Home Buses Politicians call for separated bus lanes along 1st and 2nd Aves.

Politicians call for separated bus lanes along 1st and 2nd Aves.

by Benjamin Kabak

Preliminary renderings of the planned East Side Select Service routes did not include physically separated bus lanes.

Good news about transit in New York has been hard to come by over the last few weeks. We’ve been inundated with stories about budget crises and know-nothing politicians who can’t seem to figure out that this whole mess is their fault. But today, we have some good news about a group of 19 New York representatives who seem to care about sensible transit solutions. These 19 have called up on the MTA and NYC DOT to develope physically separated bus and bike lanes along the planned route for the 1st and 2nd Ave. Select Bus Service.

The back story goes a little something like this: As part of a joint effort to improve bus service throughout the city while targeting areas not as well served by subway service as others, the MTA and the Department of Transportation have identified a series of corridors ripe for Select Bus Service, the New York City modification of a bus rapid transit plan. Last month, the two sides unveiled the plans for the 1st and 2nd Aves. bus routes, and most transit advocates were dismayed to see that the plans did not include physically separated lanes.

Over the next few weeks, the two agencies heard it from all sides. Business owners misguidedly hate any bus improvements improvements whatsoever, and transit advocates did not understand how DOT thought it can run a successful BRT line while still subjecting the buses to the problems inherent in lanes not physically separated from regular auto traffic. A few days later, DOT backtracked, saying that they might place barriers along some parts of the bus routes. It was hardly a ringing endorsement of a much-needed element of any effective BRT implementation.

Last week, 19 New York City representatives chimed in on the debate. As Streetsblog’s Ben Fried reported yesterday, Rep. Micah Kellner shared the letter a group of City Council members, U.S. House members, and State Senate and Assembly representatives sent to Janette Sadik-Kahn and Jay Walder. The letter — available here as a PDF — reads in part:

While we recognize and appreciate the Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to improve travel time and convenience through Select Bus Service (SBS) on First and Second Avenues, we urge you to take the project further. True BRT can be faster and more reliable than traditional bus service or SBS, and far less expensive than comparable subway system upgrades. While we unequivocally support the full-build Second Avenue Subway, we understand that trains are not scheduled to operate on the line until at least 2016 and extending the new line below East 63rd Street, as part of Phase III of the project, will take even longer. As such, the Second Avenue Subway project does not obviate the need for efficient BRT. This is especially true for disabled individuals who use buses more than any other form of transportation in the City. A strong BRT program could be in place inexpensively by 2011.

We call on DOT to take advantage of this rare opportunity to overhaul street-level transit in a progressive and innovative manner that reaches well beyond SBS. DOT should institute changes to the First and Second Avenue route that include not only prepaid off-board fare collection, signal priority, and a dedicated rush-hour bus lane (all present in the Fordham Road SBS), but also a physically separated busway, a physically separated bikeway, level boarding, safer crossings for pedestrians, and real-time arrival information. It is our understanding that buses running via a true BRT system on the current M15 route from beginning to end would be approximately thirty-three percent faster, on average, than SBS buses on the same route.

Such a plan would elevate the City to even greater national and international prominence for sustainable urban development initiatives that innovate and endure, and we believe there would be substantial public support for BRT — significantly greater support than we expect the SBS plan to generate. With a sensible “complete street” design that keeps cyclists and pedestrians out of harm’s way, this project would also save lives.

According to Streetsblog, DOT will release an updated plan for the 1st and 2nd Ave. Select Bus Service next month. In the meantime, the 19 signatories of this letter deserve some recognition and praise for their efforts. This is indicative of the kind of leadership on transit New York deserves and needs. Hopefully, some good — some physically separated bus lanes — will come of it.

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AK December 17, 2009 - 12:20 pm

Huge! I especially liked how the Reps didn’t give people an out by stating that the SAS could be cut (i.e. that separated bus lanes are an alternative, rather than a supplement). Thanks for passing this along, Ben.

Aaron December 17, 2009 - 4:13 pm

For what it’s worth, from living in LA, the select bus services (we call them Rapids in LA) have an intangible secondary benefit – they are FAR more comfortable for riders. Without the frequent stops and endless hairpin turns into stops every 1-2 blocks, the rides are MUCH more comfortable than locals, and in LA are credited with bringing a lot of discretionary users to transit.

Jerrold December 17, 2009 - 5:23 pm

Ben, WHY do business owners object to separated bus lanes?

Benjamin Kabak December 17, 2009 - 5:27 pm

Two reasons:

1. Separated bus lanes take away parking space, and many NYC merchants are under the misguided impression that the vast majority of their customers drive to their stores. That’s simply not true.

2. Separated bus lanes make it difficult for delivery trucks to find some to park – often illegally – to make deliveries. This is solvable simply by enforcing loading zone parking regulations.

Jerrold December 17, 2009 - 6:36 pm

I never owned a car, and so some of these terms are unfamiliar to me.
What are “loading zone parking regulations”.

On another aspect of this issue, if some of those merchants on Second Ave. start to enthusiastically SUPPORT the bus lane proposal, it might be for the wrong reasons. Maybe it would mean that they’re assuming that the MTA will then abandon the Second Ave. Subway project, this time for good.

rhywun December 17, 2009 - 6:51 pm

1a. Many merchants loudly proclaim that all their customers drive to their store when in fact they use the space in front of their store for themselves.

Ed December 17, 2009 - 7:39 pm

Crazy idea: ban private car traffic from 1st Avenue (yes, this includes cabs). Reserve it for express and local busses running in both directions, plus bicylists! Drivers get the removal of busses from 2nd Avenue as compensation.

No need to construct separated bus lanes, 1st Avenue becomes a separated (and very wide) bus lanes. There may be some essential role 1st Avenue plays in traffic circulation, but I’ll admit I just don’t see what it is.

Alon Levy December 17, 2009 - 8:53 pm

No. Car-free streets rarely work. The cases that do work tend to be narrow streets downtown, with plenty of foot traffic generators. First Avenue, a 100-foot six-lane throughfare, doesn’t fit the criteria. As for wide bus throughfares, their purpose is to increase bus speed; essentially, you’d be ramming a bus-only freeway on the Upper East Side.

You’d do much more to improve bus service by reverting First and Second to two-way operation, with local buses running on both, and plans for median-running BRT or streetcars on the avenue that gets more public transit demand.

rhywun December 17, 2009 - 10:54 pm

Yeah, I very much agree with returning two-way traffic to avenues. Except I think only Second needs buses (or maybe express on Second, local on First?). I think both avenues could easily accommodate dedicated lanes. Most of the avenues are like six lanes?!

Alon Levy December 18, 2009 - 12:08 pm

No, don’t split local/express lanes like that. You want to make it easier to transfer, not harder.

What makes more sense is to choose the stops in such a way that 2nd can feed SAS when it’s finished in 2150, while 1st interpolates with missing stops like 79th and 68th.


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