Home Buses In Sandy’s aftermath, a thought on prioritizing road space

In Sandy’s aftermath, a thought on prioritizing road space

by Benjamin Kabak

As we await official word from the MTA on the state of the city’s subway system, it seems clear that service will not immediately return to normal. Although buses are set to hit the streets at 5 p.m., we won’t know much about subway service until later in the day. Early indications are, though, that the full system will be out for a few days at least.

So how do we move people throughout the city? I, for instance, live around seven miles from my office in Midtown and have to cross the East River to get there. We can’t all pile over the bridge at once, and the subway, which delivers millions of people each day to destinations throughout the city, isn’t going to be at full strength for days.

To that end, Transportation Alternatives has issued a call for street prioritization. Instead of a traffic free-for-all in which buses stuffed with people compete with private cars, bicyclists, taxis and emergency response vehicles, the city could rearrange traffic as such until the subways return:

  • Emergency Bus Lanes to allow swift transit throughout the City until subway service is restored.
  • Emergency Street Reservations exclusively for the safe use of walkers, bikers and emergency vehicles.
  • Off-Peak Bridge Biking and Walking Lanes to ensure sufficient safe space for people on foot and bicycle and prevent overcrowding on the bridges.
  • Emergency Biking Lanes on well-used routes to enable safe mobility, including coned-off Midtown bike lanes.
  • Bike Parking Stations and Temporary Bike Storage in major employment centers in Lower Manhattan including Foley Square, Union Square, Herald Square, Times Square, Washington Square Park and Bryant Park.
  • High Occupancy Vehicle Requirements on crossings into the most congested areas of the city.
  • Carpool Staging Areas offering parking and passenger pick-up locations in support of drivers sharing rides to meet the HOV requirements.

As a few people noted last night, New Yorkers may be in for a shock when they discover just how slow, infrequent and, oftentimes, unreliable the bus system is, but for the next few days, we’re going to have to rely on it. The city should make sure buses get move quickly through neighborhoods, and these street-sharing suggestions deserve a consideration before the roads start to fill up after 5 p.m. today.

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Duke October 30, 2012 - 2:25 pm

The HOV requirement should be a no-brainer (was done during the transit strike), and the bike parking is nice, too. But I don’t see how you can start declaring emergency bus lanes all over the place without extensive planning, and closing some streets to cars raises the problem of what do the people whose cars are parked there do. Besides, the streets that you can most get away with closing to cars are side streets that are also the least useful to other modes of travel.

Nathanael October 30, 2012 - 4:43 pm

It would be easiest and most straightforward to ban cars from some of the bridges, which is where the most capacity is needed. Honestly, the best capacity might be gained by completely pedestrianizing the Brooklyn Bridge.

Nobody’s considering this, obviously. Sigh.

Spendmore Wastemore October 30, 2012 - 2:47 pm

I believe I have a better idea.

Rather than attempting to run the usual bus routes, which are nearly useless for moving people much more than two miles, run buses from key subway stations and a few feeder lines serving areas more than 3/4 mile from a subway stop.

Since the most difficult slog is getting to/from Manhattan, run some express buses from key subway stations. In lower manhattan one can walk almost everywhere, and buses can circulate through the closed subway stops. They need not cover every stop, many stops are within 1/2 mile of another stop.

pea-jay October 30, 2012 - 2:50 pm

The other difference between this and the transit strike is the road network was fine. Right now quite a few roads are impassible as well. Still, prioritizing vehicles that carry 50-70 people over one that carries 2-4 is as Duke says, a no brainer.

Bolwerk October 30, 2012 - 3:01 pm

The funny part is what TA proposes is almost what should be done on a normal day.

Here’s a major concern: do we even have enough extra buses to make a dent?

Larry Littlefield October 30, 2012 - 3:23 pm


The game plan will have to be to run the subways to the interlockings closest to the East River, and then have people walk or take shuttle buses over the bridges.

Spendmore Wastemore October 30, 2012 - 3:29 pm

If you look at the issue is “how can we get people to places they can’t reasonably walk or bike”, probably. Run buses along highways and they can move a fair number of bodies per hour. Screw the FDR weight limits; those structures are not about to collapse. Do check overhead clearance 😉

If the issue is “how can we run buses at 2.5mph and create maximum misery “, the answer is obvious.

People who can’t walk reasonable distances – that includes myself – will have to take a cab or stay put.

Jess October 30, 2012 - 4:34 pm

Any idea if the express buses will be running tomorrow, or is it just local buses? The express buses from Brooklyn & SI typically route through the Battery tunnel so will they just re-route them over a bridge?

Benjamin Kabak October 30, 2012 - 4:36 pm

Nothing will be running through the Battery tunnel for a few days. It’s unclear what will happen with those express bus routes, but Lhota called for “creativity” in travel over the next few days.

John-2 October 30, 2012 - 4:45 pm

Can the newer SI Ferries and the John F. Kennedy handle express buses? That would allow for a ‘creative’ alternative downtown connection, though I’m not sure how you’d keep the bus passengers seperated from the regulars with Metrocards unless you kept them in the bus for the trip from St. George to Whitehall.

Phantom October 30, 2012 - 7:40 pm


John-2 October 31, 2012 - 12:01 am

When we and other groups from Manhattan used to ride school buses onto the ferry back in ye olden days to and from day camp, they would let us off and we would walk around on the boat until the ferry got close to docking. Then it was everyone back on the bus before the buses and the other vehicles (cars and trucks, though no 18-wheelers) got off.

If you did that with the express bus passengers, though, how would the driver know who paid their fare at the start of the trip, and who might try to sneak a half-trip on the express bus, instead of having to wait for a regular bus at Whitehall or St. George (I guess the driver could probably give out receipts like the SBS lines that would have to be presented to the driver to re-board the bus before it left the ferry, or they could just make all the passengers stay on the bus for the 25 minute trip, since they’re stuck on the bus anyway on the BQE).

Bolwerk October 31, 2012 - 6:31 am

I’m so tired of seeing Þe Þorn getting mangled by English language neophytes who have only been speaking it for mere decades! :-O

Seriously, though, at this point, they could probably just let people use the buses for free for a few days. Just move people and not worry about lost revenue too much. However, the time it takes to load vehicles onto ferries, given our existing ferry infrastructure, probably ain’t work it.

Alon Levy October 31, 2012 - 7:03 am

Surely you mean þe þorn? Or perhaps ðe þorn, if you want to project modern spelling of Old English?

Frank B October 30, 2012 - 7:41 pm

Now’s That’s creative! John-2, that’s a really brilliant idea; they DO have the capacity to carry motor vehicles, why not buses? Very nice.

mike d. October 30, 2012 - 9:27 pm

No, and it could be weight issue.

John-2 October 30, 2012 - 11:51 pm

Back in the 1960s, we rode a school bus five times a week during the summer on the SI Ferry to the Kaufman campgrounds on Staten Island, so I know the Kennedy Class has bus clearance and can handle the weight of at least a few express buses per trip. As for the three new boats, I’m guessing if the vehicle gangways were put in to handle emergency vehicles, they can handle a few MCIs as well.

mike d. October 31, 2012 - 11:33 am

the problem is MTA does not want their over expensive MCI and Prevost express buses to get damage if it hit by waves and other silly things. The MCIs is really a heavy bus, if you put a couple MCI buses in that boat; that boat is really not a fast boat.

John-2 October 31, 2012 - 2:36 pm

I’d have to look up the axle weight of your average all-metal school bus, circa 1960, when gas prices were low and excess weight was not an object, and your average weight per axle of an MCI motor coach, which isn’t light, but would contain far more plastic and aluminum parts. And given how far back in the ship the buses would likely be, you’d have to have the skipper of the 2003 Barberi crash at the helm to have a serious concern about seawater damaging the buses in such a short-term alternative situation (only the vehicles at the very front of the boat back in the old days would even get get misted from the bay water kicking up from the bow).

All in all, the Manny B route would be the more likely option. But four of the the ferries can likely handle buses if the city wanted to go that route

mike d. October 30, 2012 - 9:29 pm

The Staten Island & Brooklyn express that have to use Battery Tunnel will detour to Manhattan Bridge.

Frank B October 30, 2012 - 7:42 pm

Here’s creative for you:

In Queens, we have a fairly decent setup since both the BMT Astoria and IRT Flushing Line stop at Queensboro Plaza, right at the foot of the 59th Street Bridge; this will make walking over the bridge relatively easy; in addition, Midtown is not too far once you actually enter Manhattan. The 59th Street Bridge also has an HOV Lane; Make it full time, and divert buses that normally terminate in Long Island City or continue to Greenpoint over the bridge.

The Triborough bridge can be utilized as well, as the Queensboro will likely be jammed to capacity with the Midtown Tunnel still closed. Buses can be diverted over the Triborough and run express down 2nd Avenue. The M60 should also be extended out to Flushing-Main Street Terminal; LaGuardia will be closed for a few days anyway.

The Brooklyn Bridge cannot handle the weight of buses, and thus is useless in this capacity. It might as well have some lanes knocked out entirely for full pedestrian & cycling access.

The Manhattan Bridge- We don’t know the specifics of which lines are flooded and are merely crippled by soggy tunnels, or which lines are entirely inundated. However, I imagine that service over the Manhattan Bridge can be re-established much more quickly than the other lines, obviously because the tracks aren’t swamped.

Williamsburg- Same as Manhattan. Might be better off than the tunnels, depending on so many factors. Direct IND 6th Avenue Service via the Chrystie Street Connection is looking like it was a pretty good idea right now, since Rutgers is flooded.

In the 1990’s, during threatened Amtrak strikes, there was a proposal to run a P train non-stop from Jamaica via the BMT Archer Avenue Line, all the way to Pennsylvania Station using the Chrystie Street Connection and switching to IND 8th Avenue Trackage via West 4th Street. Perhaps this can be done?

Brooklyn-Battery: Useless for a while.
Queens Midtown: Also useless for a while.

The Bronx: Here’s another question; I know the IRT 7th Avenue-Broadway Line starts running as an El somewhere above 191st Street; it continues all the way to 242nd Street via elevated tracks, going into Marble Hill over a bridge; surely this is operational, presuming the IRT West Side Line isn’t flooded; would it be possible to divert most buses to this line, and running non-stop or skip-stop trains (i.e. 1/9) to relieve some traffic in the Bronx? Could select subway lines perhaps run as shuttles for intraborough travel, and feed into Select Bus Service to the Broadway Line?

Staten Island: Here’s the thing, again, we don’t know anything, but I can see from the NYC Hurricane Evacuation Zone Map only a small portion of the SIR is in Zone A Flood Zone, so most commuters could get relatively close to the ferry.

John-2 has a brilliant idea with possibly moving buses directly onto ferries, I just hope something like that is possible.

Stephen Smith October 30, 2012 - 9:01 pm

No mention of dollar vans and livery cars? How about the TLC waives its prohibition of street hails for non-yellow cabs? Obviously dollar vans are already de facto legal in Caribbean and Asian outer borough neighborhoods, but how about extending that lenience to the whole city – and, most importantly, Manhattan – for a few days?

mike d. October 31, 2012 - 11:35 am

We got enough of crazy taxi drivers driving around breaking traffic laws already.


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