For the second time since last 2013, a Presidential Emergency Board convened to help mediate the long-simmering labor dispute between the LIRR and UTU Local 645 has sided with the union. In a non-binding decision, the PEB urged the MTA to adopt the UTU call for wage increases of 17 percent over five years, no change in pension obligations and only the promise to negotiate over work rules with no real reforms in sight. As the MTA is unlikely to accept this decision, such a ruling paves the way for the UTU to strike in 60 days.

During the recent negotiations, the MTA had proposed a deal similar in form to that accepted this week by the Transport Workers Union Local 100. The offer included modest increases, both retroactive and in the future, as well as substantial pension reform and wage structures. The PEB did not view this as a comparable or fair offer and has rejected it. Unlike last time, though, when the first PEB stated that “It simply cannot be concluded that the MTA’s current financial position is one in which it is unable to pay for wage adjustments that are otherwise warranted,” the new decision (available here and below) stays away from a discussion of the MTA’s finances.

Still, it is highly unlikely that the MTA will accept the PEB-backed proposal, and the agency said as much tonight while hoping to stop a strike before it begins:

The MTA is disappointed that the Presidential Emergency Board did not accept as the most reasonable offer our proposal for 11 percent raises over six years for the Long Island Rail Road unions, consistent with the agreement overwhelmingly ratified by the Transport Workers Union. Our proposal is a fair and reasonable way to recognize our employees’ hard work and provide them with competitive wages, retroactive pay, quality healthcare and secure pensions. If adopted, the Board recommendation would significantly reduce funds available for the MTA Capital Plan. We still believe a fair, reasonable and affordable agreement can be negotiated at the bargaining table, as it was with the TWU.

In all likelihood, though, the UTU will strike, and the MTA is probably OK with that. Had the PEB sided with the LIRR, the optics of a strike would have been more favorable to the agency. The UTU would have been the side to reject the contract offer, but instead, the MTA will appear as though it is goading on a strike when it eventually rejects this deal. But it’s hard to say that a strike shouldn’t happen; as I discussed last night, a strike could be beneficial in the long run even as it exacts short-term pain.

So now we wait. The UTU and MTA have 60 days to attempt to negotiate something palatable to either side, and the PEB decision is nothing more than advisory. If I were a betting man, though, I’d put money a strike, and that may not be the worst outcome around.

After the jump, read the PEB decision. Read More→

Categories : UTU
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As the MTA Board gears up to validate the new TWU contract on Wednesday, the union met for a vote yesterday, and the deal passed with an overwhelming majority. Over 80 percent of the rank-and-file voted in favor of the agreement — which grants modest retroactive and future raises while requiring higher healthcare contributions. It doesn’t have the work rule reform many had hoped, but it ushers in some peace after years of rancorous negotiations between the TWU and various MTA heads.

Now, attention will turn to the east as the Long Island Rail Road, whose workers can legally strike, gears up for some labor unrest. The UTU has already authorized a strike for late July, and unless the MTA and its LIRR union can come to an agreement soon, the eastern suburbs will be look at a rough summer. The TWU though may be the savior for Long Island riders hoping against a strike. The subway union and the new contract may also be just the thing the MTA needs to put some added pressure on the UTU.

In a paywalled article for Newsday, Alfonso Castillo follows that thread. It could be worse; it could be better. Castillo writes:

An LIRR union source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the TWU’s approval of the contract increases the likelihood of a railroad strike, as LIRR unions have lost some leverage at the bargaining table. “The MTA is going to dig their heels in now,” said the source, adding that the subway workers’ ratification gave the MTA’s case “validity.”

Without an agreement in place, 6,000 LIRR workers could legally strike as early as July 20, stranding some 300,000 daily riders who use the nation’s largest commuter railroad. The LIRR unions have said the MTA’s proposed contract is worth far less to LIRR workers than to subway workers, who will see several new perks that would not benefit railroad workers, including free rides on the LIRR. Railroad workers would also see a far bigger increase in employee health benefit contributions than transit workers will under the contract.

The unions have demanded that the MTA accept the more lucrative terms of a White House-appointed mediation board, which in December called for 17 percent raises for workers, and smaller health care cost contributions. A second Presidential Emergency Board was set to issue its recommendation for a fair LIRR contract Tuesday, just 60 days before a strike could be called. Losing the presidential board’s support a day after subway workers ratified their contract would be a “worst-case scenario,” the union source said. “That would definitely lead to a collision course.”

TWU officials, rightly so, declined to take a stance on the United Transportation Union situation. “I’m the president of the TWU Local 100. I’m not the president of the Long Island Rail Road coalition,” John Samuelson said to Newsday. “We have long-standing benefit issues that the Long Island Rail Road folks didn’t have.”

The MTA, meanwhile, claims they are committed to resolving the outstanding dispute with the UTU at the bargaining table and preferably before a strike. The clock is ticking though, and in two months, the LIRR would effectively shut down for substitute bus service until the two sides agree. As workforce reform goes, it’s more important for the MTA to extract concessions from the LIRR union at this stage in the game, and a strike almost feels inevitable. We’ll see where we are in 60 days.

Categories : TWU, UTU
Comments (40)

NextStopis Everyone’s favorite podcast devoted to New York City’s transit scene drops its 17th episode today. Rejoice as Eric Brasure and I tackle a few key topics. We discussed Mayor Bill De Blasio’s dealings with the popular green borough taxi program and his relationship with the yellow cab medallion and fleet owners. We explore the big push to improve transit access to LaGuardia Airport and the MTA’s plans to increase service over the coming months.

This week’s episode runs about 22 minutes, and if you haven’t left work for the day, give it a listen on your ride home. (But don’t worry; it will still be timely in the morning.) You can grab the podcast right here on iTunes or pull the raw MP3 file. If you enjoy what you hear, subscribe to updates on iTunes as well and consider leaving us a review. If you have any issues you’d like us to tackle when we return in two weeks, leave ‘em in the comments below.

Categories : The Next Stop Is
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What a difference four years make. At around this time back in 2010, New York City and its transit system was gearing up for a day of reckoning. Bus lines throughout the city were to be axed with more bus stops eliminated, and subway service was set to be pared down. Despite record ridership, the MTA’s finances were in disarray, and Albany wasn’t willing to take unpopular steps to shore up the balance sheet.

These days, the MTA’s finances aren’t any more secure than they were four years ago, but the economy on the whole — and key tax revenues — are on the up and up. Thus, the agency is on a better footing and can bring service increases online to meet demand. We heard last week about some major increases in off-peak L train frequency, and that won’t be, according to a report in the Daily News, the only transit bumps New Yorkers will witness this year. We’ll know more once the MTA’s budget is released in July, but as Pete Donohue reported, the MTA is gearing up to add $20 million worth of service.

“The customers want more service and the board members want to give them more service,” an unnamed MTA official said to the News. “We’re looking at the most cost-effective ways to do that.”

And just what are those cost-effective ways? Here’s Donohue’s take:

The presidents of the MTA’s bus, subway and commuter train operations have submitted to headquarters possible targets for funding. Some board members and advocacy groups, like the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance, also have pitched suggestions. They include extending the J train on weekends to Broad St., extending the B37 bus route to downtown Brooklyn, returning the M104 to 42nd St., restoring weekend service on the Long Island Rail Road’s West Hampton branch and extending Metro-North Railroad trains with additional cars to reduce crowding.

The service upgrades, if ultimately adopted, would mark the third year in a row the MTA put forth major spending programs that boosted bus, subway and commuter train service after enacting deep cuts in 2010…

The MTA executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the authority will not restore all of the 2010 cuts, adding that they included bus routes that proved too expensive because of extremely low ridership. This new round also will likely include more nonservice initiatives, such as working to improve cleanliness and customer communications, the executive said.

Based on this list, I’m more intrigued by the cleanliness and customer communications initiatives than I am of the actual service increases. Longer Metro-North train sets at certain hours of the day would be a boon for riders who feel the space limitations, but extending the J train to Broad St. on weekends isn’t anything that impacts that many subway riders. I’m hoping for more once we see the final plans. I am also tempted to say that it doesn’t make sense to bring back many of the axed bus routes, but this position raises the question of induced demand. Can bus service — even those expensive to run — lead to a greater desire for transit service?

Still, investment in more transit service is a positive from the MTA. We saw them pare down service by nearly $100 million a few years ago, and they’ve slowly added it back where demand warrants it. These are moves that warrant support; it’s only too bad the investments come in such small increments. Imagine where we would be and how the transit network could serve the city and the region if money were less of an obstacle.

Categories : Service Cuts
Comments (31)

I have a few posts lined up for next week already. We’ll talk about Mayor De Blasio’s approach to the green boro taxi program. (Hint: I don’t approve.) We’ll talk about MSG’s tax breaks. (Hint: City Council’s desire to roll them back could be a baby step toward a new Penn Station.) And we’ll talk about 2nd Ave. Subway milestones. (Hint: We’re approximately 960 days away from this thing becoming an actual reality.)

If you’re running the Brooklyn Half tomorrow morning, as I am, good luck, and be ware the service changes on the 2, 3 and 4 lines.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, 2 trains are suspended in both directions between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College due to switch renewal north of Nostrand Av. Free shuttle buses provide alternative service, making all subway stops between Franklin Av and Flatbush Av-Brooklyn College.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, 3 trains are suspended due to switch renewal north of Nostrand Av. 2 trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. In Brooklyn, free shuttle buses operate between Franklin Av and New Lots Av. Transfer between 2 trains and free shuttle buses at Franklin Av. In Harlem, free shuttle buses serve 135 St, 145 St, and 148 St. Transfer between 2 trains and free shuttle buses at 135 St.


From 11:30 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, 4 trains are suspended in both directions between Atlantic Av-Barclays Ctr and New Lots Av due to switch renewal north of Nostrand Av. 2 trains and free shuttle buses provide alternate service. Transfer between 2 trains and free shuttle buses at Franklin Av.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Queens-bound A trains skip 111 St due to station renewal work at 104 St.

  • For Service To 111 St: Take a Lefferts Blvd-bound A train to Lefferts Blvd and transfer to a Brooklyn-bound A train.
  • For Service From 111 St: Take a Brooklyn-bound A train to Rockaway Blvd and transfer to a Lefferts Blvd-bound A train, or use the Q112 bus.


From 9:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Sunday, May 18, Brooklyn-bound D trains skip 182-183 Sts due to ADA work at the Kingsbridge Rd.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, E trains run local in both directions between Queens Plaza and Forest Hills-71 Av due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Queens-bound F trains run express from Church Av to Smith-9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.


From 12:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Queens-bound F trains run local between Queens Plaza and Forest Hills-71 Av due to CPM signal modernization at Forest Hills-71 Av and Kew Gardens-Union Tpke. Coney Island-Stillwell Av-bound F trains run local between Forest Hills-71 Av and 21 St-Queensbridge.


From 9:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Queens-bound F trains are rerouted via the E line from 47-50 Sts-Rock Ctr to Queens Plaza due to Second Avenue Subway construction work.


From 11:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Queens-bound G trains run express from Church Av to Smith-9 Sts due to signal work at Church Av.


From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, May 18, J service is suspended between Marcy Av and Broadway Junction due to track panel work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction. Free shuttle buses operate between Marcy Av and Broadway Junction stopping at Hewes St, Lorimer St, Flushing Ave, Myrtle Av, Kosciusko St, Gates Av, Halsey St, and Chauncey St.


From 3:30 a.m. Saturday, May 17 to 10:00 p.m. Sunday, May 18, M service is suspended due to track panel work from Flushing Av to Myrtle Av, and track repairs near Broadway Junction. Transfer between J trains and free shuttle buses at Marcy Av. Free shuttle buses operate between Middle Village Metropolitan Av and Marcy Av, stopping at Fresh Pond Rd, Forest Av, Seneca Av, Myrtle-Wyckoff Avs, Knickerbocker Av, Central Av, Myrtle Av, Flushing Av, Lorimer St, and Hewes St.


From 10:45 p.m. Friday, May 16 to 5:00 a.m. Monday, May 19, Brooklyn-bound Q trains run express from Newkirk Av to Sheepshead Bay due to track panel work from Church Av to Newkirk Av, and Brighton Beach.

Categories : Service Advisories
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Let us pretend you are a member of an industry group that could be a fairly powerful advocate for airport accessibility. Let’s say you are hoping to improve the way New Yorkers relate to their airports. This isn’t a particularly long stretch as New York’s airports have a reputation for being inaccessible and generally awful. And now let’s say you’re focusing on getting to and from the airport. Do you advocate for something challenging but more beneficial such as, say, a rail extension or do you settle for the bus?

If you’re the Global Gateway Alliance, an organization that includes Joseph Sitt and Kathryn Wylde, apparently a bus is good enough if you’re trying to “address the major challenges facing the metropolitan region’s airports and related infrastructure that, if left unaddressed, will serve as a major impediment to the long-term growth of New York City.” Who knew a simple bus would do the trick?

Maybe I’m selling this idea short. In a letter to NYC DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA CEO and Chairman Tom Prendergast, the Global Gateway Alliance urged the city’s transportation leaders to install a true BRT line between Ditmars Boulevard and LaGuardia Airport. It’s not a call for a subway extension, and it doesn’t involve the plans to bring BRT to Woodhaven. Rather, it’s a modest three-mile proposal, but the letter seems to create and give in to the opposition before wheels are even on the ground. Here’s an excerpt:

we believe the project should allow for the first true Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line in New
York City, linking the N line terminus at 31st Street and Ditmars Boulevard directly to LaGuardia, less than 3 miles away. The short distance between the N and the Central Terminal Building presents the opportunity for the elements of a BRT line that aren’t allowed by longer bus routes throughout the City – a dedicated lane, tickets purchased off the bus, and one or no stops along the route.

In addition, there are a number of potential route options. Ditmars Boulevard is the most direct and could increase foot traffic to and awareness of the shopping district. It may be difficult to remove parking spaces along Ditmars, however, so other alignments including down 31st Street to the Grand Central or another surface road could also be explored…

We know that an extension of the N line to LaGuardia was considered in the early 2000s. Ultimately, it was shelved due to community opposition from the disruption of constructing new elevated tracks. While an N Line extension would be a great boost to LaGuardia and mean the first one-seat ride to one of our major airports, a BRT plan is more workable right now…

We know that there may be new community issues associated with any additional mass transit plan, but we believe they can be overcome. Meeting with and including the local community in the planning process now will go a long way toward making the neighborhood a partner in this effort.

The GGA recognizes the recent moves to bolster Q70 service and install an SBS along the M60, but the organization notes that these two routes do not address the need for “direct and dedicated access” to the public transportation system from LaGuardia. Whether a BRT line from the airport to a subway terminal that’s a slow 11 stops away from Times Square qualifies is up for debate, but that’s my issue.

Rather, the GGA has the ability to impact decisions for the foreseeable future. These are powerful interests who care about mobility and have the resources to work with communities (and, if necessary, battle NIMBYs) to get good transit for everyone. They should be focusing on a faster rail link rather than a slower surface option with much less capacity. We used to think big; now we just think buses. How disappointing.

Categories : Queens
Comments (116)

For L and M train riders, this fall will bring some much needed capacity improvements during periods of high travel. For G train riders, this summer will bring a five-week service outage along the northern segment of the line as Sandy repair work wraps, but along with this service changes comes a free out-of-system transfer for which many have been clamoring for years. As subway experiments and service patterns go, these are worth some attention.

First, the good news. In addition to service increases this summer that will see more off-peak L train service and weekend M trains terminating at Essex St. instead of in Brooklyn, the MTA plans to add a significant number of trains along those L line and an extra ride along the M come the fall. Here’s the breakdown:

  • Saturday L service will be increased a total of thirty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Sunday L service will be increased a total of twenty-three round trips between 8:00 a.m. and 9:00 p.m;
  • Weekday evening L service will be increased a total of three round trips;
  • Weekday M service will be increased a total of one round trip (one northbound trip in the morning and one southbound trip in the late afternoon);

These service additions, some of the more significant ones in recent years, come after Transit examined schedules and service demands. “Among the changes is a significant increase in L weekend service, which will decrease wait times for customers as well as increase capacity on a line that continues to see ridership growth, most notably during off peak hours,” NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco said in a statement. “Ridership is at an all-time high, including records for weekend ridership. These are customers who rely on us for all of their transportation needs, both work and play, and we are trying to meet that demand with our available resources.”

The MTA notes that these changes will cost around $1.7 million annually — a pittance for such a significant boost in service — and are in addition to the eight new weekend and weekday L train round trips that are on tap for the summer. The M train service increase will begin when the R train’s Montague St. tunnel is reactivated toward the end of October.

While this is welcome news for a lot of riders in Brooklyn and Queens, those who use the G train to bridge the Newtown Creek crossing will find themselves looking for other options this summer. As part of the Sandy work, the G will not run through the Greenpoint Tube beginning July 26. As an assist to riders looking for alternate routes, the MTA will create a free out-of-system transfer between the G at Broadway and the J/M/Z at Lorimer St. (I’m surprised it’s Lorimer and not Hewes, but that’s a minor point.)

It’s not entirely clear how the free transfer helps out those stranded by the Sandy shutdown as the J and M trains don’t go anywhere near Court Sq. (though the connection to the M will alleviate a lack of access to the E), but this transfer has always been one I believed the MTA should offer even if it meant changing their transfer policies. It allows for better connections into Lower Manhattan and the Sixth Avenue corridor as well as Brooklyn and Queens. “We realize this vital work is going to be an inconvenience for our customers and we’re happy to provide this service to make it easier for people in those affected neighborhoods,” MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg said to the Daily News.

If this transfer proves popular, I have to believe the MTA would consider making it permanent. If anything, as I mentioned, it improves mobility between routes that have always crossed but never connected. That is never a bad development.

Categories : Brooklyn
Comments (30)

The proverbial ship has long since sailed on a 7 line station at 41st St. and 10th Ave. in the foreseeable future. While the provisioning exists for the MTA to construct two side platforms at the spot when the money and the will to build materialize, the 7 line extension will open at some point this year without that station. It’s just another in a long line of missed opportunities that plague the history of the New York City subway system.

With that in mind, consider the news of the first intra-Manhattan commuter ferry. It will not be subsidized by the city and will operate between the Far West Side and Lower Manhattan. The Post offers up a short bit on this new service:

The first commuter ferry to travel within Manhattan on the Hudson River will launch next week to serve residents of midtown’s transit-starved Far West Side. The westside Ferry boats will travel between West 44th Street and the World Financial Center every 15 minutes during the morning and evening commutes.

The New York Water Taxi service kicks off Monday with a week of free rides. After that the price will be set at $8 for round trip — but frequent users will get a discounted rate…The company hopes to get sponsorships from real estate developments on the Far West Side, as well as Lower Manhattan.

Even with an eventual bulk discount, that $8 fare is steep for intra-Manhattan transit. When the 7 line extension opens, riders closer to 34th St. will be able to access the subway system with the swipe of a MetroCard, but this ferry terminal at 44th St. serves a growing area that doesn’t have easy subway access. Imagine though if a subway stop were months away from opening at 41st and 10th Ave., and think — but not too hard — about why the city and MTA had to fight over $500 million.

Categories : 7 Line Extension
Comments (22)

For reasons of politics, Penn Station Access — the plan to send Metro-North trains through four new stations in the Bronx and into Penn Station — has become Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s transit cause célèbre. The plan has support from Westchester and the Bronx, and Cuomo is angling to deliver something for the constituents of his most notable November challenger. Don’t get in his way.

According to one story out on Monday, Penn Station Access and her opposition to it may be why Helena Williams is no longer the president of the Long Island Rail Road. In an extensive piece on Newsday that is unfortunately behind their payroll, Alfonso Castillo has the story:

Ousted LIRR president Helena Williams’ criticism of a Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo-backed MTA plan to link Metro-North Railroad to Penn Station — potentially inconveniencing Nassau and Suffolk commuters — cemented her reputation as a fierce advocate for Long Island, but it also contributed to Williams losing her job, sources said.

Williams, 58, whose seven-year stint as Long Island Rail Road president ended Friday, clashed with Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Thomas Prendergast over the Penn Station Access project, which would bring Metro-North into the LIRR’s West Side Manhattan terminal using existing Amtrak tracks around the same time the LIRR would connect to Grand Central Terminal as part of East Side Access, sources said.

“There was definitely a rift over that,” said one MTA source who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Tom seemed to be on the side of pushing this thing forward, and his agency president was not. She was sort of pulling in the opposite direction.”

“I don’t think there’s any question that it helped her demise,” MTA board member Mitchell Pally said.

The article explores this divide with some MTA Board members claiming Williams’ opposition was “parochial” and that it led to her ouster while others called her a fierce advocate for Long Island whose stance on Penn Station Access was not a “significant factor” on her departure. Read into that what you will. I believe that any opposition to Penn Station Access at this point is mostly parochial and has no place in New York City 2014. Solving regional mobility issues will require joint cooperation from both LIRR and Metro-North, and it may involve some sacrifices on each side.

That said, Patrick at The LIRR Today has up an extensive gut-check on Penn Station Access. It’s well worth a read, but here’s an excerpt:

The problem with Penn Station Access is the fact that most people are going about looking at this the wrong way. They look at this as dots on the map. If the LIRR can add a dot onto their map it’s only fair that Metro-North get to add a dot onto theirs. But it’s tremendously more complex than that. Grand Central and Penn Station are far from similar — one is a station with more than forty platforms and more than 60 station tracks that is used exclusively by one and only one railroad, the other has just 11 platforms, 21 tracks, is shared by three different railroads that collectively operate close to 1,000 revenue trains on the average weekday in what could best be described as cramped quarters…

And to add to this, the LIRR’s East Side Access project is constructing an entirely new station at Grand Central deep below the existing one (like it or not, that’s what they’re going with). Therefore, bringing LIRR trains into Penn Station would result in no net loss of station tracks at Grand Central for Metro-North. Other than Madison Avenue Yard and the Lower Level Loop which was closed several years ago for ESA work, Metro-North has not been adversely affected by East Side Access.

Over at Penn Station, there is no plan to construct a new 8-track terminal below the exiting one (well, at least for Metro-North trains). The plan to bring Metro-North trains into Penn Station would involve no addition of capacity into the current station. Since they have no intention of adding capacity at Penn Station to support Metro-North trains, those slots are going to have to come from someplace else. I don’t think Amtrak or NJTransit are going to volunteer some of their station slots for the sake of Metro-North commuters, so the last possible space to get slots is from the LIRR. And when East Side Access is completed, demand for the LIRR service to New York Penn will decrease slightly, and they will not need to run as many trains to Penn Station, so there will be some space opened up for Metro-North. But a massive unknown in this equation is just how much space the LIRR might free up in Penn Station.

It’s food for thought as these projects come up for debate in the coming months. It certainly seems that Cuomo, not one to embrace transit, has started to put some political pressure on multiple fronts on the MTA. Between the TWU contract, the constant theft of supposedly dedicated funds and seemingly spurious statements from MTA officials about the agency’s financial situation, whether all of this politicking is for the good remains to be seen.

Comments (154)

A Daily News graphic shows the potential routing for the city’s first true Bus Rapid Transit line.

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.

Categories : Buses, Queens
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