Home Buses Must love buses?

Must love buses?

by Benjamin Kabak

Over the past few years, the MTA has witnessed a bus problem emerge. With slower traffic, unreliable schedules and slashed and reduced routes, the city’s local bus system has sometimes become an afterthought. Popular crosstown and through-borough routes can stick pack ’em in, but bus ridership has undergone a steady decline as subway use has skyrocketed.

Meanwhile, the MTA’s and New York City’s investment in its bus network has been lukewarm at best. It seemingly takes nearly as long to get a Select Bus Service route up and running as it does to build out a subway extension as planning meetings bog down the process. The most radical street reconstructions, such as those envisioned for 34th Street, have fallen away in the face of NIMBY protests, and the city has struggled with basic bus improvements such as a faster ride to La Guardia Airport or Brooklyn/Queens connections that span popular neighborhoods.

This attitude toward buses should change, though, one commentator has recently alleged. Will Doig, writing last week, at Slate penned a paean to buses. We might hate the bus and all it stands, but we should begin to love it. He writes:

When it comes to improving mass transit, there’s a lot of low-hanging fruit on the humble city bus. The vital connective tissue of multi-modal transit systems, the bus could be an efficient — nay, elegant — solution to cities’ mobility woes if only we made it so.

And yet we rarely do. Streetcars are replacing bus routes in cities across the country, and billions are thrown at light rail while the overlooked bus is left to scream “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha!” “If you decide that buses don’t merit investment, you’re going to miss a lot of opportunities to help people get where they’re going, and to expand their sense of freedom of movement, just because you don’t like the vehicle they’re riding,” says transit consultant Jarrett Walker.

Making people like the bus when not liking the bus is practically an American pastime essentially means making the bus act and feel more like a train. Trains show up roughly when they’re supposed to. Buses take forever, then arrive two at a time. Trains boast better design, speed, shelters, schedules and easier-to-follow routes. When people say they don’t like the bus but they do like the train, what they really mean is they like those perks the train offers. But there’s no reason bus systems can’t simply incorporate most of them.

Doig, who links to a recent post of mine on the MTA’s bus woes, urges American cities to adopt and adapt true bus rapid transit lanes for their cities. Forget Select Bus Service, a vision of what Limited bus service should be; embrace the dedicated, physically separated lane. Other changes, such as frequency mapping and more comfortable vehicles, could improve the bus commuting experience too, but faster service remains a paramount concern.

Now, I’m of two minds when it comes to buses. I firmly believe the city should prioritize buses over, say, cars when it comes to planning transportation routes, but can a bus network in a city without space for the wide boulevards that have made TransMilenio be bus rapid transit? Can we expect buses to drive development and ferry the same number of people as a subway can? I don’t believe so.

Buses should be a complementary part of a transit system. Because they do not run on fixed tracks, they can be routed to serve areas the subway doesn’t and can’t reach. They can bring people from one already-established neighborhood to another. They can serve that role as the “vital connective tissue,” as Doig writes. They can’t, though, replace subways now or into the future.

So we don’t have to see buses as the future of everything, but if we tried to love them a little bit more, perhaps they could be more useful. It’s all about predictable service, faster speeds and better routing that gets people from where they are to where they want to be. Local buses have become second-class citizens in the transit world, and it’s time to reassess their place in our transportation ecosystem.

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JMP March 15, 2012 - 1:01 am

Bus routes should be divided into two distinct groups: Those that run parallel to subway service, and those that do not. The latter group is of crucial importance, and there are huge gains to be made.

Adding SBS to the M34 was great, but why should that be limited to midtown? Just look at what happens to the M86 at Lexington Avenue every morning. The westbound busses often spend more time sitting at that stop loading everyone than it takes to get from Lexington to Central Park West. There would be massive efficiencies to be gained just by streamlining the boarding process.

Pat L March 15, 2012 - 1:14 am

I’ve basically bought into the Jarrett Walker thesis on buses. There no reason you can’t do all the things we do with trains with buses, except that trains have much more efficient operating costs past a certain level of demand. Obviously, a bus couldn’t substitute for the 2nd Ave subway, but for areas that don’t have or can’t support subway routes, we should beef up bus routes with “BRT” features as much as we can.

Miles Bader March 25, 2012 - 7:44 pm

It’s certainly wrong that “there’s no reason you can’t do all the things we do with trains with buses.” Both buses and trains have their sweet spots, but there are many things buses simply suck at, like massive throughput.

Yes, even BRT. The only way BRT could ever even begin to approach train-like throughput would be to essentially make it into a train with rubber wheels—at which point it has all the disadvantages of trains, plus more (like far more intrusive/expensive infrastructure, far greater maintenance costs, and much worse efficiency).

[As for the Slate article: really, really, dumb. It seems to start from the position that we “must love buses” and then attempt to support it by throwing out a bunch of random factoids with no coherent framework, that at best might be summed up as “buses don’t always suck as much as you thought.” Great…]

Jarret Walker has a much more reasonable approach, but I think his dismissal of the demonstrated preferences

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 1:39 am

There really should be an all-three approach: subways, LRT, and buses with some service redundancy. When you start throwing in all the nice bells and whistles of trains on bus services, you start approaching the costs of building a train and don’t get any of the savings of a train.

Still, I don’t see why infrequent services (e.g., express buses, low density parts of Queens) or very lightly used services warrant rail investment either.

…but can a bus network in a city without space for the wide boulevards that have made TransMilenio be bus rapid transit?

Much of the city has the space. Park Avenue, Queens Boulevard, probably Myrtle, to name a few. And, alternatively, surface LRT has a smaller footprint and more capacity.

Christopher March 15, 2012 - 10:35 am

Thank you. I always find this push for buses predicated on some sort of American cheapness. Or idea of cheapness. Not understanding the cost efficiencies (and the benefits to urbanism) of LRT. Buses are great but they are a tertiary experience in cost and benefits. Maybe this all born from the same 1950s highway mentality that turned it’s back on liveable streets and towards more road space for internal combustion driven vehicles? Not sure. But LRT should not be discounted and the operational cost advantages, including higher capacity, should not be discounted.

And as you mentioned redundancy is key. But there is also a difference in the type of commuter. Right now we have too many short haul commuters in the subway who would better served by hopping and on and off LRT or true BRT when going only short distances. This would alleviate crowding and also provide back-up to the subway in the event of problems underground.

But honestly, the city is going to have to get involved here and bring on board residents and property owners as surface transit can and should be an economic growth engine.

Evan March 17, 2012 - 10:08 pm

Personally, I think we in the U.S. (including New York) like to put ourselves in a mental box when it comes to matters involving transportation. For some reason, there is a resistance to the idea of light rail (or for the country at large, any rail at all) until it seems illogical. In fact, at a certain point, it’s almost like there’s an opinion afoot that having or building rail is tantamount to committing heresy.

One need look no further than Queens and the skirmish over the LIRR Rockaway Branch, where a faction of citizens would rather turn it into a park (don’t we have enough parkland in Queens already?) rather than turn it into a functional rail line that would connect the rest of the borough directly to the Rockaways, which could become a second Coney Island if it is ever reopened.

It’s a fair question whether or not the opposition towards rail comes from organizations that are much more powerful than common citizens.

Nevertheless, I personally think having this phobia in New York (and an even bigger phobia in the rest of the country) will cost us big time.

Bolwerk March 18, 2012 - 1:12 am

Some of it may be a (now fading) history. Railroads were the corporate bad guys of that time. But yeah, it’s probably effective propaganda that makes people believe so strongly in a bus fairy that sprinkles dollars hither and thither if only we’ll use rubber tires and fossil fuel.

Hell, some of it may be actual Limbaugh-esque malice. Maybe buses are worth it because they make trips more miserable for the plebes, even if buses are more expensive than the railroads they replace. Hell, plenty of precedent for that attitude these days.

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2012 - 8:44 am

Bus ridership is declining because the subway is better, period.

In the early 1980s the buses were air conditioned, but most of the subways were not. The subways were dirty, old, over-run with homeless, and feared due to crime. Women, in particular, were scarce on the subways, as they feared getting groped.

The buses were newer, clean, and older generations believed, safe. That’s why they were willing to pay extra for express buses that took longer to get places.

There are a host of people who have been getting older for 30 years who would not take the subway. Many are now retired and taking fewer trips, or dead.

They have been replaced by younger people who have, in many cases, come to New York BECAUSE it has a subway and the transit and walking lifestyle that subway provides.

The shift from bus to subway is good news. Subways are cheaper per ride.

The idea that there has been no investment in buses is false. The entire fleet was re-powered with less polluting engines not long ago, and many depots have been rebuilt. As for BRT, the city owns the streets, not the MTA, and that makes it harder. If you don’t like the pace of BRT, buy into my my suggestion to turn the buses (and paratransit) over to the city and counties along with the payroll tax revenues which cutting the city’s existing MTA contribution.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 11:46 am

Bus ridership is declining because the subway is better, period.

I don’t agree. There are circumstances where buses are better. You don’t take the subway to go a few blocks with groceries.

And some of the decline probably has to do with Walder’s rejiggering the whole transit network.

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2012 - 11:55 am

I’ve seen the demographics, and believe that is a greater factor. There is a generational shift away from buses.

In fact, if you look long term I’ll bet you can see a huge increase in bus ridership due to Metrocard bus to subway transfers as a temporary exception to a long term shift from bus to subway.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 12:23 pm

I agree it’s declining and I agree about demographics. I also think it was just silly to ever think you could replace subways, or even streetcars, with buses.

But at least the way you phrased that sentence suggests the usual trap of thinking these two things are substitutes for each other. They aren’t.

Andrew March 16, 2012 - 12:19 am

You are correct.

The 2010 changes had a small impact on a trend that has been going on for decades.

Duke March 16, 2012 - 5:59 pm

You don’t take the bus to go a few blocks with groceries, either. You walk. By the time you wait for the bus to come you can be home already.

Bolwerk March 18, 2012 - 12:41 am

God, empathy really is lacking with people here sometimes. Yes, I walk. Hell, I jog or bike. But not everyone is as able-bodied as me.

Think twice March 15, 2012 - 12:39 pm

“If you don’t like the pace of BRT, buy into my my suggestion to turn the buses (and paratransit) over to the city and counties along with the payroll tax revenues which cutting the city’s existing MTA contribution.”

Agreed. It’s the DOTs that should be operating surface transit. Heck, I think the state and city DOTs ought to be the ones to build subways (instead of MTA Capital Construction) and just let the MTA operate and maintain them.

IMO compartmentalizing transit away from transportation makes it’s an easier target for conservatives. Conservatives (especially national-level conservatives) seem to hate “transit” but love “transportation”, so fold everything into “transportation” and let local DOTs decide how much federal “transportation” dollars should go to “communis”…um…”transit”.

Henry March 16, 2012 - 6:30 pm

Well, the MTA was created to stop the fare from being a political football. Unfortunately, that only really moved the politics of it to the state level…

The other problem with putting it under DOT is that bus funding thus becomes reliant on funding from the general budget. If you want to see how this could turn out badly, just look at Detroit…

Erik March 15, 2012 - 9:20 am

I lived in Manhattan for 12 years and travelled frequently to various spots in Brooklyn and Queens. Now I live in Cambridge / Boson (for the past 6 months). It’s opened my eyes to what bus transportation COULD be and why it will never work in New York.

Firat, the differences here:

– The subway is laid out more or less like a hashtag (#) and the buses provide vital connections between the “spaces”. This works exceptionally well.
– Traffic is bad in some spots, but not as bad as in NYC. Even when traffic is bad, somehow the buses avoid the old “wait at light-then make a stop-then finally go again to wait at the next light” problem. I think it also helps that the city is demographically younger and there are more car options for those who need it such as the elderly. On NYC buses I noticed in the last few years that the buses need to kneel at almost every stop for a wheelchair or scooter, which exacerbates the issue.
– Bus routes are short. Probably an average of 2- 4 miles. That makes it a lot easier to get back on track.
– The system is smaller than in NYC, so they can play around with improvements such as no-touch fare “swipe” (tap your wallet that contains your card) as well as GPS-enabled buses tied to independent app development. This makes the bus system SO much more usable; when you leave home you can check on which bus is coming and walk in the right direction, sometimes completely re-routing your trip but saving up to 20 minutes. This is on a system where the minimum bus headways are around 20 – 30 minutes! The tap fare and GPS are on ALL buses. NYC can only pilot these things without a massive investment to cover the whole fleet and all subway stations.
– The Silver line, which is actually bus rapid transit and not a subway, has a dedicated lane for most of its run and works exceptionally well because the street is wide enough given the traffic load.

Until congestion pricing comes to NYC to greatly free up the street for real, dedicated bus lanes, converts to true rapid bus transit, ditches the NIMBYISM, and comes up with another solution for disabled riders, the system will always be a nightmare. On N-S lines, it’s redundant to the subway, and on E-W lines the city’s layout hinders flow.

As for the wheelchairs and scooters, disabled people absolutely need transportation options, but I don’t know what the solution is. It’s a viscous cycle where the only people who have the time and patience to ride the bus are those that can’t navigate the stairs to the subway and who don’t work (disabled and elderly). This drives away all other riders as service becomes ever slower as the population ages.

Does the city keep stats on the % of bus ridership that uses wheelchairs and scooters? Probably not, but that would be a fascinating statistic to have. My gut tells me that while bud ridership is down, that figure as a % is way up over the past 10-15 years. It’s something that I see up here but only relatively infrequently.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 11:44 am

As for the wheelchairs and scooters, disabled people absolutely need transportation options, but I don’t know what the solution is.

The solution is level boarding and POP. Boarding a typical NYC bus is a ridiculous waste of time when a lot of able-bodied people are doing it.

This is why I seriously sometimes have a sneaking suspicion that foaming bus advocates just secretly enjoy making people miserable, or feel extra important because of their power to inflict badly designed buses on people. If buses actually saved money, I’d be less suspicious, but….

Andrew March 16, 2012 - 12:08 am

I love your hashtag description of Boston’s subway system.

In case you aren’t aware, New York will have a smartcard system in a few years. Staten Island buses are GPS-enabled, and the rest of the city are supposed to have GPS-enabled by the end of next year.

I’m not impressed at all by the Silver line. The Washington Street line is nothing more than a bus lane. The airport line has a dedicated ROW for part of its length, but the bus has to go so far out of its way to get into the ROW, and then it takes a minute or two to switch to electric mode, that it would probably take less time to run in mixed traffic.

Douglas John Bowen March 15, 2012 - 9:33 am

“True rapid bus service … ” costs what? Parameters, please.

And “just like light rail, only cheaper” just doesn’t cut it, no matter how often one says it.
Buses have their places. This rail advocate and public transit rider uses them, in fact uses them far more often than most other Americans (living in New York metro, perhaps that’s not so big a boast. But still.).

But they also have their limitations. And in fact, the U.S. has relied on the bus as “low-hanging fruit” for more than 50 years, minimum. More buses? More bus options? Sure–but not at the automatic expense of more rail.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 10:36 am

Probably depends how you define “true” BRT. Complete traffic separation probably is downright crazy expensive. But if you consider things like the 1st Avenue SBS “true” BRT, then it’s probably not that expensive. Paint over the street, some enforcement costs (enforcement should pay for itself), longer bus platforms, mild traffic adjustments, articulated buses, etc..

Anon256 March 15, 2012 - 9:35 am

Many of NYC’s bus routes are still those inherited from private bus and streetcar operators that competed with the subway in the mid 20th century. The routes of the buses that follow the Third/Lexington Aves corridor are still based largely on those of the Third Avenue railway streetcars in the 1940s, rather than on trying to complement the subway line directly below. For the private operators, and to some extent for the MTA during the years before free transfers, having bus routes that somewhat paralleled the subway made sense. But now that subway-bus transfers are free, there should be a rationalisation of bus routes to feed and complement the subway, rather than competing with it.

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2012 - 10:20 am

The bus cuts were actually such a rationalization, one that politics had prevented in less dire circumstances. More should go on.

I doubt that if the MTA is ever in a position to add service, it would add it in the same places.

Anon256 March 15, 2012 - 11:28 am

By the way, do you have any idea who rides the Bx1/2? These run very close to the D and 4 trains for almost their entire route. Yet, taken together, they have over 39000 weekday riders, making them NYC’s 6th busiest bus route. The other busiest bus routes mostly serve corridors crying out for subway service, but this is a corridor that already has it. What am I missing?

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 11:35 am

Many (most?) bus services simply parallel the old streetcar routes. Could it be something like this?

Many people take buses because they’re too frail, fat, or disabled to get on the train, too.

Anon256 March 15, 2012 - 10:54 pm

I know why the Bx1/2 are there*, I’m asking why so many people apparently ride them. I wouldn’t expect there to be such a concentration of frail/fat/disabled people along Grand Concourse to give them more ridership than all but five other bus routes in the city. They even have limited stop service, which stops mostly at the same cross streets as the subway.

(* The Bx1/Bx2 were buses from the beginning, set up in the early 20s by mayor Hylan as part of a pre-IND attempt to undercut the private transit operators. After this plan ran into legal and financial difficulties and Hylan moved on to building the IND, they were taken over by the Third Ave Transit System, which ran them in competition with the IND Concourse line after it opened. The Transit Authority took them over in the 60s.)

Bolwerk March 16, 2012 - 11:51 am

Just looking at a map, neither of those services parallel either of those trains entirely.

I’m sure the “frail/fat/disabled” effect is there when they do. Buses make much more local stops than trains, too. If only going a block or two with groceries, buses make more sense.

And they seem to have obvious potential as feeder services to the subways.

Anon256 March 16, 2012 - 2:25 pm

The limited stop buses on those routes do not make significantly more local stops than trains.

If I’m going a few blocks with grocery bags, I’ll walk. If I took the bus I’d have to wait an indeterminate amount of time, fumble for my metrocard while still holding the groceries, and then probably have to reach up to hold the rail, leaving the groceries on the floor to spill or get stepped on. If I brought a backpack or cart to carry the groceries then walking would likewise be a more convenient option.

The Cobalt Devil March 15, 2012 - 6:21 pm

Agreed. Why does Lexington Ave, which has its own subway line, have four bus routes (M98, 101-102-103) while First Ave, which has no subway, have one bus line (M15)? If I had a dollar for every time I saw an M101-102-103 running empty down Lex Ave, I’d have a lot of dollars in my pocket. The M103 to City Hall is a complete and total waste of resources. Who in their right mind takes a bus from Harlem to City Hall? What subway routes are fed by Lex Ave buses when there’s a subway downstairs?

Andrew March 16, 2012 - 12:02 am

The number of different services is irrelevant – if you prefer, think of them as a single service with four branches.

The point of a local bus route is not to take people from the first stop on the line to the last stop on the line.

Most bus routes are not subway feeders.

As I recall, you’ve mentioned that you live in Staten Island, and with all due respect, I think you may be trying to inject a suburban mentality on a very unsuburban area. Think about how somebody without a car might get around the neighborhood, specifically if they’re traveling distances a bit outside of walking distance, or maybe they just have a lot to carry. And if you think that’s a foolish use of transit, remember that they pay as much to ride a few stops on the M103 (and then free up space for another farepaying customer) as a Staten Island resident might to ride a bus to the train to the ferry to the subway.

The Cobalt Devil March 16, 2012 - 1:46 pm

Yes, I see EVERYTHING thru the eyes of a Staten Islander, even though I went to college in Manhattan, lived in Manhattan for 7 years, and have worked in Manhattan for 20+ years. My whole world is colored by my moving to Staten Island 2 years ago. I can’t discuss anything without filtering it thru my “how does this affect Staten Island?” machine. Respectfully I say, please don’t try to get into my head. Four bus routes on one avenue, most all of them running nearly empty, is a waste of resources, whether in Manhattan, Staten Island or any other community.

Andrew March 16, 2012 - 6:43 pm

I didn’t mean that as an insult. I apologize if you took it that way.

As I said, the number of routes doesn’t matter – it’s the frequency of the service that matters, and NYCT determines frequencies by loads. That doesn’t mean that you will never encounter an empty bus, especially if you’re not watching at the peak load point. (And, for the record, NYCT schedules the M101/102/103 as a single route, the number merely indicating to the public which branch it’s running on. The M98 serves an entirely different market, and it was cut back a mile and a half at its south end in 2010.)

Anon256 March 16, 2012 - 2:35 pm

Most bus routes should be subway feeders (or provide crosstown service). There should not be any buses on Lexington or Third Ave in Manhattan.

(To head off the ad hominem you just used (while no doubt encouraging others): I live between Lexington and Third, and take the 6 every day.)

Steve March 17, 2012 - 7:33 pm

Until the subways become fully accessible to the handicapped, the elderly and the frail, buses must be more than just “subway feeders.” They are an essential service for those who are still independent, i.e. not needing paratransit, yet are not spry enough to negotiate subway stairs. And no, to ask someone who has mobility issues to walk an additional block to the next avenue with a bus line is not acceptable.

ajedrez March 17, 2012 - 10:19 pm

And for short trips, local buses are more convenient to the able-bodied than the subway. If the bus is right there, there’s no point in going down to the subway, waiting for a train, and then coming back up 2 stops later when you can take a bus.

Alon Levy March 17, 2012 - 11:22 pm

Waiting for a bus is not any shorter than waiting for a train.

Bolwerk March 18, 2012 - 12:43 am

But the total trip may be longer, given the trip up and down the stairs, or back and forth to another block to catch the subway. ajedrez is right.

Henry March 16, 2012 - 7:19 pm

Bus routes in the outer boroughs are more likely to be subway feeders (or were originally intended as such).
In Manhattan, that’s not as much of a concern, as the subways that run north-south provide a pretty good coverage area for most of the city.

Also, I believe Staten Islanders have to pay a second time if they’re taking a bus to SIR (one transfer) to the ferry (that’s not operated by the MTA) to the train.

Will Doig March 15, 2012 - 9:35 am

Thanks for posting about the piece I wrote for Salon. I do think buses are under-appreciated. That said, I want to emphasize that I agree with the opinion at the center of Ben’s commentary: “Can we expect buses to drive development and ferry the same number of people as a subway can? I don’t believe so.”

Ideally, buses — and even BRT — will always be complimentary transit. I just got back from Mexico City, which has built a BRT system above its expansive subway system. Both systems are packed with riders, and the buses go places that the subway does not. After two days of using both systems to get around, I stopped thinking of the bi-articulated buses as the second-rate mode. They arrive with incredible frequency (on the busiest routes, a bus every minute) and travel with impressive speed. The dedicated lanes are often on streets that were only three lanes wide to begin with, which works as a traffic-calming measure that has reduced general street chaos, cut down on collisions, and actually sped up average car speeds from 12 km/hr to 17 km/hr. I talked to many Mexicans who couldn’t say enough good things about the BRT system. Apparently some have started using it even when the subway is an option because it’s perceived as cleaner and safer.

All of which is to say, I would never attempt to argue that buses can match subways for speed or capacity. As much as I like New York’s SBS, it’s frustrating when Mexico City can implement something that works so well, and in the U.S. we often have to settle for half-assed, not-really-BRT-ish service. We should have both.

Frank B. March 15, 2012 - 10:11 am

Nobody writes checks for buses.

There is no investment that goes into buses. They’re just not attractive to people. While large swarths of people would give up the seat in their car for a seat on the subway, light rail, or streetcar, only 5% will give up their seats for a bus.

The choice is clear. Buses are a short-term fix, that have lasted far too long. Bring in the streetcars!

Anon256 March 15, 2012 - 11:42 am

I rarely take buses in NYC. It’s not because they have rubber tires or aren’t electrified; it’s because they’re extremely slow and unreliable, spending most of their time stuck in traffic or waiting at stoplights. Streetcars would be even worse on these counts. I can see some benefits to light rail systems that combine subway-like sections to avoid the greatest congestion with street running elsewhere to keep costs down, but replacing buses in mixed traffic with streetcars in mixed traffic is worse than useless.

Matthias March 16, 2012 - 8:45 am

Actually, streetcars perform better than buses in mixed traffic. They aren’t constantly pulling over and merging back into traffic, and drivers tend not to double-park on streetcar tracks.

BrooklynBus March 16, 2012 - 11:22 am

I am not sure that is the case. If it is though, then there would be no reason not to bring back light rail everywhere where there is high usage. But light rail does have the disadvantage that vehicles cannot pass each other which helps with bunching, and if one breaks down the entire line comes to a halt.

Bolwerk March 16, 2012 - 11:59 am

If light rail is operating in heavy mixed traffic, you’re doing it wrong.

And light rail vehicles most certainly can pass each other with the right track provisions – they just never, ever should have to, at least not when it isn’t planned.

Matthias March 16, 2012 - 12:14 pm

Correct, and if one vehicle breaks down, the next one pushes it until the end of the line.

Anon256 March 16, 2012 - 2:46 pm

Frank B. seemed to be proposing exactly that sort of “doing it wrong”.

If you have the political will to get lanes away from cars and dedicated to transit, then I think it is often best to run light rail in them (as the very inflexibility of rail will make the lane less likely to turn into a parking lot for delivery trucks and cops the way most NYC bus lanes do). I assumed from his drawing a distinction between streetcars and light rail that he was talking about streetcars in mixed traffic, which make a lot less sense.

Bolwerk March 16, 2012 - 3:18 pm

I don’t see what’s wrong with operating in light mixed traffic.

Anyway, this notion of buses offering some amazing degree of flexibility over rail is another myth. It’s true that buses can sometimes go around obstacles in ways rail can’t, but it’s a small advantage at best. Buses are still slowed to a brutal extent by obstacles, and indeed they contend with more obstacles to begin with – fed by the fantasy that they deal with them well.

The best solution is always problem-avoidance, not problem circumvention: make sure your vehicle doesn’t break, make sure obstacles don’t get in the way, and prevent accidents.

BrooklynBus March 19, 2012 - 11:35 pm

Buses do offer a great flexibility. It’s just that we don’t take advantage of it. See: http://www.sheepsheadbites.com.....ve-part-i/

Bolwerk March 20, 2012 - 12:17 am

Nor should we, generally. The idea that routes should be constantly altered is silly.

BrooklynBus March 19, 2012 - 11:41 pm

I’m old enough to remember the last days of the trolley in NYC and even in mixed traffic, no delivery trucks ever blocked a track, so traffic moved faster for the trolleys as well as for the cars.

The opposite was true for the rubber wheeled trolley coaches. Since truck drivers knew there often was enough flexibility to go around the double parked trucks, they always double parked on those routes. Except sometimes they couldn’t get around the trucks and the poles would snap. If the driver couldn’t put it back on the trolley, the entire line stopped for 45 minutes until a maintenance vehicle arrived.

Anon256 March 16, 2012 - 2:40 pm Reply
Bolwerk March 16, 2012 - 3:51 pm

I’m not going to read that whole article, but I don’t really have any major disagreement with the core premise. However, notice that it’s a pretty narrowly scoped point:

Streetcars that replace bus lines are not a mobility improvement. If you replace a bus with a streetcar on the same route, and make no other improvements, nobody will be able to get anywhere any faster than they could before. This makes streetcars quite different from most of the other transit investments being discussed today.

Where a streetcar is faster or more reliable than the bus route it replaced, this is because other improvements were made at the same time — improvements that could just as well have been made for the bus route. These improvements may have been politically packaged as part of the streetcar project, but they were logically independent, so their benefits are not really benefits of the streetcar as compared to the bus.

He’s talking about mobility, and he’s probably mostly right. I could probably reasonably say streetcars may offer some advantage in acceleration and comfort, but these are probably small and the latter arguably doesn’t have much to do with mobility.

It doesn’t mean there aren’t other advantages for streetcars.

Jerrold March 15, 2012 - 10:31 am

NOT the main point here, but I don’t get the joke. Just WHO is “Marsha”?

Douglas John Bowen March 15, 2012 - 11:48 am

Just a guess: “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!” is a catchphrase from The Brady Bunch. Might be that.

SEAN March 15, 2012 - 11:59 am

The Brady Bunch.

The Cobalt Devil March 15, 2012 - 6:23 pm

Marsha always got all the attention while poor, frumpy Jan was ignored.

Union Street R Station March 15, 2012 - 10:34 am

But Ben,

Manhattan’s avenues are “wide boulevards.”

Queens Boulevard is a “wide boulevard.”

Flatbush Avenue could be a “wide boulevard” if you got rid of much of the on-street parking. This is true of many streets throughout the city. There is plenty of street space available in NYC for proper bus service but we need to reallocate space away from private motor vehicles to make it work. London, Paris and many other European cities have top notch bus service on a street network that is far more cramped and confusing than what we have here in NYC. This notion that we do not have the street space is simply false. We have plenty of street space but it is consumed by private motor vehicle users.

Benjamin Kabak March 15, 2012 - 10:37 am

I should have been more specific: Wide boulevards that don’t already have subways running beneath them. If we have finite resources to spend on bus lanes, does it make sense to duplicate subway service along Flatbush Ave., Queens Boulevard, Fourth Ave. or along the Upper East Side?

If we view buses, as I said, as complementary means of transit, we want bus routes to connect areas that aren’t easily reached via subway. I’m all for repurposing street space for transit, but it has to make sense.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 11:30 am

I think it makes sense. Imagine if an LRT or at least BRT ran from ~59th Street IRT/BMT station in Manhattan across the bridge and then along Queens Boulevard. The misery of many 7 Train riders would largely be alleviated during weekend work, the viaduct could probably be “fastrack’d,” crowding on the 7 could be alleviated in general service, many along the viaduct could have ADA-compliant access, and it probably facilitates a compelling number of new/unique trips.

I think all transit should be viewed as complementary. Buses aren’t replacements for LRT, LRT is not a replacement for subways, and subways are not a replacement for commuter rail – and that’s true however you mix them. But they all should work harmoniously together to maximize the utility of transit.

Anon256 March 15, 2012 - 12:13 pm

Great, a whole new transit line to route around a week of construction!

If you’re going to add new lines to Queens, Northern Blvd is a better corridor (and reasonably wide).

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 12:55 pm

Great, sarcasm that completely misses the point!

It’s not about routing around a week of construction. It’s about offering services that offer both unique benefits and some redundancy for the times when another service might be out.

Anon256 March 16, 2012 - 2:59 pm

Still a poor use of resources when other corridors lack any kind of rapid transit at all. New York’s transit system already has more redundancy than almost any other in the world (due to express tracks, the ulterior motives of the IND, and bus routes laid out by independent companies). If anything we need less redundancy, not more.

Bolwerk March 16, 2012 - 4:09 pm

It’s a value judgment as to where new services go, and there are way too many worthy options both near and away from present routes to actually accomplish them all. But meeting a combined goal of increasing trip possibilities and offering redundancy is just way too much of the low-hanging fruit to ignore completely just because medium-density Northern Boulevard never got its Second System Line. (Not that what I described above couldn’t divert to NB after 48th Street or so.)

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2012 - 10:44 am

If you look at the street grid, almost all the really wide streets travel toward Manhattan. So do most of the subways. Travel in other directions is difficult.

Just as an example, what’s the best north-south street in Queens west of Flushing Meadows Park? An east-west route through Brooklyn south of Prospect Park other than 65th Street (no turn lanes), Avenue P, Kings Highway? An east-west route through the Bronx other than Pelham Parkway/Fordham Road, which necks down in the Fordham Road portion?

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 11:33 am

If we’re talking about surface transit, why is this a huge problem? Buses and LRVs alike can go in opposite directions on parallel streets.

Larry Littlefield March 15, 2012 - 11:57 am

The smaller crosstown streets, in addition to being congested, don’t have signal priority. The major streets heading to and from Manhattan do. That means long waits at the lights.

It’s one reason I don’t like the Q33. It gets stuck and the major streets as it snakes down narrow streets.

Bolwerk March 15, 2012 - 12:46 pm

I dunno about that. Berry or Wythe in Williamsburg? Typical central Queens cross-town streets? Seneca Avenue in Ridgewood? Even, say, Gates Avenue through Bed-Stuy? There are probably hundreds of examples of routes that could make decent BRT and/or LRT on narrow-ish or secondary streets.

Coincidentally, many of those routes once had surface rail services (warning: 1996-style HTML).

Alon Levy March 17, 2012 - 9:37 pm

Buses and LRVs alike can go in opposite directions on parallel streets.

Can, but shouldn’t.

Steve S. March 22, 2012 - 3:33 pm

Depends on the nature of the streets–in situations where the streets are narrow or very narrow and parallel one another closely, I could see it working.

It can only work, however, where the distance between the stops on either direction is no more than twice–or maybe thrice–the distance between bus stops on much wider streets (i.e. the block would be narrow enough so that the distance between the two directions’ stops would be ~200-300 feet wide).

I believe I also mentioned that on Human Transit.

R2 March 16, 2012 - 9:32 am

For Queens, there really aren’t that many good ones. How about Junction Blvd from Astoria Blvd to Queens Blvd? Maybe also Woodhaven. Or 69th Street from Middle Village to Woodside. Steinway Street in sections, 21 Street. Vernon Blvd.

You’ve already got Kings Highway covered. Fort Hamilton Pkway/Parkside/etc? Church Ave?

Bronx: What about Tremont Ave? South Bronx trickier, perhaps 163rd?

Think twice March 15, 2012 - 12:14 pm

“Forget Select Bus Service, a vision of what Limited bus service should be; embrace the dedicated, physically separated lane.”

Agreed. IMO the best location for camera-enforced BRT lanes are on the LIE, Gowanus, Bruckner, etc. Not only for the express buses but for private buses like Greyhound, Bolt, etc.

Alon Levy March 17, 2012 - 10:26 pm

Ew. Good transit ridership comes from walkable streets and boulevards. If you want buses to be more than peak-hour express shuttles to Manhattan, put them on Northern, QB, Southern, Flatbush, and Utica. Don’t bother with freeway BRT. Lanes for express buses would be nice, but they should be pursued only after lanes for regular buses on the main streets.

Think twice March 20, 2012 - 10:40 am

I see your point. While bus shelters in expressway medians beneath underpasses can be rather uninviting, they could be precursors to future LRT or subway stops.

Personally, I’ve thought of BRT lanes as a low-cost way of reserving space for future rail ROWs until the funds or political will make it possible.

Bolwerk March 20, 2012 - 11:27 am

If the ROW isn’t an existing lane on a major street, it’s unlikely constructing BRT even saves money up front. You’re better off just skipping to the rail and enjoying the savings the rail brings you.

Douglas John Bowen March 15, 2012 - 1:17 pm

Bogotá’s TransMilenio “BRT”: Mythology About Traffic Impacts, Carbon Credits, and Costs


Granted, consider the source. But: Same goes for BRT advocacy, too.

The Cobalt Devil March 16, 2012 - 1:45 pm

Yes, I see EVERYTHING thru the eyes of a Staten Islander, even though I went to college in Manhattan, lived in Manhattan for 7 years, and have worked in Manhattan for 20+ years. My whole world is colored by my moving to Staten Island 2 years ago. I can’t discuss anything without filtering it thru my “how does this affect Staten Island?” machine. Respectfully I say, please don’t try to get into my head. Four bus routes on one avenue, most all of them running nearly empty, is a waste of resources, whether in Manhattan, Staten Island or any other community.

The Cobalt Devil March 16, 2012 - 2:19 pm

Sorry gang for the double post.


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