A Bridge and Tunnel Transit Solution

Historically, East River bridges have carried more transit — and more people — than they do today. View a larger version of this image.

Last week, Cap’n Transit posted a series about running express bus lanes over bridges and tunnels, which would boost the capacity of crossings and put them on a de facto road diet. These steps will "get rapid transit value even on non-rapid bus routes," he says:

What if we had an XBL on every major bridge and tunnel? We could take
all the buses that pass nearby and feed them through it, bringing
people into Manhattan where they can get to jobs easier. This would be
a form of BRT, even if it doesn’t have fancy brands or fake subway

Enhancing the appeal of transit while taking away lanes for private cars is a fantastic recipe for mode switch. And doing it on the city’s biggest bottlenecks could capture some of the virtuous cycle benefits that might have materialized had congestion pricing passed.

The key, says the Cap’n, is not only giving buses dedicated rights-of-way on crossings, but making approaches smoother and providing logical routes after exiting as well. Here’s the short version of how he would make this work for buses going through the Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel. (The long version is well worth reading, too.) 

  • Make the Gowanus HOV lane two-way and 24/7
  • Run more buses
  • Extend the Church Street Transitway north, and institute a parallel southbound route
  • Institute through-running of buses to New Jersey and the Bronx

And to make it work on the Brooklyn Bridge

…you first have to allow buses on the bridge. Then it’s a relatively
simple matter of running the Fulton Mall and Livingston Street buses
down Adams Street, and figuring out where they go once they get to

Easier said than done, of course, but very much in line with the city’s commitment to BRT:

Simple, yes. Easy – especially politically? Not so
much. But all these posts assume a certain level of political and
financial support for BRT. Without that, you’re not going to get much
BRT anywhere in the city.

Note to Cap’n Transit: Ideas this good deserve credit, but all we know about you is that you live in Queens (and work in "accounting"). When will you shed the mask and reveal your true identity?

Image: Federal Highway Administration (PDF)

  • Larry Littlefield

    (you first have to allow buses on the bridge.)

    I believe buses and trucks are banned on the Brooklyn Bridge due to structural issues, not a desire to give preference to cars.

    Given the congestion on the walkway, however, putting replacing one moving lane with a bicycle lane might be a good idea.

  • Thanks for that info, Larry. Now, if you replaced one moving lane with a bicycle lane, and another with a bus lane, would the structural impacts balance out? 😉

  • BTW, thanks for the post and the compliments, Ben. However, after a life of scrupulous honesty (okay, mostly) where I’ve used my real name in all kinds of places where others use pseudonyms, I’ve become convinced that pseudonyms can be useful. For example, they allow me to talk about ways to defeat incumbent state legislators, and then the next day go lobby my state legislator.

    I did change my profession to something other than “accounting.” If you’re going to make stuff up, you might as well make it interesting.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Now, if you replaced one moving lane with a bicycle lane, and another with a bus lane, would the structural impacts balance out?)

    Perhaps if they were on the same side!

    But more to the point, it isn’t the bridges that are the bottlenecks, it is the approaches (even if a bridge or tunnel does back up, it is usually backing up from the other side), and that’s where any reservation for buses would have to be.

    Take the most important bus priority crossing in the U.S. — the Lincoln Tunnel. Buses scoot through their reserved lane. Getting to that lane, however, often takes a long, long time.

  • Come on, Cap’n. At least tell us what kind of work you do. Are you in government? Transpo-related professional?

  • My job is solving problems. I’m just an ordinary guy who keeps his eyes and ears open. You could find out very easily who I am, Aaron. When you do, I’d appreciate you keeping it to yourself, though.

    Larry, you’re absolutely right that the bottleneck is usually one one side of the bridge/tunnel or the other, since there are no turns. That’s more or less the same thing that Alon has said in the comments on my blog. The main thing is getting those buses onto and off of the bridges.

  • Mark Walker

    I’m guessing none of this would require state approval, right? Hope DOT gets it going before Mayor Weiner takes office.

  • Competitive primaries

    Mayor Weiner will not make it through the primary if he does not start talking about basic bread and butter issues that Manhattan, Downtown Brooklyn, Western Queens or the South Bronx care about – like improving subway and bus service.

    He can’t run for the Democratic Primary nomination if he’s running to be the Mayor of Eastern Queens & Brooklyn, Staten Island and Riverdale and touting ferries as the major transit issue. That strategy has some value against a strong Republican opponent (but they probably go Republican anyway), but not here in Democratic stronghold of Straphangerland, it’s not very convincing.

  • gecko

    Since science and technology have been by far the most dramatic engines of contemporary change it is curious that this route is not more aggressively sought in providing substantive transit solutions.

    For instance: “How could carbon nanotubes greatly improve river crossings?”

    from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carbon_Nanotubes#Potential_and_current_applications
    Carbon nanotubes have also been successfully used in the construction of handlebars for mountain bikes. The handlebar, created by Easton, is the EC70 DH, which has won awards for it’s incredible strength and light weight.

    Because of the great mechanical properties of the carbon nanotubule, a variety of structures has been proposed ranging from everyday items like clothes and sports gear to combat jackets and space elevators.[60] However, the space elevator will require further efforts in refining carbon nanotube technology, as the practical tensile strength of carbon nanotubes can still be greatly improved.[17]

    For perspective, outstanding breakthroughs have already been made. Pioneering work lead by Ray H. Baughman at the NanoTech Institute has shown that single and multi-walled nanotubes can produce materials with toughness un-matched in the man-made and natural worlds.[61] [62]

    Recent research by James D. Iverson and Brad C. Edwards has revealed the possibility of cross-linking CNT molecules prior to incorporation in a polymer matrix to form a super high strength composite supermaterial. This CNT composites could have a tensile strength on the order of 20 million psi (138 GPa, for 106 MN·m·kg?1), potentially revolutionizing many aspects of engineering design where low weight and high strength is required.[citation needed]

    Although, simply “streaming” people (in and out of minimum-size vehicles) across bridges and around the city would be quickest and simplest overarching set of solutions.

  • Spud Spudly

    Don’t be pressured to shed that mask, Cap’n Transit. Internet posts never go away even after a site comes down and are instantly viewable by anyone. Some people are OK with that but you just never know when that might come back and bite you in the butt. Just my opinion.

    But I still think you need a theme song with an announcer saying “Captaaaain Traaaaaaaaaaansiiiiiiiiiit!”

  • @alex

    Figure 5 (East River Bridge crossings) has current capacities as of 1989, when the southern side of the Manhattan Bridge was undergoing repair. Now that these repairs are complete, does anyone know what the current 21st century capacity is?

  • Alex, I don’t have those figures, but my post has AADT (cars/trucks/buses per day) from nycroads.com:


    Spud, feel free to upload an MP3 😉

  • jmc

    Carbon nanotubes will probably not help this at all. Theoretically they can have some great strength but that is completely compromised by any defect in the nanotubes. Also, they’re extremely hard to manufacture and to make composites. I have studied CNT for many years and even have some patents… do not believe the hype.

    Carbon fiber could be some help, and it has been used in some reinforcement settings (the Alaskan Way Viaduct in Seattle was reinforced with them after an earthquake). These can be used in manufacturing processes, in fact Boeing is now trying to make a commercial jetliner with them.

  • Not sure how this can help, but a while back on another List focusing on public transport in the Global South I suggested that electronic people counters for all lanes could be installed on roads which had dedicated bus or BRT lanes. They would show the human throughput per lane, because there was a perception that BRT lanes were inefficient because they were not full, but of course they carry way more people than the car lanes, even though there are big gaps of a minute or two between vehicles.

  • On the other hand I am also – or more – interested in the percentage of people who are within walking distance to everything they need and most of what they want, and how this has changed over the years. In other words a focus on proximity, rather than mobility.

  • Timothy

    On a less important note, if Cap’n Transit ever gets a theme song, it should resemble the Cap’n Planet theme song and go: Cap-tain Transit, He’s our Hero, Go-nna take the traf-fic down to zero…

  • Todd E – we need to talk about your dogs on board proposal!

  • gecko

    jmc, Thanks for the info on carbon nanotubes. Kind of suspected this. Just too lazy to detail through what’s going.

    Still think there’s a real dearth of innovative research, industrial design, and development on what can really be done to improve transportation.

    Current transportation methods, technology, etc. look “really dumb” especially, compared to communications, media, computers, etc.

    Grass roots stuff is nice, feelgood, etc., but the dramatic changes will be those innovations in green transportation that go viral and provide dramatic benefit.

  • paulb

    This BRT thing. How fast does one of these buses go?

    I’m a baby boomer. I grew up with the idea that we could go faster, and everywhere in the world other than the U.S., it seems, in Europe, in Asia (don’t know about South America) people have upped their expectations for how fast a system can take you somewhere. Here, the Port of Authority builds, at tremendous effort and expense, a train from Jamaica to JFK. It goes…. 50 miles per hour! (And managed to kill a driver in tests anyway.)

    Now the idea of higher speed rail to more distant parts of NYC seems to be considered an almost hopeless quest. Center city BRT lanes that go 3 to 4 miles, OK. But service out to far Brooklyn, or Eastern Queens, or the north Bronx? at what, 35 or 40 mph?

    Small is beautiful. Think slow. Fooey.

  • I agree … mostly, Paulb. But in a city you don’t have to go that fast to be rapid. You just need to not get stuck in traffic.

    The Paris RER can whisk you from one side of the capital to the other. But it’s largely stitched together from old commuter lines, with three new tunnels, more or less. We’ve already got a lot of similar connections, with the Penn Station tunnels and the Hell Gate Bridge. We could get a lot of the same mileage if we changed the electrification systems on the various commuter railroads to be compatible.

  • I just wanted you all to know I’ve added posts about the Manhattan and Queensborough Bridges. Check back soon for the Williamsburgh Bridge and the Midtown Tunnel.

  • christine

    Absolutely perfect . doing more with less. less technology , more common senses nothing fancy..
    My guess is Captn Transit is a woman …


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