The Bx12 +Select Bus Service+: the first of the SBS conversions, and certainly not the last.
The Bx12 is one of the Bronx’s most frequently ridden bus routes, with a combined 50,000+ riders a day between the local and former Limited-Stop service turned Select Bus Service. It runs from 207th/Broadway in Manhattan to Bay Plaza Shopping Center in Co-op City along a very busy Fordham Road and a very wide and scenic Pelham Parkway (formerly the Bronx and Pelham Parkway). It is a major crosstown route between the Fordham section of the Bronx, the Inwood section of Manhattan, the Co-op City section of the Bronx, and Pelham Bay Park. Part of this corridor is the busiest shopping strip in the Bronx, and a piece of Fordham Road forms a small portion of US Route 1, or the Boston Post Road, among the busiest roads between the Bronx and New England.
With that said, Fordham Road is ripe for bus improvements, but the roadway is pretty narrow (about 60 feet wide), about enough room for two travel lanes in each direction plus a parking or a bus lane. Pelham Parkway is wider than three avenues, but most of the traffic is in the main road, three lanes in each direction.
If it weren’t for the speed of Pelham Parkway to make up for the lack of speed along Fordham Road, I would wonder what in the world was the DOT and the MTA thinking when they chose the Bx12 as a guinea pig for SBS conversion? Even with the bus lanes and off-board fare collection, does the MTA or the DOT really think they can speed up bus service, even with the statistics that slant in favor of SBS? Even if it did, and ridership is up on the SBS, you would think that the MTA would put more buses out there and wrap more of them, and you would think the DOT would construct permanent stations for these stops so that the experience would actually mimic a subway somehow.
The original Bx12 SBS was a great first effort, with larger buses (the New Flyer D60 high-floor buses in the 5700-series) and ticket machines inside the bus shelter instead of outside the shelter nearby or out there on the curb by itself like in a few places. The original reason for them to be inside was that the older, practically repurposed Metrocar Express Machines and Muni-Meters were not really weatherproof. This led to a redesign that was more catered to SBS and can withstand being placed outside in any weather.
The newer refinements to SBS are welcome, although you are seeing more of that on other corridors and less on the Bx12 corridor.
One thing I do especially like is the resurfacing and reconstruction of the eastbound roadway of Pelham Parkway, complete with “renovated” SBS “stations” and a painted bus lane. The westbound lanes are schedule for 2014 reconstruction. Fordham Road, though, is deteriorating, as if it’s the forgotten SBS, and the 207th Street part, almost nothing going on there. Fordham needs a resurfacing, going from concrete to black top, much like what was done on 1st Ave north of 72nd St. The paint chips fairly quickly on concrete and thus ruins the bus lane visibility and usability.
As of now, other than the branded buses and the fare machines, the Bx12 SBS just looks more like a regular bus line, and the overcrowding on the SBS is reminiscent of the old days of the Bx12 Limited. The SBS was supposed to be faster and better than the old days…so much for that. The branding that was plastered on the bus shelters is pretty much inexistent, and the buses, thanks to wonderful Gun Hill Depot maintenance, look horrible.
What would make it better? Black top Fordham Road, install the bus lanes as intended, curbside bus lanes (since offset bus lanes would reduce general traffic to one lane, an atrocious idea for a major east-west thoroughfare like Fordham), bus shelters re-branded like the buses, more branded buses, level boarding like with the bus bulbs and bus pads, and visible Transit Signal Prioritization hardware so we can see that the buses are getting some needed help. In other words, make it what you say it is…don’t be half-assed. Compromise, but don’t cut corners.