MTA Committed to October Launch Date for East Side Select Bus Service

Two months after the MTA and NYCDOT first presented East Side Select Bus Service to Manhattan Community Board 6, officials were back with a modified plan last night, hoping to get a vote from the transportation committee. After a combative couple of hours, they didn’t get one. The committee chose to put off a vote until its next meeting rather than come to a decision. The big news to emerge was the announcement of a specific launch date for the first phase of Select Bus Service on the corridor.

east_side.jpgDOT says the shared bike lane once planned for First Avenue (in red, below 57th Street) will become a buffered bike lane instead. The MTA may add another SBS station at 28th Street. Click here for a larger image.

"We are fully committed to operating by 10/10/10," said the MTA’s Ted Orosz. He added that the agencies are aiming for a 20 percent improvement in bus speeds while attracting higher
ridership, moving general traffic more efficiently, and "significantly"
increasing cycling rates along the corridor. The question of how bus speed targets would be met if Albany doesn’t approve the use of camera enforcement didn’t come up, but DOT bike coordinator Josh Benson said the project does have money set aside for conventional enforcement.

The other significant development is that NYCDOT has adjusted its plan for bike improvements in Midtown, adding some stronger striping treatments but not extending the physically protected lanes. On First Avenue, instead of switching from a protected bike lane to a shared traffic lane between 49th Street and 57th Street, the plan now calls for a buffered bike lane. "We can totally seal up First Avenue," said Benson. Doing so will eliminate 71 parking spaces and relocate loading onto side streets.

On Second Avenue, the plan still calls for sharrows. Because the Midtown shared lane is immediately south of the long Second Avenue Subway construction zone, which will receive no improvements, DOT chose not to replace it with a buffered lane, Benson said, because there would be no continuity on the Upper East Side. (A Midtown protected lane would indeed connect to the protected lane below 34th Street, however.)

Benson did reveal some enhancements to the agency’s shared lane design that will debut on Second Avenue: DOT will paint more bike symbols per block and replace the normal dashed line separating the lane with a solid line, in an attempt to deter frequent lane changes. 

The MTA is also pursuing some changes based on CB 6 suggestions that may result in slower buses. Specifically, they are seriously considering adding an SBS station at 28th Street, near Bellevue Hospital. "Reasonable people would say it doesn’t work," Orosz said of the 28th Street station, but "there’s a lot of interest in making it work." One of the challenges, he said, will be coordinating station placement with ambulance and drop-off access for the many nearby medical facilities.

For some speakers last night, that wasn’t enough. The well-organized Turtle Bay Association loudly protested the absence of a 50th Street SBS stop, which Orosz explained simply didn’t have the boarding numbers to justify inclusion. Every additional station means buses spend more time at rest and less in motion.

At times, some attendees actually argued that SBS would slow down bus service. (Empirical evidence suggests otherwise: SBS improvements on the Bx12 route have sped travel times 20 percent.) Tempers got so heated at one point that Fred Arcaro, the committee chair, gave Orosz a friendly reprimand: "There’s no need to be so hostile about it."

In the end, the committee voted 6-5 to postpone its resolution. The request came from both supporters and opponents of the street redesign on the committee. Community board member Bill Oddo, a self-described "big advocate of transit use and safe bike routes," was the first to call for tabling the vote. He told Streetsblog that there hadn’t been "enough time given to discussion of the bike route." 

While a community board vote is advisory, not binding, many supporters of livable streets were disappointed to go home without a resolution. "There’s a complete lack of vision about what it’s meant to be," said local resident Sandy McKee. "To hold it hostage for a few riders on 50th Street — and I live on 49th Street — lacks civic sense." 

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