The Case for Center-Running Bus Lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.
We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

The proposal to improve bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens is the most exciting street redesign in the works in New York City right now, with the potential to break new ground for bus riders and dramatically improve safety. With as many as five lanes in each direction, Woodhaven Boulevard has plenty of space that can be devoted to exclusive transitways and concrete pedestrian safety measures.

NYC DOT and the MTA are holding a series of public workshops to inform the project, with initial improvements scheduled for this year and more permanent changes coming later. This is a chance for the city and the MTA to build center-running transit lanes that will speed bus trips more than previous Select Bus Service routes, where buses often have to navigate around illegally-parked cars. Critical design decisions could be made this summer.

Kathi Ko at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has filed dispatches from the first round of public meetings, and she reports that participants ranged from change-averse to eager for “big and bold ideas.”

Of course, it’s the change-averse who sit on the community boards and are getting most of the local press attention. Queens Community Board 9 transportation committee chair Kenichi Wilson told DOT that “the only way I would support” the project is if it doesn’t affect curbside parking, according to the Queens Chronicle. At an earlier meeting, the first vice chair of Queens CB 10, John Calcagnile, predicted that the elimination of parking to make way for interim bus lanes “will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area.”

Experience with Select Bus Service suggests otherwise. Along Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, parking was eliminated and meters were added to side streets in order to run curbside buses for the city’s first SBS route. Merchants objected at first, but three years later, retail sales had improved 71 percent — triple the borough-wide average.

Those results shouldn’t be surprising: Each curbside parking spot takes up a lot of space — in terms of spatial efficiency, parking can’t compete with providing better customer access through improved bus service.

But there’s also a best-of-both-worlds opportunity buried underneath the opposition to parking loss on Woodhaven Boulevard. The most effective configuration for the bus lanes would be to run them along the center of the street, where drivers trying to access the curb won’t get in the way. One side effect: The curb could stay the way it is.

In this case, we’re looking at a rare alignment between the best transit solution and the parking-above-all contingent.

  • Joe R.

    A lot of it depends upon the frequency of bus service. If buses are running every minute or two, then no, traffic signal preemption could be highly disruptive. On the other hand, for late night runs where buses are infrequent and car traffic is light, preemption makes sense as late night buses often spend a significant portion of their runs waiting at lights. If buses can complete their night runs faster with preemption, you can have greater frequency of service with the same number of buses/drivers. That’s certainly beneficial as one of the reasons many people give for using taxis/cars late nights is the low frequency of transit service.

    I also think traffic signal preemption should be used on bike lanes, again with the caveat that bike traffic is infrequent enough so that giving bikes priority doesn’t prove overly disruptive to other traffic.

  • Andrew

    So you’re suggesting that signal priority should be installed for the benefit of buses in the middle of the night, which carry few riders and already have reliably short running times?

    I’m … not so sure that’s the best place to focus our efforts or our dollars.

  • Joe R.

    Midday runs would also benefit for similar reasons. In the end traffic signal preemption costs the same as traffic signal priority since both use the same types of technology. In fact, you can have both-priority during the times of day when it makes sense, and preemption the rest of the time.

    I wouldn’t say late night runs are reliably short, either. From the standpoint of a cyclist, one of the reasons I pass red lights is because they greatly increase trip time variability as well as average trip time. Granted, both are lousy, but trip time variability is worse. If a late night bus rider knew red lights create a reliable delay of 5 minutes on a run, that can be planned for in advance. On the other hand, the reality is often if you get caught at one light, you may also get caught at the next five. If you don’t, you may have a clear run. That’s why a cyclist passing a single red light may well shave 5 minutes or more from their trip. Translation-red lights on night runs might cause delays varying anywhere from zero to x minutes. Passengers, particularly those who are making connections, have to base their departure time upon the worst case delay. And of course variability in trip times means you can’t really keep precisely to a schedule (unless you pad it, which means sitting at stops if you’re running early). All these things apply not only to night runs but to many off-peak runs also.

    On another note, trip time variability is a big reason subways are preferred over buses. Subways can typically keep to a reliable schedule because they won’t encounter variable delays (red lights, congestion) in between stops as buses do. The may be some variability in dwell times which cause delays at a stop, but this can often be made up by running faster and/or cutting dwell times at stations with fewer passengers.

  • Bolwerk

    Re schedules/wheelchairs: can’t schedules be designed so buses can go a little faster or slower depending on circumstances? Wheelchair procedure sucks on local buses, but boarding wheelchairs need not be so bad with level boarding.

    Trams have advantages and disadvantages, but the inability to pass is a clear disadvantage. I’m suggesting that we not jump headfirst into a disadvantage before determining that the offsetting advantages are greater.

    I’d still say it’s fine to have the ability to pass available, but the optimal setup rarely if ever needs it. Passing is necessary because of problems, and problems are better prevented than circumvented. With enough capacity on buses, combined with frequent enough service, every problem you mention relating to crowding/bunching seems avoidable. Here is where center-running lanes probably have something of an advantage, provided we are willing to keep local service in mixed traffic.

    (There are other tactics that can be borrowed from trams. For instance, one berth for alighting and another for loading can work at busy stations, especially terminals.)

    The follower typically has plenty of room to spare. Allowing the follower to leapfrog ahead and serve the busy stops is a good way to break out of the cycle and restore some semblance of reasonable service.

    Center-running need not entirely preclude that. If you’re expecting loads beyond the reliability threshold of BRT, maybe BRT is not sufficient and there should be a larger-scale LRT or subway along this route. However, I don’t see that. Woodhaven is busy by the standards of Queens, but it’s not particularly busy as transit goes.

    The off-peak Q53 runs every 10 minutes; the Q52 every 20.

    It’s hard to comment on this without knowing the service pattern that will be. What becomes of those two services? Do they become SBS? They are both limited now.

    If so, frequency could probably be boosted a bit at no extra operating cost with a dedicated lane. Most people are going to be indifferent between them. The few who are not will be will be going to branch segments of their respective line. They’ll either wait anyway or take one comes first and go as far as they can and transfer. If both are SBS, there is little reason to suspect one will ever pass the other in a dedicated lane, so waiting for the bus you need to take you to your final destination is not even a particularly unreasonable course of action. And there is no reason for those people to bother with locals unless their origin is a local-only station.

    But not many people will be completely indifferent between those services and locals. Everyone completely indifferent between all four services on Woodhaven will have an origin and destination between Conduit and Queens Blvd, and most of those will probably not care much about their time or will be taking trips that don’t much exceed the distance of a few SBS stops.

    Those who are less concerned about their time are probably looking for a convenience elsewhere. People carrying something heavy might prefer to wait for a local that serves their stop rather than transfer.

    The waiting-averse will probably be going longer distances, and will almost always at least initially select an express, transferring to a local only when convenient.

    Do off-peak subway riders have to commit to the express in advance, or can they take the local if it happens to pull up first?

    At some stations, they do, in a manner more inconvenient than a walk across the street. But local and express subways usually don’t share tracks either, which seems to be the arrangment you’re expecting with local/express bus service all running in the curb. Local traffic mostly looks for a local and express traffic looks for express.

    Forcing bus riders who can use either service to commit to the SBS in advance is in effect a service cut, and it shouldn’t be done without good reason.

    I completely agree. But, if this arrangment would mean generally better trips with some incidental delays for a few people, would it be a good reason?

    I’m skeptical about how many people will be indifferent between local and express buses. Local and express subway services are usually pretty time-competitive with each other for origin/destination pairs they have in common, which tend to be along trunk lines. That does not seem to be the case with buses, especially in the case of fast-boarding SBS vs. slow-board local buses.

    Are you seriously saying that you’d be happy waiting 7 minutes (in the heat or cold or rain or snow) for one bus while a different bus, which might take 2 minutes longer to reach your destination, pulls up across the street, where you can’t reach it?

    No, obviously nobody likes that, but I think I’d be happier with a faster, more reliable express cordoned SBS system that doesn’t have locals and cars interfering with it. I actually don’t care if it’s cordoned in the center or curb, but the center may actually be easier if we can only take 2-3 lanes.

    That’s a lot of ifs to suppose. Your 7m scenario isn’t a given, it’s more like a worst-case scenario for service that is working properly. If it takes 7 minutes, or something less, it makes me no worse off than I would be waiting on a branch of the service that doesn’t have SBS such as the Q11 south of Conduit, which I think is a reasonable service standard. If I’m even indifferent, going to a place both the locals and expresses go, what comes first is still a gamble unless I read the schedule. Then, if I can’t make it across the street, and most people who are able-bodied probably can, what would be the expected time penalty? Two minutes or twenty?

    Service is periodically tailored to demand. If SBS is successful and ridership goes up, then buses will run more frequently. But that doesn’t change the question – why would we deliberately take away a choice that riders currently have?

    I realize it’s a point to study before reaching af final conclusion, but I don’t believe everyone’s trip should be made slower for the few people who might be indifferent.

    Passengers waiting on the sidewalk aren’t constrained to the immediate area of the bus stop – the sidewalk is long, and they can spread out as much as necessary.

    Center stations can be as long as the block, if need be. Longer if we tell turning vehicles to GTFO.

    Some of them might even duck into a nearby business, to enjoy the air conditioning or to grab a snack while they wait.

    Hmm, sure, but this is getting a little extreme. I suspect those who do this kind of stuff are either not very worried about their time, or use BusTime and know what they’re doing.

    Here we agree. …

    We don’t need a TransMilenio here; the Woodhaven Blvd. corridor doesn’t have the ridership or the importance (or the width) for it. What we need is a major improvement over the bus service that exists at present.

    FWIW, I don’t wildly disagree with many of your points, just the extent to which you carry them or I see how they can be overcome. If your first priority is better service, and it would be mine, I think anything dedicated will mean a big improvement. I think center-running could provide a somewhat better service, but it’s not a point I would push at the expense of getting an improvement. And I completely agree there are scenarios where center-running might actually be less desirable.

  • Bolwerk

    I agree bus stops in the middle of the street might make a completely trivial difference in access time, but I think that would be overwhelmed by numerous other factors.

    I do mean trivial. There are trivial benefits too. People who alight on the opposite side of the street from their destination see their trip distance across the street halved(!!!!!!!!). One side of the street might have a vastly higher population density than the other, incidentally conveniencing/inconveniencing far more people.

    I just can’t put much stock in this problem.

  • BrooklynBus

    it is only your assumption that walking distances have not increased as a result of SBS. You haven’t proved anything. Just like you don’t believe anecdotes, I will believe walking distances have not increased when I see the results of a comprehensive study conducted by the MTA, for each SBS line which shows that.

    And the trip was most enjoyable. You can read about the transportation part of it starting tomorrow.

  • BrooklynBus

    Andrew says the two aren’t comparable but they are. What worries me about Woodhaven is the impact on traffic because of the lack of parallel through avenues which Spadina has, therefore little or no impact on traffic.

    Woodhaven has to solve what to do at the two LIRR crossings. DOT already stated that exclusive lanes are not suitable at those points. I suggested a railroad grade crossing north of Union Turnpike to add a lane which they are considering. Just south of the LIRR, te only alternative I see is to widen te road which would not be cheap.

  • Andrew

    Re schedules/wheelchairs: can’t schedules be designed so buses can go a little faster or slower depending on circumstances? Wheelchair procedure sucks on local buses, but boarding wheelchairs need not be so bad with level boarding.

    Wheelchairs need to be strapped down on buses, which takes a good minute or two – and then the process has to be reversed when the wheelchair passenger gets off. I’ve ridden buses that have picked up and dropped off three wheelchairs, on a line where a typical bus doesn’t pick up any. It’s impossible to schedule precisely for both.

    The boarding process for a wheelchair here will be no different from on any other SBS line. If by “level boarding” you’re referring to anything other than the wheelchair ramp that most buses already have, you may be in for a surprise. Remember, whatever happens along Woodhaven, the two ends of the line will be on regular city streets, so the buses will need to stops on regular city streets.

    I’d still say it’s fine to have the ability to pass available, but the optimal setup rarely if ever needs it. Passing is necessary because of problems, and problems are better prevented than circumvented. With enough capacity on buses, combined with frequent enough service, every problem you mention relating to crowding/bunching seems avoidable. Here is where center-running lanes probably have something of an advantage, provided we are willing to keep local service in mixed traffic.

    I admire your optimism, but even the “optimal setup” is still subject to quite a bit of random variability. Passing is more, not less, likely to be useful when service is frequent.

    Keeping local service in mixed traffic is a lost opportunity. If it’s necessary in order to best meet the goals of SBS, then so be it, but it’s not in and of itself a good thing.

    Center-running need not entirely preclude that. If you’re expecting loads beyond the reliability threshold of BRT, maybe BRT is not sufficient and there should be a larger-scale LRT or subway along this route. However, I don’t see that. Woodhaven is busy by the standards of Queens, but it’s not particularly busy as transit goes.

    Sorry, you’ve lost me. Have you never been on a bus (or train) that’s been delayed enough that it picks up much of the load that should (per the schedule) be ending up on its follower? It happens (often) even on lines that aren’t terribly busy. If the following bus (which is mostly empty) can jump ahead and serve the people waiting at subsequent stops, riders of both buses benefit.

    If there’s a good reason to give up this (exceedingly common) recovery strategy, then by all means we can live without it – after all, we’ve given it up on trains – but if there isn’t a particularly good reason to give it up, why wouldn’t we keep it?

    It’s hard to comment on this without knowing the service pattern that will be. What becomes of those two services? Do they become SBS? They are both limited now.

    They’re essentially the same route, with two branches at the south end and with one extending a bit farther at the north end. Most riders are indifferent.

    If so, frequency could probably be boosted a bit at no extra operating cost with a dedicated lane. Most people are going to be indifferent between them. The few who are not will be will be going to branch segments of their respective line. They’ll either wait anyway or take one comes first and go as far as they can and transfer. If both are SBS, there is little reason to suspect one will ever pass the other in a dedicated lane, so waiting for the bus you need to take yo u to your final destination is not even a particularly unreasonable course of action. And there is no reason for those people to bother with locals unless their origin is a local-only station.

    Of course.

    But not many people will be completely indifferent between those services and locals. Everyone completely indifferent between all four services on Woodhaven will have an origin and destination between Conduit and Queens Blvd, and most of those will probably not care much about their time or will be taking trips that don’t much exceed the distance of a few SBS stops.

    And that’s exactly the market I’m referring to – people waiting for the bus to take them no more than a mile or two, or a bit longer off-peak, when buses aren’t as frequent. For such distances, it’s generally not worth waiting for the faster bus – taking whichever bus comes first will generally get them to their destination sooner.

    I’m not sure why you say that they probably don’t care about their time. Why would someone traveling a moderately short distance not care about their time?

    Those w ho are less concerned about their time are probably looking for a convenience elsewhere. People carrying something heavy might prefer to wait for a local that serves their stop rather than transfer.

    The waiting-averse will probably be going longer distances, and will almost always at least initially select an express, transferring to a local only when convenient.

    OK, now I’m stumped. If there’s any relationship at all, I’d expect that people traveling shorter distances are more waiting-averse than people traveling longer distances, because waiting will generally consume a larger share of their travel time. Why do you assume the opposite?

    At some stations, they do, in a manner more inconvenient than a walk across the street.

    At the overwhelming majority of express stations, the local and express are across the platform. I can think of only six counterexamples, including two where one simple flight of stairs separates the two (Nostrand/Fulton and 86th/Lex). At all other stations, people traveling between express stops are free to take the local if it happens to arrive first.

    But local and express subways usually don’t share tracks either, which seems to be the arrangment you’re expecting with local/express bus service all running in the curb. Local traffic mostly looks for a local and express traffic looks for express.

    On the contrary, I’ve advocated for the ability for buses to pass one another – either by allowing buses to cross out of the bus lane as needed or, better yet, by providing a pair of bus lanes. (But I’m not sure what this has to do with the point at hand.)

    I completely agree. But, if this arrangment would mean generally better trips with some incidental delays for a few people, would it be a good reason?

    As I’ve said plenty of times, if the benefit to cutting off the ability to pick either bus outweighs the disbenefit, then we should go for it. My objection is to jumping straight into a center-running setup without first determining whether the benefits outweigh the disbenefits.

    Unlike some of the disbenefits, this one can be easily quantified.

    I’m skeptical about how many people will be indifferent between local and express b uses. Lo cal and express subway services are usually pretty time-competitive with each other for origin/destination pairs they have in common, which tend to be along trunk lines. That does not seem to be the case with buses, especially in the case of fast-boarding SBS vs. slow-board local buses.

    I think you’re overstating the benefits of SBS. Yes, it’s faster, but for shorter trips it’s still often worthwhile to take whichever bus comes first.

    No, obviously nobody likes that, but I think I’d be happier with a faster, more reliable express cordoned SBS system that doesn’t have locals and cars interfering with it. I actually don’t care if it’s cordoned in the center or curb, but the center may actually be easier if we can only take 2-3 lanes.

    Center-running takes more space than curbside, because of the need for boarding islands.

    I want speed and reliability also, but I’ve seen no reason to believe that center lanes would be any better than offset lanes.

    That’s a lot of ifs to suppose. Your 7m scenario isn’t a given, it’s more like a worst-case scenario for service that is working properly.

    10 minutes, actually.

    If it takes 7 minutes, or something less, it makes me no worse off than I would be waiting on a branch of the serv ice that doesn’t have SBS such as the Q11 south of Conduit, which I think is a reasonable service standard.

    What’s “a reasonable service standard” supposed to mean? It’s effectively a service reduction, and it needs to be quantified as such.

    If I’m even indifferent, going to a place both the locals and expresses go, what comes first is still a gamble unless I read the schedule.

    Obviously, and that’s why having the local and the SBS nearby is beneficial.

    Then, if I can’t make it across the street, and most people who are able-bodied probably can, what would be the expected time penalty? Two minutes or twenty?

    Can’t cross the street to reach the local without waiting for the light, and Woodhaven carries more traffic than most of its cross streets, so the light to cross Woodhaven is red most of the time. By the time the light has changed, you’ve probably already missed the bus. (Of course, some will be tempted to dash across the street against the light; some of them might catch the local.)

    The expected time penalty, assuming perfect reliability, is half the headway minus the running time differential – so probably around 3-4 minutes for most such trips. But SBS was supposed to save time. If it costs too many people 3-4 minutes, it’s not doing its job very well.

    I realize it’s a point to study before reaching af final conclusion, but I don’t believe everyone’s trip should be made slower for the few people who might be indifferent.

    I’d like to first see evidence that center-running leads to faster trips. I’d also like to hold off using the word “few” until the number’s been quantified.

    Center stations can be as long as the block, if need be. Longer if we tell turning vehicles to GTFO.

    But they obviously won’t be. And the sidewalk will almost certainly be wider, especially if there are offset bus lanes with bus bulbs at SBS stops.

    Hmm, sure, but this is getting a little extreme. I suspect those who do this kind of stuff are either not very worried about their time, or use BusTime and know what they’re doing.

    Seriously? Have you never ridden a bus on a hot or cold or rainy day? If there’s an indoor space to wait for the bus, people take advantage of it. When they see the bus pull up, they step outside and board. Why do you say they’re not very worried about their time?

  • Andrew

    Maybe I wasn’t clear. I’m not referring to the time it takes to walk halfway across the street – as you point out, anybody coming from the other side has an offsetting reduction in access time.

    I’m referring to the time it takes to wait for the light, which, to cross Woodhaven, is most often red. Figure an average of about a minute to wait for the light to reach the median and another minute to cross back after getting off the bus. If your origin and destination are both on the side of the street where your bus used to stop, placing the bus stop in the middle of the street increases your trip time by 2 minutes. In the world of transportation, 2 minutes isn’t trivial at all.

    Would placing the bus lanes in the center reduce running times enough to offset the increased access time? I certainly haven’t seen any evidence that it would.

  • Andrew

    No, Allan, it’s not my assumption – it’s simple mathematics. Except at the ends of the line where limiteds made local stops, all but the weakest limited stops were picked as SBS stops. If, say, 10% of boardings and 10% of alightings were at the limited stops that were not kept as SBS stops, then about 19% of riders both board and alight at SBS stops, with no additional walking. The only “comprehensive study” that’s needed is a tabulation of ons and offs at each limited stop prior to the rollout of SBS.

    Moving the bus stop to the middle of the street, on the other hand, forces half of the people heading to and from the bus to wait for a light that they never had to wait for in the past.

    Glad you enjoyed your trip.

  • Andrew

    What worries you about everything is the impact on traffic – or, rather, your perception of the impact on traffic.

    Rather than panicking, we could let actual traffic engineers project the impact of various bus lane configurations, so that the decision-makers can make an informed decision based on the projected impact on traffic as well as the projected benefit to bus riders.

  • bolwerk

    Maybe I was a bit too dismissive, but I did consider the light. It’s still at most one light across a few, maybe two, unidirectional lanes. Assuming the NYPD doesn’t beat you up for crossing against the light when there is no traffic, I have a hard time seeing it as being that big a deal even if I buy your averages.

    BTW, in case it’s not clear, the only way I think it could reduce times enough to make a difference is if the center-running completely segregates SBS traffic from local traffic.

  • Andrew

    Traffic on Woodhaven is heavy and fast. I don’t think it’s realistic to assume that bus riders will generally be crossing against the light. And if the bus lane design actively encourages pedestrians to cross against the light, I’m not sure I’d want to be the guy who signed off on the design.
    Segregation is feasible at the curb as well as in the center. The relative advantages and disadvantages of each should be quantified before a decision is made.

  • bolwerk

    We should change that anyway. Traffic on Woodhaven shouldn’t be “heavy and fast.” Yes, I realize segregation is feasible at the curb. However, local/express buses segregated from each other at the curb requires two lanes plus more at stops. That might be more desirable than center-running, but does take more space.

    Here’s what I think could work better than just curbside running all buses while still being maybe politically feasible: center-running the BRT, traffic calming, and curbside locals. Yes, it does mean local buses stay in traffic, but I don’t think local buses are so bad in mixed traffic if the traffic is reasonable. Afterall, even trams have been shown to work quite well in mixed traffic under the right conditions.

    And, yes, center-running is not a good idea without traffic calming, so ifit proves politically infeasible, center-running begins to seem kind of silly. Though, to be frank, even the M14 and especially M34 are severely harmed by the lack of traffic calming along their routes, so we really, really want traffic calming no matter what is done.

    The relative advantages and disadvantages of each should be quantified before a decision is made.

    Of all people, when have I ever objected to such a thing? My initial comment wasn’t defending the idea of center-running on Woodhaven so much as defending the concept of center-running in general. I happen to think it has drawbacks and advantages, same as you. As I said before, I don’t even disagree with many of your points, but I think you overplay their significance or ignore how ad hoc they are.

    I’ve said I’d rather just have improvements, even imperfect ones. Any of the above that improves transit works for me.

  • lop

    Two bus lanes plus more at stops? Why? No need for overtakes except at stops, so no reason to segregate local/sbs/express buses. One bus lane plus stops would be enough.

  • bolwerk

    Re wheelchairs: The M14 seems to use a foldable ramp rather than a long lift to load wheelchair passengers. Of course, the bumblefuck MTA has taken to locking bus drivers in compartments, which will lengthen that process.

    But I’d say if you expect an inordinate number of wheelchair boardings, BRT is probably not the best solution.

    Re “Remember, whatever happens along Woodhaven, the two ends of the line will be on regular city streets, so the buses will need to stops on regular city streets”: I realize that, but it doesn’t mean much if local streets are relatively empty. No idea if that is the case though.

    Re “Passing is more, not less, likely to be useful when service is frequent”: but less likely to be desirable, since a pass implies a schedule deviation. Anti-rail ideologues often argue for buses on the premise that passing is so desirable. They don’t realize they’re usually just advocating for dumber transit, or just prefer to make a “cheaper” investment that doesn’t go as far and costs more over time. They also ignore that rail in mixed traffic often works better than buses in mixed traffic.*

    I think you can agree that, at most, passing is only useful if used sparingly. And I think this is going a little off topic, since center-running at most only reduces opportunity to pass. It doesn’t eliminate it. If passing is frequent, it means one or all of: equipment is poorly maintained and breaks down, other traffic interferes too much, the service does a poor job meeting demand, obstacles aren’t cleared from the busway fast enough. These are all avoidable or at least possible to remedy.

    * I don’t take this as a technical limitation of buses. I suspect people and planners don’t give much of a damn about bus riders, who are perceived to be poorer.

    Sorry, you’ve lost me. Have you never been on a bus (or train) that’s been delayed enough that it picks up much of the load that should (per the schedule) be ending up on its follower? It happens (often) even on lines that aren’t terribly busy. If the following bus (which is mostly empty) can jump ahead and serve the people waiting at subsequent stops, riders of both buses benefit.

    Of course, but what do my experiences have to do with anything? What you describe may be preferable to poor load symmetry, but it’s still better to find ways to avoid problems like that than to build them in as a normal part of operation. If it happens rarely, then I guess we accept the passing or some bunching (as trains do). However, if it happens frequently, it implies capacity is not meeting demand.

    If there’s a good reason to give up this (exceedingly common) recovery strategy, then by all means we can live without it – after all, we’ve given it up on trains – but if there isn’t a particularly good reason to give it up, why wouldn’t we keep it?

    I think this is misstating what the scenario though, as we aren’t giving anything up. If we opt for segregated center-running, passing might be inhibited under some circumstances. I don’t see the availability of passing opportunities going away completely. At worst, it probably means passing in the counter-directional bus lane.

    Why would trains be considered on Woodhaven? I can see surface rail there could work, but there are plenty of corridors in NYC where not considering or even not having surface rail is silly. Woodhaven itself is lowish density with what appears to be a diffused ridership. Or, if you mean a subway, it would seem to me the LIRR Rockaway Line is almost as good as a subway under Woodhaven and orders of magnitude less expensive to construct.

    Re “I’m not sure why you say that they probably don’t care about their time. Why would someone traveling a moderately short distance not care about their time?”: in that specific scenario, you’re dealing with people who don’t know the schedule and are traveling a short distance. They are probably taking the bus because it affords some other convenience (probably carrying something). I didn’t mean they don’t care at all about their time, but they are probably balancing their time against other factors.

    Also, might be a good idea to qualify the scenario I mentioned a little more: everyone completely indifferent between all four services on Woodhaven will have an origin and destination between Conduit and Queens Blvd, and both the origin and destination will be served by all services. It is only then that there is a meaningful gamble, and only then if you don’t have BusTime or can’t be arsed to know the schedule ahead of time. Do you expect that will be a lot of people?

    Re “OK, now I’m stumped. If there’s any relationship at all, I’d expect that people traveling shorter distances are more waiting-averse than people traveling longer distances, because waiting will generally consume a larger share of their travel time.“: first of all, I think the most time-sensitive people would probably walk the 3-4 blocks to the nearest express station (okay, I’m assuming the spacing would be 6-8 blocks; might be more, which would change alter my thinking on the subject) and could (maybe would) take the time to see what comes first. Besides that, at least with local trips, people have more choice such as walking, cycling, or taking a low-priced car service. A longer-distance rider is stuck with his/her route without considerable expense or a long/difficult deviation.

    Again, not saying local riders don’t care about their time at all, but they represent a different rider profile that probably has different needs.

    Re “On the contrary, I’ve advocated for the ability for buses to pass one another – either by allowing buses to cross out of the bus lane as needed…“: this sounds like it could easily be especially disruptive, considering they’d have to pass into what you previously described as “fast and heavy” traffic to circumvent a stopped bus in their lane. You don’t quite turn the expresses into locals, but you do retard the performance of expresses.

    So we are dealing with certain unpredictability, lower average speeds at least for the express, and even some added danger of retarded-driver error. All things being equal, you seriously think that is very likely to be better than center-running?

    Re “…or, better yet, by providing a pair of bus lanes“: we are in agreement that this would be even better than center-running. But, again, it seems like the least feasible option on the menu. I hope it’s studied!

    Re “As I’ve said plenty of times, if the benefit to cutting off the ability to pick either bus outweighs the disbenefit, then we should go for it.“: I agree, but honestly don’t know why you keep bringing up studying it considering both of us are operating on a lot of hypotheticals. If a study or, better yet, an experiment proved me wrong, I’d be happy for it. This isn’t ideology for me. I’m interested in the best solution.

    Prediction: whether it should happen or not, if center-running doesn’t happen (I think it won’t), it will be for the wrong reasons. Like: too many lanes taken away.

    Re “I think you’re overstating the benefits of SBS. Yes, it’s faster, but for shorter trips it’s still often worthwhile to take whichever bus comes first. “: could be that I am, but you might be understating it. The difference between SBS and a local bus is pretty substantial given local buses stop every 2-3 blocks, and buses take significantly longer to load and alight at busy stops than trains. Our local trains are only marginally slower than expresses over shared segments, to the point where it’s probably best to be virtually indifferent between the A and C if you’re standing at Hoyt and want to get to 59th – a distance of, what, six miles?

    For SBS and local bus service, I think it will be a pretty small distance overlap where people will be indifferent, though I guess it could change depending on traffic characteristics.

    Re “Center-running takes more space than curbside, because of the need for boarding islands“: but less than two curbside bus lanes!

    Re: “What’s `a reasonable service standard’ supposed to mean? It’s effectively a service reduction, and it needs to be quantified as such”: agreed, but more important the demand should be quantified. Evenso, I don’t think anyone has any right to complain if they get the bus they need at their stop every 7-10 minutes, unless the bus is too crowded.

    Re “Obviously, and that’s why having the local and the SBS nearby is beneficial”: but then, why is it unreasonable to expect riders to read the schedule if they can’t bear to wait a maximum of ten minutes?

    I’d like to first see evidence that center-running leads to faster trips.

    I’m not prepared to assert it myself with any certainty, but I think you have plenty of evidence for and against.

    I’d also like to hold off using the word “few” until the number’s been quantified.

    That the only discrete trips meaningfully affected have both origin and destination over one of those 20 stops, probably within a limited distance range, which means a subset of a mile or two (8 stops?), is going to limit the impact. It should be studied, sure, but I wouldn’t hold by breath about it damning center-running.

    And, of course, there is always the possibility that trying to discourage express traffic from using local buses is desirable.

    Re “But they obviously won’t be. And the sidewalk will almost certainly be wider, especially if there are offset bus lanes with bus bulbs at SBS stops.“: I rather doubt they need to be. Shouldn’t two bus lengths be plenty? Center platforms can be partially gated, and sidewalk crowding is not actually desirable for pedestrians.

    Seriously? Have you never ridden a bus on a hot or cold or rainy day? If there’s an indoor space to wait for the bus, people take advantage of it. When they see the bus pull up, they step outside and board.

    What, do you also want a study on the impact of loitering rates in cat piss-scented delis while waiting for the bus? Those who take buses to/from remote places, which often have infrequent service, might contend with a complete absence of any sort of shelter from rain, snow, and heat, sometimes for up to an hour (going by Q39 schedules overnight in Maspeth).

    We should focus on the service to where people need to go, not incidental conveniences nearby the service.

    Why do you say they’re not very worried about their time?

    I’ll rephrase that: if they care too much, they’re irrational. You don’t leave your bus stop without implicitly accepting the risk that you will miss your bus. Especially if you decide to have a snack somewhere.

  • bolwerk

    Local buses stop every block or three, so that’s a lot of overtakes and a lot of lane changing. A single side lane would surely improve things markedly, but it’s unlikely to work as well as complete local/express segregation.

    With traffic calming techniques, I don’t even see why locals need a dedicated lane.

  • lop

    In an offset lane local buses would pull into stops. If buses are on the curb with parking on the other side kill enough parking spots that express and SBS buses don’t have to slow markedly to pass a local bus that’s stopped. Still don’t need two full lanes.

  • bolwerk

    You’re talking about that arrangement at such frequency you may as well just make it easier for the driver and take two full lanes. Unless you mean to reduce frequency of local stops.

  • lop

    What? It’s too hard for the driver to maybe have to swerve around a stopped bus, with dedicated car free space to do so? Frequency really isn’t that high, even an express bus might pass just two locals and an SBS from Shore parkway to the LIE. The only issue is if the buses end up bunched do you still have room for the other bus to go around? Still wouldn’t need half a block for parking free bus passing space next to a stop to make sure you do, which would only be used it a bus is pulled over. And if this is an offset bus lane the locals would be pulling into the stop, out of the way, so passing buses wouldn’t have to swerve at all. At some point you’re just taking parking or travel lanes away to piss off car drivers without any transit benefit.

  • bolwerk

    I wasn’t aware we were trying to prevent increasing frequency when building bus “rapid transit.” Like most people here, you’re imagining a bus to be a really big car nimbly weaving in and out of trraffic. A bus isn’t a car. Every time a bus changes lanes, it must slow markedly.

    I’m not saying service can’t be improved with a shared or partially shared lane, but it needs to be acknowledged that such an arrangement will be slower than dedicating a lane exclusively to express service. That doesn’t make a dedicated express lane worth the trouble, but it needs to be considered that, if there is sharing, there will be interference.

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