Select Bus Service In-Depth: B46

B46

B46 Limited on Broadway in Williamsburg. (c) 2015 C. Walton

The B46, one of the top ten busiest bus routes in New York City.

Let’s talk about the B46, the third busiest bus route in terms of average weekday ridership in the city and the busiest bus route in terms of average weekend ridership in the entire city.  The B46 runs between the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza and Kings Plaza Mall, traveling along Broadway, Malcolm X Blvd, and Utica Avenue.  There is currently local and Limited-Stop bus service along this heavy-hitter bus route.  Many locals and some Limiteds only go as far as Dekalb Avenue; the rest go all the way up to the Bridge Plaza.  The majority of the line’s ridership is from Fulton Street down to Kings Plaza as many people hop on the B46 after traveling on the A and C subway lines along Fulton Street or the #3 and #4 subway lines along Eastern Parkway.  Many people also transfer between the B46 and the B35 Church Avenue local and Limited and between the B46 and the B6 Bay Parkway/Avenue H local and Limited; the B35 and B6 are also among the top ten busiest bus routes in the city.  The line’s southern terminus, Kings Plaza is a popular destination for many along the B46 line (as well as on the B41, Q35, B3, and B47 buses), and buses often leave the mall with seated loads.

Right now, the line survives with dozens of 40-foot high-floor diesel and low-floor diesel and hybrid buses that speed down Utica Avenue trying to get to the other end with some time to recover from dodging speedy cars and jaywalkers.  The plan appears to be to take either the Orion VII hybrid buses (in the 4200 and 4500-4600 series) or the brand-new New Flyer Xcelsior diesels (in the 7300 series) and wrap them with the SBS wraps similar to those on the S79 SBS (in the 4200 series).  Whatever the case, they must have driver partitions in them to deal with potential passenger abuse.  The increased usage of driver partitions came about first with increased bus driver assaults citywide but was escalated after bus operator Edwin Thomas was stabbed and killed for refusing to issue a transfer to a passenger who didn’t want to pay the fare.  In other fare-related incidents in recent years, bus operators were either punched, slapped, or even spit on for even hinting that they weren’t going to give the scofflaws a free ride.  The Edwin Thomas incident accelerated the Transport Workers’ Union’s (TWU) call for more driver protection even if in the form of driver partitions.  The B46 was the first line in the city to deploy en masse a fleet of buses retrofitted with driver partitions that were actually installed in buses from Manhattan Division bus depots and were transferred to the B46’s home depot, Flatbush Depot, for more practical use on Utica Avenue.  While most bus operators welcomed the extra layer of protection against unruly passengers, especially on the B46, other operators feel caged in and passengers feel inaccessible to drivers for directions and inquiries.  Nevertheless, the B46 line is due for major changes that may make the ride better for many people or not even make a difference at all.

Utica Avenue is generally a wide street for most of its length.  From Fulton Street to Empire Blvd, it narrows to two general travel lanes and two parking lanes, one each in either direction.  From Empire Blvd to Flatbush Avenue, it has two travel lanes and one parking lane in each direction.  With the addition of a bus lane from Empire Blvd to Avenue H, there is one travel lane in each direction plus a bus lane and a parking lane.  The precursor to Select Bus Service, if you have been paying attention to the the NYC DOT’s BRT/SBS Website (http://www.nyc.gov/brt).  All that is needed now is the bus bulbs, bus pads, SBS ticket machines, and transit signal priority at key intersections.

The current SBS plan is to have SBS buses operate from Kings Plaza to Dekalb Avenue, making pretty much the same stops as the Limited from Avenue H up to Dekalb Avenue, but making only two stops between Kings Plaza and Avenue H (Avenue K and Avenue N).  Any passengers wishing to continue up Broadway to the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza must take the B46 local.  It appears that the NYC DOT and community leaders were more interested in making the busiest sections of the B46 work better for those trying to reach the subway than providing better access for all riders to the entire catchment area of the B46.  In other words, getting riders to the A/C trains or 3/4 trains to Manhattan (or even Downtown Brooklyn) is more important than making it easier for East Flatbush residents to get to Woodhull Hospital or to other subway and bus lines such as the J/M/Z trains or the B54 Myrtle Avenue Crosstown bus.  Though I am convinced that the B46 SBS to Dekalb was implemented due to the difficulty if not impossibility of faster service and bus lane implementation north of Eastern Parkway, I am a bit disappointed that SBS service is only limited to Dekalb instead of running all the way up to the Bridge Plaza for connections to Long Island City (B32, B62), the Lower East Side (B39) or to Maspeth and Rego Park (Q59).  I am also certain that there will be enough backlash from eliminating many stops south of Avenue H on the B46 SBS as there was from the elimination of many local stops south of Flatbush Junction on the B44 SBS.  Most riders who used to get on any stop below Avenue H would have a choice between local and Limited service depending on what showed up first, which will soon only be afforded by those at major bus transfer points.  This is expected of Limited route conversions to SBS, as we have seen on the M15 SBS back in 2010.  Simpler route patterns and less stops usually means a faster ride and ease of us; we can’t all have faster service at every stop unless every NYC bus route has all-door boarding with smart cards and smart cards readers at every door.  For now, SBS will have to be the next best thing.  SBS isn’t the answer to all of our bus problems, but in busy corridors and high-demand thoroughfares, it might be a necessary layer in a very complex transit system.

Let us not forget the one potential achilles heel to the success of the B46 SBS operation, the one thing that has hampered this and other lines in Brooklyn (or helped, depending on who you talk to) for decades:  the so-called “dollar vans.”  These commuter van lines have over the past 40 years nearly taken over Utica Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, with their unique liveries and novelty horns to lure potential riders to pay less than the bus fare and get them up and down the Avenue faster than the bus.  There are a few legal dollar van operators (Alexis Van Lines being one of them) that run along Utica or Flatbush or both, but there are many unlicensed van companies that drive dangerously and very aggressively to undercut and steal business from the legal ones, both risking pedestrian and vehicle safety as well as making it difficult for buses to pull into and out of major bus stops.  On Utica Avenue, the main starting point is at Eastern Parkway (#3/4 trains) and they travel down Utica as fast as they can all the way down the Avenue until Kings Plaza.  Many dollar vans, legal and illegal, stop right in front of buses about to pull out in the hopes that the vans pick up passengers and speed off before the bus can even get a chance to accelerate.  Once SBS is fully implemented, with repainted bus lanes and built-out bus bulbs, one can only wonder how much of a traffic jam will result once the dollar vans try to pull up at an SBS stop, blocking access for SBS buses with a domino effect into the local bus stop and the preceding intersection.  Though bus lane enforcement is part of the SBS “package” of improvements, I wonder what the situation would look like if there were as many cop cars as there are dollar vans and buses currently on Utica.  Let’s hope the community sees an improvement in B46 bus service as a whole and might result in a decrease in dollar van usage (or at least less of a cutthroat environment that is dealing with the dollar vans), and better pedestrian safety as well.

The B46 Limited should be converted to B46 Select Bus Service sometime this summer.  When it’s really hot outside and many things start happening, such as more scantily clad women with voluptouos figures walk around and the men that lust over them get super aggressive with them.  When everyone wants to get on the first bus they see with the intention of getting into something with air conditioning.  When everyone and their families want to hang out on the street corners in their cars blasting Island music with not a care in the world.  We shall soon see.

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