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." 

  • Great news about the buffered lane! I’m not quite sure why it’s more space-sensitive than just continuing the protected lane all the way, but I’m assuming it has something to do with storing over-sized private property in the public right-of-way.

    I’m also curious to see how these new striping guidelines for shared lanes pan out. With solid lines and more deformed-mushroom-head-man-on-bike symbols, it might even confused cyclists and motorists alike as to whether it is indeed an actual (very wide) bike lane.

  • MW in NY

    It would be nice to see an integration of the Queensboro bridge bike path to the new second avenue lane..or sharrows…or whatever it is…right now it doesn’t seem very obvious how to get onto second avenue heading south from the bridge off ramp. A totally buffered lane on First avenue heading towards the bridge will be great. (And one can dream about some way to cross midtown…)

  • At one point, Orosz was asked what his vision was for the SBS corridor twenty years out. His initial response was that twenty years from now, he’d be enjoying a fine pension. After seeing that this comments was received very well, he added that even if the Second Avenue subway comes on line, MTA would still prject a daily demand of 35,000 bus passengers on the corridor, so the SBS service would continue.

    I guess we’ll have to rely on his partners at the DoT for “vision.”

  • That’s comment wasn’t received very well.

  • Really, BicyclesOnly? Wow. Presumably he means that he will be far from Second Avenue by then. Now I don’t think it’s an absolute requirement that MTA planners use their own facilities, but it would be nice if they believed that they were making the city a nice enough place that they would still want to live there twenty years from now.

  • AlexB

    If the bus lane on 1st Ave is unbroken and buffered, the reality is that a gazillion people will use it to travel southbound in the morning off the bridge. I know I will. Sharrows suck.

  • By D.O.T.’s own estimate, nearly 2500 riders a day use the First and Second Avenue corridor near the Queensboro bridge. Using a slightly longer stretch, Transportation Alternatives comes up with 3500 riders a day. Crashstats shows 0 cyclists were killed from 1995-2007 in or near the official detour to the Greenway on First and Second Avenues. To NOT have a dedicated bike lane on the ENTIRE official detour from 37-54 uptown (let’s just round it off to 57) and from 55-38 downtown on Second (let’s just round that off to 34), is both irresponsible and highly dangerous. The Greenway Gap doesn’t look like it’ll be closed for years, if ever, so both experienced and inexperienced riders need this Avenue bound alternative to ride on. As the SBS pushes both riders and drivers onto fewer lanes, and as bicycle ridership continues to grow, so will the dangers. As Benson pointed out, there are hills on First and Second Avenues and it is unrealistic to expect pedal power to keep up with motorized power. We need dedicated, separate, bike lanes now!

  • Larry Littlefield

    “His initial response was that twenty years from now, he’d be enjoying a fine pension.”

    Ah yes, the holy trinity. In a moment of candor, perhaps he mentioned sick leave and overtime as well?

  • J

    The map you show of the routes is out of date. The latest DOT map is available here, with the areas under study updated:

    1st Ave: Design B (curb bus lane + cycle track) from 61st to 79th
    Design A (offset bus lane + cycle track) from 79th to 125th

    2nd Ave: Design B from 100-106, 108-113, 115-125th
    Design A from 106-108, 113-115

  • I’ve started looking at BRT design standards. So far, a couple of them mention one-way pairs as an option. None mentions it as a superior option to two-way median running, and several mention it as an inferior. One conference paper says divided service reduces BRT quality. Delhi credits its BRT success to median operation, saying curbside lanes are too unreliable. And the Institute for Transportation and Dvelopment Policy’s BRT design standards say that one-war pairs are only a real option on very narrow roads, and that even then transit malls are preferable (see pp. 158-163).

    Essentially, what the city’s doing here is prioritizing cars’ green waves over good bus operation.

  • Sorry, the third link in the comment doesn’t work. Try this. And ignore the “Dvelopment” typo.

  • Larry Littlefield, I have been reading your comments for a few years with a mixture of interest and despair. At what point historically do feel it all went wrong–that our city and state government officials moved (in general, since there are always good and bad apples in every bunch) from a civic-oriented mindset to one of blatant self-serving attitudes and actions? At what point in New York City (and state) did we move to, in essence, Soviet-style elections where politicians are tenured for life and opposition is token or completely disenfranchised (if it exists at all)? I’m beginning to be amazed that any of our infrastructure (transit, schools, etc.) actually manages to still function given that we’re living under a giant kleptocracy. It reminds me of how I felt during the Dubya regime–the greed and arrogance were so obvious and reported on, it was shocking that he actually got elected for a second term.

  • Sorry, I admit previous comment was somewhat OT but felt it needed to be said in the light of this morning’s budgetary shell game that SBLOG mentioned.

  • Wow, did I say 0 cyclists were killed from 1995-2007? I meant to say 9 were killed! This is why we need the Greenway Gap closed ASAP, and in lieu of that, we need buffered bike lanes on the Avenues.

  • Andrew


    The Levinson paper (your first link) states up front, as General Guideline #2, that “BRT should use streets and roadways that are relatively free-flowing wherever possible.” For north-south travel in Manhattan, that means one-way avenues. (On a two-way avenue, the bus won’t even be able to make it from one stop to the next without hitting a red light or two.) In a later discussion, he argues that one-way streets “may be disadvantageous from a BRT perspective” – not that they automatically doom the service to failure. He does, however, indicate the “Median Bus Lanes” option as deprecated (“they should be used sparingly in BRT operations”). And the “Median Arterial Busways” option has too wide a footprint for any Manhattan avenue.

    (Also see Levinson’s General Guideline #5: “Buses should be able to enter and leave running ways safely and conveniently.” That’s why, in past posts, I’ve strongly argued against physical separation here. I see I’m not alone.)

    I’m glad that median bus lanes work well for Delhi. That doesn’t mean they’re best for Manhattan.

    I can’t get your third link (the corrected version) to open – I don’t know if it’s a problem with the link, with my computer, or with the server. I’ll try to open it again later.

  • Andrew

    Cap’n Transit:

    Perhaps he doesn’t plan on living on the East Side of Manhattan after retirement. Retirees living on the West Side of Manhattan, in the other four boroughs, and elsewhere in the region tend not to have much use for the M15. That doesn’t mean he isn’t going to live in the city or to ride transit.

  • Andrew: the Levinson paper says that two-way median running is better from a BRT perspective than one-way pairs… the green wave is counterproductive in either case. 1st and 2nd Avenue have a 25 mph green wave, which is well above subway speed, let alone bus speed. Reducing green wave speed to match bus speed runs into variable dwell time problems.

    1st and 2nd are wide enough to be considered arterial for bus lane purposes. They’re actually wider than many suburban arterials, which are usually four-lane and not seven-lane roads.

    The third link weighs 60 MB and has 800 pages. That’s why I included page number pointers. I thought it would load on every computer; maybe I was wrong.


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