Home Buses Day-Ender: Separated bus lanes for 34th St.

Day-Ender: Separated bus lanes for 34th St.

by Benjamin Kabak

The latest DOT plans for the 34th St. Select Bus Service call for physically separated lanes. (Click to enlarge. Courtesy of NYC DOT)

Over the last few years, as the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA have worked together to develop plans for a comprehensive city-wide bus rapid transit system, the proposals have all fallen short on one front. None of the routes set forth have included physically separated bus lanes. The 1st and 2nd Ave. Select Bus Service routes suffer from this flaw, and although DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan has long promised a true BRT network, she had not yet delivered those separated transitways.

Today, though, NYC DOT has revealed bold plans for the 34th St. corridor that include physically separated lanes from the Hudson River to the East River. Now calling it the 34th St. Transitway, DOT says the crosstown route will feature a “high quality right-of-way” including physically separated bus-only lanes, passenger boarding islands, a prepayment fare system, and “other bus operations improvements.” The route will be used by local and express buses and should speed up cross-island traffic by 35 percent.

As Streetsblog noted today, 34th St. was ripe for this type of ambitious planning. The route will connect with subway stops at Lexington Ave., Herald Sq. and the Penn Station stops at both 7th and 8th Aves. With the ARC Tunnel under way, even more people will be pouring into Penn Station and the surrounding streets as well.

Furthermore, as Noah Kazis noted, this is a very pedestrian-friendly plan. “Running bus service in both directions along one side of the street allows for wider sidewalks and pedestrian refuge islands, according to an analysis of different options for the corridor,” he said, referring to DOT’s Alternatives Analysis screening report. “Compatibility with loading and deliveries was also a make-or-break factor — the configuration maintains curbside access to one side of the street along the entire route.” It is, for now, unclear what type of barrier DOT would employ to ensure that cars do not stray into the bus lanes.

The Department of Transportation, which hopes to attract federal money for this project, warns that these plans are still in their infancy. The agency still has to conduct an environmental review, hear public input on the design needs for the corridor and study necessary changes for the city’s truck route network. Still, these plans deserve praise because they truly represent the bus network the city must implement to realize faster and better Select Bus Service.

After the jump, a few cross-section views of the proposed 34th St. Transitway.

34th St. cross-section at the BRT stations. (Click to enlarge)

34th St. cross-section along the route. (Click to enlarge)

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Alon Levy March 2, 2010 - 6:40 pm

Two questions:

1. What other candidate routes for BRT are there in the city, and how does their ridership compare to that of the M34?

2. How much is this construction going to cost?

Rhywun March 2, 2010 - 11:31 pm



As for ridership, the numbers for current routes are available online somewhere – I don’t remember where exactly but I have it. The Nostrand route, for example, is the 5th busiest in the city with around 40,000 daily boardings. The M34 is not a busy route (#134 citywide, 9,000 daily boardings). But I don’t think the point of the planned BRT trials is to target busy routes – rather it’s to just pick one route in every borough, try various configurations, and see how it goes. It seems like every line is going to try something different. I’m very encouraged by this approach because one doesn’t know what going to “work” without actually trying it out first. Only later – if Ms. Sadik-Khan is still around…* – will the best solution(s) be applied to the most deserving routes. At least, that’s my impression.

*She seems to have a lot of enemies. Obviously, she won’t be around forever, but I hope she’s around long enough to at least get these trials done before the opposition shoots the whole concept down in favor of business-as-usual.

Alon Levy March 3, 2010 - 3:36 am

Here are the numbers per route. 34th has just under 9,000 daily boardings, yes. For comparison: 125th, where a snail could beat traffic, has four separate routes running on it, with 94,000 daily boardings among them.

Clearly importance of corridor was one of the parameters behind the choices, because the first route to get SBS was Fordham, whose ridership ranks 3rd systemwide, and Nostrand and 1st/2nd, which rank 5th and 1st. 34th itself seems like it should be a major, high-traffic corridor.

The problems with the “only later” part are that a) there’s no plan which corridors are deserving, which would be independent of the type of SBS involved, b) JSK should know that once Bloomberg is out she is out, c) all those improvements and many more have already been tried in various other cities, and d) for the most deserving routes, any improvement is going to do a lot of good, so it should be done now.

Red March 3, 2010 - 10:12 am

Keep in mind this corridor also serves the M16 and a lot of express buses that would benefit from a 34th St. transitway.

Alon Levy March 3, 2010 - 5:35 pm

You’re right about the M16. When you include it, 34th has one fifth the ridership of the combined routes using 125th, rather than one tenth.

The express bus issue is not really an answer to my question about routes. First, few express buses use 34th – on the NYCT maps, only the QM5, X22, X23, and X24 do. Second, express buses use other routes more, for example in Lower Manhattan.

For express and through-buses, the most important corridor is probably a LoMex-like BRT service continuous from the Holland Tunnel to the Williamsburg or Manhattan Bridge, continuing in Brooklyn down Utica (which ranks 2nd in bus ridership in the city), a two-way Nostrand (which ranks 5th), or Flatbush (which ranks 6th).

BG March 3, 2010 - 12:36 am

So from the pictures, it looks like another fairly significant change will be that 34th St will no longer be a two-way street (at least for non-buses)?

Benjamin Kabak March 3, 2010 - 12:39 am

I believe the plans include no auto traffic between 5th and 6th Aves. with one-way auto access via two lanes heading east from 5th Ave. and west from 6th Ave. (or the other way around).

AK March 3, 2010 - 9:25 am

Correct, East from 5th and West from Herald Square. I’d recommend reading some of the comparative analysis in the report (MTA researched multiple potential fixes and scored them based on a few dozens metrics– quite interesting indeed).

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Jaystreet March 3, 2010 - 10:51 am

This sounds great, if only they’d consider a light rail line instead of the buses. I mean, initially the buses are a good way to see if the plan helps crosstown movement. An upgrade to a light rail line in the future could still be a possibility.

AK March 3, 2010 - 11:33 am

They did consider light rail– and, unsurprisingly, they found that light rail would decrease travel times even more. However, light rail was deemed “not feasible” for a variety of reasons, thus earning fewer points on the overall analysis. Given how the dedicated bus lanes on 34th have had little effect (as teh MTA admits in the report), more drastic steps are required and this plan looks like a great start.

Alon Levy March 3, 2010 - 5:36 pm

Did you see how much Vision42 is supposed to cost? They want to spend $200 million per km on it, which in most other cities would get you a full subway. I doubt that 34th is going to be any cheaper than 42nd to implement light rail on.

Rhywun March 4, 2010 - 1:17 am

Good grief, that’s a lot. They say that rail transit is cheaper to operate over the long run (mostly due to the longer life of the vehicles, and partially due to savings that can be achieved on electricity). I wonder if they have done long enough projections on either 42nd or 34th Street to make that determination.

Brandi March 4, 2010 - 12:02 am

Real BRT is a great thing if it is done right and this is doing it right. I hate how all these projects are pawned off as BRT around the country when all they are are buses with cool looking stations and paint jobs running in regular traffic. Glad to see some real BRT is finally come to New York.

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