Home Bronx A better plan for Webster Ave. SBS lanes

A better plan for Webster Ave. SBS lanes

by Benjamin Kabak

One plan under consideration for Webster Avenue would bring an element of true bus rapid transit to the Bronx (Via NYC DOT and MTA)

The absurdly painfully slow process of bringing simple bus lane improvements to one street in one borough has claimed another victim as the city and MTA are examining ways to speed up transit along Webster Ave. in the Bronx. This time around, the various stakeholders are looking at the B44, a so-called Phase 2 route. After identifying the route in 2009 as SBS-ready, the city hopes to launch service in late 2013. What a ridiculous timeframe.

Anyway, as the project ambles along slower than a crosstown bus at rush hour, the MTA and DOT hosted an open house on the Webster Ave. line. This routing is a north-south one that parallels the 4 and the B/D subway lines and connects the 2 and 5 trains at one end with the, uh, 2 and 5 trains at the other end. It also intersects with the Bx12 SBS route, and of the 125000 residents who live within a quarter mile of the route, the vast majority of them do not own cars. Currently, an end-to-end run on the bus can take up to an hour.

Last night at the open house, potential plans were laid out for all to see, and they finally included median bus lanes. Noah Kazis from Streetsblog was on hand to file a report. While the MTA and NYC are also considering curbside and offset bus lanes, the center lanes stole the show. Kazis writes:

Since bus riders wouldn’t be able to wait on the sidewalk to board the bus, DOT would build new protected platforms in the street. If the platforms are built totally level with the bus floor, as on the subway, this would make boarding the bus much faster, especially for the elderly or disabled. As on all SBS routes, passengers would pay their fares before boarding, allowing buses to spend time moving rather than waiting for each passenger to dip their MetroCard in turn.

Median-running bus lanes and platform-level boarding are two of the most important features of world-class BRT identified in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Standard scorecard. Existing Select Bus Service routes haven’t met the threshold for bus rapid transit according to ITDP’s system; the Webster Avenue route, it seems, could break the mold.

The Webster Avenue project is still in a very early stage and all three options are little more than concepts at this point. However, the potential for serious transit improvements is especially high here, because there’s already strong political support for Select Bus Service. Both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson have endorsed Webster Avenue SBS, though they have not spoken about particular designs. More than 50 people participated in Wednesday’s open house, said a DOT spokesperson, and were broadly supportive of the transit improvements.

Of course, as the before-and-after diagrams from the SBS presentation [pdf] make perfectly clear, parking spots will be lost and traffic lanes as well. The regular slew of NIMBY business owners will raise a stink, and perhaps, the city will “settle” for something less groundbreaking in another 15 months.

To this, I say, “Prove me wrong.” It’s bad enough that these SBS routes don’t cross borough boundaries and deliver people from the Bronx to, say, a job hub or an airport in Queens. But let’s bring truly dedicated lanes to an area that needs traffic mitigation and transit improvements. The next step will be doing it in less than 48 months but perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself.

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BoerumBum May 18, 2012 - 3:40 pm

I hope it moves forward. Busses won’t have to deal with cars. Cars won’t have to deal with busses. Transit riders won’t have to deal with busses that move slower than pedestrians. Business owners far from subway stops won’t have to deal with transit isolation. Seems like win-win-win-win to me.

Mistral May 18, 2012 - 3:59 pm

It’ll never get done properly because this is just yet another half-assed effort for The Place Where The Poors Live. If the MTA were to suggest something like, say, an M5 Select Bus Service, everyone would be champing at the bit to get it to be great for all the affluent white people living along the route.

Kid Twist May 18, 2012 - 4:09 pm

So? Set an example: Head up to the Bronx and work to help “the poors” get better transit. Since you care ever so much.

Bolwerk May 18, 2012 - 11:56 pm

Buses aren’t aimed at affluent white people, and never have been.

Kid Twist May 18, 2012 - 4:11 pm

Of course, if they hadn’t torn down the Bronx section of the Third Avenue El, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

Bobby P May 18, 2012 - 4:38 pm

I work several blocks from Webster Avenue and have spent far too much time taking the bus to the 2/5 or B/D line due to how long it takes to ride up and down Webster. I love this idea but would so much rather a return to a train in the area. The gap between the Grand Concourse and the 2/5 is way too large for such a densely populated area with so few cars. I’m afraid I know the answer to this already but is there no possibility of someday (even if it’s in the distant future) extending the Second Avenue subway into the Bronx to replace the lost Third Avenue El?

Anon256 May 18, 2012 - 9:39 pm

The best hope by far for rail transit for the area is the existing railroad trench along Park Avenue. This would most easily be accomplished by improving Metro North service (with increased frequency, lower fares, and a few new stations), though eventually having an extension of SAS or another subway line take over two of the four tracks (with some of Metro North trains diverted over Hell Gate to free up capacity) might also be a possibility.

Steve May 19, 2012 - 2:26 pm

+1. On the organization before electronics before concrete strategy, Metro North/NYCT fare integration ought to be the first step.

AG May 22, 2012 - 7:53 pm

Anon – unfortunately the original SAS plan to run to the Bronx probably won’t happen. I do know that there was a grant given to the tri-state area to more densely build next to commuter rail lines. One of the areas being studied are those Met North stations in the Bronx below Fordham Rd. When the rezoning happens hopefully frequency will be addressed along Park Ave. – which runs closely and parallel to Webster Ave. Mayor Bloomberg proposed running City Ticket at all times… but we haven’t heard anything else about it. Even with that though – you’d only still get trains every 20 min. tops (which is not bad)… so this bus service would certainly be useful as well.

Btw – it’s the New Haven line that will be diverted to Hell Gate. Those stops are on the Harlem line. Capacity is not the issue… it’s ridership…. which again – should change once the zoning chages are made (and reduced inter-city fares).

UESider May 18, 2012 - 6:00 pm

I assume the image is a simulated graphic rather than an actual photo?

In a city where every sq. in. is precious space, it just seems implausible that you could take a 6+ lane roadway and make it one lane of traffic in each direction with dedicated lanes for Bus platforms and an occassional bus.

that being said, im not at all familiar w webster ave traffic volume, but as a precedent for the city, i just dont see this as a model that will work

street trolleys that share the road with traffic seem to work everywhere from Boston to Amsterdam and many other cities. while, perhaps not as large as nyc, it seems a more plausible model

there has to be a better way to do crosstown traffic – not just for buses but all vehicles.

Anon256 May 18, 2012 - 9:25 pm

Street trolleys in mixed traffic work poorly everywhere they exist, typically providing even slower service than mixed-traffic buses. They’re a last resort that makes sense only on short segments of lines that have dedicated lanes or other rights of way elsewhere. (Boston has only one short segment of street trolley at the very end of the E branch, which the MBTA keeps trying to get rid of; the other trolley lines in Boston have their own lanes in medians. Many Amsterdam tram routes also have their own lanes, except on the narrow streets in the city centre.)

Lanes for polluting, dangerous private cars are just about the worst possible use of precious space. Using the space instead to get Bx41 buses (which even in their current slow form carry nearly 20000 people a day) where they’re going in a reasonable amount of time absolutely makes sense. By providing crosswalk islands and decreasing the quantity and speed of private car traffic, the proposal also improves conditions for pedestrians, who likely form the majority of road users in the area.

This would be a great way to do crosstown traffic too; if anything it would make even more sense on 125th St or 86th St in Manhattan.

Bolwerk May 18, 2012 - 9:46 pm

Pretty much any transit works badly in hefty POV-mixed traffic. In light traffic, it’s not so much of a problem for a bus or streetcar to share the road, but the traffic really does need to be predictably light.

UESider May 18, 2012 - 6:05 pm

on the crosstown routes, has any consideration been given to making them some formula of one-way, e.g. all one way during rush hour or dynamic lane shifting the way you have with briidge/tunnel lanes?

seems it would be possible to speed traffic in one direction, at least, and push some traffic up a street or two or otherwise change traffic patterns, e.g. encourage taxis to go crosstown before getting to midtown, similar to the effects seen with the TS traffic pattern changes

(now, if you get in a cab on the UES going to the WV, for example, cabbies will cross the park rather than go downtown and cross in midtown, etc,)

Alon Levy May 19, 2012 - 4:15 am

Bleh. The crosstown demand is fairly symmetric, and you probably want to make sure the buses get two-way service without requiring riders to check in advance which lane they’re using this time of day.

smartone May 19, 2012 - 8:01 am

this is exactly like the famous bus system in Curitiba Brazil

By using the center lane – you eliminate the bottle necks between cars and buss that happen at turn lane

People against this are forgetting that if you have something that works , people use it.
In other words if you set up a bus system like this , ridership would soar

Eric May 20, 2012 - 3:41 am

But you make left turns more complicated, and (IIRC) separate signals are needed for buses going straight and cars turning left. With frequent buses this can be a big problem. With light rail (less frequent – a train every 5 minutes rather than a bus every 1-2 minutes), it’s less of a problem.

sharon May 20, 2012 - 10:55 pm

I agree this is far better. the current bus system is a joke . But you need to make arrangements for parking. I prefer off street under or above the building. Without middle class shoppers you can not have a thriving business district. I and many other middle class new yorkers shop where parking is easy and avoid places where it is not. A busy adult with children needs parking. The two need to be in balance.

Bolwerk May 21, 2012 - 1:58 am

Comments like this show how lazy, entitled, and indigent the middle class has become.

D June 19, 2013 - 11:39 am

I can see why you’d say that, but not necessarily. Its not about being lazy, but if there are much easier, more convenient options why would someone choose the opposite. Most ppl are not activists for any one lifestyle or mode of transit over another. They will simply take the path of least resistance. The aformentioned consumer with a car, (esp those with young children) will just take a short drive to shopping options in southern Westchester with little to no struggle for parking..or stay in the Bx and go to Bay Plaza.
That said, generally there are no major shopping destinations on Webster worth going out of the way for. This is mostly local shopping, stuff you would walk a few blocks for, which the area has the population density to support. What it may lack is significant disposable income.

Unlike Brooklyn, once you have a car it’s very easy to quickly leave the Bronx into surburbia. Those middle class $$ get spent elsewhere. The geography lends it self to this. There isnt a cheap, simple, fast way out of NYC limits by car from Brooklyn.

Eric May 21, 2012 - 10:19 am

The above picture does include parking. In each direction there is 1 bus lane, 1 car lane, and the equivalent of 1 lane for parking and bus stops.

Parking under/above the building makes it harder to access the parking, and anyway it’s prohibitively expensive to build all these buildings from scratch with underground/elevated parking.

Steve May 19, 2012 - 2:21 pm

Given an auto parts store on one side of the rendering and a parking garage on the other, seems like there might be some businesses that might fight any plan to remove lanes. So I’m not going to hold my breath for the center lane BRT, though I agree that it’d be great, both as an improvement for an underserved, transit-dependent part of the city and as a demonstration of what true BRT can do, generally.

sharon May 20, 2012 - 10:52 pm

You need parking. Here is the thing. The people who drive spend money and small business owners need all the customers they can get. I always thought a solution is to require all new building to have off street parking under or above the buildings. THERE NEEDS TO BE A BALANCE. Currently there is no balance in the pro-transit and pro-bike community or shall we say anti-auto. they are more anti-auto then pro transit. I like the idea of the bus lane in the middle if the parking situation can be solved. this idea that most people in the area have no cars is more of a reflection of the anti-middle class nature of the NYC socialist government structure that make it hard for a family that is not making six figures to live anywhere in the 5 boroughs not to mention the horrible school created by forcing the drek of the drek into all school ruining them(the drek comes in all colors)

Anon256 May 21, 2012 - 1:22 am

As a middle class New Yorker, I don’t want your car (or anybody else’s) anywhere near my neighbourhood, regardless of where you park it. Parking requirements like you describe make housing even less affordable than it already is (since underground garages are very expensive to build), forcing the costs of car owners’ choices on the rest of us who have no need for them.

Private cars make no sense in a dense city like New York. It’s a sign of the massive IMBALANCE in transport policy for the past 70 years that anyone tries to drive them here at all.

Bolwerk May 21, 2012 - 2:05 am

Pro-automobile = not wanting automobiles to serve a useful purpose.

Really, you can’t make stuff like this up: the people who insist on automobiles being inflicted everywhere and on everyone are the people who make automobiles (and consequently most other surface transportation) ineffective. Since they can’t win on the merits, they call people with something of a grasp of things like economics and, uh, spacial reasoning “anti-auto.”

(RWAs pull this and other myths out of their asses all the time. It’s part of the same umbrella of stupidity that includes Reagan’s welfare queen with all the Cadillacs, or this idea you see bandied about that transit users are subsidized by automobile tolls.)

Andrew May 22, 2012 - 11:05 pm

Don’t mind sharon. She obviously worked very hard to get a car so that she could join the middle class. How dare you imply that she could have joined the middle class without wasting all that money on a car!

Andrew May 22, 2012 - 11:02 pm

Pardon the stupid question, but, aside from superficially being similar to Bogota, what’s the advantage? I see plenty of disadvantages: the need to cross the street to reach the bus from anywhere, an inhospitable, low-capacity waiting area in the middle of the street, the inability for local buses to benefit from the bus lane, the inability of riders to wait for either local or SBS, whichever pulls up first, and the awkward arrangement for cars waiting to turn left across the bus lanes.

What’s the problem with a mix of Options 1 and 2? (Aside from not being superficially similar to Bogota’s system and not pleasing Walter Hook.)

sodastream flavor February 1, 2014 - 10:50 am

Thanks for finally talking about > A better plan for Webster Ave.
SBS lanes :: Second Ave. Sagas < Liked it!


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