Riders Want Faster Buses Across Q’Boro. Are Bus Lanes Coming?

Bus riders shouldn't have to sit in traffic across the Queensboro Bridge. Photo: _ via Flickr.
Bus riders shouldn't have to sit in traffic across the Queensboro Bridge. Photo: ##http://www.flickr.com/photos/29997762@N05/3505000737/##R36 Coach via Flickr.##

NYC DOT is studying how to speed buses across the car-clogged Queensboro Bridge, and data the agency collected over the summer [PDF] show just how great the need is. Buses are crawling and riders are fed up. Relieving the bottleneck for riders could make transit a far more attractive option for Queens residents. One potential solution — adding dedicated bus lanes to the bridge and its approaches — is a PlaNYC promise waiting to be fulfilled.

Currently, 16,000 New Yorkers ride buses across the Queensboro every day, according to DOT, split about evenly between local and express buses. During the afternoon rush hour, that’s one bus every 30 seconds or so.

And the p.m. rush is also when bus speeds across the bridge slow to the pace of a tortoise. One express bus route across the bridge travels at an average of 12.2 miles per hour between 5:00 and 6:00 p.m., DOT data showed. An hour later in the day, those buses can travel at up to 21.2 mph. Heading through Queens Plaza between 4:00 and 5:00 p.m., express buses crawl along at an average of 4.3 miles per hour — about the same speed as walking.

That Queensboro Bridge buses get snarled in traffic is no surprise. It’s the only free crossing between Queens and Manhattan. Thanks to the Assembly’s refusal to pass congestion pricing 2008, toll-shopping drivers from across the borough and Long Island still funnel into this one point. In 2007, motorists made around 85,000 car and motorcycle trips across the bridge per day in each direction, by far the most auto traffic on any of DOT’s four East River bridges [PDF].

The result is unhappy commuters and presumably fewer bus riders. DOT surveyed riders on Queensboro Bridge bus routes and found that overwhelming majorities saw traffic congestion slowing their commute. The riders estimated that traffic added between five and 15 extra minutes to their trips. Shaving 15 minutes off bus rides could lure a lot more people out of cars and onto transit.

DOT will present its recommendations for improving bus service across the Queensboro in November, but one solution jumps out: bus lanes on the bridge and its approaches to let transit riders zip past stopped traffic. Across town, the Lincoln Tunnel’s Exclusive Bus Lane is a smash success. In the 3.75 hours it’s open each morning, it carries 62,000 passengers into Midtown, saving each of them 15-20 minutes over drivers in other lanes. It’s now so heavily-used that the Port Authority is looking into the addition of a second priority lane for buses.

Bus lanes also have the endorsement of bus riders. Both local and express bus riders suggested dedicated lanes as the way to speed their trip in DOT’s survey.

Installing Queensboro bus lanes would help make good on a still-unfulfilled promise in PlaNYC. Though the city committed to creating bus or High Occupancy Vehicle lanes across the Queensboro, Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges by the end of 2009, currently there are only HOV lanes on the Manhattan and Queensboro Bridges during the morning peak.

  • J:Lai

    It would be interesting to know how the queens-midtown tunnel, which is tolled, compares to the bridge in terms of usage.
    The crossings are close enough that they should be substitutes for a lot of drivers, if pricing was brought to parity.

  • Fake Marcia Kramer

    Ernie and I are investigating this new attempt to discriminate against drivers. An unemployed, single mother from Jackson Heights called Ernie’s help line to let us know a bus lane on the Queensboro would wreck her life. She has to drive her nine children to nine different schools in Manhattan. Traffic is bad enough without taking space away from traffic. She is angry that the mayor refuses to meet with her about this. Watch for our upcoming 21 part story on “Mayor Mike’s Secret Plan to Screw City Drivers!”

  • J:Lai — the Q’boro attracts roughly twice the amount of traffic as the QMT. You can see the daily inbound/outbound numbers for all Manhattan crossings on page 21 of this PDF (at the end of fourth paragraph in Noah’s piece).

  • Danny G

    Physically separated bus lanes would be useful. I know at least some of the express buses go inbound through the tunnel and outbound over the bridge. Hence, the bridge and tunnel should not be thought of separately, but merely rights-of-way of an improved bus system, especially with the 34th Street crosstown busway becoming operational in 2011-2012. Treat it as a loop line and carve out space for buses appropriately.

  • More than half the respondents to the survey took the subway as an occasional alternative to the bus because it was “faster and more convenient.” In my mind, that means that they take the bus because they can get a seat and have time to kill. If you speed up the bus, won’t more people be taking the bus instead of the subway, making the buses more crowded and giving commuters another reason to drive to Manhattan? At least when you drive you get a seat to yourself.

  • Danny G


    The buses are ideal for multitasking, and you get cell reception the whole ride in. You get a seat for yourself when you ride a bike, too, but it’s tricky to read or eat breakfast while driving or riding.

  • Car Free Nation

    The best thing about dedicated bus lanes – fewer lanes for passenger cars, which means less traffic in the city, less double-parking, faster commutes, etc.

  • rlb

    Very importantly, the survey read “‘fast’ OR ‘more convenient'”. If it were and, I don’t think those people would be on the bus.

  • Ian Turner

    If we can’t toll the free bridges, let’s just make them available exclusively for public transit. It’s not like we’d lose out on revenue.

  • Woody

    The bus-only express lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel and beyond seem to be hugely popular and successful.

    Yes, if bus travel were improved with shortened ride times, some commuters might switch from the subway to the bus. How is that bad? Aren’t the Queens subway lines famously overcrowded at rush hour?

    If the buses get more riders, we could need more buses. So be it. I can hardly see arguing against a new transit alternative because it might be too popular. It could also happen that chopping 30 minutes off the trip time would allow each bus to make one more trip each day. Imagine the productivity!

  • ChrisC

    >>The bus-only express lanes through the Lincoln Tunnel and beyond seem to be hugely popular and successful.<<

    The Lincoln Tunnel express lane now moves so many buses that one lane is no longer sufficient for what it does.

    Lincoln Tunnel has one inbound (to Manhattan) bus only lane in the AM peak. So many buses use it that they can be backed up all the way through the tunnel at times. And there is no bus-only lane going back to Jersey in the PM.

    What they need to do is have one inbound lane and one outbound lane that are bus-only 24/7, and a reversible lane that is bus-only inbound in the AM, and bus-only outbound in the PM.

    I'm sure drivers would whine about losing lanes, but faster/better bus service with fewer delays would get many car drivers to switch to buses, so there would be fewer cars using the tunnel, and they wouldn't need as many lanes.

  • J:Lai

    Ben Fried – thanks for that!

    Jonathan – even if the only impact of faster bus service was to shift some trips from subway to bus, that would be positive as it would reduce overcrowding on subways.
    However, it is probably safe to assume that there would be some shifting to bus travel from driving, as well as subways.

  • BicyclesOnly

    I had always assumed that if this adminsitration failed in enacting congestion pricing, it would at least address the congestion problem (if not improve revenue) by giving roadway space to mass transit users. Heightened enforcement in the First and Second Avenue SBS lanes may be a start, but aside from that, not much has been done. As long we keep rolling out the red carpet to motorists looking for a bargain, we are inducing, not solving, transportion problems.

  • Inconsiderate

    Danny, people like you make riding the bus or train even more unpleasant than it already is. Who want’s to sit or stand next to you and your smelly breakfast and listen to you yap on the phone? I sure don’t.

  • Danny G


    Thanks for the response. With all do respect, on mass transit I set the ringer to vibrate and typically limit myself to texting. If I do get a call, I make it a point to speak quieter than if I were speaking to someone next to me in real life. And though I make sure to take all trash with me, I must concede your point on the food smell factor. In fact, just today I ate a Trini bake with spinach and pumpkin, and it was delicious.

  • Inconsiderate

    Danny G, I apologize for my hostile tone, and for assuming you are inconsiderate. While you may be considerate of others, I’m sure you can agree that many people are not. I’m still not a fan of people eating on the bus/train in general. What smells good to some can be repulsive to others.

  • zach

    The number of bus commuters needs to be put in context with the number of car commuters. If bus riders represent 1/2 the commuters, they deserve 1/4 to 1/3 of the lanes -those carrying giant equipment and goods need somehow be exempt from calculations, but if 16,000 represents only 1/4 of the car commuters, it’s a tougher argument to make.

    Is there a simple way to calculate number of passengers in buses and compare to passengers in cars? Apples to apples. Number of people.

  • capt subway

    Danny G: with all do respect to you and your ilk eating and drinking on the subway should be prohibited and punishable with a fine, as it is in the Wash DC metro. The smells of some of the fast food slop people eat on the train is truly nauseating. And if consuming food and drink on the trains were forbidden the trains, stations and tracks would be a lot cleaner for sure.

    And Fake Marcia Kramer (post #2): an “unemployed single mother with nine kids” has to drive them to nine different schools in Manhattan? WTF is this some kind of joke? And she needs to do it by car? Tell her to loose the car and take the train. It’s faster, and she’ll have thousands of extra dollars in her pocket by not having to support a car. BTW, I live in Queens too. The last I heard there are neighborhood schools of every type and every level in Jackson Hts.

  • capt subway

    PS: The Queensboro Bridge is a case history in how the automobile totally took over streets and roads and crowded out every other form of transportation. When the bridge was originally opened there were, on the upper level, two rapid transit tracks for el trains from the 2nd Ave el flanked by two pedestrian walkways. On the lower level the two outer roadways were exclusively for streetcars. Only the inner lower level roadway, five lanes up until relatively recently, was for motorized (in those days also horse-drawn) traffic. Eventually motorized traffic took every single lane – all 10 lanes! Pedestrians and cyclists had to fight long and hard to get one of the former streetcar lanes dedicated to their use. It’s about time to take back more of those lanes. Dedicated bus (eventually convertible to light rail) lanes is a good place to start.

  • Fake Marcia Kramer = someone making fun of Marcia Kramer. If the bit about driving nine kids to nine different Manhattan schools didn’t clue you in, I don’t know what will.

  • capt subway

    Yeah Alon Levy I kind of figured it was a joke. But here on the blogs you’ve got so many nuts leaving comments you never know who’s on the level. And people enslaved to their cars regularly make the most outrageous claims about why they must continue driving – no matter what.


Photo: Rebecca Bailin/Riders Alliance

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