Bus Rapid Transit Designs for East Side Avenues Still in Flux

Earlier this week DOT and the MTA showed plans for Bus Rapid Transit on the east side of Manhattan to the Seaport/Civic Center committee of Community Board 1. With implementation scheduled for next September, the question of how to allot space on First and Second Avenues is increasingly urgent. Robust bus improvements paired with protected space for biking on this corridor could become a model for sustainable street design in New York.

off_set_lane.jpgAn off-set bus lane, which DOT may or may not employ for BRT on the East Side. Image: NYCDOT [PDF]

According to the Downtown Express, the presentation depicted "off-set" bus lanes — a configuration that puts the buses in an exclusive lane between other traffic and curbside parking. The bus station would be constructed on a sidewalk extension, so that buses don’t have to pull into and out from the curb. The effectiveness of this design depends in large part on keeping the bus lane clear of other traffic and double-parked vehicles. Bus-mounted enforcement cameras, which require Albany’s approval but were rejected by state lawmakers last year, would be absolutely necessary. A physically separated busway, however, wouldn’t need cameras to deliver significant improvements for bus riders.

I checked in with DOT to see if the off-set design has indeed been finalized, and the answer is "No." The agency is still considering different bus lane configurations. "An image we presented to the board on Tuesday night did show an offset lane," said a DOT spokesperson, "but this is a baseline design, one which we’ve used in presentations for the last six months."

An off-set configuration would give bus riders on the East Side a faster ride, but without a physically-separated busway, there are few certainties. Off-set bus lanes would have to be paired with camera enforcement to deliver the full potential benefits, said Walter Hook, director of the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy. Hook has advised several global metropolises on the implementation of Bus Rapid Transit.

If everything lines up and Albany does pass a law enabling the use of bus-mounted cameras, then, Hook estimates, total travel time on the M15 corridor could be reduced from 70 minutes to 48 minutes during peak hours using off-set lanes. Hook projects that a physically separated busway would cut that time to 42 minutes. No permission from Albany necessary.

  • if it’s a high-speed street, then it requires physically-separated bike lanes — simple. if there’s any room left over, then you can put buses out there or cars or whatever else, but pedestrians and bikes should be taken care of first, especially on the major travel corridors.

  • Mike C

    Mark Walker: is MNDOT also insane? How about Google? Or Korea’s largest steelmaker Posco? Or New Urbanism co-founder Peter Calthorpe? Or World Wildlife fund? Or the government of Sweden?

    That’s a lot of “insanity”, don’t you think?

    Just sayin’.

  • Another of my adversary’s achievements — the PRT lunatic fringe is back.

  • Actually, no, I should blame myself. In any case, this 227-part (and counting) thread is the definitive Streetsblog slugfest on the subject. For more information, Google “prt mike c.”

  • Ian Turner


    Yes, the “one Google employee with a background in transportation planning” that you cited is delusional.


  • Mike C

    Ian, one of the co-founders has made statements in support of PRT. And what about the other huge groups I cited? WWF? Posco? The Swedish governemt? There are more too – BAA, Foster & Partners, engineering conglomerates SKM, Arup, CH2M Hill… all have endorsed PRT as a transit option.

    Look, I have no problem with people here not liking PRT, but when you start calling PRT enthusiasts “insane”, I feel compelled to point out the thousands of respectable people you are smearing.

  • Ian Turner

    Mike, I clicked on one of your links and saw that you had vastly inflated and removed from context what the article actually had to say. At that point you lost all credibility in my mind and I stopped looking further.



  • Mike C

    Ian, your denial doesn’t change reality. Others who did follow the links can judge for themselves. Here’s more:

    Boston Globe article

    Ithaca, NY, PRT activism

    Time magazine article about the car-free PRT-based Masdar City project.

    NASA partners with PRT company.

    BBC article about Heathrow’s pilot PRT project.

    Frost & Sullivan analysis of the future potential of PRT.

    NY Times article about Ithaca PRT conference.

    Economist article on ULTra PRT founder Martin Lowson.

    CNN article on PRT.

    LOTS of insanity out there. I’d be especially interested in your thoughts on insanity at NASA. 🙂

  • Mike C

    Oh yeah, and there’s this – is that Google employee delusional too? 🙂

  • Traveling on two rails, monorails, guideways etc. are very simple mechanical collision avoidance systems and it does not matter whether the vehicles are large or small except that large vehicles require much more infrastructure, have much larger stopping distances, are much more difficult to accommodate and are many times more expensive to build, adapt, and modify than small vehicles on this systems.

    This is what personal rapid transit is: Small vehicles on mechanical collision avoidance systems.

    It is an absolutely bizarre disconnect that some people do not understand this.

    It is an absolutely bizarre disconnect that the transportation industry continues to promote such inconvenient and expensive systems when small vehicle transit is much more practical; except when you look at the huge industries involved in transportation as stake holders in continuing with the dominance of transportation systems based on freewheeling cars; probably not unlike the huge industries still trying to prevent universal health care that would eliminate the middlemen,the huge profit margins, etc.

  • Basic transportation technology has been around for many years and is many times simpler than the technology of the computer revolution that individuals built on their kitchen tables in in their garages.

    Individuals have built small vehicle transit systems in their backyards and lawns; and where Volkswagen could justify spending one-half billion dollars to prototype the second Beetle and an additional $0.5 billion to build the production version, Geoff Barnette was able to build Shweeb (www.shweeb.com) at an extremely small fraction of these amounts.

    This is the spectre small vehicle transit poses to the established transportation industry, its local monopolies, high margins, considerable human dangers, environmental devastation, and major profiteers as participants in the grave threat to civilization as we know it.

  • Not clear what would happen to the NY subway system if we got once in 1000-year rainfall but, advocacy should be very aggressive about achieving broad small vehicle transit capable of adapting to such dramatic change and providing near-netzero energy and environmental impact.

    In other UK news: “Rain like this happens once every 1,000 years”
    November 22, 2009


    Forecasters said the rainfall was unprecedented. Britain’s Meteorological Office said a record 12.3 inches of rain fell in 24 hours in the area — the heaviest rainfall ever recorded in the U.K….


World-Class Avenues for the East Side: What Great BRT Looks Like

BRT + bike: East Side avenues have enough space for physically separated busways and protected bike lanes. The biggest sustainable transportation story in New York right now is how DOT and the MTA plan to design Bus Rapid Transit corridors for the East Side of Manhattan. Will we get world-class avenues that attract more riders […]

Electeds React: East Side Plan Should Do More for Buses

Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, and State Senator Liz Krueger want to see the MTA and DOT take their plan for First and Second Avenues further. Elected officials gave plans for redesigning First and Second Avenues positive reviews today, tempered by the desire to improve the initial outline presented by the MTA […]

The New York City Bus Lane Blues: Paint Is Not Enough

Separated bus lanes. Elected officials are calling for them. The next version of enhanced bus service on 34th Street may include them. Why does New York City need them? Well, take a look at how the city’s current crop of bus lanes are working out for riders. Streetfilms’ Robin Urban Smith went on a couple […]