Webster Avenue SBS Could Be Best in NYC, With Center-Running Bus Lanes

One option being considered for Webster Avenue Select Bus Service would have the buses run in the center of the street, potentially speeding service even more than existing SBS routes. Image: NYC DOT/MTA

Webster Avenue could be the place where Select Bus Service reaches the next level. At a community meeting Wednesday evening, the Department of Transportation and the MTA presented three visions of improved bus service for the corridor [PDF]. Two of the templates can already be found on the streets of New York — bus lanes running curbside and bus lanes offset from the curb by one lane — and bus riders are seeing travel times improve 15 to 20 percent thanks to those improvements. But the potential for a real breakthrough lies in the third template — buses running in the center lanes with elevated platforms — which would be a major step toward true bus rapid transit.

The world’s best bus rapid transit systems all run in the center of the street, where speeds and reliability are significantly better (see Streetsblog’s report on Mexico City’s Metrobús system for an example). Away from the curb, there are significantly fewer obstacles from parking, loading, and turn conflicts.

Since bus riders wouldn’t be able to wait on the sidewalk to board the bus, DOT would build new protected platforms in the street. If the platforms are built totally level with the bus floor, as on the subway, this would make boarding the bus much faster, especially for the elderly or disabled. As on all SBS routes, passengers would pay their fares before boarding, allowing buses to spend time moving rather than waiting for each passenger to dip their MetroCard in turn.

Median-running bus lanes and platform-level boarding are two of the most important features of world-class BRT identified in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Standard scorecard. Existing Select Bus Service routes haven’t met the threshold for bus rapid transit according to ITDP’s system; the Webster Avenue route, it seems, could break the mold.

The Webster Avenue project is still in a very early stage and all three options are little more than concepts at this point. However, the potential for serious transit improvements is especially high here, because there’s already strong political support for Select Bus Service. Both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson have endorsed Webster Avenue SBS, though they have not spoken about particular designs. More than 50 people participated in Wednesday’s open house, said a DOT spokesperson, and were broadly supportive of the transit improvements.

Whether DOT opts for the full center-running option or not, any transit improvements are sure to be appreciated. The existing bus service, the Bx41, is the most unreliable in the Bronx, according to the Straphangers Campaign. Travel times on the five-mile corridor can vary by as much as 20 minutes, the DOT said [PDF]. There are currently about 19,000 riders on an average weekday and 24,000 daily riders on the weekend.

Select Bus Service on Fordham Road, the city’s first enhanced bus corridor, reduced travel times by twenty percent using a curbside bus lane design. Ridership increased by seven percent.

  • Guest

    Someone will complain, DOT will back down, you’ll get Fordham Road style SBS. 

  • Anonymous

    Finally real BRT.  I hope this sees the light of day.  Every avenue in the city needs this.

  • Bus Operator

    IMHO the amount of traffic coupled with the lack of enforcement will net the same level of service improvement. With a single lane for other traffic, turn lanes, car service and deliveries coupled with the reduced parking and the ever present double parking plus the reduced service on the line it will increase customer complaints, accidents, stress and jeopardize all concerned for minimal improvements.

  • Guest 2

    Option 3 will not work at all…. That plan will probably be shot down quickly.

    Option 2 seems to be the best of both worlds.

  • Ben Kintisch

    Sometimes you have to go big or go home. GO BIG DOT!!!!

  • kevd

    3 is obviously the best option from the point of view of bus flow.
    And when someone is double parked, or parallel parking the traffic can get around by sneaking part way into the median bus lane.
    As long as there is no bus coming, that seems fine to me.
    But if there is one…. BAM! Bus mounted camera gets ’em ticket!

    So yeah. 3 isn’t going to happen. It is too much of a give away to the majority of NYers who don’t drive from the minority who do. 
    But that minority is over represented in the city council and community boards…..

    Option 2 is still better than nothing.
    God, I hope that some day NY will catch up to where third world cities were 10 years ago.

  • What, no curbs to keep out the cars?  Not rail-ready?  No passing lanes? Better than nothing, I suppose.

  • vnm

    For center-running BRT, look no further than Cleveland, Ohio, where the HealthLine has specially designed signals for buses, high-level, sheltered platforms, and center-running right-of-way. If they can do it in Cleveland, we can do it in the Bronx.
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/embarqbrasil/7216615182/ 
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/embarqbrasil/7216605238/ 
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/embarqbrasil/7216613554/ 

  • Guest

    @5b8562ae241592c3da5509d06172c5ee:disqus it looks like Cleveland went out and procured buses with doors on the left side (as did Eugene for the EmX).  That’s the only way I could see the concept being workable here.  Splitting the stations for islands on the right side seems too tortuous along the route.

  • Steven Higashide

    Some tram systems (Amsterdam, for example) split the stations and have islands on the right side. It can be a pain if you aren’t too familiar with the city, but was workable enough.

  • Guest

    I suppose their might be cost tradeoffs: constructing more concrete islands for split stations, or procuring special buses with more flexible door locations.

    Nice thing about buses with doors on both sides: you can have either split platforms or center platforms, depending on the specific needs of each station location.

  • Andrew

    Pardon the stupid question, but, aside from superficially being similar to Bogota, what’s the advantage? I see plenty of disadvantages: the need to cross the street to reach the bus from anywhere, an inhospitable, low-capacity waiting area in the middle of the street, the inability for local buses to benefit from the bus lane, the inability of riders to wait for either local or SBS, whichever pulls up first, and the awkward arrangement for cars waiting to turn left across the bus lanes.

    What’s the problem with a mix of Options 1 and 2? (Aside from not being superficially similar to Bogota’s system and not pleasing Walter Hook.)

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