Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?
These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

Citing the rapid growth of Flushing and Jamaica, they deem it “crucial that we provide the proper infrastructure needed to maintain economic prosperity. Such a plan would help bring sustainable development to Eastern Queens that could be a model for urban planning and design across New York.”

That comprehensive BRT plan won’t happen if Lancman and Simanowitz get their way. Goaded by local civic association members who believe bus lanes will snarl their car commutes — despite evidence from other Select Bus Service routes — the pair came out against bus lanes at a forum last month on Select Bus Service for the Flushing-Jamaica corridor.

The Q44, which would benefit from bus lanes, carries 28,700 riders daily. Put together, the four major bus routes between Flushing and Jamaica carry more than 90,000 passengers each day.

Opposition from people who don’t ride the bus seems to be working so far. “In places where we don’t need to do the dedicated bus lanes, which had folks so concerned in Kew Gardens Hills,” Trottenberg told Lancman at a City Council hearing on BRT last week, “we’re not gonna do it.”

With officials who support bus lanes in Eastern Queens speaking up too, what will DOT do?

  • QueensWatcher

    If you don’t install dedicated lanes in the sections between Flushing and Jamaica, then you will be designing a bottle-neck into the system – which is absurd. BRT works specifically because impediments to bus travel are removed. This makes bus travel faster and allows more buses to be “pushed” down the corridor. If you only build the lanes in Flushing and Jamaica and then leave these buses to compete with car traffic for the middle section of the journey, then buses will bunch up, travel will slow down and you will need to increase head times between buses to provide even service – the exact opposite of what BRT is meant to offer. Also, understand the point of this is not to make trips better just for current bus riders, the point is to provide a service that would entice people out of their cars and choose the BRT instead. That requires a full approach along the entire corridor. And the trade off works. Providing a true BRT experience does shift people from their cars, provides better bus service and lowers congestion overall. This has been proven time and again around the world. I commend these legislators for pushing the objectively better policy, not just what might be popular to one part of their constituency.

  • sbauman

    “The Q44, which would benefit from bus lanes, carries 28,700 riders daily. ”

    That’s misleading. The Q44 travels between the Bronx Zoo and Jamaica. The 28,700 figure includes riders who enter/exit outside the Flushing-Jamaica corridor. Quantifying the number of riders who might benefit from a particular SBS service should include only those within the SBS corridor. This would include the Q44 and Q20/A/B for the Main St routing. However, both routes have substantial ridership north of Flushing. It would be nice, if SBS proponents were to publish entry/exit statistics for each stop. They haven’t.

  • sbauman

    “If you only build the lanes in Flushing and Jamaica and then leave these buses to compete with car traffic for the middle section of the journey,”

    DOT’s presentation does not support this.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2015-01-22-brt-flushingjamaica-pw3-boards.pdf

    Page 9 shows that car travel speed is greater than 20 mph for most of the stretch between Flushing and Jamaica. Page 8 shows the bus is in motion only 51% of the time. Therefore, an average speed of around 10 mph should be expected for the buses.

    “then buses will bunch up,”

    Buses bunch up but traffic isn’t the cause. Traffic would delay a leader and its follower equally. There wouldn’t be bunching; all buses would be equally slow and late.

    The route is a subway feeder. A train terminates in Flushing. A Jamaica bound leader gets filled up with passengers wishing to exit along the route. The follower comes by within 6 minutes and before another train discharges passengers. It leaves Flushing with a small number of passengers and 6 minutes behind its leader.

    The leader will make slow progress because it must discharge passengers at nearly every stop. The follower will gain on its leader because there are very few passengers to exit at each stop. If the follower gains an average of 30 minutes per stop, it will catch the leader at the 12th stop. That will cause the buses to bunch at Jewel Ave, about half the distance to the Briarwood subway stop.

    It wasn’t traffic that caused the bunching. It was entering and exiting passengers. These passengers would have caused the bunching whether or not the bus used a dedicated lane.

    “a true BRT experience”

    Somebody needs to define what a “true BRT experience” means.

  • Bolwerk

    Even if it’s not perfect, it benefits all riders by making buses more reliable overall.

  • Joe R.

    The simple way to fix that is to coordinate the bus departure times with the train arrival times. Have the buses leave maybe 5 minutes after trains are scheduled to arrive.

    It’s also worth noting during the times when buses might be full of train passengers, trains are arriving so frequently it’s rare for a bus to leave with few passengers. Most of the buses leaving Main Street during PM rush hour are packed. In theory what you say might be more likely to happen during off-peak hours but then buses don’t run 6 minutes apart anyway.

    Traffic light preemption could help a lot with bunching. More often than not, a bus discharging more passengers along a route gets stuck at lights it might otherwise have made. If the bus could leave immediately after discharging passengers all the time, the follower is less likely to catch up. Remember in that case the only difference in running times between the leader and follower would be the time to discharge the extra passengers. At maybe 5 seconds per passenger, that’s at most 5 minutes extra for a full bus load (assuming the follower is nearly empty). Oh, and another source of delay is pulling back out into traffic but dedicated bus lanes eliminate that. That’s the rationale for having bus lanes along the entire run.

  • ahwr

    On main st Flushing-Jamaica you have at least ten buses per hour per direction from 6am-9pm. The problem isn’t just the five seconds per passenger, it’s stopping when you wouldn’t otherwise.

    Running times are variable, and the main st routes don’t terminate in Flushing. You want to build in what, a 5 minute layover in flushing so you can meet a train nine times in ten?

  • Joe R.

    How many people actually stay on the bus to continue when it stops in Flushing? By my observations just about none. The buses already have a layover in Flushing unless they arrive late. I’m saying just coordinate that layover better with the train arrival times.

    Sure, stopping adds a bit of time but realistically if we had exclusive bus lanes it’s not that much. Pulling into traffic, not accelerating/decelerating, is the big time waster. As an example, braking from 40 to 0 mph at 3 mph/sec results in 7 seconds more to cover the same distance as opposed to just staying in motion at 40 mph. Somewhat more time is wasted accelerating because buses can’t maintain 3 mph/sec all the way to 40 mph but we’re still talking less than 20 seconds combined for a stop. Note this assumes a cruise speed of 40 mph. Often on this route it’s closer to 20 or 25, in which case the time penalty for stopping is 10 seconds or less. Most of the time added to a run from stopping is due to the time passengers spend boarding or leaving the bus.

    On main st Flushing-Jamaica you have at least ten buses per hour per direction from 6am-9pm.

    On which lines? The Q65 is often a 20 minute wait during the midday. Point of fact unless I’m transferring to the subway, in which case the bus ride is “free”, I walk to Flushing simply because the bus saves me little time. The walk is about 40 minutes. The combined running and waiting time for the bus averages at least 30 minutes, often closer to 40.

  • ahwr

    main st where the sbs line will be put in, so 44 and 20a/b.

  • Anonymous

    It is a wonderful idea, but has anyone driven the north-south route from Jamaica to Flushing? Parsons Boulevard is very narrow south of the Grand Central Parkway, and the issue of crossing the bridges over the Grand Central Parkway on Main Street or Parsons… HOW??!!

  • carma

    thank you. wonderful insight.

    the problem is not the traffic, but the silly boarding/payment system. Okay. it also is the traffic.

    bus dwelling with loading, unloading and the silly metrocard system slows down the travel speed so much. Select bus service is certainly an improvement but it requires you to pre-pay. what if you are running for a bus?

    the solution for ALL buses is to overhaul it to a payment system that can be paid anywhere within the bus. a passenger simply walks into the bus, and pays after you get in. passengers should also be able to use both doors of the bus. eliminate the dwell time, eliminate the bottlenecks.

  • carma

    btw: i take the q46 from union tnpke and experience the same problems with loading. a bus can unload all the passengers within 1 minute at the terminus, but it takes a good solid 3-4 minutes to load and for all passengers to pay at the terminus. why??

    both doors should be utilized and get the passengers boarded first. then deal with fare payments later.

  • sbauman

    “Select bus service is certainly an improvement but it requires you to pre-pay. what if you are running for a bus?”

    On street pre-pay, like SBS, is expensive. They cannot afford it at every stop. Having a different payment system for local service adds to the confusion.

    “the solution for ALL buses is to overhaul it to a payment system that can be paid anywhere within the bus. a passenger simply walks into the bus, and pays after you get in.”

    There used to be such a system. It was called two-man operation – driver and conductor. I witnessed this system in operation in Paris and London during the mid 1960’s. It can even be cost justified on certain routes or portions thereof, even with NYC’s high wage level. It may even be more cost effective than SBS. However, no system analyst would dare write a report that supports increased union labor over capital costs.

  • qrt145

    I like the system I’ve seen in Switzerland and Germany, which I’m sure is used in other places as well. There is only the bus driver, but each bus has a ticket validation machine, which is pretty simple as is basically a card puncher. Then there are inspectors which show up randomly (infrequently, in my experience).

    You need to buy the ticket in advance, of course, but they are sold in many places. Most regular users actually don’t use that type of ticket, but rather buy the monthly or annual ticket which doesn’t need to be validated. You just need to carry it with you in case an inspector asks for it.

  • Joe R.

    A bus lane will fit even on the narrow part of Parsons BUT it means no curbside parking (a plus in my opinion). It’s worth noting the major shopping area (Parsons/Kissena between 73rd Avenue and 71st Avenue), has a huge parking lot, so I don’t see an issue with getting rid of a few dozen on-street parking spots in that location. Most of the rest of Parsons where it’s narrow is either residential or light commercial. Again, the parking spots wouldn’t be missed even if the business owners will complain vehemently to the contrary.

  • sbauman

    Fare evasion is the problem with Proof of Payment (POP) systems. POP fare evasion rates are at least 10 times greater than onboard payment methods.

  • qrt145

    The question is, do the losses due to fare evasion outweigh the gains due to increased efficiency and labor savings?

    I bet the losses are overestimated anyway; if you make evasion impossible, the evader’s trip might not happen at all. It’s a bit similar to copyright infringement losses, although a fare evader admittedly does take space and if the bus is too crowded might displace a paying user.

  • carma

    but thats exactly what the SBS is. its a POP system without the option of exclusions for monthly metrocard holders. so regardless, you need to purchase a ticket beforehand eliminating the legal possibility of running for a bus, and just boarding even if you have a valid monthly metrocard.

  • sbauman

    “The question is, do the losses due to fare evasion outweigh the gains due to increased efficiency and labor savings?”

    One has to include all costs associated with fare evasion in the equation.

    Bratton attributes his crackdown on fare evasion as pivotal during his tenure as chief of the transit police.

    It can also be a budget buster. Some European cities report POP fare evasion rates as high as 15%.

  • sbauman

    “A bus lane will fit even on the narrow part of Parsons BUT it means no curbside parking (a plus in my opinion)”

    A quick check with Google Map’s measurement tool reveals that Parsons Blvd is less than 30 feet wide between 84th Rd and Normal St. (1 block north of Hillside). There already is no parking in this section.

  • Joe R.

    Obviously not on ALL of Parsons but on most of it there’s room for an exclusive bus lane IF you get rid of curbside parking. On the sections which are too narrow for a bus lane you could make Parsons buses only. Looking at Goggle maps that would only be about half a mile.

  • ahwr

    You’ll never get Parsons bus only. That’s alright though. Buses can share general traffic lanes. Except for the stretch from 71st to the LIE Kissena is only one travel lane in each direction too. That’s why DOT is pushing SBS on main st instead.

  • QueensWatcher

    No, see this is one of the major misconceptions. You are comparing unlike things. Yes cars might be moving at a steady clip, but every time a bus steps out of that stream, it then must step back in to it. That is where you get delays, conflicts between vehicles and why eventually that bus with a head time of say 10 minutes either drops back and bunches with the bus behind it or the bus infront of it has that happen to it, and catches up. The ease at which cars move is in no way a measure of the experience for the buses.

    And no, the traffic doesn’t effect the leaders and followers equally because the experience for each bus is different. Bus #1 might start in a stream of heavy traffic and it is very hard for it to return to the flow of traffic each time slowing it. Meanwhile Bus #2 might have started in somewhat thinner traffic, or encountered friendlier car drivers who yielded, or was a more aggressive driver and forced himself in between cars [which we don’t want to encourage], so your supposition is wrong. This is the key to designated bus lanes as it separates two types of traffic that have very different operational needs and parameters, making both move more smoothly.

    As for true BRT, google “BRT Bogota” Center-median, dedicated bus lanes and train style boarding stations. This is done very successfully all over the world. Nothing new here.

  • sbauman

    “Yes cars might be moving at a steady clip, but every time a bus steps out of that stream, it then must step back in to it. That is where you get delays…”

    The question was whether bus lanes would prevent bunching.

    There must be significant, cumulative differences in travel times between the leader and follower for bunching to happen. In particular, the follower must take less time than its leader. If both leader and follower take the same amount of time, be it slow or fast, there won’t be bunching.

    What causes unequal travel times between leader and follower? It’s differences in loading. The leader makes more stops or takes more time at each stop than its follower.

    Two contributors to the time spent at a stop are the movement from the stop lane to the travel lane and the time spent by entering/exiting passengers. It’s easy to answer which is the bigger contributor. The lane change is independent of the number of exiting/entering passengers. There will always be a critical number of exiting/entering passengers so that time spent by exiting/entering passengers will exceed the fixed lane change time.

    I observed that passenger exiting/entering time was the more important factor 50+ years ago, while riding the inbound Commonwealth Ave trolley in Boston. There was no lane change time, no traffic (the trolley ran on a private right of way) but there was bunching. At that time the Watertown line merged with the Commonwealth line at Packards Corner. They then traveled together to Park St on a private right of way. The Commonwealth line ran 3-car trains whereas the Watertown line ran 2-car trains. The Commonwealth train would catch up to a train from Watertown before both went underground just before Kenmore Square.

  • sbauman

    “As for true BRT, google “BRT Bogota” Center-median, dedicated bus lanes and train style boarding stations. This is done very successfully all over the world. Nothing new here.”

    These BRT center-median, dedicate bus lane, train style, etc. arteries are between 180 and 280 feet wide. They are 2 bus lanes in each direction in the median. They have 3 to 5 non-dedicated lanes in each direction. Many are limited access access highways with service roads (the 280 ft variety). Pedestrian crossings are few and far between for those similar to arterial roads. These arterial-like stretches require pedestrians to cross 75 feet of roadway to reach the median and bus stop.

    Main St’s width is 70 feet at its widest. It has 3 traffic lanes in each direction. Pedestrians can cross it about every 250 feet.

    Bogata’s model incorporates many of the features Jane Jacobs warned against in “The Death and Life in Great American Cities.”

  • QueensWatcher

    Again confusion of concepts. You asked what the definition of true BRT was and I provided an example of it. It is not the only way to do it. Also, I did not say that you can operate a full version of it everywhere. I never suggest an all-or-nothing approach. But you can modify what they have in Bogota for more narrow roads and if nothing else can certainly maintain a dedicated bus lane along the narrowest sections even if against the curb, or offset from a parking lane with station bulbouts.

    With dedicated bus lanes and as many BRT style features as can be utilized you can move a greater share of travelers to the bus and out of their cars. It is not necessary to maintain as many lanes for automobile travel. It is more efficient to load 50x as many people on a bus than having them use their cars. To accomplish that though, you need to convince people who use their cars that the bus is a viable and reasonable alternative. That requires the features of an SBS/BRT system including dedicate bus lanes.

    If you don’t do this, then as population grows you will just add more and more cars without having built the infrastructure needed to carry those people by alternative means. The roads will become parking lots as many are trending towards now

    And I’d love to see a cite of where Jane Jacobs would be against such a scheme. an SBS/BRT system that provides a more sustainable transportation system and makes it easier for urban dwellers to navigate their city, and integrate neighborhoods without making them slaves to the automobile [though she wasn’t anti-car by any means] is something that I think she would have supported wholeheartedly.

  • Bolwerk

    He might be right about Jacobs. At least going by D&L, Jacobs was pretty silent about transit. She hinted at disapproving of els and railroad cuts. She was silent on streetcar demolition, which was probably wrapping up toward the time she published. She may not have wasted ink on them because there was little risk of new els or streetcars being constructed by the 1950s, but she probably at least regarded els as intrusive and my guess would have objected to Bogota-style BRT on the same grounds. Her vision was intimate streets – lots of them, and she didn’t like things that imposed on them.

    “True BRT” or “real BRT” usually refers to the ITDP’s agitprop. It’s not an official definition.

  • QueensWatcher

    That’s fair, and I’ll grant Bogota is not the best example for a BRT treatment on Main Street. Though it shows the mechanical features, which is what I was proffering it for. I wasn’t expecting a Jane Jacobs critique. Nevertheless, she advocated dense neighborhoods, integrated neighborhoods with mixed uses. You need transportation alternatives that work best in those environments [we can start a thread on bike lanes somewhere else] but a SBS/BRT approach – again scaled down from Bogota – still addresses transportation needs in a dense environment more efficiently and sustainably than reliance on individual vehicles. It moves more people per square foot, with less overall pollution. So, I would be very surprised if she sided with those fighting to maintain all current car lanes when converting some of those to dedicated bus use would support her vision so much better.

  • ahwr

    The lane change is independent of the number of exiting/entering passengers.

    Only when the number of exiting/entering passengers is greater than zero. There is variability in bus delay due to traffic. Consider a local bus that gets held up by traffic and misses a light early in its run. That could lead to a delay of one minute. If buses are scheduled every five minutes then you have a 20% increase in the number of boardings for that bus moving forward. There will be fluctuations in boardings on any run anyway, but potential delay from general traffic happens on top of that. If it’s a local bus that means that some stops that would have been passed by will have passengers waiting to board. The time for one passenger to board can be dwarfed by the time it takes to get back into the lane. On limited routes where there are few lane changes because there are few stops then the time spent getting back into lane can be a small share of travel time. On local routes it will be a greater share of travel time.

  • Bolwerk

    FWIW, I would be cautious about commenting on what she’d be for or against in a given situation. She was very much a theorist who loved following processes and spoke in broad generalities.

    It might just be the times, or maybe lack of interest, but I always considered her short thrift of transit rather disappointing. (I’m a big Jacobs fan, if not an acolyte.)

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