Hylan Blvd SBS Relies More on Fast Payment and Signals, Less on Bus Lanes

The route for proposed Hylan Boulevard Select Bus Service. Bus lanes are planned for the highlighted areas, where congestion is worst. Image: MTA/DOT

When it comes to Staten Island, the Department of Transportation and MTA are considering a different model for Select Bus Service.

The service planned for Hylan Boulevard will provide dedicated bus lanes for less of the route than on existing SBS lines, but high-tech features like transit-friendly traffic lights and even a possible pilot of smart card fare payment technology will be included.

Bus service along Hylan Boulevard is an essential lifeline for transit riders on Staten Island. Sixteen thousand local bus riders travel on the street every weekday, as do another 15,000 express bus riders. One-third of all Staten Island bus commuters live along the corridor. Those numbers might be even higher if transit service weren’t so slow. Almost three-quarters of transit commuters in the area have trips longer than an hour.

A final plan hasn’t been prepared for the new bus service, but DOT and the MTA presented the basic concept at a public meeting last Thursday [PDF]. The project is scheduled to be implemented in 2012 or 2013.

Unlike on the existing Select Bus Service routes on Fordham Road and First and Second Avenue, DOT is not planning to paint dedicated bus lanes along most of the route. Instead, they’re installing bus lanes in the three most congested areas: a roughly two-mile stretch toward the northern end of the route; the area where the S79 bus turns off Hylan and toward the Staten Island Mall; and near the entrance to the mall itself.

The Staten Island service will have a number of features not found in Manhattan and the Bronx, however. “Advance signals” will allow buses to stop a little further forward at an intersection than private vehicles. Currently, buses stopped at the curb and cars trying to turn right have to weave past each other; with advance signals, there’s room to separate the movements, speeding up traffic. The advance signal could also let buses jump to the front of the queue at certain red lights.

Another feature, transit signal priority, holds green lights a few extra seconds when a bus is approaching, giving precedence to vehicles carrying dozens of people rather than one or two. When tested out on Staten Island’s Victory Boulevard, it shaved ten percent of the time off bus trips (and five percent of the time off private automobile trips). This spring’s update of PlaNYC promised that eleven bus routes across the city will get transit signal priority. Hylan Boulevard will be one of them.

Advance signals let buses stop closer to the intersection than cars, allowing everyone to switch lanes more easily. Image: MTA/DOT

Perhaps even more intriguing, Hylan Boulevard might be the site for a pilot of the MTA’s long-awaited smart card fare payment system. Nothing’s been finalized yet, said a DOT spokesperson, but the pilot might start on the Hylan Boulevard SBS when it launches.

Real-time arrival information is also coming to all Staten Island buses by the end of the year, including Hylan Boulevard.

The MTA will replace the local S79 service with the Select Bus Service, which will stop less frequently in order to move faster. The S54 and S78 local buses, which run along the S79 route, will pick up the slack for the local, with service adjusted as necessary.

At the same time as it improves the bus service, DOT will also be using the corridor redesign as an opportunity to improve pedestrian safety. Along the route, DOT plans to extend existing medians into the crosswalk to create pedestrian refuges, and to add pedestrian ramps and sidewalks near bus stops that currently lack them.

Some bus stops will also be relocated to improve safety. The Brooklyn-bound bus stop at Richmond and Yukon Avenues, for example, might be moved from the side of the road to the center pedestrian island, a DOT representative said. Since the right side of the street has neither buildings nor a sidewalk, moving the stop to the median would allow for a better waiting area and reduce crossing distances for bus riders, who currently must cross the entire street.

  • All sound like nice, slight improvements. but the dedicated lane with bus mounted camera enforcement is still more bang for your buck… that is of course if separated bus lanes are still too big for MTA & DOT dreams. sigh. I applaud these attempts to make bus service better, but saying 10% of travel time is saved is not much when trips are still in the hour plus range. Riders citywide want buses to cruise ahead w/o any delays and dart them from A to B in 50% of the time…. separated lanes are really the only way to do that. These moves are baby steps that will certainly teach buses to ‘walk’ just fine, but never get them to ‘run’.

  • Bolwerk

    Dedicated transit lanes should hardly be necessarily if traffic is sane. It’s one more reason why congestion pricing could lift all boats.

  • Joe R.

    Why must NYC do everything half-assed? Instead of just holding the green a few seconds, why not complete traffic light preemption for buses?  The driver could have a button he/she presses a few seconds before the bus is ready to leave a stop.  The light will be green when the bus starts moving.

    Add in separate bus lanes, plus higher legal speed limits for buses, and you can probably shave 50% off the trip time, not 10%.  When traveling by bus is faster than traveling by car can ever be, lots of people will use the bus.

  • Joe

    I’m concerned about what this means for an already dreadful and dangerous pedestrian experience along Hylan Boulevard. 

    I live just off of the intersection at New Dorp Lane and Hylan Boulevard, one of the most trafficked intersections on the island. Pedestrians, including many children, teenagers, and elderly people already have to contend with drivers that routinely ignore their existence. Walk signals basically amount to window dressing as people often wait on the extremely narrow island (in the middle of six lanes of traffic) as a long train of cars turn right and left. Delayed greens means a less predictable experience for pedestrians, and more speeding cars hitching a ride next to and behind buses. It also means less time to cross when the light does turn red. Traffic cops are stationed at these intersections, but they seem to be only concerned with waving through as many cars as possible during rush hour. I’ve seen first hand as cops allow long convoys of cars to drive through the red, preventing pedestrians from crossing the six lanes of traffic in time for the next signal change. 

    I would much rather see dedicated, green painted and well maintained bus lanes for the extent of the heavily trafficked portions of Hylan Boulevard, namely from Richmond Avenue through to the end. This, coupled with less stops (there seems to be a stop every 200 feet or so) and smart payments  could drastically reduce ride times and wait times. 

    But a dedicated bus lane means one less car lane. And as we all know, that’s just a non-starter on Staten Island. 

  • Andrew

    Separated bus lanes would trap S79 SBS buses behind S54 and S78 locals.  Not a good idea at all, unless two lanes can be spared or there is room for local buses to pull to the side at local bus stops.

    Very few systems use complete traffic light preemption, because of the severe impact it has on other traffic (including other bus lines).  Signal priority comes in many forms, but the ones used in New York are pretty typical.  Preemption is more typically used by emergency vehicles.

    I think 30 mph is plenty fast enough on city streets.  Besides, since when does anybody care what the speed limit is?  If buses can go 40, cars will go 40 too.  And if 40 is safe, how do you justify limiting cars to 30?

    Reducing dwell times is far more important than increasing speeds.

  • Nick

    Bus Lane in the right lane, bikes ride in the center lane or on the sidewalk? If the DOT is going to put this much time and money into redesigning Hylan, why don’t they go all the way and make it a Complete Street. If they don’t have a place for the bikes they will be forced to use the Bus Lane and will just slow down the Busses. They can pretend there are no bikes on SI but there are and their numbers are growing, may as well get ready for it.

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  • Richie

    I attended some of the hearings, and recommended more stops along Hylan, especially between New Dorp Lane and Old Town Road. Some of these stops are more than a mile apart. Right now, S79s carry many shoppers to and from the shopping centers around Ebbitts Street and Tysens Lane. The SBS stops are so far apart that most shoppers won’t be able to use the service – the S78 buses will be SWAMPED. The MTA would have to at least DOUBLE the S78 service to carry those people. The new service will be great for commuters, but it is likely to be a complete disaster for local riders.

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