Redesigning the NYC bus map

Q38 bus at Queens Center Mall

A Rego Park-bound Q38 bus leaves the Queens Center Mall area.

Buses are a lifeline for many New Yorkers, especially those who need to take buses to get to subways that don’t reach the outer city limits.  In many parts of Queens, the subway only travels halfway into the borough, and those who take the subway from Manhattan or other parts of the city have to then spend the last leg of their journeys on buses before they get even close to home.

Most people who take Queens buses are subway riders themselves, but a number of people also uses buses use them because the subway ride would take nearly as long if not twice as long.  That is in part because a subway ride from Flushing to South Ozone Park would involve taking the #7 train all the way into Manhattan and then transferring to the A train to come all the way back out to Queens, which could take up to 2 hours, depending on train traffic and passenger-induced delays as well as signal or track problems.  A quicker way from Flushing to South Ozone Park might involve the #7 train and possibly the Q53 bus or the Q44 bus to Jamaica for the J train or the Q44 to the Q112.

Queens Bus Map

A portion of the Queens Bus Map. Unless you study maps all day, how do you know how to get anywhere with this?

But, of course, my years of riding the bus routes of New York and my years of  studying and updating my bus maps has made me more keen to the bus network than the average bus rider who may know their neighborhood bus services and a few that run by the subways.  When you see the maps put out by the MTA, from the 1980s maps until the current maps, you might ask yourself, how in the hell do you manage to figure out where you’re going?  Or even, where do I even start?  You are not alone.  In fact, since the MTA takeover of the 7 private bus routes that formerly had NYCDOT franchises to operate bus routes in Queens, The Bronx, and Brooklyn, understanding the Queens Bus Map (and even some of the other boroughs’ maps) has gotten worse.  The lines all look the same, the symbols for MTA routes to differentiate them from NICE Bus in Nassau County or Bee-Line in Westchester County are all the same, and the colors have no rhyme or reason other than the dark green for Express buses.

So what should be done?

I would color-code the bus routes by function, much like the dark blue for the Express buses.  There was color-coding back in the days, but that was to differentiate the different private bus lines from the NYCT bus lines.  Nowadays, since it’s all MTA, the color-coding can be different.

Now, when I say “function,” I am referring to the way the bus route is structured, how and where it runs, and how the majority of people ride the route.  Let’s take, for example, the Q49 bus, which runs from East Elmhurst to 74th/Roosevelt Station on the 7/E/F/M/R lines.  Most people that board the Q49 in East Elmhurst and Jackson Heights are riding all the way to the subway.  In the transit world, that would be more like a “feeder” bus line, one whose primary focus for many of its riders is to “feed” them to the heavier, busier mode(s) of transportation.  In this case, the Q49 “feeds” passengers to the Flushing Line and the Queens Boulevard Lines, all going to Manhattan and other parts of Queens.  The Q47, with La Guardia Airport on one end and Atlas Park Mall on the other end, serves as a feeder bus for two different rider demographics with one bus route.  This was the case even prior to the merge of the Jackson Heights Q47 and the Glendale Q45 routes.  Ridership patterns dictated that most of the riders of the old Q45 and Q47 buses were headed to the subway.  (The only reason that the MTA combined the routes was to make better use of the buses assigned to those lines thus removing one unnecessary bus that could be used elsewhere.)  Some feeders even serve busy transit and retail hubs as well, such as the many buses that serve downtown Flushing and downtown Jamaica.

If we look at some other examples such as the Q43 along Hillside Avenue or the Q12 along Northern Blvd, those are what I call “trunk routes,” routes that run a lengthy portion of a major street and is the main bus route in the corridor with very heavy rider volumes.  Trunk routes are in themselves self-sufficient and can sometimes complement the subway or act in its place.  Not all buses serve the entire route, but the majority of service stays on the main street.  The Q46 along Union Turnpike, the Q11 along Woodhaven Blvd, and the Q113 along Guy R. Brewer blvd are also examples of trunk lines.  I would also classify some routes as “neighborhood routes,” which would be those routes that basically meander through a neighborhood or through adjacent communities in a part of the borough.  An example would be the Q103 along Vernon Blvd in Astoria and Long Island City or the Q104 along Broadway in Long Island City and Sunnyside.  There would also be “crosstown” routes, those which traverse many parts of Queens in a straight shot or through zig-zagging, such as the Q58 (Ridgewood/Corona/Flushing), Q17 (Jamaica/Flushing/Fresh Meadows), and those which actually travel east-west like in Manhattan (Q24, Q59, Q88).

If the bus lines were grouped and colored on the maps in this fashion, it would make it much easier to see what bus routes go where and what bus or buses may be better to use than others for similar trips.  It doesn’t do anything to make it quicker to get around, but at least it could potentially make your options appear clearer.

Here would be the color lines on the maps:

  • dark green = Express bus routes(unchanged)
  • magenta = Limited-stop bus routes
    (Note: any route with local and limited-stop service would have a magenta line with limited stops along with a regular color line, to show that both services are available.)
  • blue = trunk routes or main routes
  • turquoise = neighborhood routes
  • light green = crosstown routes
  • orange = feeder routes
  • red = secondary routes (practically all other routes that do not fit above categories)

Here’s how I would break it down, again using Queens as an example:

  • Dark green:  x63, x64, x68, QM1, QM2, QM3, QM4, QM5, QM6, QM7, QM8, QM10, QM11, QM12, QM15, QM16, QM17, QM18, QM21, QM24, QM25
  • Magenta:  Q4 LTD, Q5 LTD, Q6 LTD, Q10 LTD, Q17 LTD, Q25 LTD, Q27 LTD, Q36 LTD, Q43 LTD, Q44, Q46 LTD, Q50, Q52, Q53, Q58 LTD, Q65 LTD, Q70, Q83 LTD, Q84 LTD, Q85 LTD, Q100, Q113 LTD
  • Blue:  Q10, Q11, Q12, Q20A, Q20B, Q25, Q32, Q34, Q43, Q44 (late nights), Q60, Q65, Q66, Q85, Q110, Q111, Q113
  • Turquoise:  Q18, Q37, Q38, Q42, Q55, Q67, Q72, Q101, Q102, Q103, Q104
  • light green:  Q22, Q27, Q30, Q31, Q39, Q54, Q58, Q59, Q76, Q88
  • orange:  Q2, Q4, Q5, Q6, Q9, Q15, Q15A, Q16, Q26, Q28, Q29, Q33, Q40, Q41, Q46, Q47, Q48, Q49, Q64, Q69
  • red:  Q1, Q3, Q7, Q8, Q13, Q17, Q19, Q23, Q24, Q35, Q36, Q56, Q75, Q77, Q83, Q84, Q112

If only I can redesign the Queens Bus map with these colors, it would look much cleaner and more vivid than what I am describing.  If I do decide to try it, I will update this post.

Some bus routes act as feeders to the nearest major subway station although their ridership and rider patterns, based solely on my observations over the years, suggest they are heavy-hitters.  Some bus routes aren’t really crosstowns in the Manhattan sense, although they do cover serious terrain and criss-cross outer parts of Queens.

What a project it would be for Brooklyn!

The Bronx would be pretty simple, and Staten Island would be quite the spectacle since the majority of their local bus routes run to the ferry!


Until next time…

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