Does New York BRT Need Cops and Cameras, or Just Concrete?

Not to stoke the center vs. curbside lane debate, but here are a couple of shots of the Paris Mobilien Bus Rapid Transit system. As pointed out by Streetsbloggers, the Mobilien uses both types of lanes. And unlike New York’s Select Bus Service, Paris BRT relies on preventative physical separation between buses and auto traffic, mitigating the need for more intensive enforcement measures like cameras, ticket agents and tow trucks.

Back in October of 2006, Streetsblog’s Aaron Naparstek noted what could be the most substantial difference between New York’s plan and successful systems in Paris and Bogotá — a sentiment echoed following this week’s SBS debut.

While New York City’s BRT system will be a significant
advance over what we have now, the lack of physical separation has the
potential to be a system-breaker.
Without physical separation,
that single guy in the double-parked SUV may still have the ability to
delay the morning commute of 80 New Yorkers. Sure, Mr. SUV gets a $350
ticket (if he’s not a government employee). You’re still late for work. 

Concrete curbs don’t know from the likes of David Gantt. They
don’t go away when budgets come up short. They enforce 24/7. Yet New York will depend solely on
police and, should Albany someday grant permission, cameras to chase
drivers out of BRT lanes. Will it work? If so, how well, and for how

Photos: Aaron Naparstek

  • Physical separation is the best solution, not only to protect bus lanes, but to protect bike lanes and peds as well. I’d welcome some learned commentary on the kinds that would work best.

  • Streetsman

    It is disappointing, but obviously it is a pilot project and they aren’t ready to spend on the full build yet. That said, it seems to me that installing BRT without permanent physical separation is a very clever way of rallying support for what otherwise would have been a very controversial proposal. If that was DOT’s plan, it seems to be working.

  • That’s a good point, Streetsman. Instead of people saying “I got stuck waiting in construction because they were putting up these barriers for some crazy bus system,” people are saying “look at all those cars parked in the bus lane slowing down a bus full of people.”

  • Adam

    In my experience contra-flow bus lanes (bus-only lanes going in the opposite direction of car traffic) could keep out unwanted traffic without hard separation or too many police.
    In Pittsburgh they have some contra flow bus lanes on Fifth Ave near the University of Pittsburgh. In my experience cars never pull in there due to the appearance that it makes for an easy head on collision with a multi-ton bus. (And lets face it, in a crash the bus always wins). Psychologically, the double yellow lines help as well.

    Does anyone know of other examples of where this works or doesn’t?

  • Lindsi

    In the short run, you’re right Josh, people will get annoyed of and blame the construction for their tardiness. But, it’s highly unlikely that they will actually notice the cars taking up the bus lane and realize it’s blocking a bus full of people like you say. That is a thought reserved for mostly people who visit this site- if everyone else thought like that we would not be discussing this issue right now.

    The only way for things to change is to *do something*. In this case, pissing people off for a while and getting some permanently separated lanes.

    As for what kind would be best: not bollards. A little curb like the one in the picture seems most effective and aesthetically pleasing.

    Another question: are the bus lanes in Amsterdam and the surrounding area physically separated? I can’t remember, but if they aren’t, how do they work so well? If they are, another case in point.

  • Typo? “Concrete curbs don’t know from the likes of David Gantt.” don’t know what?

  • gecko

    At least one lane in the city should be allocated for cars, . . . i.e., for paintball target practice.

  • Contra Flow No

    Ask the Chicago Transit Authority about curbside contra-flow bus lanes and the pedestrians who got killed stepping off the curb. This idea is a non-starter for lots of reasons including safety and signalization.

  • mfs

    The pittsburgh contraflow bus lanes have the same problem.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Agree with Mr. Walker – unless the lanes are physically separated people will ignore at will. And the contra-flow lanes sound like a horrible solution – nothing like having a several ton bus coming at you from the “wrong” direction.

  • Think of it more as a two-way street with one side only being for bikes and buses. MPLS has these downtown and they work well with a bike lane right next to them.

  • Stacy

    Having physically separated bus lanes may help speed busses but it will require passengers some of whom may be children, to cross a lane of traffic, or bike lane, in order to board or disembark.

    Better to have it working now in “safe mode” and work out the bugs later.

  • JK

    How do you make deliveries across a permanent barrier? Is the idea to move the bus lane in-board of the parking lane like the 9th Ave cycle-track? That entails eliminating a lane of traffic. Trucks and service vehicles still need access to the curb. What’s the scheme for getting deliveries on Fordham Road if there is a physical barrier? (Mountable curbs and off-peak deliveries and peak hour only fast bus?) Has anyone worked through this?

  • joe bloggs

    i doubt physical separation of bus lanes would work for a simple reason: NYPD and FDNY would not at all be happy with any sort of barrier that could slow down or cause a problem for their vehicles.

    bus cameras would have been a great step forward to making curbside bus lanes better for bus performance but that is now off the table.

  • I’d say NYPD and FDNY would certainly be free to use the bus lanes in emergency situations, but we all know that for NYPD “emergency situation” means “I don’t feel like waiting at this red light.”

  • Many other cities have worked out the logistics of having physically separated bus and bike lanes and curbside access for emergency vehicles and delivery trucks. It’s not rocket science, people!

  • JW

    how does it cost so much to have seperation? just take those cheap concrete wheel stops used in parking lots and place them end to end along the edge of the lane (where the striping is). you just need 2 pieces of rebar and a sledgehammer to drive them through the pavement. there can even be a 4 or 5ft gap between the placement of the small concrete blocks. even just something simple like this is enough to clearly distinguish between bus lanes and general lanes.


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