Home Buses Is the city’s transit too Manhattan-centric?

Is the city’s transit too Manhattan-centric?

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the weekend, I had to travel from Park Slope to Forest Hills. As the crow flies, the trip is approximately eight miles, but to take the subway requires a three-borough, 60-minute trek through Manhattan. For those making the trip, it is a painfully slow reminder of the historical, economic and geographic forces that has turned out transit network toward Manhattan. Now, though a new study from the Center for an Urban Future calls for a reassessment of this focus at a time when the MTA’s megaprojects are decidedly still Manhattan-centric.

In a 30-page PDF, released this morning, David Giles and the Center call for an increased attention to job growth outside of Manhattan and urge the city and the MTA to push for a comprehensive interborough bus rapid transit system that better connects workers to jobs. “Commuting to Manhattan’s central business districts has been, and still is, a remarkably easy affair for hundreds of thousands of residents, whose travel options include commuter train, subway, ferry and bus,” the report says. “However, the city has changed dramatically since most of these services were introduced, and more and more residents, particularly lower-income workers, are no longer traveling to Manhattan for work.”

If this argument sounds familiar, well, that’s because it is. As I’ve written over the past few years and as the Pratt Center has repeatedly stressed, the DOT/MTA partnership pushing the new Select Bus Service forward suffers from a serious lack of foresight and connectivity. It’s helpful to feed commuters across Fordham Road to the connecting subway routes and the M15 SBS has significantly improved East Side commutes, but the real driver behind a true bus network should be as a complement to subway service.

In that sense, the bus network should deliver New Yorkers to job centers. Those who live in the Bronx should find easier and quicker routes to Queens. Those who live in Brooklyn should have easier routes to job centers at SUNY Downstate or JFK Airport. As Giles notes, hospitals, education centers and airports should be the focal points for a well-developed bus network.

The report itself relies on job numbers to make its convincing argument. Over the last decade, Manhattan lost over 100,000 jobs while Staten Island, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx all saw their employment numbers increase. Furthermore, non-Manhattan commutes grew as well. For instance, Brooklynites heading to Queens increased by 32 percent over the past 20 years, and today, nearly 160,000 commuters cross the Queens/Brooklyn border for work. The numbers are similar from Staten Island and the Bronx as well, and many of these jobs are in sectors that do not rely on a base or office presence in Manhattan. Those trends are projected to continue for the foreseeable future.

Meanwhile, despite this job growth, the city’s investment efforts are focused squarely on Manhattan. While East Side Access will improve commutes for Long Islanders, it brings them only to Midtown. The Second Ave. Subway, 7 line extension and Fulton St. hub have only tangential benefits for commuters from Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx and barely any for those from Staten Island.

So what’s the solution? Giles proposes a true bus network. He writes:

Fortunately, relatively inexpensive changes to the city’s underperforming bus system, if done right, can plug many of the holes in the city’s existing transit net­work and vastly improve the quality of life of many working poor New Yorkers. The Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) have taken tentative steps to improving bus service, but to make a real mark the city and state must think bigger. Legislators need to settle on a sustainable funding stream for the MTA and commit to supporting both small and large-scale improvements to the city’s much-maligned bus system, from el­evated platforms and time-arrival technology to divided bus lanes and attractive stations. The MTA and the DOT should create a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system for New York that builds off of those emerging in other cities across the U.S. and around the world: a network of buses that look and function more like subways, with routes that travel between boroughs to facilitate nontraditional commutes.

Unfortunately, there are political problems attached to this proposal as well. As we’ve seen along 34th St., extreme NIMBYism makes planning adequate BRT routes difficult, and on a broader scales, buses just aren’t sexy. They don’t have the allure of a new subway line; lower income riders use them; and politicians tend to ignore bus enhancements either by design or by ignorance. Giles’ report should be another part of the bus conversation, and it’s clear that without a better bus network, New York City will not be able to sustain decentralized job growth.

During last night’s panel, Joan Byron from the Pratt Center cited many of the numbers in this report as she nearly got into a shouting match with MTA Capital Construction president Michael Horodniceanu over the MTA’s Manhattan-centric capital approach. Clearly, decentralized transit development is an emotional issue for those who have fought for it for decades, and the city is fast approaching a point where it cannot continue to ignore 80 percent of its landmass while investing heavily in the island in the middle.

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Phil February 23, 2011 - 12:05 pm

G train anyone?

Frank B. February 23, 2011 - 12:43 pm

Actually, I’ll be using the G train to travel from Brooklyn to CUNY Law once it moves to LIC. It won’t nearly be as crowded, and I’ll pretty much be guaranteed a seat. : )

Anyway, In regards to the Mega-Projects not benefitting the outer boroughs, I think that the argument could easily be made that the 2nd Avenue Subway, despite being a longer trip than the expresses on the Lexington Avenue Line, benefits commuters in the Bronx whom have ridiculously crowded, narrow, IRT trains, and will now be able to transfer to a wide, IND train, and brand new, sparkling clean stations.

It’s not much, but I would make the trade-off of adding 10 or 15 minutes to my trip if it means not having an umbrella in my back.

Benjamin Kabak February 23, 2011 - 12:43 pm

I’m not sure if this is serious or not, but the G train is woefully inadequate even for what it is. Since it doesn’t reach Forest Hills anymore, it provides the bare minimum of Queens-to-Brooklyn service, and it cuts across the western part of the two boroughs. We could talk about the Triboro RX line as the “ideal” rail solution here, but that project is decades away from any type of reality.

JebO February 23, 2011 - 1:12 pm

Ben, I’m actually kind of surprised you didn’t take the G train for your trip from Park Slope to Forest Hills. Now that the G goes all the way into Park Slope, it’s almost the perfect train for that trip. Yes, you’d have to transfer to the E at 23rd & Ely. Yes, the G might have longer headways than the F by a couple of minutes. But still, you wouldn’t have to go all the way into Manhattan.

Benjamin Kabak February 23, 2011 - 1:27 pm

Since I live in the north part of Park Slope, it’s much faster for me to take the Q to 34th St. and switch to the F (and also the E due to this past weekend’s GO). The walk to 7th Ave./9th St. combined with the increased G headways along with the very long walk from the G to the E make the Manhattan route a quicker choice.

JebO February 23, 2011 - 3:27 pm

Ah. OK.

paulb February 23, 2011 - 8:35 pm

It’s a very brief walk from Atlantic Ave to the G at Fulton St. Practically speaking, it’s an effective transfer.

al February 23, 2011 - 10:21 pm

Furthermore, the multiple low speed curves and switches between the Atlantic Ave – through DeKalb, over the Manhattan Bridge, down into the tunnels on the Manhattan side – and Canal St stations make for quite a slow trip segment.

Tsuyoshi February 23, 2011 - 11:05 pm

For that particular trip, it seems like LIRR would be the quickest way… if the service at Atlantic and Forest Hills wasn’t so meager.

eveostay February 24, 2011 - 9:34 am

According to Google, even from the center Slope (7th Ave & 3rd Street) it will still take over an hour to get to “Forest Hills, Queens” on the G and E. (2 minutes faster than taking the F through Manhattan.)

(These trips include 10 minutes walking from the subway to “Forest Hills” — 70th Ave. and Harrow St.)

AlexB February 24, 2011 - 6:25 pm

if you live in north slope, can’t you walk to the g train at fulton st? if you walk all the way down to 9th st, you have to make all those extra stops in carrol gardens.

with the e rerouted to the 63rd st tunnel, you chose wisely.

Kai B February 23, 2011 - 5:36 pm

The G certainly does its job in allowing North Brooklyn residents like myself to travel to Downtown Brooklyn for movies, theater, and other cultural things we don’t need Manhattan for. It’s also great at connecting Park Slope with Williamsburg. One can only hope that the extension to Church Ave sticks around once the Culver work is done.

John-2 February 23, 2011 - 1:27 pm

The problem with the G as built is it skirts so close to the East River along much of its route it’s really a non-start as a cross-borough option. That wouldn’t have been as big a deal if the IND had ever built its Roosevelt Avenue-to-the-Rockaways line, but the current set-up is barely adequate for handling the people living in the immediate station stop areas, let alone being used to get to and from anywhere in Brooklyn and Queens.

Bolwerk February 23, 2011 - 3:41 pm

That would close an exciting gap closure, but much more would be needed. Bronx to Brooklyn? Queens to Staten Island? Daunting!

John Paul N. February 24, 2011 - 4:34 am

One would think that the demolition of the Myrtle Avenue Elevated in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Fort Greene would attract more riders to the G. But I don’t see much evidence of that. The G is too close to Fulton Street and the C on the west, and it doesn’t reach the core of Bed-Stuy (Marcus Garvey or Malcolm X) on the east. If the G was aligned on Graham Avenue, more importance would be placed on the retail area around Graham and Broadway. (Then again, that route is too close to the L and Williamsburg would then be underserved.) Back to the present G, maybe the development of the maligned Broadway Triangle will spur TOD, but it appears to be a glorified senior center.

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 12:17 pm

It probably did attract more riders to the G, but there probably weren’t many riders left to begin with. The Myrtle El’s demolition was against the backdrop of white flight and urban destruction (e.g., demolition of neighborhoods to build housing projects). 5 or 6 bus routes more or less have replaced the former Myrtle service. The most notable is the B54, which goes from Ridgewood to the Fulton Mall, directly replacing the el between Broadway and the Fulton Mall. There was, of course, also the Lexington Avenue El. Hard to imagine, given that it’s receded into being a rather sleepy and rather unnoticeable street.

It’s hard to see exactly how a rail service in that area could be so successful again, though. Sure, Clinton Hill, Bed-Stuy, and Fort Greene have all lured some white skin pigment back. The southern extremes of Williamsburg seem to be growing thanks to the Hasidic population. But a Myrtle El-style route between downtown Brooklyn and Ridgewood probably would prove about as successful as the G, which makes a case for building it difficult to make. Even a Myrtle Ave. service to downtown Manhattan again could hardly improve performance. It’s not even that suitable as a “beltway” line.

John Paul N. February 25, 2011 - 2:55 pm

Agreed. I read that the last regular service of the Myrtle El was operated with 2, maybe 4 cars. So there wouldn’t have been much to add. However, those housing projects must have added density but somehow didn’t add so much to G ridership.

The bus routes have been there prior to the end of the Myrtle El, some of them were streetcar lines (what a surprise). Their density and frequency is suprising, though, for people who aren’t familiar with the area. The configuration of Fulton Street makes it easy for both north-south and east-west bus lines to feed into it. A line that feeds into the Bedford-Nostrand station and loops through inner Bed-Stuy wouldn’t do well becuase of all the other service to direct Manhattan and Downtown Brooklyn lines with higher frequencies.

Bolwerk February 25, 2011 - 10:22 pm

I don’t think housing projects meaningfully boost density. They might even reduce it. Moses, at least, didn’t net much more housing stock than he destroyed.

I also find it unlikely that housing projects encourage ridership. Transit requires people who need to go places, and people who are unemployed, indigent, disabled, on welfare, or stuck in local low-paying positions probably don’t go very far.

I know the B54 replaced a streetcar. Not sure all of them did. The B52, B54, B38, B26, and arguably B57 all seem to pick up some of the slack.

al February 23, 2011 - 10:13 pm

The G could use some sort of skip stop service.

Court Sq, Metropolitan Ave, (maybe Myrtle-Willoughby), Bedford-Norstrand, and Hoyt-Schermerhorn. The hypothetical then runs normal on stations to the south.

Riders tend to avoid the G due to lower frequency and low trip time differential. A combination of regular and skip stop service (and Court Sq station completion) would help with that. Higher train frequency would cut wait time at transfer stations, and skip stop service would cut a few more minutes off a Schermerhorn to Court Sq run.

If the TA could get the union to OPTO the 300′ long G train in return of doubling the service frequency, the overhead wouldn’t be too high.

Andrew February 23, 2011 - 10:45 pm

Skip-stop would halve the frequency at each of the stations and make it difficult to make shorter trips along the line. Since the G functions to a large extent as a feeder to the next transfer point, most trips are short. Skip-stop would double wait times while only saving most riders a minute or so of travel time once the train comes. It’s not worth it.

NYCT determines frequency based on loading. If the G isn’t overcrowded at currently frequencies (and it isn’t even close), why would NYCT increase frequencies? Where would the additional cars come from? Would the terminal at Court Square be able to handle the newly increased level of service? (Probably not.) Would the segment south of Bergen be able to handle the newly increased level of service in addition to the F? (Definitely not!)

Harold February 23, 2011 - 12:13 pm

“the city is fast approaching a point where it cannot continue to ignore 80 percent of its landmass while investing heavily in the island in the middle.”

Hear, hear!!

Edward February 23, 2011 - 12:17 pm

So much for the term “outer-borough.” Maybe the city and MTA will start looking at NYC as one city rather than five boroughs.

tacony palmyra February 23, 2011 - 12:39 pm

I like this report, but I think its historical analysis is a bit off. It notes that less people in the boroughs are commuting to Manhattan than they did when the subway system was built. Even if that’s true, I think the big change is that far less people walk to work. Back in the day, if you lived in the boroughs and had a big fancy job in Manhattan you were a big deal. But if you were Joe/Jane Shmoe you worked in the factory or the store or whatever– and you probably just walked to it. We have a legacy of “factory housing” and “the apartment above the store,” because the expectation was that working class people would walk to work. That’s no longer true. Jobs for working class people are now geographically dispursed and most likely to be located in the most remote locations. We separated residences from the noxious fumes of the smokestacks (and the roar of traffic at the stripmalls), but in doing so we made it harder for people to get there. People have to commute further distances today than they historically thought reasonable.

So I think the other half of the solution is that we need to reform zoning to put working class housing and jobs back together. Gentrification continues to force the working class out of the densest parts of the city and they’re left in relatively low density, isolated parts of the boroughs. Living in the Rockaways or East New York is geographically challenging, transit system or not.

As to why transit improvements continue to be Manhattan-centric, I think it’s simply because rich people in Manhattan don’t have cars. The politically-connected classes in the working class outer borough neighborhoods drive, so there’s less of a push to improve transit out there. When even your wealthy campaign donors take the M15, you make transit improvements a priority.

nycpat February 23, 2011 - 1:00 pm

Rich people in Manhattan have cars. The 1,000,000+ Manhattanites who are not rich don’t.
–Lifelong Manhattanite

tacony palmyra February 23, 2011 - 2:45 pm

Sorry, I am defining rich as “within the top 2% of Americans” in earnings. Not just the multimillionaires. Although even some who have cars aren’t using them for a trip up and down 2nd Ave.

Kai B February 23, 2011 - 5:38 pm

There’s an easy to use cab system below 96th Street as well!

Judge February 23, 2011 - 12:42 pm

TriboroRX line, anybody? I love how the MTA doesn’t grace the concept with an official mention or planning study on their website.
Intelligent, pan-New York BRT needs to be done, badly. It’ll never cease to amaze me that something so cost effective and quick to implement can be so easily stymied in a city like New York.

Benjamin Kabak February 23, 2011 - 1:17 pm

A few points on the Triboro RX: The MTA mentioned it back in 2008 when Lee Sander spoke on the MTA’s 40-year plan. The authority is aware of the idea and would love to implement it if possible. However, when I asked Walder about it in November, he rightly noted that the authority has to get through its current projects and find ways to fund the current five-year plan before it looks that far ahead. In otherwords, the MTA isn’t going to spend money it doesn’t have to study something that won’t get built in the near future. Furthermore, it’s a lower cost rail expansion, but it’s still not going to be low cost. The expenses include converting freight to passenger service and some eminent domain acquisition costs to cover gaps in service. It won’t exactly be cheap.

Judge February 23, 2011 - 2:17 pm

Ah, yes, I forgot about Mr. Sander’s mention of the Triboro line some years back.
I wouldn’t be terribly fussed if the MTA decided to devote its efforts into finishing a full-length SAS nor do I begrudge Mr. Walder for his emphasis on more immediate concerns, considering the MTA’s unenviable political and economic climate, but seeing as how a project as the TriboroRX would have a fairly significant impact on the city, it would be nice if the MTA better communicated its support for such a significant endeavor. At the very least, modifying their planning studies page with even a notice of intent for a preliminary, pre-planning planning study would be an additional way to show their commitment to the future of New York (and demonstrate their growing prowess with contemporary technology).

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 4:32 pm

Ben, you and I both know that the cost of funding an official study about it is a rounding error by MTA budget standards. Extra lines are a spectacular thing and can excite people who don’t care about State of Good Repair. Get it out, and if it’s popular, the politicos will find the money for it, just like with the vastly less useful 7 extension.

AlexB February 24, 2011 - 6:36 pm

I think if there were political will, politicians in the Bronx, Queens, and Brooklyn could get the Triboro line built. It would captivate the city and not be nearly as expensive as something like the SAS or the even 7 Extension. It’s all mostly on existing track that basically just has to be electrified. The stations would cost money, but they are all at grade or elevated. They could build the Triboro in 5 years.

al February 23, 2011 - 11:12 pm

Just an observation:
The G ends up within 500′ (1000′ slant distance) of the Sunnyside Yards. A quarter mile tunnel would link the 2. Surface track work, electrical infrastructure, underpasses and overpasses would be needed to have the G run over the Hells Gate (or even the LIRR). Its less seamless than the current Triboro RX but is another possibility. This would be a western spur to help service any high density development over the Sunnyside Yards. Again, way down the line…2030’s?

Another interesting variation would be to have this spur run along (above?) AMTRAK ROW to 60th St/30th Ave with a transfer station with the Triboro. That spur has the potential to continue its run over to the BQE/GCP to LaGuardia Airport, Northern Queens, and maybe beyond. This would require State DOT cooperation ala JFK AirTrain with PANYNJ.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 10:59 am

“the MTA isn’t going to spend money it doesn’t have to study something that won’t get built in the near future.”

Didn’t the MTA just agree to spend on a study to extend the #7 to New Jersey? You see this as happening in the near future?

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2011 - 11:01 am

The City of New York is funding that study, not the MTA. The authority is not committing any dollars to this project. There’s a rather large and significant difference.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 1:50 pm

Thanks for the clarification.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 1:52 pm

Must have missed that article. Saw it elsewhere.

Benjamin Kabak February 24, 2011 - 1:58 pm

If you saw it elsewhere reported as the MTA’s money, that outlet got their facts wrong. It happens far too often. No big deal.

nycpat February 23, 2011 - 1:04 pm

As to why policies are Manhattan-centric; correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t upwards of %70 of the cities budget paid for with real estate taxes in the CBD?

Bolwerk February 23, 2011 - 6:43 pm

Well, which is the egg and which is the chicken?

al February 23, 2011 - 11:38 pm

Yes, big mouths get heard, and so does the quiet thump of hard cash. Its also congestion mitigation. The NYC CBD is large and very dense, and couldn’t function without lots of mass transit. Job centers outside the NY County CBD can eke along with its current transit and road infrastructure. Workers who drive will push for more road spending and lobby for parking, while lower/working class transit users tend to not get heard (unless mobilized).

It is time to develop high density residential, office and research space outside Manhattan (close to the East river) near transit. If NYC is to compete with lower cost cities trying to lure companies, it needs to offer lower price points. High end office and research space leases at $15-$35/ sq ft at many CBD around the country. There are many locales in BK and Queens close to Manhattan that can offer that. It would also spread out the demand loading. With more workplaces outside of Manhattan (but close to Manhattan), the subway system would get more users going in off peak directions, and working outside of Manhattan.

Phillip Roncoroni February 23, 2011 - 2:13 pm

As somebody with the hellish reverse commute from Manhattan to Queens and back every day for work, yes, it is way too Manhattan-centric. If I could take a one-shot express bus from Yorkville to Bayside every morning, I probably would. But I can’t, because they’re only running into Manhattan and my commute is a ridiculous 70-90 minutes each way because the Q27 is the spawn of Satan and all the rude high school students from Cardozo have ZERO concept of what forming a line for the bus means.

Donald February 23, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Of course the MTA only cares about Manhattan. That’s where all of the most powerful people in NYC live and work (ie: campaign contributors). It’a also where the bulk of tourist dollars are spent. As long as that remains, they could not care less about the outer boroughs.

Bolwerk February 23, 2011 - 3:50 pm

NYC transit buses are kind of a joke for anything more than short feeder trips anyway. Select Buses are operationally closer to how buses should run, but even these are ridiculously slow for a medium-distance transit trip. The city just needs to get serious about expanding the rail network again.

Well, I do achieve comfortable bus rides sometimes. These are generally the buses with woefully inadequate ridership combined with poor service frequency. But when they come on time, they aren’t bad at all.

Edward February 23, 2011 - 4:07 pm

The MTA also insists on running buses over circuitous routes (at least outside of Manhattan) to pick up as much revenue as possible. Some Point A to Point B bus service would definitely help in this area.

For example, many Staten Islanders would welcome a direct bus from the SI Mall parking lot to the ferry terminal. There are two local and two limited buses that travel from the Mall to the ferry, but they go along the most winding route imaginable, and even the limited buses make a dozen stops along the way. A bus going north on Richmond Ave and east on Richmond Terr could make the trip in 15 mins as opposed to the 45-60 mins of a regular bus. There are many other instances in the other three boroughs were feeder buses could go A to B without picking up dozens of passengers along the way.

Bolwerk February 23, 2011 - 5:01 pm

Looking at the map, they don’t look that circuitous. The numerous exceptions are the ones where it’s necessary to avoid a geographical barrier (e.g., a park). Of course, even if they are too circuitous, it’s hard to argue that revenue-generating service is less important than the fastest ride – especially given the state of the MTA.

Anyway, a trip of that distance is one that calls for the century-late-and-counting Staten Island Subway, not buses.

Edward February 23, 2011 - 9:58 pm

Did you trace the route of the s44/94? After leaving the Mall it makes a right on Richmond Ave, continues on Morningstar Road, a right on Walker St, left on Pt Richmond Ave, right on Post Ave, curves onto Cary Ave, a left on Bement Ave before a quick right on Henderson Ave all the way to Lafayette Ave where it makes a left for a few blocks before turning right on Richmond Terrace for about 1.5 miles to the ferry. Not exactly a straight shot from A to B! A “Super Shuttle” bus from the Mall to the ferry could take Richmond Av/Morningstar Rd straight to Richmond Terrace and take that directly to the ferry, cutting off a good 25-30 mins.

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 12:00 am

Yeah, the S44 stood out as a bit indirect, but not circuitous. That doesn’t mean it’s an inefficient route speed-wise though.

This is the problem with buses though. A more limited service might be significantly faster and more direct, but without high seat turnover, their cost recovery is horrendous. I doubt it was routed primarily with end-to-end traffic in mind. Certainly circuitous routes are not.

Want circuitous? Check out the horseshoe curve the B24 takes in Brooklyn (PDF of map). Rather hard to imagine that was built with end-to-end service in mind. 😉

Andrew February 24, 2011 - 12:17 am

I think the B24 is a combination of two formerly separate routes. I’ve always been partial to the Q38.

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 11:13 am

Ah, yes, that’s a strange one. (See Queens bus map PDF.) If you can handle a bit of a hike, it almost doesn’t matter which direction you go for some trips. :-p

Edward February 24, 2011 - 11:24 am

Maybe circuitous was the wrong word, especially compared to the B24. What where they thinking with that roundabout route?

The S44/94 is indirect to be sure, as are many bus routes that hold on to old service patterns, some of them the exact same routes as the trolley cars they replaced 70 years ago!

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 11:55 am

Distance-wise, it’s just not that strange. A fairly optimal route (according to Google Maps) is 6.8 miles from the northeast corner of the mall to St. George. This basically means following Richmond Ave. to Victory Boulevard. The S44 route (which I traced imperfectly) adds a bit more than a mile and a half to that trip. The safe money is the S44 is intended to serve the higher population density of the north shore for trips to the ferry terminal – not the mall.

Again, that kind of distance calls for a rail service that will not happen soon. Buses probably just can’t do it economically at $2.25/ride – and they probably aren’t the best way to transport the spoils of a mall shopping spree anyway!

ajedrez February 24, 2011 - 12:47 pm

But if somebody wanted to go from the SI Mall to St. George, wouldn’t they be better off on the S61/S91, rather than the S44/S94?

Also, at a recent meeting discussing the North Shore, they said there is a possibility of turning the North Shore Railroad ROW into a Busway and rerouting the S59 onto the Busway (in the near future, the S59 can be extended to St. George via Richmond Terrace, and the S53 can be extended to Mariners Harbor, negating the need for the S40)

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 1:31 pm

Well, good to know there’s still impetus to choose the most wasteful form of transit possible.

Edward February 24, 2011 - 3:38 pm

As opposed to nothing? Because any pie-in-the-sky vision of Staten Island getting a subway or rebuilding the North Shore rail line is about 40 years in the future. I’d rather have a halfway decent busway than nothing at all.

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 5:07 pm

A busway is certainly a good alternative to nothing. But wasting money on a busway is more expensive and less operationally efficient than a rail line.

I do get a bit suspicious with busways and this Select Bus investment though. It seems to me that many of the better potential LRT corridors, some of which should have been developed yesterday, are being built with buses to deliberately inhibit a future surface rail system.

Edward February 24, 2011 - 1:25 pm

True, though there are many riders to the Mall (workers, students, residents of the condos near the Mall) who don’t necessarily go to the ferry. The S61/91 are shorter options as ajedrez states below, but it too is a bit slow, taking a good 35-40 mins to get to St. George.

Just wondering if there are better options for riders to a) get a direct shot to the ferry terminal without all those intermediate stops and b) faster travel within SI as the limited buses only run to the ferry in the a.m. and from the ferry during the evening rush.

Much of SI’s bus/train system is operated to get commuters to and from the ferry, as they have done for the past 100 years. As the population and jobs in SI and other “outer” boros increase, there’s got to be a better way to get folks around than having them drive their own cars. New subway lines would be great, but I don’t see that happening anytime soon.

Bolwerk February 24, 2011 - 2:53 pm

Better options mostly don’t involve long bus trips.

The best fiscally realistic option for SI is a core of subway lines to Brooklyn and Manhattan and feeder LRT, if we get our acts together. I certainly don’t see a network of subways being developed like Brooklyn has, and Queens needs. Given the myopia of local planners, the best hopes might be some LRT and more likely BRT. LRT wouldn’t much speed up a trip like from the SI Mall to St. George, but it would at least make it more comfortable/reliable (and cheaper).

John Paul N. February 24, 2011 - 4:54 am

Super limiteds could be something the MTA can look at. But the experience of the B103 as an express between Flatbush Junction and Downtown Brooklyn was less than stellar. It still has a long non-stop portion, though, and it’s one of the few regular buses that uses an expressway that is not on an interborough bridge. (Q58, Q88 and M98 also come to mind.) And if a super limited isn’t successful, don’t be surprised if intermediate stops are added, precisely for revenue.

Isn’t there a park-and-ride at Eltingville Transit Center, south of the SI Mall? I thought that would be more enticing with the express buses.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 11:05 am

“But the experience of the B103 as an express between Flatbush Junction and Downtown Brooklyn was less than stellar.”

How much time does it save over the subway or B41 limited? Also, how does its service level compare? People usually make their decisions based on some sort of rationale. For example, are all the seats on the B103 taken by the time it reaches the Junction, while the subway offers seats? If something doesn’t do well, there usually is logical explanation for it.

John Paul N. February 25, 2011 - 3:35 pm

Under Command/DOT, it was pick-up only in the south and drop-off only in the north, and vice versa in the other direction. When the closed-door policy ended under the MTA, many people from Canarsie got off at the Junction (presumably to get to the, yes, faster subway or work/shop in the area), while not as many people boarded at the Junction bound for Downtown. Then the B103 added stops in the Church Avenue/Cortelyou Road area, which increased ridership to/from Downtown. Prior to this Church/Cortelyou stop addition is what I was inferring to as the non-successful express portion. The service span also increased in accordance with the MTA improvements.

I should have thought of the Q53 as well, which I ride more often. A long overdue change, ending closed-door and and adding Woodhaven/Cross Bay Blvd. stops added a lot more local ridership and in turn, more frequency. The point I’m trying to make is, be careful where you invoke a straight-shot pattern. It is not a solution as sustainable as a limited-stop bus if the projected travel patterns are wrong or change after a long period of time.

Edward February 24, 2011 - 11:27 am

Yes, the SI Mall has a park-n-ride for express bus service to Manhattan. Local riders trying to get to the ferry or to school/jobs within Staten Island still have to settle for the very slow, winding routes of local buses. Guess that’s part of the deal when living in the country. Staten Island is like a small town with 500,000 people 🙂

John Paul N. February 25, 2011 - 3:10 pm

I’m not sure if this is what you said, but I wouldn’t equate Eltingville TC as the SI Mall. Also, since I don’t know the travel times, I’m guessing, even with timed connections, S79 SBS from the mall to the SI Railway to the Ferry won’t be much better than the direct bus because of going the wrong way to the south.

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 4:45 pm

A couple of problems:

1. The subway is almost good at connecting the major outer borough destinations. For example, there is a connector from Downtown Brooklyn to LIC, but the connections between it and the radials are terrible. This means that adding new connectors would be problematic, because they’d compete with existing lines. That said, Triboro is win-win.

2. After Triboro, the most cost-effective connector is, in principle, building a little more infrastructure to allow replacing the J/Z skip-stop with a J local and a Z express, with a handful of stations four-tracked for timed overtakes. The problem: NYCT isn’t equipped for this. Pretty much nobody in the world runs subways with this degree of coordination, except Tokyo, Vienna, and Berlin. (Anyone who knows more examples of timed transfers or overtakes on subways, please let me know.)

3. BRT is about as rapid as the German Democratic Republic was democratic. On-street LRT is marginally better.

Bolwerk February 23, 2011 - 5:13 pm

The impetus for BRT, it must be remembered, was at least in part due to the anti-rail stance of the Bush Administration. NYC-area planners were happy to oblige because of that two-generation old theology with the first commandment, Thou shalt not build rail.

If I were paranoid much (I am actually), I’d suspect that 34th Street’s BRT is designed to inhibit the possibility for a future effective option: LRT.

Kai B February 23, 2011 - 5:43 pm

Vienna has timed overtake coordination? I spent a good five years there and return every summer and I know of no such thing. Every line is two-tracked.

The U4 and U6 wait for each other during non-peak periods to allow for easy cross-platform transfer, but this notification to the operator is actually achieved through a little track-activated light no more complex than our “train arriving” beeping lights in some stations.

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 8:19 pm

Vienna and Berlin have timed transfers; Tokyo has timed overtakes. The U4/U6 wait is exactly what I was referring to in Vienna – trains wait for each other regularly, whereas in New York such waiting is irregular and frequencies don’t always match.

Andrew February 23, 2011 - 11:02 pm

The Far Rockaway A and Rockaway Park shuttle are coordinated. The northbound shuttle usually discharges at Broad Channel shortly in front of an A, and the southbound shuttle usually follows the southbound A pretty closely. But headways there are long, and the shuttle is a shuttle with only one connection to the rest of the system, so transfers are unusually important there.

In most of the system, service is much more frequent and transfers are more dispersed. Trains don’t run precisely on schedule, so even where connections are scheduled, they can’t be guaranteed – holding trains for late arrivals would, in most cases, delay far more people than letting them go.

Outside of rush hours, conductors are supposed to wait for arriving connections unless they’re running late. (Whether they actually wait for those connections is a different question!) Based on Kai B’s description, that’s essentially what Vienna does.

Besides, most lines have at least a half-dozen transfer points. Even if you wanted to go out of your way to schedule connections, which ones would you pick? Picking too many yields a mathematical impossibility.

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 11:38 pm

In Vienna, the off-peak U4 and U6 run every five minutes, and the transfer in question is cross-platform – and from what I hear it’s much more regular than any waiting at places like 96th and QBP. Obviously, it wouldn’t make much sense to time a transfer involving a lot of walking.

Andrew February 24, 2011 - 12:25 am

The U4-U6 transfer point is near the end of the line for both, especially the U4. There probably aren’t many delays coming southbound, and holding a train a minute or two for a connection northbound probably won’t do much damage. And I assume that southbound U4’s are probably fairly empty when they arrive at the transfer point, so holding U4’s isn’t delaying many through riders. (I was in Vienna for about a week a few years ago, but I didn’t get to ride the U-Bahn much. It looks like one of the lines – the U2? – has been extended; I don’t remember it going that far east.)

At 96th, if you go overboard holding trains for connections, the delays will cause problems down the line, not to mention the inconvenience to the large number of through riders. Headways don’t match because demand for the 2/3 at its peak load point is greater than demand for the 1 at its peak load point. Running extra 1’s simply to match the 2/3 headway is expensive; cutting 2/3 service to match the 1 headway would lead to overcrowding.

Alon Levy February 24, 2011 - 12:47 am

For the record, I’m not saying NYCT should time these transfers – just that its timekeeping isn’t as good. What I’m advocating is four-tracking the Jamaica Line at Broadway Junction and Woodhaven and timing overtakes to allow the J to run all-local and the Z to run all-express. The express Z would do Jamaica-Lower Manhattan in about the same time the E does Jamaica-Penn Station.

Andrew February 24, 2011 - 8:58 am

I’m not convinced that any frequent, busy transit system operates with with tightness you keep claiming. People hold doors (moreso in New York than elsewhere, from what I’ve seen, but no system is immune), trains have mechanical problems, signals fail, people get sick and injured (which may or may not require holding the train, depending on circumstances).

Even if the scheduling worked out perfectly, the costs would be considerable. Broadway Junction is surrounded by a complex network of interlockings, with a yard on one side. Woodhaven is on a narrow street with a building on either side. And in order to allow for trains to pass through stations quickly, the entire line would need to be resignaled – current signaling assumes that trains come to a stop, or at least slow down to 15 mph, at the end of each station, and installing a signal system that would allow full speeds but still maintain reasonable capacity when trains are stopping would be expensive.

Alon Levy February 24, 2011 - 2:49 pm

Tokyo Metro and JR East do that (yes, I know, JR East isn’t a subway, but its inner segments are run like one). The speed difference between local and express trains on the Fukutoshin Line and the Chuo Line is smaller than it would be here, but conversely the frequencies are much higher.

It may be expensive to resignal, but it’s feasible and the cost of funding a study is orders of magnitude less than the capital plan.

Tsuyoshi February 23, 2011 - 11:00 pm

Osaka has timed overtakes, although not on the subway. I didn’t think they had them on the subway in Tokyo either, since as far as I could remember every line had only 2 tracks.

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 11:34 pm

The Fukutoshin Line has a four-tracked passing segment for a timed overtake at Higashi-Shinjuku.

Larry Littlefield February 23, 2011 - 8:14 pm

Here are some facts to keep in mind.

If you include the health care and social services sectors, which are mostly government funded, more than 50% of the private sector earnings in New York State are earned in Manhattan.

I didn’t say New York City or the New York Metro area, I said New York State. Check the Bureau of Economic Analysis Local Area Personal Income data for confirmation (CA05 series).

Add in the economic activity generated by Manhattan commuters spending money outside Manhattan, businesses elsewhere that service Manhattan, and government and government-subsidized activities paid for by taxes collected in Manhattan, and you have at least 3/4 of the New York State economy, perhaps more.

And this one and only economic asset the state has left is possible for only one reason — rail transit.

Under the circumstances, a few miles of track and a few extra stations in half a century hardly seems excessive. Particularly given all the mass transit that was removed from 1940 to 1960.

Larry Littlefield February 23, 2011 - 8:15 pm

I meant to say if you exclude the health and social services sectors.

Steve February 23, 2011 - 9:21 pm

I would love for the G to be extended back to Forest Hills with Church Avenue remaining the Brooklyn terminal. The trip is much faster and more convenient for me when I need to head over to Queens from Brooklyn.

al February 23, 2011 - 11:56 pm

Then you might need to run the R, M, or G out to Parsons, 169 or 179 during rush hr. I think 71st Continental turnaround maxes out at 20 or 24 tph. Midday, Evening, Late Night, and weekend is less of an issue.

alex February 23, 2011 - 10:51 pm

I’ve always thought it would be a good idea to replace the G with an underground light rail, with spurs out from Long Island City and downtown Brooklyn. The proposed Red Hook streetcar could be one of those spurs, as well as lines in Queens and BK where there isn’t rail service (LaGuardia). They’d operate like streetcars above ground and subway below, and you’d get increased frequency on the underground part (more, lighter-weight lrt vehicles with one operator each) compared to the current G.

Andrew February 23, 2011 - 11:28 pm

The transit system is Manhattan-centric because there’s a dense concentration of employers in the Manhattan CBD.

It’s easy to say that the Bronx and Queens should have better transit connections, but which parts of the Bronx and Queens? The Bronx and Queens are already connected by bus – the Q44 and Q50. Are those useful routes? Should there be more? Where should they go? (Bear in mind that carrying people long distance on buses is costly, since they pay the same fare as short-haul riders whose seats can be recycled.) What are the specific employment centers in the Bronx and Queens that need to be better served by interborough buses? And why does any of this need to be BRT specifically? BRT is best for well-established routes with heavy ridership, not for trial balloons.

I’m not sure what point you’re making about SUNY Downstate and JFK Airport. SUNY Downstate is in Brooklyn, near the 2/5 train and two bus routes (one north-south, one east-west). JFK Airport is served by the B15 directly from Brooklyn (connecting with the 3 and L trains and countless other buses) and AirTrain meets the A and J/Z trains, which serve other sections of Brooklyn.

Is there much of a market for transit service from Park Slope to Forest Hills? If not, then it doesn’t make sense to focus on connecting them, and you’ll have to piece your trip together on routes primarily serving other markets – taking the subway through Manhattan, or taking a circuitous bus trip that primarily serves local trips, or taking the LIRR to Jamaica and coming back in on the subway. That said, is Manhattan really much of a detour? Is it really a hardship to ride through Manhattan, or is it just an excuse to accuse the transit system of being Manhattan-centric?

Of course the transit system is Manhattan-centric. It wouldn’t make sense for it not to be.

Benjamin Kabak February 23, 2011 - 11:39 pm

Andrew: I think you’re missing the point a little bit. The study isn’t questioning whether or not the bulk of the transportation network should be Manhattan-centric. As many have pointed out, there are clear historical and economic reasons for it that still make sense today. Rather, as the MTA expands — both with rail and with buses — the study is saying that the buses should better connect areas of jobs with the people who work there. The buses should make it easier and faster to get around the boroughs that aren’t as covered with crosstown subway lines as Manhattan is. Considering how much less it costs to fund adequate bus routes, I don’t think that’s an unworthy goal. Do you?

Andrew February 24, 2011 - 12:28 am

Of course not, but it’s important to determine where the most useful routes would go and how much of a market they would serve. Connecting Queens to the Bronx isn’t specific enough.

And be careful with the funding issue – bus routes are relatively cheap on the capital side but, if they’re busy, are much more expensive on the operating side.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 11:24 am

Ben, I agree with you. Buses as an effective method of mass transit has been ignored in this City for too long because of our vast subway system. The study makes valid points. Andrew, you are correct also. You have to be very specific, not only in deciding proper routes, but in deciding proper service levels to make it economically successful.

I believe there is a great need to connect areas within the outer-boroughs by a system of express buses between major commercial areas when the trip could be made faster by a direct bus instead of an indirect and long subway trip. However, the demand may not be great enough to operate buses all day long or even during rush hours only. There may only be enough demand for one or two buses in the morning and one or two for the return trip in the evening.

Studies would have to focus on where these routes should be. For one, I believe bus service to JFK is grossly inadequate. A single bus to serve the entire Brooklyn is woefully inadequate. I’ve long suggested a bus from Bay Ridge via the Belt Parkway, which the MTA actually briefly considered in 1993. Or how about from the Brooklyn Army terminal, where people could leave their cars at a cheap rate. (Even the long term parking at JFK is expensive.) And think about increased employment opportunities if more people could get there quickly. That is only one destination.

How about a bus from Sunset Park to Flushing connecting Asian communities? Isn’t the B110 from Williamsburg to Borough Park successful?

With the price of gas rising, people would be willing to take these interborough bus trips if they had a place to park their car at a reasonable rate.

This something else planners at the MTA could study, if they were competent, without the need for hiring outside consultants.

Alon Levy February 23, 2011 - 11:51 pm

I’ll bite: Queens-Bronx is best done on the existing subway or on Triboro RX. Buses would really suck at it. But SBS could be a nice addition to the Main Street buses from Jamaica to Flushing; the corridor is already a frequent bus route.

al February 24, 2011 - 1:13 am

There’s also lots of demand on the Kissena/Parsons Blvd lines. Both converge at Jamaica and Flushing for incredible Bus and car congestion. It might be best to start by creating bus priority zones at these ends to speed service.

When Townsend Harris HS and Queens College classes let out, there is a huge spike in bus demand. Then there’s the morning and evening commute.

There should also be consideration for LIE (mainly service road) and Queens BLVD BRTs and a LIE HOV3/Congestion Toll/Express Bus Lane (HTXB). It would also link together a long corridor with Midtown CBD at the west end, smaller employment centers and destination in Queens, and residential areas in between. It would link to large trip generators at Queens College, LaGuardia CC, Queensboro CC, Cardozo HS, Townsend Harris HS, Francis Lewis HS, numerous hospitals, parks, golf courses, and cemeteries, the Fresh Meadows Shopping Center, and the Queens Center/Rego Park Mall District.
The existing bus routes could benefit over considerable lengths. The buses would get an effective busway on HTXB, and Bus only lanes on the surface streets would speed trips along as well.

A straight shot from Corona, Elmhurst, Forest Hills and Rego Park to Midtown would greatly reduce overcrowding on the Queens BLVD lines. With enough bus routes (and double/triple articulated buses) flowing through the Midtown Tunnel, the 34th St Transit Mall, and Bus Lanes in Midtown, the peak person per hr could approach the Lincoln Exclusive Bus Lane. The congestion toll, with a Midtown Tunnel HOV4 or HOV5 free, would seriously encourage people to carpool, and for employers to hire private vans or buses.

John Paul N. February 24, 2011 - 5:23 am

There are/have been express bus routes from the Queens neighborhoods you mentioned to Midtown, e.g. QM10, QM11 and QM12. Whether those express buses, as well as the QM24 in Middle Village, Ridgewood and Glendale, should be converted to regular buses, in the absence of congestion pricing I have no opinion for the moment.

Andrew February 24, 2011 - 9:13 am

Express buses are extremely expensive to operate. Even with higher fares, the ones that already exist drain operating funds from the far more productive subway and local bus networks. An express bus carries 57 passengers with a crew of one; a subway train carries 1450 passengers with a crew of two. The train also carries large numbers of off-peak and reverse-peak riders, while the express bus mostly serves the peak-direction rush hour flow. And the subway will still be faster and more reliable, regardless of how many BRT improvements you throw at the bus.

It takes 25 express buses to carry the load of a single subway train. Express buses running parallel to Queens Blvd. barely make a dent in subway ridership. Anybody willing to sacrifice time for comfort can take the M or R, which aren’t full. (Neither is the F, for that matter.)

Buses carry 14,089 people into Manhattan from Queens. The subway carries 430,862, plus 112,570 on the LIRR. Ignoring Amtrak, ferries, and the Roosevelt Island Tram, buses carry 2.5% of transit riders from Queens to Manhattan.

And it seems like you’re arguing for greater Manhattan-centricity.

BrooklynBus February 24, 2011 - 1:58 pm

But you are speaking of express buses as we know them, competing with subways to a large extent for Manhattan trips. This discussion is more about using express buses to serve interborough destinations.

Alon Levy February 24, 2011 - 2:51 pm

I’m reading Al’s comment to advocate SBS and limited stop buses, not express buses.

al February 25, 2011 - 2:53 am

There are 2 foci to this plan
1) The upgrades and modifications to the LIE/Queens Blvd corridors can benefit existing local, limited and express bus lines. Most of the run will serve reverse commuters and Queens workers and destinations. As mentioned, the malls, Colleges, High Schools, hospitals and other attractions constitute large trip generators. The Q67, Q59, Q88 and Q30 run on or parallel to at some distance from the LIE in overlapping segments for most the distance from the Nassau County line to the East River. They’re also all local. That means in order to reach jobs in LIC or Sunnyside from central eastern Queens (or reverse), it requires multiple buses and subway transfers. In these cases many commuters drive.

2) As to Manhattan end of things, double articulated buses can carry near double an express bus’ loads. They also don’t need to carry 100,000 or 200,000 passengers/day into Manhattan. What is required is to divert off the Queens Blvd and 7 lines 4200-8400 peak hour Manhattan bound morning subway riders from south Sunnyside, Maspeth, south Elmhurst, Middle Village, Glendale, Rego Park, east Forest Hills, and Flushing. That would be enough to bring down the train loads to acceptable levels. Considering that many already take buses on feeder lines, a LIE BRT can pull off riders before they hit the subways further to the north west of Woodhaven Blvd and splitting the 2 to the east.

There is also the aspect of modal shift. If trips can be faster on SBS (or a Limited SBS) than car on the congested LIE corridor, people will take the bus that zips by their cars crawling towards somewhere along the LIE/34th st corridor.

As to the F, 3 bus lines feed passengers to the 21st Queensbridge station. There are frequent instances where passengers can’t get on at Roosevelt Island. Yes, the M and R are available. But this will serve large chunks of western Queens beyond walking distances of the existing subway lines, as well as far to the east where no subway lines run. The M and R also don’t serve central eastern large or south west Queens.

Getting back to the Q44, future north south SBS lines would connect with this and other east west SBS lines. It would create a grid that would interconnect large sections of Queens, Bronx, and Brooklyn together. Most would run along existing highways and major surface thoroughfares.

John Paul N. February 24, 2011 - 5:12 am

If there is an area of New York outside Manhattan in which large numbers of people live in one area and work in another area all together, then it’s easy to come up with a bus route. AFAIR, in Chicago, either the CTA and/or Pace Bus have routes from residential Chicago areas to isolated employment areas like UPS and the University of Chicago. The Hunts Point Food Market is probably one area that would deserve better connectivity to Queens, if many of those workers are indeed from Queens.

Someone in the MTA can open up the census records or American Community Survey to analyze patterns.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines February 24, 2011 - 8:58 am

[…] More Coverage of Yesterday’s Report on NYC Job Growth and Transit (Crain’s, News, 2nd Ave Sagas) […]

Jonathan R February 24, 2011 - 9:33 am

The Pratt Center had better details about this a couple months ago. The hospital complex centered on Kings County/Downstate/Kingsbrook in central Brooklyn and JFK Airport are two major employment destinations that are poorly served by transit. Run transit there first.

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