Home Triboro RX Brad Lander’s ‘Bus Mayor’ and the Triboro RX SBS plan

Brad Lander’s ‘Bus Mayor’ and the Triboro RX SBS plan

by Benjamin Kabak
Christine Quinn's Triboro RX Select Bus Service plan is not the answer to the city's transit woes.

Christine Quinn’s Triboro RX Select Bus Service plan is not the answer to the city’s transit woes.

Updated (4:00 p.m.) with corrections from Quinn surrounding estimated Triboro RX costs: Throughout the course of the NYC mayoral campaign, buses and ferries have come to dominate the transit discussion. These aren’t transformative solutions that address the myriad access issues with the city’s subway network, but rather, they are two modes of transit over which the next mayor can actually assert control. Candidates don’t need to pay lip service to the unrealistic idea of an MTA under city control when they can, by action or fiat, better expand the city’s bus services or ferry networks.

If the right politician saying the right things on the city’s buses came around, we could embrace that person, and in discussions this week about his dreams for the city, Brad Lander did just that. The City Council member recently put forward a bill requiring the Department of Transportation to come up with a comprehensive ten-year plan for the city’s buses that would involve a massive rollout of Select Bus Service. I think the timeline could be reduced significantly, but Lander’s proposal would be a sea change in the way DOT has slowly brought SBS to the city’s streets.

Stephen Smith of The Observer spoke with Lander earlier this week, and he is sick of the slow process that gives too much weight to individual Community Boards in a vacuum:

To Mr. Lander, the piecemeal approach that the MTA and DOT took to the lanes, and their strict policy of not rolling them out without approval from local community boards and elected officials, doesn’t go far enough. “Of course you work with communities to make it happen,” Mr. Lander told The Observer (followers of Mr. Lander on Twitter can attest to the fact that “community” is by far his favorite word), “but I don’t think you can approach it so that each one has to be considered on its own, and any time some interest in a community seeks to block it, that can be enough resistance to stop it from moving forward.”

“The majority of New Yorkers,” he continued, “don’t own cars. We need to improve public transit, but unfortunately often community boards overrepresent car owners, and you can get interest groups to step up on something most people don’t know anything about, and block something that’s absolutely in the broader interest.”

…In addition to quantity, Mr. Lander wants better quality. SBS is not, some detractors claim, robust enough to qualify as true bus rapid transit, and Mr. Lander wants to give SBS routes physically-separated lanes—as opposed to the painted ones they have now, which he’d also like to see better enforced, ideally by cameras on the fronts of buses—and the busiest stops stations instead of mere stops, like with some of the more complete bus rapid transit implementations in Latin America and China. Mr. Lander also said he’d like to see SBS-like features to speed buses routes along streets that are not wide enough for the dedicated lanes that SBS requires. (B35 on Church Avenue, we’re looking at you!)

Lander, in closing, said that the next mayor could be the “bus mayor” much as Mayor Bloomberg is the “bike mayor.” All it would take is some political will and a solid plan. So does anyone currently in the running for Gracie Mansion have such a plan?

In her latest policy announcement regarding transit, Christine Quinn unveiled a challenger to the Triboro RX rail line. She is instead proposing the Triboro RX Select Bus Service line, and it is an unqualified disaster. The route would essentially mirror the Triboro RX line over 25 miles from Yankee Stadium to Bay Ridge but with enough twists and turns that it’s hard to see how it could be an express bus, let along a dedicated Select Bus Service/BRT combination, as she has proposed.

For starters, though, her heart is in the right place. “We need to update our city’s transportation to meet the needs of real New Yorkers,” she said in a statement. “Our subway system was completed in the 1950’s, when more than half of New Yorkers lived in Manhattan and less than 200,000 lived in Queens. Times have changed, and today Brooklyn and Queens together have nearly 5 million residents. Many of them commute to boroughs other than Manhattan. It’s time we make the MTA work for all New Yorkers.”

But otherwise, Quinn’s proposal is a mess. Without citing any studies — largely because there aren’t any — Quinn claimed that Triboro RX would cost $25 billion to build and take 40 years to construct. Those are figures for a surface rail system that would run on preexisting track and right of way. She claims Triboro RX could be up and running in a year and at a cost of $25 million instead, all numbers plucked from a 17-year-old, far more comprehensive regional report from the RPA [PDF].

After speaking of the $25 billion cost and originally printing it on her website, Quinn later revised estimates downward to $1 billion for the entire Triboro RX rail line. At that price point, why are we even considering a cockamamie bus route?

(As an added zinger, Quinn claimed that “we need to do a better job involving communities in the input process, in the development process.” I’m assuming she’s taking about the M60 SBS debacle, but as many have mentioned, the community input wasn’t the problem; rather, obstructionist politicians concerned about their parking spots and with a disproportionately loud voice were.)

Proponents at the Pratt Center spoke with Dana Rubinstein at Capital New York and seemed ready to chop up the Triboro RX SBS while embracing it. Joan Byron claimed that the Triboro RX SBS “wouldn’t clog up railroads that could be used to get more freight rail off city streets.” She also proposed “several different routes instead of trying to do it all with one.” I’m pretty sure that’s called a local bus network, and we already have that.

But this is the state of the campaign. No one has the vision for rail, and while the plan is out their for a bus mayor to embrace it, we get empty promises that can’t, won’t and likely shouldn’t be fulfilled. If all it takes to run for mayor is the ability to draw a bunch of connected lines on a map, well, we all should be out there campaigning.

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Clarke July 26, 2013 - 1:48 pm

That map! It’s like a piece straight out of The Onion, highlighting how much more sense true rail service would make on this route.

$25 billion? Really? How about implementing the BRT service on this route as a stopgap between now and when the actual rail service begins.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 2:18 pm

Yeah, The Onionx is what I thought of. This? It’s hilarious, and I think half of, say, Streetsblog might actually believe it’s a good idea.

I hate getting this feeling, because it’s so visceral, but sometimes I think Quinn is really, really stupid. She’s Bloomberg’s protege, in many ways, and superficially their politics are very similar. Bloomberg isn’t an especially able mayor. Hell, he probably has done a lot of harm to NYC over the years, going so far as to damage its long-term viability, but nobody can deny that he is smart as a whip.

Whatever her problem is, Quinn doesn’t grasp reality. She is not capable of objectively evaluating phenomena, she doesn’t understand people not like her, and she isn’t capable of understanding her own shortcomings. Clownish as Weiner is, at least he seems to understand there is a world outside the circle of milquetoasts he rubs shoulders with.

Henry July 26, 2013 - 11:36 pm

At least Wiener is also willing to adapt to other people’s opinions. Not sure if that’s the case with Quinn (and with this project, it better be.)

alen July 26, 2013 - 1:55 pm

i drove something similar to that route one time. i will never take a bus that follows that route

Roxie July 26, 2013 - 1:57 pm

Considering how long it’s taken us to get just one part of the SAS done, as well as how long it’s taken to add one station to an existing line, I honestly sort of buy the 40 year timeframe. In a sort of snarky, sarcastic sense, of course, but still.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 2:06 pm

Ugh, this bus thumping is getting more and more ridiculous. Sheesh.

Quinn’s heart isn’t in the right place at all. Her lizard nose senses that people are crying for better transit, and she is pandering by offering snake oil. Lander actually means well, but unfortunately he doesn’t understand good transit anymore than BRT thumpers who want to squander precious resources subverting rail investment to bus overhead.

If they want to improve buses, all buses should have pretty much every SBS feature possible for the given circumstances on that route, POP with onboard collection being key and universal. Level boarding is a plus, though perhaps geography sometimes precludes it. Perhaps sometimes articulation is impossible because of street conditions. But more or less, there should be not Select in SBS. It should just be bus service, run as well as possible.

But for crying out loud, pols need to talk about trains too. They matter.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 7:51 pm

Ugh, this bus thumping is getting more and more ridiculous. Sheesh.
I’m with you, enough is enough! It’s time to get off the busses for everybody mantra.

Quinn’s heart isn’t in the right place at all. Her lizard nose senses that people are crying for better transit, and she is pandering by offering snake oil.

Sounds like you are refering to Theresa Caputo.

Larry Littlefield July 26, 2013 - 2:08 pm

“No one has the vision for rail.”

No one who counts. I have a vision.

It involves the next Mayor being the Bus Mayor, and taking over the New York City’s bus and paratransit systems along with the revenues for the payroll tax collected in the city (Quinn has called for Mayoral control of the whole MTA). That would shift about $800 million in costs from the MTA to the city.

The suburbs would be offered (no, given) the same deal — you run the bus systems (Westchester and Nassau already do) and the payroll tax revenues, but no other state aid for buses. That would go to the MTA.

Which would be renamed the MRA — Metropolitan Railroad Authority — and focus on rail. That’s a vision.

Stephen - NYC July 26, 2013 - 2:16 pm

Is that one route with one bus operator? Geez, how long would that drive be? I would certainly hope that bus has a bathroom on it (and not just for the riders).

Eric Brasure July 26, 2013 - 2:18 pm

What the hell is Quinn talking about? 1.5 million people lived in Queens in 1950, not 200,000.

AG July 26, 2013 - 5:18 pm

she must have meant 1900… just like the $25 billion and the 40 years must have been about the Second Ave. subway.
maybe she was hungry… I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt.. but she won’t get my vote.

Gary Reilly July 26, 2013 - 2:41 pm

Lander is hands down the most impressive elected official in NYC today.

He’s smart, he’s fair, he listens and he’s a huge policy geek.

TOM July 29, 2013 - 1:13 pm

I agree(yes to all the attributes) but he has to reconcile his inner conflict with participatory democracy for local budget allocations and for local urban planning.

lawhawk July 26, 2013 - 2:43 pm

Heck, even if Triboro RX cost roughly $200m for each 3.5 mile segment to activate (basing that on how much the MTA needed to restore service on the A through Jamaica Bay after Sandy), and then spent an average of $90m* on each station that had to be built or renovated to accomodate the link, it would still come out well below the $25b that Quinn claims it would have.

*$90m being the cost to build the Yankee Stadium Metro North station.

If there are 20 stations, including the identified links to other existing lines, that’s only $1.8b for the station component. The whole thing could conceivably be done for $3.8b ($2b to get 35 miles of right of way up to operating standards). It doesn’t include costs to get additional railcars, or annual operating costs.

Hardly the $25b that Quinn claims, and it would surely be able to move a whole lot more people more effectively and efficiently than a SBS RX route.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 2:54 pm

The Staten Island North Shore Branch study said heavy rail to Arlington would be about $55 million per km (link). And that’s a study that’s sandbagged to make heavy rail look bad – e.g. the operating costs are randomly higher than those of a longer bus, despite the fact that the opposite is true on average.

$55 million/km times 33 km (the length of existing ROW, south and east of Melrose) is $1.8 billion. Add another kilometer of tunneling to get to Yankee Stadium.

lawhawk July 26, 2013 - 3:32 pm

So, even if the tunneling cost was $750m for the 1km, we’re still talking about an entire project that is doable for under $5b, and which would have upwards of 200k users per day, to say nothing of balance loading/smoothing on other lines to reduce congestion through the central business district in Manhattan for those trying to get to outer boroughs but have no current option.

The next mayor should be thinking about how to get the funding for this done – and talking about real BRT on key routes.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 3:55 pm

Still seems high. I beleive double-tracked greenfield HSR in Europe is often in the $15M/km-$30M/km range, and I think I’ve seen greenfield sub-HSR track for considerably less.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 8:30 pm

Urban construction costs more. See French numbers here.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 10:39 pm

With the ROW already there?

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 11:28 pm

No, I think these are all on-street projects.

Bolwerk July 27, 2013 - 10:02 am

I can see where North Shore would need some extensive structural work, which will raise costs regardless of mode (more for buses).

Triborough already should be graded and have a lot of the structural work done, but I guess some grade separation will be unavoidable.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:02 pm

One of the original creators of the TriboroRX plan muttered something about moving the Bronx section from Yankee Stadium to Hunts Point. Not sure how that would work out.

AG July 27, 2013 - 6:37 pm

I’m assuming the reason would be costs… Freight runs over the Hell Gate to Hunts Point.
That said – something needs to be done to correct the folly of the 6 not connecting to the other Bronx lines in the Bronx.

BoerumHillScott July 26, 2013 - 4:18 pm

I would add another $50 million per connection to elevated/surface subway and $100 million per connection to underground subway stop, but it still comes in way less than Quinn’s numbers.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 2:45 pm

Okay, so Stephen Smith asked, and the source for the $25 billion figure is in: it’s from a far more expansive RPA plan, including the full SAS and a new commuter rail trunk line through Manhattan. Quinn’s campaign thought it was just for Triboro. In the unlikely case there’s a retraction I’ll go back to hating her only over stop-and-frisk, mosque surveillance, and her support of banning BDS conferences.

Benjamin Kabak July 26, 2013 - 2:49 pm

Which means that Quinn’s campaign’s problem isn’t just that they thought this was a good idea but that they can’t read and comprehend a 17-year-old report.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 2:58 pm

The latest poll has de Blasio running second. Surely he can be trusted to do what’s best for transit users, right?


AG July 26, 2013 - 5:21 pm

well that’s the problem… most of these candidates focus on special interests rather than what’s best for all.

Larry Littlefield July 26, 2013 - 6:21 pm

Look, I’m anything but a pol lover, but I think some of these folks are being worse thought of than they deserve.

I’d take Quinn or DeBlasio over Weiner, wouldn’t you? And I would have said that if there had never been any sexting.

Bolwerk July 26, 2013 - 6:40 pm

Yesterday, picking between Weiner and Quinn kind of seemed like picking which turd you wanted to eat. But after this totally inept plan now I think Weiner is actually preferable, even for transit.

And Weiner is a right-wing clown with a compulsive need to get women to look at pictures of his penis.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 8:13 pm

His name is Weiner, what else would you expect.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 8:21 pm

I think Quinn and Weiner are equally awful. De Blasio’s special interests (labor) are at least clear and sympathetic.

TOM July 29, 2013 - 1:21 pm

And expensive, prohibitively so.

There will be NO money for anything when the new labor contracts, and the retro pay, are finally budgeted in the new year.

AG July 29, 2013 - 6:06 pm

Carrion would be better than all of them

llqbtt July 26, 2013 - 2:55 pm

Let me check my calendar, was that map (& plan) first published on April 1st?!

Alex July 26, 2013 - 3:04 pm

It just seems like common sense to advocate for 1. phase 2 of the SAS and 2. the Triboro RX line. To make up nonsense numbers about it and trash it in favor of a scribble of an SBS map speaks to Quinn’s near complete lack of understanding of transportation. It’s gonna be a long 4 (hopefully not 8) years.

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 3:05 pm

You mean 12? She colluded with Bloomberg on the Great Electoral Theft of 2009.

Henry July 26, 2013 - 11:49 pm

Bloomberg used his money to buy the last 4, and barely squeaked by considering how much he outspent Thompson. It’s doubtful that Quinn can pull the same stunts he did. She’s not a media mogul.

John Doe July 26, 2013 - 3:16 pm

It breaks my heart that we’ve spent countless TRILLONS on wars in distant lands. Imagine if we’d spent that money here instead? Not only on improving and expanding our infrastructure but first class eduacation for all!!! We could have expanded rail thru all the boroughs!

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 4:28 pm

I said the same thing a day or so ago.

This SBS obsession is down right rediculous & unperductive. The RX line MUST BE RAIL BASED. Must I repeat myself?

Henry July 26, 2013 - 11:52 pm

SBS is not an inherently bad thing. This is just ridiculous. They literally took a sharpie on a street map, because the routing makes no sense whatsoever. Why the hell does the Brooklyn segment need to go all the way north to Church and back down?

She isn’t stupid enough to actually try and get something like this passed, and MTA isn’t stupid enough to go along with something like this.

Eric July 28, 2013 - 4:03 am

Never underestimate the stupidity of American politicians and transportation planners.

AlexB July 26, 2013 - 3:27 pm

There’s no reason we shouldn’t have shorter routes like those in that bad map, but the Triboro Rx plan is so obviously superior and cost effective, you can’t help but to question Quinn’s judgment. It’s sad this is basically the best we can do without making Lander mayor.

Michael_G July 26, 2013 - 4:41 pm

We all know Congressman Nadler is the biggest advocate for a cross-harbor freight rail tunnel. Is he specifically on record anywhere opposing Triboro RX because it would limit the utility of a future cross-harbor freight rail link with New Jersey? If there was plenty of money to go around (which there isn’t) it seems like the rail right-of-way in Brooklyn could be rebuilt like the Alameda freight rail corridor in Los Angeles County, just that for Triboro RX, it would accommodate both freight rail and subway service. Where the right of way is more narrow, such a rail corridor could have two levels to sequester freight rail and passenger rail. It’d be more expensive than building a subway-only route in that rail corridor, but if Christine Quinn can dream big with her mystical, twisting outerborough express bus route, so can I. Hopefully there’s an undiscovered deposit of rare earth metals within New York’s territorial waters that can finance all our big ideas!

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 8:26 pm

Undiscovered deposit of rare earth metals? Why, is it not enough to have a huge finance sector to tax?

Epson45 July 26, 2013 - 5:08 pm

Triboro Rx and Triboro Rx SBS plan will NEVER happen in our lifetime!

These lunatic pols wants to buy some votes and never implanted their genius ideas in their term just like the illegal 3rd term King Bloomburger.

Bill July 26, 2013 - 6:14 pm

Stupid question here. Are there two tracks available for Triboro RX or just one? I think going over the Hell Gate Bridge there’s only one track for freight. Even if there were two, where would the southbound station platform go? Would you have to single-track trains in that area to get them through?

Also, a station at the Ditmars Blvd. N/Q stop would have to be built way above the current station next to the bridge. That would certainly cost a lot more money than a surface station along the freight line in South Brooklyn, no?

John-2 July 26, 2013 - 7:40 pm

If it was done, they’d probably have to revive the old express stop design plan from the Third Avenue and Ninth Avenue els of raising one track above the other to have a dual-level platform.

The problem with all the pols goes back to the immediate gratification demand they have — buses can be implemented before the next election, trains take longer, and therefore won’t be able to help them with their re-election efforts. The best hope for the future is the SAS comes on line and the benefits are shown during the next election year, so there’s actually some sort of impetus to continue system expansion (and we may get a smaller-scale example of that in the 2014 gubernatorial election if the 7 extension opens and begins making a difference in the Hudson Yards-Javits Center area).

Alon Levy July 26, 2013 - 8:30 pm

Two, with most segments of the route wide enough for four or more (i.e. two passenger, one or two freight). The Hell Gate Bridge is wide enough for four tracks – two passenger, two freight. CSX just tore up one of its tracks.

AlexB July 30, 2013 - 4:17 pm

Which segments are ONLY wide enough for two tracks? i.e. where would we have to choose between the cross harbor system or the triboro line? Been trying to find out online but not having any luck…

Alex C July 26, 2013 - 7:34 pm

This is complete idiocy. She’s joking, right? Forget all the other criticisms, this route would be hilarious in trying to stay on schedule.

Nyland8 July 27, 2013 - 11:47 am

Indeed. If they ran with any frequency at all, the busses would be clustered in bunches of 8 to 10 by the end of the line. We can’t get an M86 across Manhattan without clustering – and half that trip is through Central Park!

– OR they’d be forced to sit idling at some stops to maintain scheduled spacing. That would go over big for someone going the distance and already looking at a few hour journey.

SEAN July 26, 2013 - 8:07 pm

Even as a suburbanite, I can recognise that this so called plan by Christine Quin is pathettic at best & outragious at worst. More busses in this day & age without a modern payment system that is regionwide? I’m at a loss for words, and for me that’s rare.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 12:21 am

Brad Lander’s proposal is great – requiring DOT to create a comprehensive network for transit improvements is a great idea (note: transit improvements, not SBS, because SBS could provide a backbone network for eventual conversions of SBS lines to light rail or subway).

Quinn is just talking out of her ass. No way in hell that she’s making a legitimate proposal (and why the hell does the bus make all those weird jogs and diversions anyways?). She probably had an intern take a sharpie to a subway map and called it a day.

Epson45 July 27, 2013 - 12:29 am

Lander’s proposal is stupid as well. They should tell MTA to run more buses often instead of wasting time putting more SBS junk on the routes like S79 and stop increasing headways.

We need to expand rail service, NYC desperately needs.

Alon Levy July 27, 2013 - 10:52 am

“Wasting time putting more SBS junk” – because the thing buses really need is to waste time as passengers queue single-file to pay the driver at the front.

Bolwerk July 27, 2013 - 12:40 pm

SBS features should be introduced on every bus, as much as possible.

Lander’s proposal is a mixed bag. It’s good to expand the surface transport network, and SBS should be a part of that. But SBS isn’t a substitute for surface rail, and it’s highly wasteful to treat it as such. Lander means well, but doesn’t understand different modes have different uses and advantages/disadvantages.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:05 pm

I still feel that the SBS network will eventually be incrementally improved to light rail or subway eventually. And at least if we do it with SBS, we don’t have to expensively retrofit some separate right-of-way like Ottawa and (eventually) Los Angeles will have to do.

Bolwerk July 27, 2013 - 2:03 pm

Yada yada. If we do everything that should already be light rail as SBS, we are not saving anything. SBS has several times the labor cost of rail, light or not. Do things right the first time.

The whole point of this SBS obsession is either incompetence or something worse.

Henry July 27, 2013 - 1:04 pm

The S79 is a glorified limited that should never have gotten the SBS label in the first place.

If you want to find the money for rail service, be my guest.

Bolwerk July 27, 2013 - 2:10 pm

The SBS label shouldn’t exist. All buses should have as many SBS features as possible, whether limited or not. SBS is done about 75% right. Other buses are done completely wrong.

There is plenty of money for rail service, although the future realizes the savings more than the present.

Henry July 29, 2013 - 7:39 pm

Honestly, the only thing that should be an SBS only feature is the red lanes, and I think that’s because the law allowing bus lane cameras specifically allots them to SBS lanes only – hence why the ones on Madison and 5th are always blocked.

Bolwerk July 30, 2013 - 12:01 pm

The lanes are probably less important than POP. Buses can work all right in mixed traffic, at least if the mixed traffic is modest. Single-file fare collection never works well.

That’s not to say lanes are a bad thing, but whether you have them should be prioritized based on conditions, not branding.

Tim Willis July 27, 2013 - 12:23 am

Nice piece! Last line should read “out there campaigning…”

Howard July 29, 2013 - 8:39 pm

will this be light rail (if it happens)?

Bolwerk July 30, 2013 - 11:59 am

The plan was for it to be a subway service, but it never matured to the point where it was anymore than a plan.


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