As the political turmoil and debate over the future of the MTA recedes into the past of last week, I’m going to take some time today to talk about some future expansion plans for New York City’s transportation network. The later post will be published this afternoon, and both will focus on surface options rather than underground rail plans.
Our tale this morning starts in the Bronx with something called Select Bus Service. This program is a joint pilot effort between the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation. It features dedicated bus lanes and pre-boarding fare payment systems. It has resulted in a 24 percent decrease in travel times, and passengers along Fordham Road love the service.
Next year, as part of this so-called Phase I rollout, Select Bus Service will come to Manhattan. Sections of First and Second Avenues are slated for service. Now, as I’ve discussed now and then in the past, this bus rapid transit system along Second Ave. is a bit of a lightening rod. Opponents of the Second Ave. Subway see it is a viable and cheaper alternative to the expensive and oft-delayed subway line. In terms of capacity, though, a subway line trumps bus service, and for now, the two modes of transportation are both slated for the same avenue.
Eventually, Phase I will include service along Nostrand Ave. in Brooklyn, along Hylan Boulevard and into Bay Ridge from Staten Island and access to the Jamaica Center hub. Each borough will have its own Select Bus Service within a few years.
In an effort to expand the program to the five boroughs, NYC DOT recently announced plans for a series of workshops this summer in advance of Phase 2 of the Select Bus Service program. Streetsblog broke the news last week. The Department of Transportation will host seven workshops across the five boroughs in an effort to identify as many as 10 routes for future Select Bus Service.
As part of the pre-launch for Phase 2 planning, NYC DOT has released an unnecessarily large and poorly optimized PDF file explaining the needs of the city and the goals of the program. In a nutshell, DOT wants to target areas that are both underserved by preexisting transit options and areas that are suffering through overcrowding. They want to target high-traffic streets with the goal of reducing congestion as well.
There are though some obvious problems with the preliminary Phase 2 plans. The maps in the PDF are very borough-centric. While Staten Island SBS connects into Brooklyn and some Bronx service connects to Manhattan, rare are the buses that run legitimate interborough routes. Mostly, these Select Bus lines drop people off at preexisting subway stops and do not offer a real alternative for a ride through Queens and into Midtown.
I have a series of suggestions, then, for the planners of Select Bus Service:
- First, these routes clearly, as I just said, need to be more than just feeder routes. A Select Bus route up Flatbush Ave., for example, should cross the Manhattan Bridge and run more than just a few blocks into Manhattan. It shouldn’t just be an easier way to get to the Atlantic-Pacific hub. It should be an easier way to get into Midtown.
- At the same time, some Select Bus routes should be planned as subway connectors. Right now, the Fordham Road SBS service connects to nine different subway lines. Woodhaven Boulevard, for example, could support SBS that connects a series of subway lines and leads to JFK Airport.
- The easiest way to accomplish point two would be to implement SBS along the Circumferential route. Such a route would intersect nearly every subway line and would bring riders from Brooklyn through Queens and into the Bronx faster than any subway could
- Feed the airports. This is obvious.
- Install physically separated lanes, priority signaling and automated lane enforcement efforts. The latter would require action in Albany.
New York City is clearly at a transit crossroads. It needs innovative leaders willing to lobby for plans that challenge the status quo. DOT and the MTA have a blank slate in the form of Select Bus Serivce, and how they proceed this summer will dictate the future of surface transit in the city for the foreseeable future.