Select Bus Service In-Depth: Bx6

Bx6 in Concourse Village. (c) 2013 C. Walton

Bx6 in Concourse Village. (c) 2013 C. Walton

Let’s have a conversation about the Bx6 route for a little bit.

The Bx6 bus operates between Washington Heights and Hunts Point, stopping at Yankee Stadium, Concourse Plaza, major Bronx County courthouses, and numerous subway stations along the way.  The Bx6 primarily runs on West 155th Street in Manhattan and East 161st Street, East 163rd Street, and Hunts Point Avenue in the Bronx.  This route was once a streetcar route that primarily ran along East 163rd Street and was originally called the Bx34 before the Bronx Bus Renumbering and Revamping program of the 1980s.  Most Bronx bus routes at the time were renumbered and consolidated to form new bus routes that would better connect major areas in the Bronx.  No major changes were implemented to the Bx6 since it was renumbered.  The Bx6 carries roughly 22,000 riders a day, the majority of which are within the Bronx, although there are some riders that use it to access upper Manhattan.  Transfers can be made to a dozen or more lines on either side of the river.

The current western terminus is at Riverside Drive and West 158th Street; the current eastbound terminus is at the Hunts Point Cooperative Market, located within the Food Center.  The route is not a very long one, but with numerous issues including but not limited to double parking and traffic at various choke points.  In order for the Bx6 to get from Manhattan to The Bronx, it crosses the Macombs Dam Bridge, a key part of the Bx6 that allows Washington Heights residents to access the South Bronx.  During the rush hours, the Macombs Dam Bridge can get pretty congested with traffic attempting to access the Major Deegan Expressway (a.k.a. the “Deegan” to locals).  The congestion is doubled when there are baseball games at nearby Yankee Stadium.  With the majority of game traffic headed to and from Westchester County and New Jersey, the Deegan can get backed up to a point where all surrounding streets, including 161st Street, grind to a halt.  As if the Deegan backup wasn’t enough, the traffic on 161st Street can be detoured away from River Avenue and the (4) train elevated structure due to numerous fans and friends taking over the streets jaywalking as they please while heading between local bars and shops and the stadium itself.  The NYPD closes off parts of the area for crowd and traffic control.  But even when there is no game at Yankee Stadium, the congestion doesn’t end there:  once the bus travels through the tunnel underneath the Grand Concourse, it has to deal with the traffic and double parking in front of the numerous courthouses situated between The Grand Concourse and Morris Avenue during the midday hours.  All that for a bus route whose runtime is just shy of a hour from end to end.

From a passenger standpoint, the majority of Bx6 riders travel the line between Yankee Stadium and Hunts Point.  Let’s talk about eastbound ridership patterns first.  There aren’t very many passengers that travel from Washington Heights to the Bronx on this line; most Heights-to-Bronx passengers use buses such as the Bx13 via Ogden Avenue and the Bx35 via East 167th Street.  There are many passengers who transfer from the (4)(B)(D) trains at River Avenue/161st Street to the Bx6 bus to access areas between Concourse Village and Longwood with no subway service.  One stop past River Avenue and you get the hoards of people from Concourse Village and the courthouses that ride towards the same communities.  At Concourse Village are a multi-building housing development of the same name, several local shops, a movie theater, and social services offices for those with lower incomes.  Further east are more housing projects and a handful of shorter multi-dwelling housing units.  The route snakes down the hill at Rev. James A Polite Avenue and passes under the elevated structure carrying the (2)(5) trains and nearby Intervale Avenue Station.  Most passengers traveling eastbound would have gotten off at several stops including Morris Avenue (connection to Bx32), Webster Avenue (connection to Bx41/Bx41 SBS), Third Avenue (connection to Bx15 and Bx21), Tinton Avenue, and Prospect Avenue (connection to Bx17).  Some go all the way to Southern Blvd, where connections can be made to the Bx5 and Bx19 buses and the nearby Hunts Point Avenue (6) Station.  At this point, the Bx6 becomes a Hunts Point shuttle, carrying passengers who either live along Hunts Point Avenue or work all the way at the end by the Hunts Point Food Center, the largest food distribution center in the world.  Westbound travel patterns are pretty much the opposite of eastbound patterns.  Passengers getting on along Hunts Point Avenue mainly get off at the (6) train and sometimes continue as far as River Avenue and the (4)(B)(D) trains.  Passenger getting on at Southern Blvd are usually those coming from the Bx5 bus along Story Avenue or from the subway.

The Bx6 has always been a slow route, with riders piling on at nearly every stop along the Bronx section of the line, especially between River Avenue and Southern Blvd, but also between the Food Center and Southern Blvd.  Between the (4)(B)(D) trains and the (6) train, there is not much rapid transit other than the (2)(5) trains, and east of Southern Blvd there is no rapid transit at all.  The Hunts Point section of the Bronx has only the (6) train and is cut off physically and psychologically by the Bruckner Expressway and, for the longest time, the Bx6 was the only bus serving Hunts Point.  In recent years, the Bx6 has gotten a little bit of help, in the form of the Barretto Park Pool shuttle during the summer months and the new Bx46 bus line from Hunts Point to the Longwood Avenue (6) Station and the Prospect Avenue (2)(5) Station.  The Bx46 mainly serves as a shuttle between Hunts Point and the nearest subways other than Hunts Point Avenue (6) Station.  It alleviates riders from having only the (6) train as their rapid transit connection to pretty much everywhere else in the city and also provides service Longwood Avenue and apartments on surrounding streets that never had bus service.  Previously, if a Hunts Point resident wanted the (2)(5) trains, they had to endure the slew of riders getting off at the (6) train and the slew of riders trying to get to the (4)(B)(D) trains just to get off at nearby Intervale Avenue.  The Bx46 ride between Longwood Avenue and Prospect Avenue Stations is very short, at least 3-4 blocks, which makes access to the (2)(5) trains that much easier.  The fact that this service wasn’t available prior to 2010 can be considered mind-boggling, even with a borough such as the Bronx with so much bus and subway service relatively close to each other.  Nonetheless, the Bx46 helps somewhat, taking a bit of the load off the Bx6 line.

With all of that said, converting a line like the Bx6 into an SBS will be a challenge since most of the key aspects that make SBS as special as the NYCDOT and MTA make it out to be may not and possibly cannot work here.  I am not so sure where along this route can bus lanes be placed since most of East 163rd Street is quite narrow (less than 50 feet wide in some places).  I am not too sure if transit signal priority can be implemented anywhere when there is double parking that could potentially have buses stuck waiting at least two light cycles to cross an intersection near a block where there is only a single lane in each direction.  It probably wouldn’t be very cost-effective to have fare machines at every single bus stop on the line from end to end, especially since most stops are well used by lower-income riders who may or may not have the mobility to use a farther stop once stops are consolidated.  I am almost certain that some bus stops would be consolidated or eliminated with this SBS plan (the only exception would be the M86 SBS as nearly all of its stops were retained), with an example being the bus stops between Third Avenue and Prospect Avenue consolidated into a single stop in front of the McKinley Houses (eastbound) and Forest Houses (westbound).  While it may be good for the housing project riders, those passengers currently using the Cauldwell and Tinton Avenue stops would have to walk down the hill to get on a bus and struggle up the hill after getting off an SBS bus, posing a problem for those with impaired mobility.  If SBS were to be implemented, those would be some very important issues to tackle, especially since a number of stops along the Bronx section of the Bx6 are just about one or two blocks apart.  This is unlike the situation on the Q44 SBS where stops were consolidated due to very low ridership simply because even with stops so close together, they are widely used by the community.

What I would rather see along East 163rd Street is an SBS line overlaying the Bx6 and possibly overlaying the Bx5, creating a limited-stop line that would create a one-seat ride from the 161st Street corridor to Bruckner Plaza, Soundview, Throgs Neck, and Pelham Bay (with weekend service to Bay Plaza) but still maintains local bus service for those who still need it.  I briefly outlined a similar proposal in my SBS Potential Corridors post.  As far as SBS features are concerned, the DOT can make an attempt at bus lanes along 161st Street, possibly curbside bus lanes, but I am not sure if it will be met with any kind of success.  The issue with parking and foot traffic around the courthouses would render the bus lanes useless without heavy police enforcement.  That includes the NYPD themselves who notoriously park their police cruisers in the bus lanes around the city to take care of internal business (perfect example:  West 34th Street during off-peak hours).  I would like to see the SBS line actually start at River Avenue/161st instead of Riverside Drive in Manhattan because it would be easier to turn buses around in the event of street closures during Yankee games.

If the DOT and MTA were to actually work on the Bx6 line itself, which it just might do, I can imagine that some stops would be consolidated, such as those east of Southern Blvd, but the MTA would have to be very careful at which stop get taken away and consolidate with other busier stops.  The MTA would also have to figure out how often buses should arrive at each stop, whether every 5-10 minutes as it is now or maybe even more often than that.  Another question would be whether articulated buses and off-board fare collection together might preclude the need for bus lanes or transit signal priority and whether the use of articulated buses would necessitate the lengthening of headways, to 10 minutes all day or frequent all day except for evenings.  There might simply be a need for off-board fare collection with the current fleet of 40-foot compressed natural gas buses or bus bulbs in certain spots.  There is also the issue of buses that depart the Food Center and the Hunts Point Cooperative Market with full loads on some trips and empty buses on all other trips.  During late nights, there is a Bx6 leaving the Food Center every 5-15 minutes from 12am to about 2am only going as far as Hunts Point Avenue Station to accommodate the mass of workers that leave work around that time.  I anticipate all of these issues to be brought to the table at any MTA/DOT SBS Open House concerning the Bx6 SBS project, or else many people are going to be highly upset.

Let’s hope there is a solution to this important bus route in the South Bronx.

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One Response to Select Bus Service In-Depth: Bx6

  1. Guest says:

    Bus lanes or at least queue jumps are needed along certain stretches.

    Traffic is terrible East of Westchester Ave along E 163rd St. Should eliminate parking during the day and implement bus only lanes.

    I would additionally add bus only lanes to the Macombs Dam Bridge. POVs have alternatives like the CBE, W 181st St and E 149th St. Faster buses will move more people, the area is always jammed anyway.

    To speed buses across the Concourse, why not dedicate the underpass to buses. It used to be a streetcar route anyway.

    E 161st needs bus lanes around the courthouse area and the NYPD needs to stop jamming up the city.

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