Home Buses Thoughts on treating buses with more respect (or why Woodhaven BRT won’t jeopardize the Second Ave. Subway)

Thoughts on treating buses with more respect (or why Woodhaven BRT won’t jeopardize the Second Ave. Subway)

by Benjamin Kabak

Since the MTA and New York City’s DOT debuted Select Bus Service in 2008, I haven’t been particularly impressed by the program or the rollout. Heralded as the next best thing in buses for New York City, it’s barely BRT-lite, and it’s taken nearly a decade for the city and MTA to identify and plan only a handful of best-practices improvements to local bus routes. If anything, adding bus lanes that aren’t physically separated with only the bare minimum of lane enforcement along with pre-boarding fare payment (and fare checks that, at the start, slowed down service) should be standard on nearly all local bus routes. That we’re still waiting on something as basic as signal prioritization is telling.

Meanwhile, while most countries with real bus infrastructure would view these upgrades as laughably modest, in New York City, they become somehow controversial. Take a lane away for parked cars or moving personal automobiles? You may be better off invading a small country. Suggest camera lane enforcement? Add flashing lights to a bus to distinguish service? Beware the wrath of know-nothing State Senators. (The MTA has finally introduced new destination signs that flash the words “+SELECT BUS” in amber on a blue background as subpar replacements for the blue lights. More on those soon.)

And yet, despite my skepticism, these SBS upgrades are real, if incremental, improvements, and if implemented properly, they ideally will help bolster ridership on city buses while cutting down on travel times. Thus, we as a city should embrace bus infrastructure and treat it as we would something positive. You try telling that to whoever’s responsible for this mess:

As you can see, Doug Gordon spotted this during his bike ride home on Tuesday. The SBS M15 stop near the Bowery Whole Foods is completed inundated with someone’s garbage bags and one of the fare payment machines is inaccessible as well. After some questioning, Whole Foods said to me that those bags weren’t theirs and instead belonged to the residential building above the store. I haven’t been able to reach the building yet, but Gordon tells me this is far from an isolated incident. It’s no way to treat a bus stop, let alone one that’s supposed to be a key stop on a flagship Select Bus Service line.

But that’s not the only way Select Bus Service is under attack. In a Gotham Gazette piece that follows months of anti-Select Bus Service writings, Allan Rosen, a former MTA planner and long-time reader and commenter on this site, claimed that the Woodhaven BRT plan could jeopardize the Second Ave. Subway. His rationale is that since the second phase of the Second Ave. Subway, estimated at around $4.5-$5 billion will compete with the $230 million BRT for New Starts funding, federally funded BRT could foreclose federal funds for the Second Ave. Subway.

This, of course, isn’t how the New Starts program works. The feds end up contributing money to nearly all projects deemed worthy, and they have, over the years, held up the Second Ave. Subway as the gold standard for worthiness based upon projected ridership. Meanwhile, the scale is off as Phase 2 of the Second Ave. Subway is far, far more likely to be delayed by inaction from Albany than by an alleged fight over a few hundred million dollars.

If we dig into the history of Phase 1 of the Second Ave. Subway, we see diverse funding sources. Of the approximately $4.86 billion the feds say Phase 1 will cost, $1.3 billion comes New Starts and around $50 million originates out of other federal programs. The remainder breaks down as follows: $450 million from the 2005 State Transportation Bond Act and over $3 billion from MTA dedicated sources and PAYGO operating funds. The New Starts money that could go to either SAS Phase 2 or Woodhaven BRT is a drop in the bucket, and it certainly isn’t the bus upgrade’s fault that a northward extension of the Second Ave. Subway may be delayed.

It’s ultimately an indictment of New York City’s willingness to mimic that buses and bus upgrades can come under attack from all corners. We live in a very dense city that relies on its transit network, and yet simple improvements take years to introduce and engender unnecessarily emotional debates over priorities and street space. If New Yorkers are serious about transit upgrades, it’s time to take the buses — BRT, Select Bus Service, whatever you want to call it — seriously. That starts with taking care of bus stops and continues with honest discussions over proper funding mechanisms. Right now, we’ve seen none of that.

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Duke July 9, 2015 - 1:08 am

The ridiculous part is there are two very substantial improvements that could be made without touching car traffic or parking at all that would still vastly speed up service.

1) Pre-boarding fare payment. This ought to be the norm everywhere, especially in places with lots of simultaneous boardings like Flushing.
2) The bus does not need to stop every two blocks. Seriously. Axe half to two thirds of the stops on every route. EVERY bus should have the stop frequency of a limited or “Select” service AT ALL TIMES.

1 makes too much sense and would cost three times as much as it should because the MTA will never implement 2. 2 will never happen because people can’t see the forest for the trees and will complain about having to walk further, not grasping that their commute will take less time in spite of that.

Avi July 9, 2015 - 9:57 am

Duke, there are multiple uses for buses and you can’t assume every bus is just used for commuting and should therefore have stops optimized for commuting.

I’m on the UWS and would never take a bus to commute to midtown/downtown. But if I go shopping at Fairway and have heavy bags, then I’ll consider taking a bus home to avoid carrying multiple heavy bags. Carrying the bags those extra blocks on both ends of the trip makes a difference and for the shorter trip distance I doubt select service would really make a time difference.

On routes that don’t have a parallel subway, select service should exist as an option to offer that faster trip over larger distances. But if you turn local buses into select buses on routes that mirror a subway then you eliminate any reason for that bus to exist to begin with.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 11:13 am

Do you think bus riders outside North America don’t take bags on the buses? Because the short stop spacing is a North American misfeature; over here, bus stops are 400 meters apart.

The Manhattan crosstown buses are an interesting exception to this, because the routes are very short, and the nonstop segments through Central Park keep average interstations less ridiculously short than elsewhere; between First and Broadway, the average is 290 meters, whereas the north-south buses in Manhattan average about 200. If the avenues didn’t run in one-way pairs it’d be easier to drop Amsterdam and Third, for their proximity to other avenues, but they do, which makes the bus transfers suck if stops are consolidated.

Duke July 9, 2015 - 8:40 pm

Okay, fair point with regards to routes that parallel subways. I was thinking more of buses serving areas or corridors where they are the only available form of public transit. This is primarily an outer borough concern.

It is along these corridors where speed should really be a priority since if the bus can’t move quickly enough, people will just give up and drive places.

This is also why the greater stop spacing needs to apply to all buses on the route and not only some of them. If you only make half the buses run like this, you defeat the entire purpose since people will have to wait twice as long for one and they won’t see any noticeable gains in how soon they get where they need to go. It’s also bad from a travel time reliability perspective, since you never know when you get to the bus stop whether a fast bus or a slow bus will come first. And no, checking live BusTime is not a solution since this presumes you have control over when exactly you get to the bus stop.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 10:35 pm

In Vancouver, the busiest bus corridors have both local and limited service. The locals stop every 200-300 meters, the limiteds every kilometer. Those corridors have very high ridership – comparable to the top bus routes in New York, and in one case even higher. At the peak, buses come every 3 or 4 minutes, so you never need to wait much; even if a slow bus comes, you can wait for the next rapid – assuming it isn’t full, which it sometimes is. Off-peak, the buses run on a predictable schedule: my street, a relief route for the busiest corridor, had a limited bus every 12 minutes, on a clockface schedule, so I could time myself to show up just in time.

BrooklynBus July 9, 2015 - 10:52 pm

It is just ridiculous to make a broad generalization that all routes need greater bus stop spacing. You are ignoring an entire segment of the population, the elderly and handicapped, those who whe difficulty walking, and those who have a temporary injury requiring the use of crutches. These are the people who primarily rely on buses because they cannot easily use the subway. But since you are not a member of one of these groups, they do not count.

Now I am not saying that all routes need two block spacing. In many cases three block spacing makes more sense. But still that isn’t the case always. If the crowding is very heavy at most stops, and they are mostly made anyway, you are not saving time by eliminating stops, just increasing walks and trek times. If stops ate moderately used, then three block spacing makes sense. But it woud still not make sense if you have a major land use lime a hospital and don’t place a stop in front. Same with major transfer points. So even if you have three block spacing as a rule, you might still have the need for some that are two blocks apart.

Another time it makes no sense to increase stop spacing is if all stops in the area are lightly used. Because if most stops are skipped anyway much of the time, no time is saved by removing stops. Case in point. In 2003, my bus stop was removed. It only had 54 users a day which meant that only about one in six buses stopped there anyway. Those people have to walk an additional 200 feet to the closest bus stop which in itself is not that bad. But I would say that 30 percent of the time that extra 200 feet is the difference between catching a bus or waiting ten minutes extra for the next one. For a 30 minute trip, my travel time is increased by a third. And what did the MTA save? Fifteen seconds for the bus not stopping? Half the time it just means stopping at the other stop instead and no time was actually saved.

That’s why everything needs to be looked at on a case by case buses. Lowest common denominator solutions just don’t work.

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 1:23 am

There are elderly people this side of the Atlantic, too. It turns out that when the streets aren’t a nightmare to walk on and cross, they will walk longer to better bus service, too. In the Netherlands, they bike a lot, too, because the bike infrastructure is built around the needs of 60-year-olds and not around the needs of sportsmen in their 20s.

Off-board fare collection (standard in a lot of cities here) also reduces the effect of the number of passengers on bus speeds, making stop spacing more important. Even the cities that don’t have off-board fare collection have much faster fare media than New York’s MetroCard dip: some have smartcards, others rely on people to quickly show the driver a printed monthly pass.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 10:43 am

If it hurts for you to walk, and you can ask anyone who has or had sciatica, it doesn’t matter if it is easier to cross the streets. It still hurts more the longer you have to cross. The other thing you fail to mention is that in the Netherlands there is a lesser need to travel long distances by bike making it a more suitable means of transportation for the elderly than here. And with off-board fare collection you can’t have the stops too close together because it would be cost prohibitive to have fare machines every couple of blocks unless you solely relied on passes purchased elsewhere or relied on credit cards.

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 12:28 pm

All countries/cities with widespread off-board fare collection rely on passes purchased elsewhere. They don’t do credit card payments as in Jay Walder’s fantasy; they have paper tickets, which are either monthly passes or annual passes, with the money deducted from your bank account automatically every month. Autopay is generally more common here than in North America – people here pay rent by automatic bank transfer, and not by check.

Why do you think there’s less need for longer-range travel in the Netherlands than in New York? Dutch cycling, like American cycling, is intracity. The distance you travel within Amsterdam isn’t really shorter than in New York, once you take the subway into account. New York could invest in bike parking at subway stations, letting people use bikes to connect to the subway rather than slower buses; it’s common in Greater Tokyo.

Bolwerk July 10, 2015 - 1:00 pm

FFS, people who can’t walk a quarter mile to a bus stop should drive or be driven. Good paratransit or subsidized taxis are the solutions, not bollixing transit for 90% of potential users.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 1:31 pm

And paratransit is grossly expensive and inefficient as it runs today. You are proposing to greatly increase the need for it?

Bus Planner July 10, 2015 - 1:34 pm

I think you are grossly overestimating the number of people who are both physically capable of taking the bus and also incapable of walking an extra 1.5-2 blocks if NYC lengthened stop spacing.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 1:44 pm

I think you meant underestimating. But the point is would most people benefit by wider bus stop spacing? Certainly not on Limited routes. As I stated on other routes bus stop spacing needs to be studied on a case by case buses. Hard and fast rules like stops should be no closer than every quarter mile won’t work. This would be especially dumb on bus routes that already parallel subway routes where many passengers use the buses specifically because of the closer bus stop spacing.

In addition to those who have difficulty walking, you must also consider other factors like the greater probability of missing a bus due to extra walking. With the bus bunching that exists, that is nothing to sneeze at where an extra 15 or 30 minutes could easily be added to your trip. Not to mention the inconvenience of carrying shopping bags, or walking star distances in the rain, heat, freezing cold, heavy winds or snowy and icy conditions. Not every day is beautiful like today when few mind the extra walking and many woud choose walking over riding for their entire trip.

Bus Planner July 10, 2015 - 1:59 pm

Nope. I mean “overestimating” as in you seem to think there are far more of these people than actually exist. And as a general comment, this is exactly why everyone here is so skeptical of your writings and views. You state things like this without providing supporting facts and force everyone to argue against a strawman who likely doesn’t exist.

I am confident in stating that cratering NYC bus ridership would go increase if stop spacing were lengthened even to every 3 blocks instead of 2. And again, that extra block isn’t going to make or break the decision to take the bus for the overwhelming majority of bus riders.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 10:01 pm

The elderly and handicapped populations are significant in this city, moreso in some neighborhoods than others. The entire city isn’t comprised of these under 30 although you might get that impression if you spend most of your time in the trendy sections of Williamsburg. Guess you haven’t heard the term baby boomers. There are plenty of us around and our needs ought to be respected. I have nothing against general three block spacing if there is no limited running on the route. But as I said each stop needs to be considered on a stop by stop basis. It makes no sense not to serve major land uses like hospitals and schools the best way you can, not by placing a bus stop a block away simply to adhere to a three block rule.

And when buses save little or no time by removing stops, the stops ought to remain. Crowded bus stops take longer to load than less crowded ones.

Alon Levy July 11, 2015 - 10:24 am

Time and time again you’re ignoring the fact that the cities where 400-500 meters is the standard bus stop spacing are not entirely composed of under-30s, either. If anything, they have older populations, and more families living in the central city than in the US.

VLM July 11, 2015 - 10:49 am

Alon: You could have stopped this comment after the 8th word, and it would have been equally applicable. That’s why arguing with Mr. Rosen is so frustrating. Facts have no place in his narrative.

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 9:14 pm

I am all about facts. The MTA and DOT are about only choosing the facts that support their position and ignoring any negative facts that harms their position. Mr. Levy seems to be proposing eliminating local bus spacing and replacing it with SBS bus spacing on every route just because some other cities do that. What works in one city may not work in another. I bet many of the cities he is referring to have no subways, and the bus is acting as their subway.

Bolwerk July 11, 2015 - 10:11 am

Did you miss the taxi part of that sentence?

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 9:16 pm

Subsidized taxi isn’t much cheaper than Access a ride.

Bolwerk July 11, 2015 - 10:02 pm


Sure you don’t want to revise that claim?

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 7:22 pm

Your response is at the end.

Bolwerk July 9, 2015 - 12:01 pm

Pre-boarding is not that good. Let people buy their fares after boarding so they don’t have to choose buying their fare and missing their bus.

Eric July 9, 2015 - 3:17 pm

Buying your fare should take half a second to place your card against the contactless reader and hear a beep. And it would save many seconds over the course of the ride. So it’s worth it.

Bolwerk July 9, 2015 - 6:36 pm

Either way, it can be done on the vehicle. The expense of maintaining TVMs is only necessary at very busy stops or on very bus lines.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 10:37 pm

You don’t need TVMs; validators are enough. Let people get monthlies (via higher discounts over pay-per-rides), with the money deducted from their account automatically every month so they don’t need to replace the card. If they insist on pay-per-rides, they can fill at subway stations, or at major bus transfer points, or at convenience stores.

Bolwerk July 9, 2015 - 11:53 pm

Works for me, though it doesn’t hurt to have fare collection centralized at bus depots.

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 1:15 am

Fare collection should be done in areas where passengers go a lot. Bus depots aren’t great at that. Subway stations are better; so are major bus transfer points (for example, in cities with frequent bus grids, the major intersection points should have TVMs).

Bolwerk July 10, 2015 - 8:57 am

All buses go to the depot eventually, so I don’t see what’s wrong with completing collections there. Plus most TVM maintenance can be centralized that way. But yeah, busy points and transfer points still need TVMs.

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 12:31 pm

The point here is that there should be very little cash on the bus – the fare structure should discourage paying cash.

Bolwerk July 12, 2015 - 12:04 pm

There should be very little cash at all these days. But I’ve gotten kind of ambivalent on the payment point (at least regarding buses) because the fact is a lot of poorer people do feel the need to pay by the ride.

Larry Littlefield July 9, 2015 - 6:40 am

This whole “people can’t have X because of a few nickels spent on Y” is going to be what you hear as our infrastructure degrades. Excuses by Generation Greed, which stole $billions from those to follow.

For Ben and any of his readers who haven’t already seen it, if New York City were a separate state it would have the most sold out future among U.S. states, based on state and local government debts, past capital construction expenditures, and pension underfunding. About 4.0% of our personal income — yours, mine, everyones — is sucked into the past. Teh average state and local tax burden is 10.0%.


And here is a post with more detailed information on debt and capital construction expenditures. There should have been $40 billion more spent on infrastructure in NYC since 1980, based on the U.S. average spending as a percent of personal income back when we spent on infrastructure. The fact that we got ripped off on what we did spend just makes it worse.


For the next 20 years the debate is not going to be what public services should be added, but rather what should be cut to pay for public employee pensions. Even though here in NYC we have already spend more than anyone else in taxpayer contributions for public employee pensions for the 1980 to 2012 period.


These state legislators and former MTA officials made the deals and non-decisions that put us in this position. And now the pols want to do nothing but slink away as the consequences arrive, and try to shift the blame to someone or something else.

Marsha July 9, 2015 - 7:47 am

Welcome back SAS! Looking forward to those promised international subway critiques.

LLQBTT July 9, 2015 - 9:11 am

I’ve not yet come across anything that states how +SBS+ addressees the chronic problem of bus bunching.

Benjamin Kabak July 9, 2015 - 11:21 am

It doesn’t. That would require a Transit bus ops overhaul, dedicated lanes and enforcement.

BrooklynBus July 9, 2015 - 10:55 pm

But the MTA is claiming that SBS is more reliable than local and Limiteds which isn’t true.

Uncle Moishy July 10, 2015 - 12:27 pm

Your virulent anti-SBS posture poisons every comment that comes out of your mouth. Dedicated bus lanes make service more reliable by removing non-bus traffic as a source of delay. You might argue that such lanes benefit local, limited and SBS routes equally, but at this point in time it’s the SBS routes that are inducing NYCDOT to add the lanes. So give a little credit at least. As is, the non-stop anti-SBS screeds only hurt your credibility.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 1:36 pm

What hurts credibility is an insistance that SBS is beneficial to all users, rather than telling the truth, the negatives as well as the positives. As far as SBS making bus service faster for most, that still had to be proven. And the negative effects to other road users can’t just be ignored. I wouldn’t call that an anti-SBS posture which I don’t even have. It’s the implementation and lack of data I have been criticizing. What I have been doing is just promoting fairness instead of painting a one sided rosy picture of the be edits of SBS as the city and MTA have been doing in a mostly distorted view of reality which you obviously support.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 11:52 am

Bus bunching is caused by the instability of bus schedules. Let’s say there’s a bus every 5 minutes, but your bus falls a minute behind schedule. At the next stop, there will be more people waiting, because they’ll have had 6 minutes to get there since the previous bus showed up, rather than just 5; this means 20% more passengers. If more people board, then it’ll put the bus even further behind schedule. Meanwhile, the next bus, if it’s on time, will speed up: when it shows up at the station, passengers will have only had 4 minutes to get there, so there will be 20% fewer passengers. Your bus will keep falling behind schedule – maybe the 20% extra boardings over a few stations cause it to fall another minute behind, so eventually there will be 40% more boardings. The next bus will keep speeding up. Eventually the next bus will catch your bus, leading to bunching.

Off-board fare collection does not prevent this process, but it makes it happen much more slowly. First, it allows passengers to board without paying the driver, which means each passenger boards much faster, perhaps by a factor of 2; second, it allows passengers to use all doors, speeding up boarding again by a factor of 2 or 3. So the bus bunching will still happen, but it will take it 4 to 6 times as much time, which means that on many routes the buses will reach the end of the line before they ever bunch.

BrooklynBus July 9, 2015 - 11:04 pm

Bus bunching will always occur. That is not the issue. The issue is what to do when it occurs and how to prevent it.

My thoughts are that although you need long routes to minimize transferring, most services on heavily traveled routes should be short if travel patterns are not long. And services shoud be comprised of short overlapping segments. That way a delay at one end of the route doesn’t affect service at the other end.

What my friend experienced on the Q101 a few months ago during the evening rush hour is just inexcusable. The route runs along Steinway Street in Astoria where it receives most of its usage and over the Queensboro Bridge into Manhattan. There was a delay in Manhattan and she waited 60 minutes for the bus and them all six buses on the route appeared one behind the other all in service.

If there was any monitoring of this route whatsoever, most buses would have been turned around in Queens to maintain service there.

LLQBTT July 10, 2015 - 9:47 am

Isn’t this done on the subways? For example, if the F is delayed in Manhattan, some Fs are sent via the G. The equivalent to what you described is just letting all the Fs stack up behind one another.

So what is the discrepancy between the way bus service is provided and the way subway service is provided?

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 10:49 am

It would have to be a pretty severe delay like a blockage where no Fs can move in Manattan before trains would be rerouted to the G. If an F is say ten minutes late and there is another one behind him, they will both proceed together on the F, one behind the other. A more probable reason to reroute the F to the G would be a severe delay in G service where an F would be needed to provide soe service on the G.

But I don’t understand what this has to do with buses. In my Q 101 example all the buses were allowed to stack up one behind the other with no measures being taken.

JebO July 9, 2015 - 10:47 am

If the garbage bags don’t belong to Whole Foods, why are they filled with Whole Foods boxes and packaging? The residential building upstairs somehow gets Whole Foods packages and then deposits them in the street in front of Whole Foods? That doesn’t make sense to me.

Larry Littlefield July 9, 2015 - 10:51 am

Bus riders: treated like garbage. Subway riders: treated like cattle. Bike riders: treated like obstacles.

Tower18 July 9, 2015 - 11:14 am

The bus lanes have a PR problem among car drivers. I’ll take the new Nostrand Ave lane as an example, specifically the Northbound lane on Rogers. Rogers used to be relatively free-flowing and the only decent way to get from the Junction area, and south, to parts North in Brooklyn. Since the bus lane has been implemented, Rogers has been reduced to 1 lane, and traffic has stalled and dangerous conditions have been created. People blame the bus lane. It’s true, but not really. Here’s why:

Rogers Ave used to have 2 center lanes of one-way traffic, with parking lanes on each side. Today the SBS section has, from left to right: Time-restricted parking lane | traffic lane | bus lane | intermittent parking/bump outs.

The time restrictions on the left side parking lane are almost never enforced. It’s supposed to be parking during off hours and a traffic lane during the busy parts of the day. However, it’s full of cars throughout the entire day, and people routinely ignore the signs because the odds of getting a ticket are extremely low. Why? The city could issue hundreds of tickets per day on just this one road alone, by just walking up and down the block ticketing all the empty parked cars.

As for the traffic lane, it’s consistently blocked by that city-wide problem of pervasive (and shameless) double parking….

…which forces everyone to swerve into the bus lane…

…which itself is occasionally occupied by cars with no regard for the fact that they’re not allowed in the lane, as they use the bus lane to pass slow/stopped traffic at 20-30 mph speed differential.

All of this could be fixed by simple steps:
1. Ruthlessly enforce time-restricted parking zones. This is common in other major cities, but in New York, the signs are but a suggestion. I was once parked on a street in Chicago where parking restrictions began at 8am, but I was a little lazy that morning. I was ticketed at 8:03 and was wheels up on a tow truck at 8:08. Yeah, that was unpleasant. But I never did that again. The system worked. Private tow operators are happy to participate in an actual enforcement scheme, if we let them.
2. Employing some common sense and restraint, otherwise ruthlessly enforce double parking laws on main streets. I constantly see ridiculous things like double parking in a traffic lane, next to an open spot in the parking lane. But actually parking would take too much work, so they just stop in the traffic lane.

Ralfff July 9, 2015 - 12:24 pm

This. Parking enforcement is a joke outside of certain areas of Manhattan. War should have been declared on these people long ago.

kinder approach July 9, 2015 - 8:49 pm

Let’s not declare war on our friends.

Instead raise fines to include the cost of say 50 bus vouchers which will be issued to them usable in a one year period.

They could become bus riders and then realize how their blocking bus lanes hurts others.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 11:16 am

Welcome back!

About Allan Rosen’s piece: I do think it’s important to ask why the cost of on-street BRT is mushrooming to light rail levels. Didn’t the city trumpet how cheap paint was a few years ago? It’s not going to jeopardize SAS Phase 2, but it’s a major barrier to creating bus lanes on the busy corridors.

Benjamin Kabak July 9, 2015 - 11:20 am

For Woodhaven, I believe it’s because it’s a total restructuring of the street, including new barriers and street layout, but that said, I agree with you: There needs to be a better accounting of costs from DOT on this project.

Dave July 9, 2015 - 12:39 pm

Exactly, the other routes involved paint and a few stations. With Woodhaven they’re ripping up the street. As soon as you do that, I assume lots of environmental issues come up including storm water management, exploding the cost of the project 20-fold.
But it’s funny how a former director of bus planning can’t keep straight the ideas of BRT (which exist other places) and SBS (which is DOT’s NYC-exceptionalism interpretation of BRT). Most everyone else has figured that out by now.

Alon Levy July 9, 2015 - 10:45 pm

It’s not just him; the entirety of American transit planning seems unclear on what BRT is, which comes from the fact that gold-standard BRT is only fit for developing countries, where armies of bus drivers are cheap but subways are expensive. Result: American cities make various modifications, watering it down until it’s meaningless. Vancouver does that, too, with the B-Line concept, but at least Vancouver tries to replace the B-Lines with subways.

Bolwerk July 9, 2015 - 11:47 pm

You can probably blame whoever thought of the term bus rapid transit to begin with. Rapid transit certainly has a meaning that has been reasonably settled for well over a century, roughly equivalent to the term metro. So I get the impression BRT was intended be more of a metaphor anyway.

“Gold standard BRT” should probably have been named better, maybe rapid bus or separated bus or something to preclude things like SBS. Not sure gold standard BRT really has a place in NYC (maybe Woodhaven?), but I think SBS is a pretty good use of our resources. It doesn’t replace rapid transit, but it complements it sometimes.

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 1:25 am

SBS is what people in these parts call “the bus,” and yes, it’s a useful complement to rail service ;).

Bolwerk July 10, 2015 - 9:02 am

Do all or nearly all buses in Stockholm really get dedicated lanes?

Alon Levy July 10, 2015 - 12:35 pm

Some do; some don’t. The major streets generally have bus lanes, and sometimes they’re physically separated.

wise infrastructure July 10, 2015 - 4:56 pm

It is a shame (scandal?)that they are putting all this money into a woodhaven blvd transit/transportation solution without having resolved how Queensway could be part of the solution.

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 9:07 pm

It’s all new islands, ripping out of trees and replacing them with new trees and may even include bus purchases if they can get the Feds to pay for it. But I still don’t see how it’s over ten times the cost.

Ralfff July 9, 2015 - 12:26 pm

Welcome back Ben, and congratulations!

Webster July 9, 2015 - 7:33 pm

In regards to prepayment, wouldn’t it be simpler to just encourage the use of bus passes?

Justin Samuels July 9, 2015 - 10:13 pm

I just hoped Ben complained to the city about the garbage blocking the Select Bus Service stop and fare payments. That has got to be illegal. Complain to the city, send photos and tell them what Whole Foods told you and anything else you can uncover.

BrooklynBus July 9, 2015 - 11:21 pm

You say we should take select bus service seriously. The discussion was honest. It was telling everyone the part about select bus service that the City is refusing to tell by painting a picture of roses, not of reality.

The facts are that the Woodhaven Cross Bay SBS is poorly planned and will be a colossal waste of money that will increase traffic congestion by only minimally improving bus service. It may also slow down bus service rather than speed it up at times. Bus stops are poorly designed not allowing SBS and Express buses to pass stopped local buses at most bus stops under the chosen option. Buses will have to enter the general traffic lanes to pass other buses which will not be possible if those lanes are clogged with traffic. It will also hamper emergency vehicles. Yet no one is addressing any of those problems or problems with existing routes.

No one is asking why exclusive bus lanes make sense at 9 PM on a Sunday evening when 98 percent of the traffic is not buses and perhaps less than ten percent of the roads users are buses, but 25% of the road space will be dedicated to buses greatly reducing travel speeds for other vehicles.

No one is asking if a plan costing over ten times the original amount will be providing ten times the benefit. That’s what a cost benefit analysis would ask if it were performed.

No one is presenting any traffic data or data from the transit forecasting model that should show what the actual benefits will be. All we have are made up statistics time travel time will be shortened by 35 percent whatever that means. So if you really want an honest discussion, you would be asking for some data to back up DOT’s and the MTA’s projections.

Tower18 July 10, 2015 - 12:10 pm

No one is asking why exclusive bus lanes make sense at 9 PM on a Sunday evening when 98 percent of the traffic is not buses and perhaps less than ten percent of the roads users are buses, but 25% of the road space will be dedicated to buses greatly reducing travel speeds for other vehicles.

This works both ways. Why does car traffic need so many lanes at 9PM on a Sunday?

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 1:54 pm

You are speaking from the viewpoint of someone who never uses Woodhaven. I have used it many times at off-hours and can tell you that although traffic moves fairly well at those times, it is due to the fact that there are four lanes of through traffic and left turn lanes. However, I noticed last time at Furmanville Avenue that when the signal turned red, the volume of traffic caused traffic in all four lanes to back up for several blocks, but all or most cars were able to get through on the next traffic cycle.

If one lane were removed for buses only, and another turned into a local lane separated by a new pedestrian island as proposed, road capacity would be cut by 50 perecent. That would mean instead of a two block back up, there would be a four block back up along with a completely empty bus lane. It would take twice as long for cars to start moving lessening the number of cars able to make it across on one signal. Since the left turn at that corner would be eliminated the green signal would be lengthened slightly. However it would mean even more cars needing to turn left at the next permissable point. Most likely the left turn lane would not be long enough to accommodate all those needing to turn left and you would in effect have only one moving lane where you currently have four moving lanes unless you are at a slip point allowing you to switch to the service road which also would fill up quickly.

Toby Sheppard Bloch July 13, 2015 - 8:47 am

I live along Woodhaven and travel on in by bus, car or bike every day. The current design is chaotic and inefficient because there is a lot of friction and conflict between cars merging. It’s slow and dangerous if you are in a car or a bus.

The status quo is no good, and it’s not possible to allocate any more road space to cars. In the case of the left turn bays, current demand exceeds capacity, often blocking a lane of through traffic when cars accumulate past the turn bay.

Normalizing and regularizing the roadway will allow cars to make steady progress, instead of jackrabbiting for position, increasing the number of vehicles per hour that can use the roadway.

Alan Rosen, what is your prescription for Woodhaven? There seems to be a lot of naysaying by folks who don’t live in the area, don’t use the road regularly. As someone who uses the bus,and a small business owner with employees who ride the Q53 to commute, maybe I have more skin in the game in terms of seeing improvements rather than bickering.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 11:37 am

First of all I disagree that that the status quo is no good. There are severe problems during the rush hours (starting at 3 PM). However, the rest of the time traffic moves quite well. Buses reach top speeds of 30 or formerly 35 mph moving just as fast as the cars. Many times it would take me a half mile to catch up with a bus when I am driving. That’s how fast they currently move. During non-peak hours, exclusive lanes will not allow buses to travel any faster.

Conflicts between cars and buses woud be reduced if the State pass a law as I previously suggested requiring drivers to give buses the right of way when pulling out of bus stops. That would save more time for buses than exclusive bus lanes and would be far less disruptive.

If you think the demand for left turns exceeds the length of left turn bays causing back-ups into through lanes, what do you think will happen to that demand after the probation of 23 additional left turn movements in addition to the dozens of left turn movements currently banned? It will totally block through lanes with cars waiting to make a left turn, leaving only one through lane. The only way for cars to escape the chaos will be to use the slip lane to get into the service road to make a right turn onto another street quickly jamming the service road also with through vehicles. So much for DOT’s attempt to separate through and local traffic.

Your opinion certainly counts more than those who don’t use the roadway. But are you familiar with all the details of the plan? You would have had to attended all for workshops and carefully inspected all the diagrams to answer yes. As for those residents who do support the plan, most are only familiar with a small portion of it. They only saw about five left turn prohibitions at each meeting. Full details were never provided on the web. Also as residents learn more, opposition is growing. See link below as press coverage is growing increasingly negative where earlier accounts stated residents were for or split on the plan.


As more my prescription? First let me state that DOT selected the worst of the three options, the only option that will delay emergency vehicles.

Second, I would make modifications at intersections that have shown real problems in terms of safety.

Third, I would advocate for the law I suggested.

Fourth, I would eliminate the bottleneck when crossing over the Montauk line by allowing a grade crossing whereby the gates would be closed for the railroad which only has a few freight trips per day and no passenger trips. It would open allowing the trains through and stopping traffic those few times a day. That would be a tremendous improvement and could be done safely. DOT even told me last year they were considering proposing that.

Fifth, when money allows, I would rebuild the other LIRR bridge allowing for a fourth lane of traffic eliminating that bottleneck as well.

Sixth, I would return the speed limit to 35 mph which never should have been reduced to 30 mph and will most likely be reduced further to 25 mph after the lanes are narrowed slowing traffic further and slowing bus trips as well during non-rush hours.

Seventh, I would perform a traffic analysis to predict the effects if exclusive bus lanes in combination with HOV lanes were implemented during rush hours only. If the results prove favorable, I would implement that.

Thank you for asking me that question as a regular user of Woodhaven by car and occasionally on a portion of the Q53 as well and a formerly daily user of Woodhaven for nine straight years.

VLM July 10, 2015 - 12:40 pm

No one is asking why exclusive bus lanes make sense at 9 PM on a Sunday evening when 98 percent of the traffic is not buses and perhaps less than ten percent of the roads users are buses.

[Citation needed.]

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 1:57 pm

If you would ever drive on Woodhaven at 9 PM on a Sunday, you would have all the citations you would need. Why are you not asking DOT for their citation of traffic data to show how this proposal would work well at that time. Those are the ones you need to be questioning not me. We asked them for the data numerous times. The only answer we get is sure we can provide it, but none is forthcoming.

Bolwerk July 10, 2015 - 5:09 pm

Heh, the “worst” (best?) it would do at that time is calm traffic. Though the probable effect is nil, unless Woodhaven is actually jammed at 9am on Sunday morning.

BrooklynBus July 10, 2015 - 10:07 pm

By calming traffic you mean slowing speeds down from 30 mph to 15 mph doubling the length of people’s trips. Hell, why should anyone get where they are going in a decent amount of time without hitting traffic?. That would be unthinkable.

Yes we need more congestion and air pollution in our city. That will have a real “calming” effect on everybody. And as for bus users, they woudn’t even saving any time anyway since buses are traveling at their top speeds anyway at that time of day. And by the way, I said 9PM not 9AM.

Bolwerk July 11, 2015 - 10:16 am

I make do with foot speeds of a few miles per hour and buses that average speeds in the teens if I’m lucky. Pretty sure drivers could live with that too, if I can.

But, no, that’s not even what I meant. Actual research into multi-lane roadways has shown that removing lanes simply removes some of the trips and reduces jams. Fewer cars on the roads happens to be better for drivers too.

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 8:57 pm

Why don’t you ask DOT why they are using the terms interchangeably instead of specifying the differences?

Bolwerk July 13, 2015 - 10:20 am

I know they use them interchangeably. SBS is the MTA’s brand name for its BRT services.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 11:09 am

They have their own brand name because they are not providing true BRT service because SBS is nothing like rapid transit. But if intend to provide two types of services one costing ten times the other, you need to make a distinction during the planning phase at least and explain the differences, not going to the communities telling them you are building a $20 million system, then change to a $231 million system without any explanation. There needs to be accountability.

Bolwerk July 13, 2015 - 12:25 pm

The “true BRT” usually means ITDP’s “BRT standard,” which has standards that don’t make sense in NYC. Either way, the use of the term “BRT” predates their campaign.

Anyway, I don’t see any reason to spend that sort of money.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 12:48 pm

Actually i have been attending “BRT” meetings since 2003. They didn’t change it to SBS until 2008, just before the B15 started.

At least you agree that the dollars to be spent is not justified.

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 9:03 pm

So it comes down to pure jeolousy. Why should a car be able to travel at 30 mph when bikes and pedestrians and buses have to travel slower? Make cars travel as slow as the rest of it. I thought that’s what the car haters think, and now I know for sure. Doesn’t matter if buses won’t travel faster, let’s just make it more difficult to drive anyway.

Yea and making it more difficult to travel by auto does reduce trips. It also hurts the economy and encourage the middle class to move to cities where driving isn’t intentionally made to be a hassle as you propose.

Bolwerk July 11, 2015 - 10:07 pm

Since you’re the one who is insisting on traffic planning that precludes cars from functioning reliably, doesn’t that make you the car hater?

The sad part is you want to take bus riders down with you.

BrooklynBus July 11, 2015 - 10:33 pm

I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about. You are making no sense at all.

Bolwerk July 12, 2015 - 8:57 am

Your opposition to traffic calming means you are implicitly supporting traffic jams. Cars don’t work well in traffic jams. What is so difficult to understand about that?

BrooklynBus July 12, 2015 - 9:17 am

You are correct. Cars don’t work well in congestion. But that is what you and the city are creating. Traffic calming is nothing more than a euphemism for congestion. Eliminating bottlenecks is what reduces congestion, not traffic calming.

Bolwerk July 12, 2015 - 12:08 pm

Since every turn is a potential bottleneck, most bottlenecks are approximately impossible to eliminate.

But you can reduce demand for road space so a sane number of people use roads. It’s the only way driving sort of works.

adirondacker12800 July 12, 2015 - 2:54 pm

we’ve been eliminating bottlenecks since the end of the Great War. All it does in is induce demand.

BrooklynBus July 12, 2015 - 9:47 pm

Most bottlenecks are caused by double parked trucks making delivered which sometimes stay double parked for up to three hours while an entire truck is unloaded. This causes unnecessary merges and delays for cars as well as buses. The solution is to require more nightime deliveries which are required in other countries.

Here the merchants refuse to do it. The Fulton Street transit Mall in downtown Brooklyn took 17 years to plan. It was supposed to speed buses by eliminating cars and requiring all deliveries to be performed after 7 PM. A few delivery bays were installed for that purpose. The merchants refused to have nightime deliveries and trucks park where they want to. So what did 17 years of planning buy us? Instead of buses having to fight with cars, they now fight with the trucks because the street width was cut ion half so they don’t move any faster than they did before the mall. The only upside is that the pedestrians have more room to walk.

As far as eliminating bottlenecks by increasing roadway space, thirty years ago a lae was added to the southbound BQE near the Battery Tunnel. The previous merge caused bumper to bumper traffic or about a mile before the merge, about 18 hours a day. After the lane was added, the bumper to bumper traffic on that stretch was reduced from 18 hours a day to about six hours a day, a vast improvement that lasted. No one ran out and bought a car wen that lane was added or decided to make more trips. congestion was relieved pure and simple. You can state all the hypothetical situations you want, but I am stating what happened because I have been driving that road for over 40 years.

adirondacker12800 July 12, 2015 - 11:52 pm

So cars are more important than the stores, the customers and stuff the trucks delivers so they get the urge to go to the stores to buy stuff. Okay.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 7:24 pm

I don’t follow what you are trying to say at all. I never stated or implied cars are more important than anyone else.

adirondacker12800 July 13, 2015 - 8:15 pm

All you whine about is how awful it is that cars experience congestion.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 8:52 pm

I have never whined about cars experiencing congestion. Cars have experienced congestion during peak hours on Woodhaven Blvd for 20 years and I never mentioned that once anywhere until DOT proposed SBS on Woodaven to make that congestion worse. I have also written about the effects of asking taxis trips more expensive due to the added congestion this proposal woud cause, the effects on increased trucking costs, te effects on emergency vehicles, etc.

There is a big difference about congestion you can do little about and a huge public expenditure that will accomplish making that congestion much worse while very minimally helping bus riders and calling it an improvement. The really sad part is that some view increasing that congestion as a good thing.

adirondacker12800 July 13, 2015 - 9:48 pm

Within this thread you’ve commiserated with the poor car drivers. More than once.

Congestion would evaporate overnight if private cars were banned. Plenty of room for the buses to whiz past the trucks parked at the curb. They’d be able to park at the curb because there wouldn’t be any private cars hogging the curb.

BrooklynBus July 14, 2015 - 10:11 am

Now you have said what you really think. “Private cars should be banned.” You are a car hater by definition, totally selfish toward the needs of others as well as naive. You aren’t even worth trying to have an intelligent discussion with. I am through.

APH July 11, 2015 - 3:53 pm

I’m late to this thread, but wanted to point out that overall NYC’s larger bus stops (as in the glass CEMUSA ones and not just the random sign post ones) are kept remarkably clean by the contractor that cleans them. I’ve seen them do it about 50 times now where the guy in a pickup truck pulls up and spends 10-12 minutes working at each stop. The contract is Dynaserv and they powerwash, dry, and update advertising for these bus stops. They do a really nice job IMO, about 1,000x better than the supposed cleaning of subway stations which amounts to emptying garbage cans for the most part. I know it’s probably not possible for 101 reasons, but if a company like Dynaserv was able to clean the subway stations like they clean the bus stops, I think we’d see a dramatic difference in the overall upkeep of the stations. The peeling paint, the embedded gum stains, the grime, etc. – it’s all pretty pathetic.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 7:20 pm

How does that link change anything? It shows “demand response” and doesn’t say if they mean paratransit exclusively or in combination with subsidized taxi. Since they didnt have subsidized taxi in 2010, it has to be just access-a-ride. Anyway the cost per passenger is like six times the cost of a local bus passenger and the cost per passenger trip is $71 as compared to $17 per express bus passenger, the next most expensive trip to provide.

So we need to try our best not to increase the need for access a ride and to try and make it more efficient. Increasing bus stop spacing increases the need for access-a-ride or subsidized taxi which is a litte cheaper as I stated. If it were mer expensive, the MTA would not offer it as an option.

BrooklynBus July 13, 2015 - 7:21 pm

The above response was in answer to Bolwerk where it shoud have appeared.

Bolwerk July 14, 2015 - 9:42 am

Look at the price of demand response per passenger mile. Or per-trip. Either way it’s considerably higher than a taxi.

BrooklynBus July 14, 2015 - 1:29 pm

Who said demand response wasn’t higher than the price of a taxi? I stated subsidized taxi is only slightly less expensive than access-a-ride and you disagreed with that statement. Now you are agreeing with me.

Toby Sheppard Bloch July 14, 2015 - 8:53 am

A response to some of the misleading criticisms of Woodhaven SBS plans.


BrooklynBus July 14, 2015 - 9:45 am

Where are the numbers that prove congestion will be reduced? Why has DOT not answered over 60 questions posed to them including requests for data? Where is the proof that current SBS routes result in shorter bus passenger trip times?

DUMBQUESTION July 15, 2015 - 12:44 am

How much would a monorail over the former LIRR right of way (Queensway) from the howard beach A train station to the main line to a terminal at either Queens Blvd/Woodhaven or Woodside (7/LIRR) cost?

People would get their Queensway and mass transit would be improved with screwing up Woodhaven Blvd.

Maybe this should be explored before this bus is implemented.

Alternately, maybe share Queensway between 2 narrow gauge rail tracks and a bike/jogging path.

Frequent service could make up for the reduced capacity of the trains.


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