Select Bus Service: “BRT Lite” for New York City.
I have been talking about how Select Bus Service works fairly well in spite of the traffic issues we face in New York among other issues. Conversely, I also spoke about how the MTA and the DOT fall short as far as SBS implementation goes due to the fact that the current SBS routes are merely glorified versions of the Limiteds they replaced. They are glorified because other than a few stop changes and painted bus lanes, they are practically the same Limited line with a nice wrap on them, a “lipstick on a pig,” if you will. Not to say that BRT, especially in North American applications, isn’t lipstick on a pig, too, but SBS is more so than in other parts of North America. With or without the major BRT elements (such as bus lanes, bus bulbs, transit signal priority, etc.), bus service in New York City hasn’t really kept up with ridership demands, nor has it kept up with changing demographics and trip patterns. SBS tries to answer it, but it doesn’t really live up to its potential.
With that said, here’s a list of potential SBS corridors along with how I would run service:
Main Street Corridor
The Main Street Corridor currently consists of the Q20A and Q20B local buses and the Q44 Limited bus. All three buses share a common route from 20th Ave/Parsons Blvd in College Point to Archer Ave/Merrick Blvd in Jamaica, sharing Main Street between Northern Blvd and Queens Blvd. The Q20A and Q20B share the same terminus in College Point, but the Q20A runs up 20th Avenue and the Q20B runs up 14th Avenue.
Why this corridor, though?
The Q44 is the fastest route between Flushing and Jamaica. Even though the Kissena/Parsons Corridor (Q25 and Q34) need much more help than they are getting, Main Street is wider than either Kissena or Parsons. Main Street within the last few years just got a surface repaving and is smoother than a baby’s bottom. Nevertheless, the Q44 is not only an important Flushing-to-Jamaica link, it’s also an important Bronx-to-Queens link. SBS should play into that and offer a better service to complement what’s there already.
Here’s how I would work it:
- The Q20B, the most infrequent bus of the three, would have increased service as it would be the backbone local on Main Street. It would make all stops on 14th Avenue and all stops on Main Street to Jamaica.
- The Q20A, a more frequent bus than the Q20B, would run as a pseudo-Limited as it would be a faster bus than the Q20B, but not as fast as the Q44. It would make all stops on 20th Avenue, all stops on Parsons until Main Street Station, then the current Q44 Limited stops up until Briarwood-Van Wyck Station. It would then make all local stops to Jamaica.
- The Q44, the heavy hitter of the three, would be converted to Select Bus Service and make fewer stops than the Limited as well as serve the Bronx more than it currently does. I would run the Q44 from Fordham Plaza, across Fordham Road, down Southern Blvd, to West Farms Square, then the current route from West Farms Square to Jamaica. Added stops would include Fordham Plaza (with connections to Bx12 SBS and Bx41 SBS), Fordham/Southern Blvd, and the Bronx Zoo (185th/Southern Blvd). Eliminated Bronx stops would include one or two lightly used stops on the Cross Bronx Expressway Service Road (maybe near Powell Ave and Bronx Park Avenue eastbound). My Queens stops would be as follows: 14th/Parsons, 28th/Union, Flushing High School, Main Street Station (actually 39th/Main), Flushing Library (41st/Main/Kissena), NY Hospital Queens (Main/Booth Memorial), Queens College (Main/Reeves), Main/Jewel, Main/Union Tpke, Briarwood-Van Wyck Station (Main/Queens Blvd), Sutphin/Hillside, Sutphin/Archer, Parsons/Archer, Merrick/Archer.
Bus lanes and complete bus bulbs (like on the B44 SBS) would be installed on Main Street between Sanford and Union Turnpike. Travel times from the Bronx to Queens would be cut, and travel times from Flushing to Jamaica would be cut further than the current Q44. All buses would have access to the bus lanes, but only the Q44 SBS stops on Main Street would have bus bulbs. All buses would serve their stops with the amount of service required, the Q20B will become a useful line, the Q20A will make stops that will be missed by the Q44 SBS so that riders will still have a faster option to Flushing or Jamaica, and the Q44 will be a faster and more reliable service. All of this can be accomplished without a net increase or decrease of buses.
East 163rd Street/Story Avenue Corridor
This corridor consist of two independent bus routes, the Bx6 from Riverside Drive in Manhattan to Hunts Point in the Bronx, and the Bx5 from Westchester Ave/Southern Blvd to Pelham Bay Park. The two routes do not need to be combined or eliminated, just simply an SBS route that covers both routes should suffice. Stops would include the following:
- Riverside Dr/157th
- St Nicholas/155th
- 161st/River Ave-Yankee Stadium
- 161st/Sherman-Concourse Plaza-courthouses
- 161st/Melrose (connection to Bx41 SBS)
- HuntsPoint/Southern Blvd
- Story/White Plains
- Bruckner/Castle Hill
- Bruckner/Westchester/Pelham Bay Park (connection to Bx12 SBS)
- (optional extension to City Island or summer service to Orchard Beach)
This would provide a Crosstown SBS of sorts for those who do not want to go south on the subway into Manhattan to come back up to the Bronx as well as serve a portion of the Bronx with lackluster service. No bus lanes are needed since 161st really has no road space for proper implementation and Story Avenue isn’t heavily traveled enough to warrant lane painting. Some bus bulbs may be created, but not very many. In terms of buses needed, the buses for this SBS route can probably be run out of the spare ratio fleets from both Gun Hill and West Farms Depot, the Bx5 and Bx6 home bases, respectively. There may be a service decrease on the Bx6 to compensate for the added SBS trips, but overall the ridership patterns will speak for itself.
Woodhaven/Cross Bay Blvd Corridor
This corridor is one of the busiest corridors in Queens and one of the most congested corridors for vehicle traffic. Go figure, the corridor is the fastest and easiest way from Manhattan to the Rockaways without going through Brooklyn or Long Island.
Historically, the Green Bus Lines Q11 was always the Woodhaven local and the Triboro Coach Q53 was the express to the Rockaways with no stops until Broad Channel. Since the MTA Bus formation and takeover of the private bus lines, the Q11 was revamped, the Q21 (the Rockaway-Cross Bay line) was extended to help the Q11 to Queens Center Mall and shortened to Lindenwood, the Q53 was downgraded to the Woodhaven Limited, and the Q52 was created to help the Q53 Limited as well as serve Arverne, a community along the A line that needed extra service (a more direct line to other subway lines, an alternative to taking the Q22 to the Q53).
Here is how I would operate these routes:
The Q11 would remain as is, with local service from Queens Center Mall to Howard Beach or Hamilton Beach. No changes there.
The Q21 would remain as is, with local service from Queens Center Mall to Lindenwood. No changes there.
The Q52 would be converted to SBS with the bus lane treatments from Cross Bay/164th Ave to Queens Center Mall and a few bus bulbs here and there. Once SBS catches on, I would also extend the Q52 further south to Seagirt Blvd instead of Beach 69th Street and further north to either 74/Roosevelt or Main/Roosevelt in Flushing.
The Q53 would be converted to SBS with the BRT treatments stated above and the route to be remain unchanged.
Even though some of these changes could be done with or without conversion to SBS, I would propose a skip-stop arrangement of sorts to make the ride faster (even though it’s already relatively fast) and sort out riders going to different stations compared to crowding everyone on to the same bus.
Here are the Limited Stops on Woodhaven/Cross Bay that are currently made by Q52 and Q53 buses, with a breakdown of which buses would stop where:
- Queens Center Mall (Q52, Q53)
- 63rd Dr/Penelope/Woodhaven (Q53)
- Metropolitan/Woodhaven (Q52)
- Myrtle/Woodhaven (Q53)
- Jamaica/Woodhaven (Q52, Q53)
- Atlantic/Woodhaven (Q53)
- Liberty/Rockaway/Woodhaven (Q52, Q53)
- 157th/Cross Bay (Q52)
- 164th/Cross Bay (Q53)
- Broad Channel (Q52, Q53)
- Then, all regular Q52 and Q53 stops.
With any extensions of the Q52 and Q53, stop placements would be determined by the ridership at any given point of the Q22 “Rockaway Crosstown” line. I would extend the Q52 to somewhere near the Q113 terminus and the Q53 summers only to Riis Park.
The reason for the skip-stop is to avoid a huge crowd of people getting on to either the Q52 or the Q53 (which is already crowded getting to Woodhaven) and slowing the bus down by requesting every Limited stop on the map. All of the subway stops and points where both routes diverge are stops still made by both buses, but intermediate Limited stops would be made by either bus based on ridership observations. Each route would be faster from end to end and would both benefit from the use of articulated buses, off-board fare collection, bus lanes, bus bulbs in some locations, and even transit signal priority.
The bus lanes would extend from Queens Boulevard to just south of Metropolitan and from just north of Myrtle to 164th/Cross Bay. The bridge next to the Home Depot that takes Woodhaven over the railroad tracks has only three lanes in each direction compared to 3 lanes each on the main and service roads elsewhere on Woodhaven. Therefore, a rush-hour only High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) bus lane would be implemented in the far right lane for all buses and vehicles with two or more people. It would be a red lane with white diamond <> markings, bollards to remind drivers of such a lane, and a double white line. Enforcement would be via cameras on buses and on poles on either end of the overpass. This way, cars can still use this precious road space but buses don’t have to completely suffer at the whim of motorists who want the fastest way to the Rockaways and Southern Brooklyn.
Please note: These potential corridors are those which need service enhancements but are relatively reasonable and don’t have to hurt the operational pockets of the MTA. These are solutions that can be done now and with minimal amount of operational costs, usually costs associated with buying new buses and shoving them somewhere, service cuts on other lines to offset the costs of essentially a new service, and reliability issues with extremely (by New York standards) long bus routes in a city with congestion like a household name. For example, the Pratt Center suggested 8 BRT corridors for the City, broken up into Tiers, and showed routings that practically take buses all across the city. Which is good and all…if the streets can support such operations such that buses would be able to complete one of these routes in roughly 60 to 90 minutes. I will talk about that in a later post…