NYU Report: NYC’s Exclusive Busways Shouldn’t Be for Emergencies Only

The city and state need to shift gears to create a more resilient transportation network in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, a group of New York University transportation researchers argue in a report released this morning. Chief among their recommendations: New York must get serious about Bus Rapid Transit and create permanent, physically-separated transit lanes to keep bus riders from getting stuck in traffic.

Bus lanes that are truly separate from car traffic can play a bigger role in NYC. Photo: Stephen Miller

With the subways unable to cross the East River due to power outages and flooding, “the exceedingly intense traffic gridlock that the city experienced was reminiscent of scenes from Sao Paulo and Jakarta: emerging megacities that struggle to provide adequate capacity,” write authors Sarah Kaufman, Carson Qing, Nolan Levenson, and Melinda Hanson of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

A wide variety of transportation options picked up the slack in the storm’s wake. Privately-owned commuter vans filled gaps in transit service, the East River Ferry doubled its typical fall weekday ridership to more than 7,400, and 30,000 bike commuters — more than double the average — crossed the East River bridges.

A make-shift system of express buses served the most people, with subway passengers transferring to buses at three locations in Downtown Brooklyn and Williamsburg. At the two transfer points in Downtown Brooklyn, the MTA loaded 3,700 passengers per hour onto the Manhattan-bound “bus bridge,” which the report hails as “New York’s first truly exclusive busways.”  The report lauds interagency cooperation after the storm, noting that NYPD’s bus lane and HOV-3 enforcement played a critical role in keeping the way clear for bus riders.

While the long lines waiting for buses showed that “impromptu Bus Rapid Transit” can’t replace full subway service, the authors say the post-Sandy transport plan also illustrated how real BRT routes could enhance the city’s transportation options. As Capital New York noted last week, NYC’s Select Bus Service is a solid upgrade over conventional buses, but doesn’t perform well enough to qualify as Bus Rapid Transit.

The NYU report recommends that the MTA work with the city to implement dedicated bus lanes as a permanent part of the city’s transit mix. “If buses continued to have priority on bridges” and other busy corridors, the authors write, “large numbers of people could move through the city more efficiently.”

The report also makes other recommendations, including:

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The MTA loaded 3,700 passengers per hour onto the Manhattan-bound “bus bridge,”

    That isn’t much at all.  It’s the equivalent of three subway trains per hour. 

    If you assume heavy loading at 50 people per bus, that’s 74 buses per hour. 

    BRT is fine on routes other than to the Manhattan CBD.  It might, might even be better and more cost effective than rebuilding the Rockaway line.  But for hub-bound service, forget it.

  • Bolwerk

    I expect it from the MTA, but it’s hard to believe an ostensibly world class university would fall for the NIH mentality of the BRT thumpers. Every bus in the city should minimally have POP fare collection and signal prioritization; that’s the no-brainer. With allowances for capacity constraints, every bus in the city should be more or less a SelectBus. 

    And the MTA is bragging about loading 3700 passengers/hour? Two fully loaded 8-car R143 trains already exceed that capacity (~3840 people). Actually, to draw another local comparison, it’s about nine fully loaded HBLR trains of two coupled cars each.

    The complete refusal to look at the loads carried by surface rail in other first world cities is mind-boggling. Is it really too much to ask that our surface transit do what a small-ish city like Cologne can do? It’s not like it saves money to use more labor to drive buses, and the capital investment lasts much longer with rail too.

  • Erik Griswold

    Bus-only lanes (with queue-jumps)?  That’s any Western European city circa 1982

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