Bloomberg’s Resiliency Plan Calls for Permanent Bus, Ferry Expansion

Yesterday afternoon, Mayor Bloomberg unveiled a resiliency plan to better prepare New York for flooding due to climate change and severe storms. The report’s team, put together in the wake of Hurricane Sandy and led by Economic Development Corporation President Seth Pinsky, used the administration’s PlaNYC 2030 sustainability plan as the foundation for a sweeping set of resiliency-specific recommendations, covering everything from temporary bikeways to new landfill development on the East River.

Bloomberg's resiliency plan includes flashy real estate development projects and calls for the expansion of the city's bus and ferry network. Image: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/sirr/downloads/pdf/final_report/MRB_Presentation.pdf##NYC.gov##

The heart of the mayor’s plan would build levees and barriers at targeted locations, including the Rockaways, Staten Island, Coney Island, and Newtown Creek, to protect vulnerable areas from flooding. These barriers could offer opportunities for permanent esplanades and greenways for these neighborhoods.

While the levees only tangentially involve transportation, most of the plan’s transportation-specific initiatives didn’t receive marquee treatment in the mayor’s speech and are instead buried in the report. If implemented, however, they could be major components of both the city’s storm response and its permanent infrastructure.

In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, many New Yorkers took to bicycling and walking as the only reliable means of transit, but improved pedestrian and bike access was not part of the city’s response plan. The mayor’s new report recommends that DOT and NYPD be ready to deploy “temporary pedestrian and bicycle capacity” in the event of an emergency, including dedicated lanes leading to ferry terminals and the East River bridges, as well as on the bridges themselves, by the end of 2014.

After Hurricane Sandy, the city and state implemented temporary bus service while subways below 34th Street were without power. The plan calls on DOT to coordinate with the MTA and other agencies on the implementation of similar “bus bridges” or ferry links in case of emergency, as well as to investigate greater access for city residents to Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, with the possibility of “cross-honoring” tickets in case of service disruption.

Like the bus connections, HOV-3 restrictions for vehicles entering the Manhattan central business district came after a day of crippling gridlock when many drivers drove to work alone. The report calls for a plan by the end of 2013 so the DOT, NYPD, and the Office of Emergency Management know when to implement HOV-3 restrictions in case of emergency and are able to quickly set up HOV-3 enforcement. (A bill from Council Members Deborah Rose and James Vacca is being introduced to the Public Safety committee today to require OEM to develop a broader emergency traffic management plan.)

In addition to temporary interventions during an emergency, the plan also has recommendations that would affect how New Yorkers travel on non-emergency days, most notably by devoting more road and highway space to buses.

The plan says the city will continue to expand the number of Select Bus Service routes. In addition to routes already in planning or development for Nostrand Avenue, 125th Street, Webster Avenue, Astoria Boulevard, and Woodhaven Boulevard, the report says that “over the next five years NYC DOT will work with the MTA to implement four additional SBS routes,” though it does not specify which routes are on track for implementation.

The report also highlights the value of buses not just on surface streets, but also on expressways, calling for “15 miles of bus priority corridors” on highways, similar to the bus lanes already on the Long Island, Gowanus, and Staten Island Expressways. It also mentions the possibility of running buses on highway shoulders and aims for the first of the new or expanded bus facilities to be complete within five years. (Separately, a bill requiring NYSDOT to study an extension of the Staten Island Expressway’s bus/HOV lanes from Victory Boulevard to the West Shore Expressway passed the Senate yesterday and now sits before the Assembly’s transportation committee.)

The city’s report joins the recommendations of the state’s NYS 2100 commission, which also called for investing in bus rapid transit.

Ferries also feature prominently in the city’s report. EDC is updating the Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study, first published in 2011, with an eye toward the East River, Staten Island, and the Rockaways. Coney Island businesses are already advocating for ferry service, the city has committed to subsidizing ferries to Red Hook this summer as part of the neighborhood’s post-Sandy recovery, and ferry service to the Rockaways was recently extended. EDC will also develop two “ferry landing barges” that can be temporarily deployed to areas in need of ferry service after a disaster.

Perhaps the boldest vision in the mayor’s plan is for Seaport City, which would add new developable land south of the Brooklyn Bridge raised above flood level — an east side version of Battery Park City. Seaport City may provide an opportunity to improve the East River Greenway and convert the FDR Drive to a surface road instead of an elevated highway. The Blueway Plan, a vision for the East River waterfront from the Brooklyn Bridge north to 38th Street, was released in February by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer and Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh and also included anti-flooding measures.

In its write-up of the report, Tri-State Transportation Campaign notes that while the plan lays out a lot of unfunded recommendations, it does pay more attention to financing its ideas than the NYS 2100 commission did earlier this year. In fact, there’s an entire column in the report dedicated to the “MoveNY” proposal from Sam Schwartz to raise funds by more equitably tolling region’s bridges and tunnels. “Given the fact that there is a nexus between auto usage and climate change, and that many of the areas that would benefit from toll reductions are also areas that are recovering from Sandy,” the report says, “the City believes it would be prudent for New Yorkers and their future leaders to evaluate the MoveNY proposal.”

  • Eric McClure

    Seth Pinsky? How many tens of thousands of parking spaces does the resiliency plan recommend building?

  • Rolando Peñate

    I wonder how the proposed surge barriers at Newtown Creek, the Gowanus Canal, and Coney Island Creek would impact proposals for retractable bike/ped bridges over those same waterways. I’m also surprised that raising subway entrances wasn’t part of the proposal, though I guess the grates are also a problem?

  • Bolwerk

    I still can’t figure out the city’s stiffy for SBS. Do what modern first-world cities less dense than us do, and build subways and surface light rail. This is New York, we have the demand and could use the excess capacity.

    A better focus for so-called SBS would be just standardizing the bus network around SBS principles like driver-agnostic fare collection.

  • NYFM

    They should do what modern first-world cities (such as London) do- build tidal barriers. It will save a lot headache and disruption of the urban environment in the end.

  • Andrew

    Implementing bus lanes on expressways to be activated during emergencies makes sense.

    But implementing bus lanes on expressways for regular express bus service is a bad idea. The express bus system is gradually burning a hole in the MTA’s operating budget, and it should most certainly not be expanded.

  • Joe R.

    I agree. If only the MTA would get its head out of its behind and see that rail has lower operating costs than buses. We could use a lot more light rail and subways, instead of express buses, in the outer boroughs. Numerous studies have even shown that buses are second-rate public transit in many people’s minds. The same people who wouldn’t hesitate to ride a subway or light rail won’t go near a bus.

  • Andrew

    Light rail is not generally the answer. In a dense setting such as New York, light rail would generally run on city streets, and hence would offer negligible time savings to a bus. The cost argument only tilts in favor of rail when ridership is quite high, since a rail system requires significant capital investment. A small light rail system would also require a storage and maintenance facility dedicated to each line, unless several lines connect, in which case there could be some sharing.

    And in the context of storm resiliency, buses have the distinct advantage of being divertable to any street. If the light rail tracks are flooded, the train can’t run.

    The subway is a different story – the capacity of a subway train (1110 or 1400 or 1450) is vastly greater than that of an express bus (57), and since the subway is fully grade separated, it has major speed and reliability advantages over buses. The existing model of the subway as the primary means of transport to and from the Manhattan CBD, with buses serving as feeders to the subway, essentially works. Bike share would serve as a good alternative to feeder buses, if the balancing problem can be solved. And, where subway lines are approaching capacity limits, new subway lines should be on the agenda.

    http://www.humantransit.org/2011/02/sorting-out-rail-bus-differences.html

  • Guest

    It would help if they ran the express buses more intelligently and had a better pricing model. It blows my mind that they’re not using signal priority yet. Plus, some of the express routes that require a premium fare don’t offer very competitive travel times, which results in mostly empty seats.

  • Joe R.

    I absolutely think subways make more sense in NYC than light rail, but light rail in places where density for a subway doesn’t exist might make some sense even if it offers no speed advantage over buses. Light rail is generally quieter than buses, doesn’t emit exhaust, and you can run trains of several cars to get capacities far higher than a single bus can offer (this can help on bus lines which are already at capacity). You also have advantages in maintenance and vehicle lifetime (40-50 years versus 15-20 for a transit bus). And then the fact that light rail runs on a guideway means it can safely run on local streets at speeds far higher than buses, perhaps with some safety provisions like crossing gates at crowded intersections.

    That said, I would much rather we build maybe another 25 miles of subway in the outer boroughs than 100 miles of light rail. To say Eastern Queens and Brooklyn needs more subways is an understatement.

  • Joe R.

    It blows my mind that ALL bus routes aren’t using signal priority. Some buses spend upwards of half their time waiting at red lights. To me it’s totally justified delaying 10 or 15 cars with one driver each for a few seconds so a bus with 50 passengers can get through. I guess the city doesn’t see it that way though.

  • Andrew

    Despite the premium fare, the express buses are massively subsidized – by the very subway riders that many express bus riders look down on.

    The better pricing model would raise the fare to at least $10-15. Most of the express buses, of course, would lose all of their riders and would stop running, but if any of the lines are actually so valuable to their riders that they’re willing to pay $10-15 per ride, then they should continue to run.

  • Andrew

    The increased overhead in maintaining a distinct fleet of vehicles, at maintenance facilities physically connected by rail, would likely outweigh any potential savings.

    How is this supposed “guideway” any different from a bus lane, and how is it safe for rail vehicles to travel faster than buses when the stopping distances would already be greater? (Steel on steel vs. rubber on asphalt.)

    Even if the direct need for more subway lines is in the outer boroughs, the first step is to expand capacity in Manhattan, because the current lines in Manhattan have little track capacity to spare.

  • Anonymous

    Bike/Ped on East River Bridges is included but what about Staten Island-Brooklyn non-motorized travel?
    Once again, the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge is left closed cyclists and walkers, with no plan for even even a catastrophic emergency evacuation route. The MTA Bridges and Tunnels (TBTA) has left itself out of the emergency response plan, once again.

    9-11, the 2003 Blackout, the St George ferry crash, and Superstorm Sandy all knocked out the SI Ferry, buses and subways. No car, no crossing, no getting home, no getting help under your own power.
    People were already walking during these catastrophies, but were stopped dead by no path, no access over the VNB.

    The VNB was designed to carry two bike/ped paths, in the same way as the GWB. Installation cost is in the $35 to $45 million range – walk around money in comparison to the Resiliency Plan budget.

    For zero capital cost, and nearly zero operating cost, the VNB SI bound lower level can be converted into a safe emergency path for walking and bicycle access. A simple gate from the playground on Ft Ham Parkway in Brooklyn; and the existing Ft. Wadsworth’s Marathon Gate, just before the SI toll plaza, would provide safe and direct connection to local Brooklyn and SI streets. The same westbound lower level lanes would still be available for emergency vehicles. This lower level walk-bike emergency access plan can be implemented in a matter of hours, even today, it’s that simple to manage. Installing the permanent, full time, 24/7 paths, will take a little longer.

    However, the MTA B&T (TBTA) insists that we don’t need it, they don’t want it, and they can’t and won’t provide it.

    What will it take to complete the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge with its path, and to get the MTA to provide a catastrophic emergency route between the only two Boroughs that doesn’t have a direct non-motorized access connection today?
    Action by the Governor and State Legislature – the MTA is a state agency. Strong action by the Mayor and City Council – the MTA Chairman and Governor are swayed by local politics.

    Cyclists just have to get over it! (says Joe Lhota.)

  • Bolwerk

    Why should we have a small light rail system? We should have a large light rail system, with relatively long articulated trains.

    And these bus divertibility/flexibility arguments have to stop. They always depend on extreme circumstances that can mostly be avoided, and need to be avoided for buses to even work well. Every time someone argues that buses provide can be diverted around problems, they are basically saying, “Well, 10 days a year, there might be a flood/snowstorm/80-car pileup. Let’s stunt the surface transit network for the other 355 days.”

    (Since we’d be starting from scratch, I think it’s fair to say we can plan around flood problems with LRT.)

    The existing model of the subway as the primary means of transport to and from the Manhattan CBD, with buses serving as feeders to the subway,
    essentially works.

    Except when it doesn’t. Many buses are packed to the hilt and struggling to handle the demand they have. They certainly don’t leave much room to grow, which LRT would offer. I’d argue that most of the SelectBus options in Manhattan are like that already, and they ostensibly have all the advantages a bus can have.

    Further, I’m not sure we even follow that model. Buses are a primary mode along many long routes that don’t have rail, sometimes even between endpoints that once had rail (e.g., Ridgewood/Flushing). These are probably the places to look to install LRT.

    There is a place for buses, of course, but the notion that there is no place for an intermediate option is as patently absurd as the notion that there is no place for buses.

  • Bolwerk

    Why should we have a small light rail system? We should have a large light rail system, with relatively long articulated trains.

    And these bus divertibility/flexibility arguments have to stop. They always depend on extreme circumstances that can mostly be avoided, and need to be avoided for buses to even work well. Every time someone argues that buses provide can be diverted around problems, they are basically saying, “Well, 10 days a year, there might be a flood/snowstorm/80-car pileup. Let’s stunt the surface transit network for the other 355 days.”

    (Since we’d be starting from scratch, I think it’s fair to say we can plan around flood problems with LRT.)

    The existing model of the subway as the primary means of transport to and from the Manhattan CBD, with buses serving as feeders to the subway,
    essentially works.

    Except when it doesn’t. Many buses are packed to the hilt and struggling to handle the demand they have. They certainly don’t leave much room to grow, which LRT would offer. I’d argue that most of the SelectBus options in Manhattan are like that already, and they ostensibly have all the advantages a bus can have.

    Further, I’m not sure we even follow that model. Buses are a primary mode along many long routes that don’t have rail, sometimes even between endpoints that once had rail (e.g., Ridgewood/Flushing). These are probably the places to look to install LRT.

    There is a place for buses, of course, but the notion that there is no place for an intermediate option is as patently absurd as the notion that there is no place for buses.

  • Bolwerk

    I strongly suspect a big part of the MTA bus obsession is keeping bus drivers employed. Needing 2-3 buses instead of one train to carry the same number of people approximately doubles or triples labor costs, and that buses can’t handle crowds as well just slows things down more and means MORE labor expense as additional buses are added to make up for the shortcomings.

    Pretty minor cities have shown rail to be an economical transit mode in many different kinds of situations ranging from relatively sleepy trams to trains carrying thousands of people. Maybe there are other reasons the MTA doesn’t like rail, like NIMBYism and incompetence, but something stinks about the whole thing.

  • Bolwerk

    In all fairness, the big problem with express buses seems to be low seat turnover. A seat on a regular bus or SBS can make $2.50 several times over in both directions of travel, while a seat on a single express bus run might only make $5 once in a single round trip.

  • Joe R.

    “Even if the direct need for more subway lines is in the outer boroughs, the first step is to expand capacity in Manhattan, because the current lines in Manhattan have little track capacity to spare.”

    Subway expansion in Eastern Queens and Brooklyn won’t require more track capacity in Manhattan. Let me explain. Right now you have a lot of feeder bus lines bringing passengers to the #7 and the E/F/G/R/N. The actual numbers of passengers going into Manhattan probably won’t change much with subway expansion. The purpose of subway expansion is to reduce the reliance on feeder bus networks. In some cases they will still be needed, but if a subway station is 1.5 miles away instead of 6 miles away, you greatly shorten people’s commute times. Those 4.5 miles you do by subway instead of bus will only take about 10 or 12 minutes. They could easily take 30 minutes or more by bus. The buses are also affected by weather, whereas subways generally aren’t. That’s the problem in a nutshell. You have way too many people going on very long bus rides to reach subway stations. Just extending the existing lines here to city limits, and building one or two spurs to fill in gaps, would help immensely. You may ultimately need a few more trains going into Manhattan, but CBTC will increase track capacity on the #7 and Queens Boulevard lines anyway to take care of that. You also have the 2nd Avenue subway coming on line in Manhattan to handle some of the extra load.

    In the end the rational for more subways is to make travel faster and easier from all parts of Queens and Brooklyn into Manhattan. As things stand now, a person living on the far reaches of Queens or Brooklyn can take well over an hour to get into Manhattan. That’s unacceptable given that we’re only talking about maybe 15 miles. If you extend subways out to city limits, and then increase express train speeds to 55 mph with CBTC, you could do the same commute probably in 30 minutes. If you need to take a feeder bus to the subway, at worst it might only be a 10 minute ride instead of a 30+ minute nightmare.

  • Joe R.

    “How is this supposed “guideway” any different from a bus lane, and how is it safe for rail vehicles to travel faster than buses when the stopping distances would already be greater? (Steel on steel vs. rubber on asphalt.)”

    Stopping distances are moot here as you can engineer around them. The reason I say higher speeds would be practical with light rail is because you’re not depending upon the driver steering to keep the vehicle from crashing. If you fence off the light rail tracks midblock, the only potential collision points are at intersections. You can deal with that by using signal priority and railroad style crossing barriers. I guess you can do the same with buses, but you’re still dependent upon the driver steering the bus to keep from crashing. Also, from a passenger comfort standpoint, bus rides at high speeds on NYC’s crappy streets would be less than pleasant.

    As I said earlier, I’d much prefer to build subways as opposed to light rail, but where subways aren’t cost effective, light rail is superior for those cases where many people are on a bus for 4, 5, 6 miles or more. We can run light rail in the medians of many arterials and get just about all of the benefits of grade-separated infrastructure at a fraction of the cost. You don’t get the all-weather protection of subways, but LRVs generally far much better in rain or snow than buses.

  • Joe R.

    Unfortunately, the low seat turnover is inherent in the express bus model. The primary purpose of express buses is to (somewhat) reduce travel times into the Manhattan CBD from far flung parts of the outer boroughs without adequate subway service. Usually once people board, they’re on the bus until it reaches Manhattan. The only real long term solution is to extend rail transit to the parts of the city which lack it. Once you get over the high capital costs, the operating costs and time savings will make up for it in the long run.

  • Bolwerk

    @disqus_dlP91vGbzC:disqus : “…I’d much prefer to build subways as opposed to light rail” – I don’t even see how the two are meaningfully substitutes for each other. For that matter, LRVs aren’t really neat substitutes for buses. All three modes have distinct uses and advantages. The problem in NYC is we use buses when we should be using something more substantial.

    To illustrate: subways couldn’t serve the waterfront very well, but buses and LRVs can. Meanwhile, buses can’t deal with the types of crowding LRVs can, even if they might be good enough for off-peak maintenance bustitution. Yet LRVs are probably a little silly in distant low-density areas where ridership will always be low.

    I don’t think positions that treat the three as neat substitutes ever make sense, but they can all complement each other.

  • Bolwerk

    Agreed, though I would say another solution is to just not offer the service. It’s welfare for bus drivers and people who want to live like suburbanites. We shouldn’t paying people to live unsustainable lives, but that’s exactly what cheapo express buses do.

  • Joe R.

    I mostly agree here although I should point out that not all of the areas express buses serve are even remotely “suburban”. There are lots of areas of Queens where density easily equals parts of the Bronx or Brooklyn which have subways. We used to build subways first and let the density take care of itself. Now even when the density would support subways we’re unlikely to build them. The express buses are a very poor stopgap measure. I suppose one could make the argument that people moving to areas without subway service knew what they were getting into, and shouldn’t expect “welfare” to subsidize their lifestyle choices. However, the fact is many of these areas increased in density over time despite the lack of subway service, to the point where the MTA is significantly underserving many people.

    It’s actually in the best interests of the entire city to better service these areas because the entire city ends up dealing with the overspill of motor vehicles from more suburban areas. For example, let’s say you’re going from Eastern Queens to somewhere in Brooklyn which is near a subway station. Often, such a trip is highly inconvenient to make solely by public transit. In theory you could drive to the closest subway station, and then take the train. In practice many people will just drive all the way, figuring they’re already in their car. End result is car traffic spilling over into parts of the city with good mass transit. Now if the trip could be made entirely by subway instead, many people who drive would choose that option instead.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, I know that buses, LRV, and subways each have their own uses. Unfortunately, the city is using buses even along truck routes which easily have the density to build another subway line. It’s not a question of one-to-one replacement here. Rather, it’s a case of maybe replacing many long feeder bus routes with somewhat fewer, shorter feeder bus routes and a subway. The few remaining longer feeder bus routes in this scenario might be good candidates to replace with LRV, particular if they’re along the water front. Ideally, buses should be used primarily on trips of no more than a few miles. They’re just too slow and unreliable for longer trips in an urban environment. LRV could fill gaps which are longer but lack the density to support a subway. Ideally, it would be nice if most parts of the city were within 10 blocks of some type of rail transit. OK, this isn’t possible in the more suburban parts, but in that case a 10 minute bus ride to rail transit is perfectly acceptable.

  • Bolwerk

    No, not all, and you’re probably right that where other transit can work, it should be made available – and, where it can’t, just don’t offer the transit. There are plenty of places that need it and don’t have it.

    Afterall, spillover from automobiles in densely populated places with poor transit might actually be a much bigger problem!

  • Driver

    In reality, it is still faster to drive in most cases. Say you drive from eastern Queens to Willets
    Point to park and ride. Unless it’s the AM and you can catch an
    express, it’s 17-19 stops to get to one of the trains that go to
    Brooklyn (14 to the G train, which is a horror in my experience). Then you walk to make the transfer, wait for the next train, then sit through another 10-25 stops depending on how deep in Brooklyn you’re going. An hour and a half would be good time, not counting the driving, and two+ hours is not unrealistic. Unless there’s an accident, you can beat that driving any day, and you can stop somewhere and use the bathroom if you need to.

    I’ve taken the 7 to the G to Williamsburg on the weekend a couple of times, and it’s ridiculously longer than driving.

  • Joe R.

    In my hypothetical scenario of expanded subway service you might be able to walk or bike to a subway from Eastern Queens, then get to Brooklyn with only one or two transfers. The fact is right now the subway system is set up mostly for going from the outer boroughs to Manhattan. Travel patterns have changed. Besides extending the lines east to city limits, we also need one or two north-south lines to create a subway “grid” of sorts which can get you within a mile of where you’re going. If we do that, buses or bike share can fill in for that last mile. It may still take longer than driving, but perhaps not prohibitively longer. A lot of people will still take public transit if it’s not more than 15 or 20 minutes slower than driving.

  • Ian Turner

    Not disputing this, although I would note that time spent driving and time spent on the subway are materially different. Driving time is minimally productive; all you can really do is listen to the radio. Subway time can be spent reading, sleeping, writing e-mail, etc.

    When it comes to commuting by car, shorter commute lengths are one of the strongest predictors of overall happiness.

  • I agree 100%. You hit the nail on the head. Density is already very high where I live (Riverdale), but the nearest subway is over a half mile away and down a very steep hill (not so easy to walk or bike). We have 3 express buses. They are very slow, and I would much rather have a subway, but it seems the city has already missed the boat on that as there isn’t really room for one. There’s also Metro North, but that’s expensive and makes just 2 stops in Manhattan. You can’t even drive to the subway, because there is no parking to be had by the subway (by design and rightly so, IMHO). As a result, many people in Riverdale do drive to Manhattan, and it is much faster than the alternatives.

  • The whole transit system is subsidized, and it should be even more subsidized because it provides tremendous benefits to the city. Theses buses are saving NYC far more than $10-$15 per person by directly taking cars off the road in places where cars are the only alternative to the buses. Charging a premium fare is wrong-headed, as is charging so much on Metro-North and LIRR pickups within the 5 boros.

  • Joe R.

    I’m with you, especially on lower LIRR and MN fares in the city. In fact, I wish the railroad stops within city limits could be considered “MetroCard territory”. That includes allowing free transfers from bus/subway to railroads. You should be able to freely switch between all modes of public transit after paying the basic fare.

  • Bolwerk

    Those buses are diverting resources away from options that could take many more people off the road for less subsidy.

    In fact, they probably encourage sprawl. The people who move out to places that depend on them are often – not always, but often – using the bus just to get to Manhattan, and acting like any other suburbanite for all other trips. In other words, they’re about using transit as a backdoor subsidy for cars.

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