnight. I’ll follow this story as the spring unfolds.
One of the lowest moments in recent transit history arrived last June when Tom Prendergast faced his confirmation hearing at the hands of the New York State Senate. Instead of offering up anything substantial, Senator Andrew Lanza too up a full ten minutes of Prendergast’s time, barely asking a question. Instead, he ranted and raved against bus lanes, Select Bus Service, and flashing blue lights. Supposedly, even after years of successful service in Manhattan and the Bronx, Staten Island drivers thought that SBS buses, with their flashing blue lights, were emergency vehicles.
After a review of the relevant New York State laws, Lanza — who has fought every transit improvement for Staten Island with a vengeance — determined that the MTA’s blue lights violated the law. He lectured Prendergast about the issue even though the MTA had turned off the lights in early 2013, over four years after using them initially and after countless law enforcement officials expressed ignorance at the blue light law. Bus users throughout the city have since complained about the difficulties in discerning Select Bus Service vehicles from the distance as the visual signifiers are no longer obvious.
Over the past year, various groups — including Manhattan’s CB 6 — have tried to find a solution. After an extensive review of the law, it appeared as though purple lights would be the only ones that didn’t require some sort of exemption, and for a while it looked like a bill to secure Albany’s stamp would pass. But Lanza started his whining about last summer, and as Streetsblog noted last week, the effort is stalled in committee. CB 6 passed another resolution [pdf] urging Albany to allow for purple lights or the MTA to do something else entirely.
Meanwhile, in another update, Stephen Miller at Streetsblog noted that even some supporters in Albany have lost the enthusiasm for the fight. Here’s the update:
[Sen. Jeff] Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett….Meanwhile, [Assemblyman Micha] Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”
Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99? to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee. The push to pass the bill is also complicated by Kellner himself, who has been sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for sexual harassment violations and is not seeking reelection this year….
Kellner’s constituents rely heavily on SBS along First and Second Avenues, and Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution this week asking Albany to bring the lights back. “My constituents call on a daily basis wondering why the lights are turned off,” Kellner said, adding that he has never received a complaint from a motorist who thought “two simultaneously flashing lights that flash very slowly” on a bus looked anything like an emergency vehicle. Kellner expressed frustration that the issue has languished. “Our bill specifically exempts Staten Island,” he said. ”This should not be a controversial thing.”
Kellner’s statement speaks volumes about this whole fight. It should not be controversial. Everyone is willing to accommodate a bunch of obstructionist politicians from Staten Island who both complain about a lack of transit options and throw up as many roadblocks as possible over improvements as incremental as Select Bus Service. Meanwhile, the rest of the city’s bus riders are held hostage to the whims of the few on something that is not, again, controversial. How utterly frustrating.
I’m a few days late posting this to the site (thought if you follow me on Twitter, you would have seen the news on Saturday, but BusTime is officially live in Brooklyn and Queens. With the weekend debut in the city’s two most populous boroughs, the MTA’s in-house real-time bus tracking system is now available on all MTA buses throughout the five boroughs.
While the service isn’t perfect as designed, knowing where every bus is certainly has its benefits and makes travel on an unreliable mode of transit far easier. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said, “customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”
BusTime is available on the MTA’s website right here, and the information is accessible via mobile apps and a code-based text message service as well. Unfortunately, the limits of the in-house system mean that waiting times are displayed in distance rather than time. Allan Rosen at Sheepshead Bites seems to view this flaw as something close to a fatal one, but I’m a bit more forgiving.
It’s not ideal, and the concept of distance as time takes some trial and error. But two weeks ago, we had no idea where any buses in Brooklyn were, and today, I can pull up every route in the city from the comfort of my computer. Advocates, meanwhile, are continuing to press for countdown timers at major bus stops. It is, as with everything, a matter of funding.
For bus riders in Brooklyn and Queens, “soon” now has a set date. BusTime — the MTA’s real-time bus tracking service — will go live for the city’s most populous boroughs on Sunday, March 9. Bus riders in those two boroughs will now know, via text message, smart phone apps or the the web where their buses are and how far away that next bus is. It will be a huge boost for riders long accustomed to spotty service and maddeningly inconsistent waits.
“MTA Bus Time is yet another way we are trying to improve service for our customers,” Carmen Bianco, President of MTA New York City Transit, said in a press release. “As we have seen with train arrival information in the subway, customers appreciate when they know when that train or bus will show up at the station or stop.”
With the addition of Brooklyn and Queens bus routes, including express bus service, the entire city will have access to bus tracking information, and the MTA has met its self-imposed deadline for bringing the service online. This last installation adds 9000 bus stops to the system as well. What it doesn’t include yet are countdown clocks — or, more accurately, station countdowns — at each station, and transit advocates hope to change that.
At a rally hosted by the Riders Alliance (of which I am a board member), bus riders and other transit advocates called upon politicians to help fund a NYCDOT initiative that would see digital countdown timers installed at key bus stations throughout the city. The timers — similar to the one atop this post — would be a big help to those who aren’t aware of BusTime or are not otherwise comfortable with the technology that makes the bus location information readily available.
“Countdown clocks have been a huge hit on subway platforms,” John Raskin, Executive Director of the Riders Alliance, said. “Now it’s time to bring them to bus stops. We have the technology and we have the interest from riders.”
What is missing from Raskin’s equation is, of course, money. A 2012 study by Brad Lander noted that countdown clocks at bus stops would cost around $4000-$6000 to install, but the solar-powered free-standing signs in place as part of the Staten Island pilot would cost up to $20,000 each. That’s a prohibitive cost and an insane one. Ridership doesn’t warrant installing one at every bus stop, but for key bus stations, these simple timers that countdown stops shouldn’t cost that much.
“The best way to get where I’m going is the bus. I try to time it using printed schedules but most of the time the bus doesn’t follow the schedule,” Thomasin Bentley, a Riders Alliance member, said. “I want to use the bus. It’s clean and affordable. Bus countdown clocks would allow me to make the most of an otherwise great system. The text messaging service is a good start but I find it difficult to understand, and I’m a real tech person. I can imagine that it’s hard for other people to figure out as well.”
When the MTA Board’s Transit committee meets later today, one of their agenda items includes a formal blessing of the unnecessarily controversial M60 Select Bus Servicer route. After months of planning, rollbacks and NIMBY opposition that highlighted the flaws with the process, the committee will vote on the reduced plan, and thousands of bus riders who need better service to Laguardia Airport and down 125th St. will get it. We can celebrate the moment, but it’s also yet another example of missed opportunities for relatively cheap and easy transit upgrade.
In announcing the new route this past fall, MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast spoke generally of the improvements. “The 125th Street corridor is a vital thoroughfare for Harlem residents and businesses alike,” he said in a statement. “I’m glad we will be able to improve service for our customers while still maintaining commercial loading zones for businesses in the area. Select Bus Service will speed up bus service by as much as 20 percent on the M60 where half of the route’s boardings and alightings happen right on 125th Street.”
The Board materials fill in the details. The new SBS M60 will be a 24-hour bus line that fully supplants the route’s current local service. (The remaining 125th St. crosstown local buses will continue to serve all stops.) Service frequency will increase by 10 percent on the weekdays and around 14 percent on the weekends, and with a dedicated bus lane, for all 125th St. buses, that will run for a little less than one mile between Lenox and 2nd Avenues.
The Board committee book describes the bus lane: “Most of the bus lanes will be offset, or one lane away from the curb, which will accommodate deliveries, community parking needs, and right turns; the bus lane between 3rd Avenue and 2nd Avenue will be curbside and only in the eastbound direction.” It’s better than nothing, but even as the MTA stresses that it and NYC DOT “attended over 50 community meetings,” I can’t help but feel this whole thing is another missed opportunity.
As this new service gears up to launch in the spring, it is definitely an improvement so long as bus lane enforcement comes with it. Outside of the need to improve access to Laguardia, a bus ride down 125th Street is often an exercise in patience and futility. This wide cross-street is chock full of traffic stretching from Fairway on the West Side to the Triborough Bridge on the East. Parking and double parking are constant problems, and as with 96th St., it can be faster to walk at rush hour than to sit on a bus.
With 125th St., the city could have taken the opportunity to rebuild the street space. The street is wide enough to support true BRT with center-running lanes and dedicated boarding areas. It has the ridership to warrant such improvements as well. Instead, Community Boards concerned with the loss of a few parking spots and one quarter of the local bus service threw up road blocks after road blocks to the point that the MTA and DOT never shelved the idea for good. Even after local politicians intervened, the plans are a watered-down version of the initial proposal, and parking will still obstruct the bus lane at certain points. Certain Community Boar members too are still unhappy with any plan that removes parking spaces and improves transit.
So again, the needs of the few and loud outweigh the needs of the many, and we applaud the SBS M60 plans because they will exist in a few weeks. It will be easier for commuters, students and New Yorkers to journey down 125th St. and for travelers to reach Laguardia. For the airport, ultimately, though, what New York City truly needs is a direct subway connection, and for a cross-street, we need bus rapid transit. For now, we’ll just have to keep dreaming.
Earlier this week, State Assemblyman Paul Goldfeder’s office sent out what I thought was an oddly-phrased press release along with a letter the Queens representative sent to MTA head Tom Prendergast. In the letter, Goldfeder called upon the MTA to include Queens in its plans for BusTime.
“Waiting for a bus in Queens should not be a guessing game,” he said. “I applaud the MTA for using technology to better their services for customers and I strongly urge them to include all New Yorkers in their latest advances and implement the real-time bus locator app for Queens residents as soon as possible.”
What struck me as odd was the fact that the MTA had always said BusTime would be a city-wide effort and that the rest of the city would receive real-time bus tracking info by the middle of this year. Everything I had heard from MTA sources indicated that the rollout was on time, and I asked Goldfeder’s office if they had heard otherwise. His press rep clarified that Goldfeder “sent a letter to the Chairman to make sure the app does come to Queens and there’s no second thoughts.” An app without one borough would be no app indeed.
In response to Goldfeder’s inquiry, the MTA has stressed its commitment to Brooklyn and Queens. If you look closely enough at the MTA’s bus fleet — and know what to look for — you’ll see that the equipment for BusTime is already in place, and the MTA has said that it should be live soon. “We have completed boroughwide installations in Queens and Brooklyn and are currently fine-tuning software,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said in response to various inquiries. “We are on schedule to go online in the next several weeks.”
So there you have it: Ask for an update, and ye shall receive. A citywide implementation of BusTime should do wonders for bus ridership and the overall convenience of New York’s otherwise unreliable local buses. If only now we could do something about the clunky fare payment system.
Every time a think tank or urban policy center starts in on a bus rapid transit kick, I sigh dejectedly. It’s not that bus rapid transit isn’t something we should have, but it’s just a tiring debate. The discussion in favor of BRT focuses on the wrong things, and the solutions have been so half-hearted. Real bus rapid transit — center-running dedicated lanes with platform-level boarding and signal prioritization — should be a gateway to higher capacity transit systems, but so far all we have is Select Bus Service.
The latest round of BRT dreams come to us from a familiar source. The Pratt Center for Community Development has released yet another policy book on bus rapid transit in New York City. They’ve identified eight likely corridors for BRT and a litany of reasons why these routes are ripe for real BRT — not just Select Bus Service — and how BRT is really not that bad for people who drive. In theory, the argument is there, but in a vacuum, BRT can’t stand on its own.
In the policy book [pdf], the Pratt Center argues for the eight routes you see in the map atop this post, and with a new mayor coming in who claims to want 20 more Select Bus Service routes, the BRT approach should take center stage. Here are a smattering of ways in which Pratt makes the case for BRT. If you’re underwhelmed, join the club.
- “There is no realistic prospect of expanding the subway system to serve outlying neighborhoods…Cost aside, subway construction below New York City’s streets and buried infrastructure is difficult and disruptive, subject to unpredictable delays and cost escalation.
- “By locating bus lanes offset from the curb, BRT preserves space for parking.”
- “On most of the densely-built initial corridors, physical constraints were daunting, and pre-existing urban and economic activity were relatively high, reducing the increment of value that a more ambitious BRT model might have delivered. The political barriers have proven to be substantial, as evidenced in the resistance to what would have been a full-featured BRT corridor on 34th Street.”
I realize I’m cherry-picking key quotes and taking them somewhat out of context, but this has been a long-running theme of BRT advocates. We have to preserve free or below-market-rate curbside parking at any costs, and it may be tough to overcome political obstacles. We can’t build subways because of cost and temporary disruptions to the streetscape. Even though these eight corridors — SI’s North Shore rail right-of-way, some airport and interborough routes — are the right focus, this is a fight that doesn’t excite me.
In a distilled version of the report prepared for the Daily News Opinions pages, Judith Roden and Joan Byron make similar arguments. BRT can be transformative, they say, while subway construction is just too complicated. That’s true, and New York needs some intense focus on overcoming Community Board opposition to anything that restructures street space. Yet, BRT is a fractional substitute for subway service, and any successful BRT planning will require frequent service, a network of routes and a plan to move the transit system from wheels to rails.
There’s a map in the Pratt policy book that I think sums up the debate. This map on page 4 shows population growth in various census tracts over the last two decades. While many of those areas without ready access to transit have shown growth, the biggest spikes come in tracts that have direct subway service. The conclusion is right there for anyone to see: Real Bus Rapid Transit would be a great first step, but ultimately, we’ll need rail construction to grow neighborhoods and meet the demands of New York City in the 21st Century. Until we recognize that need and engage in serious conversations about construction techniques and controlling costs, buses will just a passing fad and an incremental improvement at best.