Crosstown bus service on 34th Street runs faster, more frequently, and has attracted more riders since DOT and the MTA began phasing in Select Bus Service improvements four years ago. Compared to 2008, travel times for buses on 34th Street are down 23 percent, or 7.5 minutes along the full corridor. And according to an update released by DOT yesterday, ridership is up 12 percent, with weekday ridership regularly reaching 20,000 passengers. A quarter of riders say that they use the buses more often because of the service upgrades.
The gains outpace those made on some other SBS routes, in part because crosstown buses have the most room for improvement. In 2003 and 2004, the Straphangers Campaign awarded the M34 its “Pokey” award for slowest bus in New York.
Dedicated bus lanes first arrived on 34th Street in 2008. In November 2011, off-board fare collection, expanded bus lane camera enforcement, and new buses that match the blue SBS color scheme were added. Those changes improved the efficiency of the route to the point that the MTA was able to schedule 24 more bus runs a day, Monday through Saturday.
Originally, 34th Street was slated for a river-to-river traffic-separated busway featuring a block-long pedestrian plaza between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. That version of the project was scrapped after major real estate interests objected. It was replaced by DOT with a scaled-back proposal to run buses between the curb lane and the general traffic lane.
To get the buses away from the curb, where they currently have to deal with illegally-parked cars, DOT and the MTA are planning to build bus bulbs — sidewalk extensions where passengers wait for the bus. In early 2013, the route will also begin using articulated buses, like those seen on other SBS routes, that carry up to 85 passengers.
DNAinfo erroneously reported that the project has spent $36.5 million to achieve the benefits realized so far, but in fact, many of the improvements that have been budgeted for have yet to be built. Update: Since 2008, DOT and the MTA have spent about $4.3 million on bus lanes and off-board fare payment for 34th Street, according to a DOT spokesperson.
In the next two years, 13 bus bulb stations and three other curb extensions are scheduled for installation to further speed the boarding process. East of Lexington Avenue, construction is scheduled to begin in late 2013, and will last for up to two years. Two bus bulbs between 10th and 11th Avenues, constructed by the Hudson Yards Development Corporation, are scheduled for completion by summer 2013. The rest of 34th Street west of Lexington Avenue should see construction begin in spring 2013 and wrap up in early 2014.