Home Buses East Side SBS to debut in October without separated lanes

East Side SBS to debut in October without separated lanes

by Benjamin Kabak

Politicians and MTA officials pose in front of the new M15 SBS bus. (Photo via NYCTBusStop on Twitter)

DOT's map for the East Side SBS routes. Click to enlarge.

After months of planning, the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation announced finalized plans for the East Side’s Select Bus Service. Construction on both new bike lanes and the city’s version of Bus Rapid Transit will commence immediately, and the service will debut along 1st and 2nd Aves. in October.

According to the city, 54,000 daily riders of the M15 will benefit from the speed and service upgrades, and what is now a 90-minute, 8.5-mile ride from South Ferry to 125th St. via bus will be vastly improved. With the Second Ave. Subway half a decade away from even Phase 1, Select Bus Service should help ease the commutes for residents along the East Side.

“Low-cost changes, such as off-board fare payment, new bus lanes and bus-priority signals, will transform Manhattan’s busiest route from an exercise in patience to one of the city’s best bus lines,” DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said. “Re-making First and Second Avenues to improve bus service has also given the City the opportunity to improve safety for every type of street user – drivers, pedestrians, transit riders and cyclists.”

Despite the excitement over this rollout, however, I maintain that this BRT plan is still the wrong one for Manhattan. Glaringly absent are physically separated bus lanes. Instead of standard BRT-format lanes in which buses are protected from straying cars by a physical barrier, the 1st and 2nd Ave. bus lanes will be painted a different color, and drivers will be urged to keep out. Since Albany has to authorize camera enforcement against bus-lane violators, the city will be able to target taxi drivers only in initial enforcement efforts, and politicians and transit advocates are continuing to push Albany for more complete bus-lane enforcement legislation. Whether Select Bus Service can work in Manhattan without dedicated lanes will be the true test of this East Side experiment.

“New York City’s plan to get buses moving and keep people safer on First and Second Avenues will be a godsend for the 54,000 people who ride the M15 every day. Adding over 12 miles of bus lane and features like prepaid boarding will bring faster, more reliable service to New York’s second busiest bus route and give riders more time to spend with family and friends. Because the plan will separate bus and car traffic and add left-turn lanes, drivers will also enjoy faster trips,” the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said in a statement. “The next step to keep bus riders out of gridlock should be the approval of bus enforcement cameras by the City Council and State Legislature. These would keep lanes clear of violators, allowing the NYPD to focus on other important matters.”

The Select Bus Service route will run from Houston St. to 125th St. along the right side of the street. However, within the Second Ave. Subway work zones, buses will run in regular traffic patterns to accommodate the temporary decrease in road space. From Houston St. to 34th St., the city will also install physically protected bike lanes and landscaped pedestrian islands, thus increasing safety for both bikers and pedestrians at the same time.

Work with commence next week as city crews install new street markings and paint the new dedicated lanes. Parking regulations will be changed, and space will be reserved for commercial deliveries. Bus shelters and the pre-board fare collection machines will be installed in September, one month before SBS launch.

While the bulk of the SBS planning will occur in Phase 1, Phase 2 will launch in 2012 and should bring signal prioritization to the avenue. Hopefully, by then, the city will be allowed to install cameras for enforcement and adequately tackle fare-evasion problems as well.

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Christopher Stpehens June 7, 2010 - 4:19 pm

As someone who lives First Avenue, I hope that this project is a success, but I share your doubts. Worse, I just tried the new rolling stock that the MTA bought for this route: god-awful. Worst bus design ever. The pols standing in front of the bus are clearly smiling because they have not yest set foot inside this monster.

Red June 7, 2010 - 5:05 pm

What’s wrong with the design? I’ve only been on one of these and got a seat in front so didn’t have to make my way to the back. What was your experience like?

JP June 8, 2010 - 7:53 pm

I like the new buses. three doors instead of two, and the front is much closer to the ground for people who can’t really climb steps. true, the back half of the second segment has the obligatory raised seating section but the buses are outfitted with clever cords instead of tape to signal, straps to hang from, and signal buttons on the vertical handhold posts. with (dis)embarcation time cut by prepaid tickets, it should substantially speed things up. Too bad about the separated lanes; the bad eggs are going to spoil this custard.

Nathanael June 13, 2010 - 3:19 pm

London’s “red paint” lanes work.

Even where there are no cameras.

Of course, upon a bus driver writing down a license plate and reporting said person for being in the bus lane, the traffic department slaps that driver with a HUGE fine.

What is the bus-lane-blocking fine going to be in NYC?

tacony palmyra June 7, 2010 - 4:30 pm

2 physically separated bus lanes per avenue is too radical to be politically feasible (yet). You need 2 lanes if you’re going physically separated, otherwise the express bus can’t pass the local (or a broken down bus). That’s the difference. If it’s not separated, one lane is bus only, and buses can pass each other by merging into regular traffic.

My biggest peve is that the vast majority of people riding the M15 to/from 125th are transferring to a bus, the 4/5/6, or the Metro North there, yet it returns to the depot on 126th and 2nd instead of making an easy one minute detour to Lexington. I know it’s been like that forever, and the depot is right there, but it’d be so convenient for so many people to add that little addition to the route.

J B June 7, 2010 - 10:04 pm

Aren’t the bus-only lanes only for express buses, with locals sticking to the regular lanes?

Andrew June 9, 2010 - 8:56 am

Of course not. Where would local bus passengers wait to board the bus? And why shouldn’t local buses be able to benefit from the bus lanes too?

Andrew June 9, 2010 - 8:58 am

That’s not necessarily a bad idea, but the detour is a lot longer than a minute, especially when turnaround time is thrown in.

The bus doesn’t actually return to the depot unless it’s the last run. Most buses turn left on 2nd and head back downtown.

Josh H June 7, 2010 - 4:32 pm

Whose choice was it to have Walder stand the closest to the camera? He looks like he’s nine feet tall, this is like one of those trick shots they used in the Lord of the Rings movies to make Elijah Wood and Sean Astin et al. look really short.

limonene June 7, 2010 - 4:57 pm

It’ll be interesting to see how this ends up working out. I live on the far east side of the island, and in my experience the main impediments to fast downtown service are the traffic jams around the Queensboro Bridge and Midtown Tunnel. Without physical barriers, I envision a lot of that traffic sneaking into those lanes (or being waved into them by traffic officers). Compared to the downtown M15, the uptown bus just flies, but has a lot of room for improvement.

I like that the new buses have 2 sets of rear doors. I just haven’t managed to figure out the best place to stand so as not to get smacked by them as they’re opening, and I’m not exactly huge.

Jake June 7, 2010 - 6:57 pm

It is absurd to see Bloomberg the dork smiling when his administration lied about funding transit. He is joke and should be sent away to planet mars with Pres. Obama

herenthere June 7, 2010 - 7:10 pm

What was hilarious was what I heard on 1010Wins this morning on this project;

“The NYPD will vigorously enforce the bus lanes.”

Right, and the MTA isn’t really in big trouble.

Nathanael June 13, 2010 - 3:20 pm

This is precisely what people are worried about.

Now, in London as far as I can tell (tell me if I’m wrong) bus drivers are authorized to report violators, and the police department issues tickets….

Ed June 7, 2010 - 7:28 pm

I’d rather remove private cars from First Avenue (trucks making deliveries allowed at certain hours), and take the busses and bikers off of Second Avenue and put them on First Avenue. Then you have a wide avenue with nothing but local and express busses going uptown and downtown. I’m not sure why this wouldn’t work, given that there doesn’t seem to be much traffic on First Avenue (at least not in comparison to the avenues farther west).

Painting a special space for the busses on heavily trafficked avenues, and doing little else, seems alot like the city’s equally misguided bike lane strategy.

AlexB June 7, 2010 - 8:34 pm

Not a bad idea, but it wouldn’t work because people can’t really stomach the idea of prohibiting private cars from a major street. Closing five blocks of Broadway made news all over the world. Closing the entirety of 1st Ave would give people seizures.

Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 3:30 am

I don’t think you need to be this drastic. The width of 1st is enough for median BRT, and one driving lane, one bike lane, and one parking lane per direction.

Honestly, it only hurt only the 2nd Avenue merchants, who will lose bus access in addition to sidewalk width. But everyone else should gain.

Andrew June 9, 2010 - 9:02 am

Who would gain? Why on earth would you want to do that? (Because you read somewhere that median BRT is sometimes appropriate, and took that to mean that median BRT is the only proper way to implement BRT, regardless of the layout of the street or of other local conditions?)

Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 12:29 pm

No, because I read serious design guidelines that say one-way pairs are remotely useful only when there’s no space, and none that say they’re preferable to two-way operation.

Andrew June 10, 2010 - 12:37 am

Would you care to elaborate on what you read?

We’ve already argued sufficiently on the one-way issue, I think. You’ve stated that everybody knows that one-way streets are bad because Jane Jacobs made an assertion about them 50 years ago, and that buses can’t possibly move quickly enough between stops to benefit from signal progressions, and that it doesn’t matter any way because buses have magical powers to turn all red lights green no matter what.

I’m more curious now about your assertions regarding median BRT. If you’re putting BRT in the median of a highway or perhaps a wide suburban-style arterial, then it makes sense. But what’s the point in a setting like 1st Avenue? Why make everybody cross the street to get to the bus when curbside bus lanes give half the riders direct access? Why make people wait on a narrow island in the middle of the street when they could wait on a normal sidewalk? Where do the local buses go in your setup?

Surely your guidelines include explanations or qualifications.

AlexB June 7, 2010 - 8:32 pm

Um, what happened? When you first posted a map of this project January, there were a lot more protected bike lanes. The only gap on 1st Ave was between 50th and 60th. Now it’s between 34th and 60th, much bigger. There are no protected bike lanes on 2nd Ave north of 34th St at all. The changes to bus service aren’t that much different, but they are barely helping out bikers at all, certainly not any who work in midtown. You do the world a favor, take up the least amount of space, contribute nothing to global warming, and get run over. Great.

JP June 8, 2010 - 7:54 pm

MTA said it couldn’t be done in time, all the way from houston to 125th on both 1st and 2nd avenues. It will get done… eventually.

Rhywun June 7, 2010 - 10:18 pm

I don’t understand why bus lanes always come with bike lanes. Wouldn’t there be more room for, say, protected bus lanes if the bike lanes were moved to streets *without* bus lanes?!

Alon Levy June 7, 2010 - 10:48 pm

Morons. Utter morons. There are two things for which drawing bus lines on a map matters: service frequency, and dedicated lane infrastructure. This allows buses to run partly on dedicated lanes and partly on shared lanes, which is pretty much the only advantage buses have over streetcars.

Off-board fare collection is a feature that could be implemented citywide for a tiny portion of the capital budget. It doesn’t need to be designated just for special routes, and it doesn’t need to be bundled with dedicated bus lanes.

Have those people ever bothered talking to the planning departments of leading transit cities abroad? Or did they just see shiny buses and say “Ooh, we want that”?

rhywun June 7, 2010 - 11:57 pm

Off-board fare collection is a feature that could be implemented citywide for a tiny portion of the capital budget.

Hear, hear. Why they do this is beyond me – when it’s done with great success in cities around the world. It’s almost like they don’t look around for already-proven solutions to current problems….

rhywun June 7, 2010 - 11:57 pm

er… “why they DON’T do this”

Nathan H. June 8, 2010 - 12:14 am

‘Or did they just see shiny buses and say “Ooh, we want that”?’

I assume these busses will be branded Acela.

AK June 8, 2010 - 8:58 am

I’m not sure why you (or anyone) would dump on Acela, which is by far the most profitable line in the Amtrak network.


Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 3:22 am

AK, a stagecoach would be profitable on the route the Acela runs. The question is not how the Acela compares to multi-day treks through Montana; it’s how it compares to other corridors around the world serving very large cities, such as the Shinkansen and TGV.

Nathan H. June 9, 2010 - 9:20 am

Acela is a brand that, convenient for its profitability numbers, doesn’t venture beyond Boston or DC. Metroliner service was profitable on the same route before that, and still many other routes rake in money along the corridor before throwing it out the windows in Virginia and such. To the extent that Acela is a branding success, great. I’m glad it convinces some people to pay more. It sure hasn’t convinced me. I’ve ridden the corridor many times but always one of the indistinguishable regional lines. I will and do pay more for a brand that is actually better and faster, like the TGV, but Acela is a joke.

It’s important for train passengers to know that our government and national train company wasted a decade by misallocating our meager subsides to sleek-looking cars instead of infrastructure. (Sound familiar?) Since I’ve had a gps I’ve been using use it to measure speeds on regional trains. Going to Boston we hit 126 mph (which, according to wikipedia, is too fast) in one stretch and going to Philly a few weeks ago we were cruising above 100 for a while. This is not at all fast by first world standards, but it is faster than Acela is rolling most of the time. If we had invested in fixing the slow spots instead of in mutant medium-speed tank-trains, all northeast train passengers would be getting places faster than Acela passengers currently are.

So yeah, screw that brand. It’s a symbol of American transportation stupidity.

Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 1:28 pm

The idea of investing in a good train is solid. A tilting train, capable of about 12″ cant deficiency, could do New York-Boston is under 3 hours at zero infrastructure improvement. With minor infrastructure improvements (easing curves within right-of-way, increasing superelevation, etc.), it would be about 2:30-ish.

The problem is that the Acela is not a good train. Amtrak never even tried to get more than 9″ cant deficiency, and at the end got 7″ because of the ADA-compliant bathroom issue.

The question to ask is what infrastructure improvements you need to get travel times to a desired threshold. For example, let’s say you want to cut Boston-DC to 3 hours. This requires a lot of new greenfield track, curve easing with eminent domain, and tunneling, but the amount needed depends on how good the train is. A tank train would need very long tunnels and greenfield track for most of the way, raising costs exponentially. A lightweight tilting train would need much less, so that it could be done for under $10 billion.

Andrew June 8, 2010 - 7:12 am

Complain to the feds for offering funding for sexy BRT rather than for more pragmatic solutions.

That said, while systemwide off-board fare collection would be wonderful, it would also be extremely expensive to implement and even more expensive to maintain. (Nearly all capital projects cost “a tiny portion of the capital budget” – that’s not a very useful quantification.)

And the shiny new buses have nothing to do with SBS per se – they’re mostly replacing the oldest of the New Flyer artics, which are at the end of their useful lives.

Andrew June 8, 2010 - 7:54 am

Also – smartcards may make off-board payment largely unnecessary. Installing a citywide network of payment machines doesn’t make sense if it’s going to be dismantled in five years.

Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 3:16 am

Singapore’s ezLink system, consisting of 5 million cards and card readers on all buses (of which it has about as many as New York), cost S$130 million, in 2003. And the technology has become cheaper since. Bus card readers used to cost S$2,000 apiece; they’re now down to S$950.

Given the slowness of bus boarding in the city and the high cost of fare collection, this program would pay for itself very quickly.

Andrew June 9, 2010 - 9:04 am

Are you arguing with someone? Smartcards are happening here. Except unlike in most existing transit smartcard systems, which require the use of a proprietary card, it looks like we’re moving towards a system which works with any old credit card.

Alon Levy June 9, 2010 - 12:30 pm

No, not any old credit card – just a MasterCard.

Ask yourself what’s cheaper: implementing a new system, or buying an off-the-shelf FeLiCa for a cost that’s a rounding error compared to the cost overruns on SAS.

Andrew June 10, 2010 - 12:44 am

The MasterCard limitation is for the first two months of a six-month trial!

The whole point of this is that standard PayPass/payWave readers are off-the-shelf and available from multiple vendors. If your card works at Duane Reade, it’ll work on the subway too.

BrooklynBus June 8, 2010 - 9:36 pm

The reason they don’t do off-board fare collection citywide is because the MTA would have to pay for it. As part of SBS, the Federal government foots the bill. SBS is cheaper for the MTA to operate, which his why they want it.

Andrew June 9, 2010 - 9:04 am

Exactly. What’s the problem with that?

BrooklynBus June 9, 2010 - 12:47 pm

The problem with what? That the MTA doesn’t do off-board collection elsewhere because they don’t want to pay for the installation and maintenance of the kiosks or that SBS is cheaper to operate?

I assume you meant the second comment. There is nothing wrong with that if the passenger also benefits which they will in this case. I was criticizing their motivation, that if it didn’t save them money but only helped the passenger they would be much less likely to want to do it.

Andrew June 10, 2010 - 12:47 am

The MTA unfortunately doesn’t have enough cash on hand to do everything conceivable that might help passengers. There’s nothing wrong with taking advantage of grants from others to help some passengers at reduced cost. It certainly doesn’t hurt riders on other lines if M15 service is improved.

BrooklynBus June 10, 2010 - 9:52 am

Can’t disagree with that. But answer me this. Why when there was a surplus was the MTA just as stubborn in not wanting to spend additional moneys to improve the bus system?

Andrew June 11, 2010 - 7:22 am

When was there a capital surplus?

Don’t you think the several past ill-fated attempts at next-bus technology would have improved the bus system had they been successful?

Don’t you think MetroCard was an improvement to the bus system? It cut the fare by more than 50% for every bus rider who transferred to the subway.

Andrew June 8, 2010 - 6:55 am

It’s only one bus lane. If there were a physical divider, the SBS (limited) wouldn’t be able to pass the local, and one SBS bus wouldn’t be able to pass another SBS bus that happened to encounter long dwells (wheelchairs, confused tourists, heavy loads, and an occasional breakdown). These aren’t isolated occurrences – buses pass each other all the time on frequent lines, and without provisions to do so, service is badly degraded.

If there were two bus lanes, then I’d agree that division is good. But all we’re getting is one. So camera enforcement is the way to go.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines June 8, 2010 - 8:54 am

[…] More About Yesterday's East Side SBS Announcement (NY1, SAS) […]

Anon256 June 8, 2010 - 8:58 am

Are there any numbers for the projected travel time of the new SBS route? Given that the whole point of the project is to improve travel times, surely this number should be the headline.

Woody June 8, 2010 - 10:25 am

Not exactly, but this item was on the UTU News site:

“Officials say they hope to cut the length of trips by 20%. Based on the experiment in the Bronx, they expect M15 ridership to rise 10%.”

(This item appeared in the Daily News June 8, 2010.)

I assume the News means “cut the time of trips by 20%” and not that everyone will be taking shorter trips. But anyway, since we don’t know the current trip time in minutes (or hours, it could be) we don’t know the estimated minutes to be saved.

Alargule June 8, 2010 - 9:21 am

OT: Just noticed this screenshot at the MTA’s website. Since when is Citroën back in business in the US (car on the lower right)?

BrooklynBus June 8, 2010 - 9:42 pm

My fear is that they chose First and Second Avenue so they can have a reason to halt the Second Avenue Subway for another ten years claiming that SBS is so successful, the subway can wait.

By the media calling it a “surface subway” they are trying to condition everyone to accept SBS as accomplishing almost as much as a subway would. I hope no one is that stupid to believe that despite how successful they will claim SBS will be when it is when completed.

Nathanael June 13, 2010 - 3:23 pm

I’m going to guess that the super-crowded and still not-very-fast buses — and make no mistake, making them faster will make them *more* crowded, not less — will actually create more demand for the subway.

When bus lanes aren’t a subway :: Second Ave. Sagas June 9, 2010 - 1:08 am

[…] the MTA and New York City’s Department of Transportation unveiled the East Side Select Bus Service plans earlier this week, the back-slapping had started even before the politicians had enough time to […]

Howard Weissman June 11, 2010 - 10:52 am

One MAJOR problem- as the Second Avenue Subway is is built, all traffic patterns are ioff!


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