Select Bus Service In-Depth: M23

M23 at 23rd St/2nd Av.  (C) 2012 C. Walton

M23 at 23rd St/2nd Av. (C) 2012 C. Walton

The M23, the Chelsea-Flatiron-Stuy Town Connector.

The M23 is one of the slowest of the slowest Crosstown bus routes in Manhattan.  Many of the 15,000 riders per day will agree with me on this.  It travels all the way across 23rd Street from Chelsea Piers to the FDR Drive, passing through the Chelsea and Flatiron sections of Manhattan.  Its eastern terminus is close to the VA Medical Center, Waterside Plaza, and Stuyvesant Town.  It passes right by the Flatiron Building at 5th Avenue and Broadway as well as under the High Line at 10th Avenue.

The fact that it runs through a trendy neighborhood, a center of commercial activity, a tourist trap, a few medical centers, and some high-priced real estate isn’t what makes the M23 a case for SBS, though.  It’s the traffic and loading and unloading of passengers at either end of the line which makes the M23 a great candidate for SBS.  (If you ask me though, I would have preferred another Crosstown line, such as the next one south of 23rd Street.  Namely, the M14A/M14D.  I’m pretty sure I mentioned it before somewhere.)  Frequently, M23 buses get caught in traffic on the East Side of 23rd Street, simply due to traffic attempting to access the FDR Drive.  That traffic includes MTA express buses that, with exceptions, use the FDR Drive during the evening rush hour to access the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel to Brooklyn and onwards to the Verrazzano-Narrows Bridge and Staten Island.  Some Staten Island express buses make a right turn at Park Avenue South to pick up passengers in Lower Manhattan, while some Brooklyn express buses use the FDR Drive to access Pearl and Water Streets in the Financial District.  There are numerous express buses that turn left from 5th Avenue and Broadway to 23rd Street during all hours of the day including numerous Bronx express buses, all of which add to the delays with eastbound M23 buses on the East Side.

As far as the West Side is concerned, most of the traffic is scattered around, mainly between 6th Avenue and 8th Avenue, with traffic attempting to make the right turn onto 6th or 8th Avenues heading towards the Penn Station and Herald Square areas.  There may be some occasional backups at 11th Avenue as the West Side Highway is less than a block away, as well as a few at 10th Avenue because of traffic trying to get to the Lincoln Tunnel or to bypass the area around Penn Station and the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

As far as Bus Rapid Transit in New York is concerned, I do not recall the M23 ever being talked about as a potential BRT corridor, unless it’s linked to the downtown east-west corridor scope of the project which would have included the M14.  The M23 bus line, though not my most ideal candidate for SBS, does have the issues that were present in the M34 and M86 crosstown lines and has been awarded the “Pokey” Award several times by the Straphangers’ Campaign.  It tells the story about poor bus service, with a range of issues including buses not coming on-time, buses bunching when they do arrive, overcrowding of the buses that do arrive, and the time it takes to travel from near one end of the line to the other.  If the M23 gets these improvements, this will be the 5th SBS corridor in Manhattan after the M15, M34/34A, M60, and M86.  As of right now, they are having conversations with M23 riders and members of the community boards in the areas where the M23 operates.  There is no implementation timeline yet as it is still too early in the process.

For the M23 to work, there should be a plan to implement some offset bus lanes at strategic locations and bus bulbs at the busiest stops, such as westbound at 23rd Street/1st Avenue.  If offset lanes aren’t possible, then carefully selected and crafted curbside bus lanes will have to do.  I wouldn’t call for any left-turn restrictions since designing them has been a headache in other parts of Manhattan (namely on 125th Street).  On 23rd Street at Madison Avenue eastbound should have a left-turn bay and a curbside bus lane to mesh with the current left-turn traffic cycle.  It depends on the street width which, in most cases on 23rd Street, is roughly 52-60 feet wide.  I can certainly see a healthy debate between community board leaders, merchants in the area, drivers, taxi and livery drivers, truck companies, and residents who want more bike lanes instead of road space..

We shall see.  We shall soon see.

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