Next for Select Bus Service: Webster Ave in the Bronx, Utica Ave in Brooklyn

The Bronx's second Select Bus Service route is planned for Webster Avenue, marked as #1 on this map of high-priority routes for bus improvements. Image: NYC DOT/MTA

A new crop of bus routes is moving into the pipeline for implementation as Select Bus Service. The MTA and NYC DOT are in the initial stages of bringing SBS to the Bronx’s Webster Avenue, where the most unreliable bus in the borough runs, and to Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue, the second-busiest bus route in the city.

The innovations of SBS — pre-paid boarding, dedicated bus lanes, priority at traffic signals — have sped buses and attracted new riders on Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, and 34th Street. And they can work on bus lines all over the city. So as the first round of SBS implementation comes to a close (lines on Nostrand Avenue and Hylan Boulevard are scheduled for completion in the next year or two), the development of new routes is a welcome signal that the MTA and NYC DOT are committed to bringing bus improvements to more New Yorkers.

The city’s first Select Bus Service line launched on Fordham Road in the Bronx in 2008, and it’s been a smashing success. Bus speeds increased by 20 percent and ridership by 30 percent. So expanding SBS to more routes in the borough is a no-brainer. The choice of the Bx41 for the upgrade was first reported in the Daily News yesterday.

“There was a lot of support in the Bronx for doing a route along Webster Avenue,” an MTA spokesperson told Streetsblog. “This would be a full-fledged SBS route with all the features offered by the Bx12 and the M15.”

Running down Webster, the Bx41 has relatively high ridership — 7.6 million annual riders — but was ranked the most unreliable bus in the borough this year by the Straphangers Campaign. Perhaps in part because of all that bus bunching, ridership on the route has been in free fall. The Bx41 saw one million fewer trips in 2010 than in 2009, according to the MTA.

There’s no roll-out date for the Bx41 yet, according to the MTA, and any eventual route will need to go through a public review process.

Though there’s no mention of Webster Avenue on the joint NYC DOT/MTA website dedicated to SBS, there is a new page on that site marking the start of planning for bus improvements along Brooklyn’s Utica Avenue.

Both Webster and Utica Avenues were identified as targets for bus improvements in a 2009 joint DOT/MTA study mapping out potential routs for the second phase of Select Bus Service. Each was considered an “underserved area”: a corridor that was far from the subway yet densely developed.

Along Utica, it’s not yet clear what shape the bus improvements would take. DOT started conducting a study on both transit and traffic safety conditions this October — in addition to carrying 16 million annual bus riders, Utica is also one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous streets — and the study will be complete this spring, according to the website. The study only covers a stretch of Utica a bit longer than a mile, however, between St. John’s Place and Church Avenue. Once the study is complete, DOT will develop a menu of options to improve safety and transit service and present them to the public.

  • Tsuyoshi

    That area is definitely the biggest transit service gap in the Bronx, although not having looked at the ridership data, I would have thought Third Avenue was a better target. The image you have there implies that it will bypass the Hub, whereas the current route terminates there. Is that really part of the plan?

  • Andrew

    Both the Bx41 and the B46 do seem like good candidates for SBS, but I’d be careful about attributing the ridership drop on the Bx41 to bus bunching – a more likely reason is that the route was shortened mid-year with the service cuts.  The Bx39, which replaced the northern end of the Bx41 (at longer headways), had a major increase in ridership, and of course this table doesn’t show how many riders transferred to the 2 train upstairs.  And the B46 is awfully close to the B44 – wouldn’t it make more sense to look for a different part of Brooklyn, or an east-west route, for Brooklyn’s second SBS installation?

  • Theman

    I think they need to measure average speeds on all the routes (real speeds, not theoretical speeds based on posted schedules), and apply SBS to all routes that run below a certain average speed (say 8MPH).

  • Andrew

    @73e8909c13876aa575c2e191fadf3c97:disqus I don’t think speed alone is a good measure of SBS-suitability, although it’s certainly one factor.  Ridership is also important, and ideally it should have some stops that are substantially busier than others (although that’s not absolutely necessary if the route is fairly short, as the M34 demonstrates).

    There are a lot of reasons that a bus route can be slow, and SBS isn’t necessarily the best solution for all of them.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Utica and Church.  Where MTA subway extensions were supposed to go.  (Lindsey promised them after giving up control of the subway system to the state).

    Webster.  Right next to where an elevated used to be.

    First and Second Avenues.

    I sense the theme.

  • TB

    I was sitting in a cafe on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn (the “Flatbush Junction” area) watching the bus loading and unloading outside as I at my lunch — the B41.  This is a very busy place for buses even at off-peak times.  The loading process was BRUTAL.  It takes forever to load 15-20 people.  Not to mention having to travel on streets that are an unenforced double-parking mess.

    I don’t care what the “next candidate” is, but something has to change.  Off-board payment is a start (and an easy one)… but Flatbush Ave and Nostrand Ave NEED to have a curbside — I repeat, CURBSIDE — dedicated bus lane that is “protected” by the parking lane.  Double parking can block traffic, but keep public transportation flowing.  It’s really simple.  And should be a no-brainer.  Not to mention this second part is CHEAP.  Just paint.

  • kevd

    @ Andrew.
    I think it is important to note that the B44 is the 5th busiest bus route in the entire city, and the B46 is the busiest in terms of annual ridership. The demand already exists.

    Yes, they are not that far apart. Though they aren’t exactly right next each other either, 20 blocks or about mile separates Utica and Nostrand avenues.

    My concern, is why must SBS routes be contained only within single boroughs?  It would make much more sense to funnel SDS routes over bridges.  So that the Nostrand and the Utica ave routes converge to head across the WIlliamsburg brigdge and connect with either a non-existant cross town route, or head up the 1st Ave. SBS route.  

    The same would go for extending the 34th St. route through the Midtown Tunnel into Queens.

  • kevd

    @ Larry.
    You are absolutely correct.  Much of SBS is about replacing LOST capacity, much of it lost so long ago that many people forget that it ever existed.

  • kevd

    @ TB.  A great way to improve boarding times city wide, on ALL buses would be to switch to a system without fare controls, the way it is done in all the German speaking parts of Europe.  You buy you ticket.  And there are frequent inspectors, many who you would not expect to be inspectors – who hand out expensive (100 Euros in Berlin, I believe – where I was “controlled” twice in a week) for non-payment.  The fines might not completely make up of the lost revenue, but the increased performance might be worth it.

    Doesn’t solve the double parking problem, of course.

  • Andrew

    @0cb5a5d1acdc536518491db8f69af89e:disqus A single physically protected bus lane would be blocked by other buses.  Limiteds (or SBS buses) would have to wait for locals at every local stop and everybody would have to wait for wheelchairs and breakdowns.

    What would be really helpful is a pair of bus lanes, but I don’t think you’re going to find most local communities willing to give up two lanes in each direction.
    @kevdflb:disqus I agree that the B46 is a good candidate, but when so many other parts of the city are starved of reliable, fast transit, I’m not sure it makes sense to spend the money and political capital on a new SBS line parallel to and one mile away from an existing (or soon-to-be-existing) one.The Bx12 runs into Manhattan, where it connects with two subway lines.  I don’t think it makes sense to extend the B44 or M34 across the East River – the market for such an extension is small, the cost large, and the effect on reliability quite substantial.  (If you get off the 6 train and have to wait a half hour for the next M34 to bring you across to Penn Station, do you really want to hear that the bus got stuck in a traffic jam on the LIE?)The European ticketing procedure you describe is basically what’s in use on SBS.  When smartcards come along, hopefully it will be extended to the rest of the bus network.

  • kevd

    Andrew, the point I was try to make was about extending exclusive SBS LANES across the river and connecting those extended lanes to existing SBS lanes, not just dropping an articulated SBS bus full of people in the middle of a traffic jam.  That would clearly be asinine.

    It seems to me that the Utica ave route might be a beter FIRST candidate based on demand and the lack of subway service.  For a significant stretch, 1 diretion of the Nostrand / Rogers lane will be directly above existing subway service.  If you are looking for transit deserts in this city, East Flatbush & Brownsville are high on that list.

  • Andrew

    As I said, I don’t see much of a market for SBS across the river.  The J/M/Z already crosses the Williamsburg Bridge and the 7 train (and E/M trains, to a lesser extent) are pretty close to the Midtown Tunnel.  Trains faster than buses and are much less costly to operate per passenger.  There’s no reason for SBS to be competing with trains.

    The Midtown Tunnel has only two lanes in each direction.  Do you really think one lane each way should be restricted to buses?

    Yes, I can agree that the B46 might be a better place for SBS than the B44.  Either one is pretty good, though, and the B44 is getting it first.  With that as a given, I’m not sure that the B46 should also get it so soon.  Why not go for an east-west route instead?  (Maybe the B82?)

  • kevd

    True that the J/M/Z aren’t at capacity, even at rush hour and the Midtown tunnel is rather small.  The WB and Midtown tunnel might not be ideal canditates.
    But, a quick look at the crowds on Manhattan – Queens and Brooklyn – Manhattan trains indicates that added transit capacity is needed or will be needed shortly.  Crossriver BRT is not competerive with trains, but complementary to it by serving additional neighborhoods at a fraction of the cost of heavy rail.  There isn’t money for new train tunnels under that East River, so repurposing what previous generations have already built is the only long term solution. 

    And I definitly DO think that 2 lanes on the Manhattan and Queensboro bridges could be repuposed for SBS without much negative impact. Perhaps they could also be a 3+ or 4+ HOV lane if that would not negatively impact service.  Granted, at this time there are no SBS routes that approach those crossings, but hopefully the system will grow.  Perhaps someday the political will will exist to do something simliar on other crossings.  I’m just thinking about one possible long term solution to problems – lack of capacity, lack of funds – that aren’t going to get any better for many years, and I’m wondering how SBS can evolve into something that more closly approaches true BRT. 

    Though, at the glacial pace these things work in NYC, I’m hypothecizing about something 10 years away at the earliest.  Either way, I’d like to see many more SBS routes across this city and region.

    Perhaps they are tacking slightly easier routes, like Nostrand first, in order to build the political capital so that the more difficult routes (like Utica – which is more difficult in passenger volumes at any rate) can be built out as routes with more features of BRT.   Just a thought.  I don’t know the B82, but I’ll look it up.  I know there is another bus route in Brooklyn along Flatlands that has a higher volume than the B44.  Flatlands is also absurdly wide and crazily fast, and is an East-West route.  Either way, I’d like to see many more SBS routes across this city and region, knitting together neighborhoods that the currently subway system misses, or keeps inconveniently distant from each other.  Neighborhoods by the TriBoro in the Bronx and Queens, for example. 

    Also, what is in use on SBS routes now is not exactly the fare boundary free system in use in many countries around the world.  If I have a monthly metro card, I have to wait to print out a receipt at a machine, possibly missing a bus. I can’t just jump on that bus.  Also, are they still STOPPING the buses to do fare inspections?  I know they were once upon a time.

  • Andrew

    The capacity of a bus is TINY in comparison to the capacity of a train.  If we’re worried about serious growth that would overtax the existing subway system, we need to build new subway lines or increase the capacity of the existing ones.  Relying on buses just won’t work.

    (By the way, it’s also important to have a consistent notion of “capacity” when it comes to subway trains, or else everybody will declare that their line is over capacity because it’s more crowded than they’d like.  At this point, the only line from Brooklyn that’s over capacity is the L – the others have plenty of capacity to spare, even if the trains are more crowded than their riders would prefer.)Buses are good for shorter trips or for trips that aren’t oriented toward or away from the CBD, where rail works best.

    I agree that the fare collection system on SBS is suboptimal, but, as I’ve said before, it’s so much better than the status quo on the rest of the system that I’m willing to accept it for now.  If it isn’t any better when smartcards come along, I’ll be angry.

  • David John

    It is good to know that new bus routes are being organized so that it covers more area. Useful inforamtion. sunway lagoon

  • I just love the bus service in ny.

  • Del

    B46 bus needs the articulated buses

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