Lander Intros Bill to Push NYC Bus Service to the Next Level

Yesterday, Council Member Brad Lander introduced a bill that would require DOT, in consultation with the MTA and the public, to create a citywide master plan for developing Bus Rapid Transit.

The busway that wasn't: The abandoned plan for a 34th Street transitway would have created NYC's first separated bus lanes. Image: NYC DOT

The bill, if enacted, would require the agency to submit a plan to the City Council, borough presidents, and community boards within two years. At a minimum, the plan must:

  • Identify areas of the city in need of better access to transit
  • Designate “priority corridors” within and between boroughs that can have BRT within 10 years
  • Identify strategies for connecting BRT to existing and planned transit services, including ferries
  • Estimate capital and operating costs for each BRT route

The plan does not have to be updated on a regular basis, but Lander is open to future modifications.

Although City Council members and mayoral candidates alike profess enthusiasm for BRT, upgrading the city’s bus network faces major hurdles. So far, the Select Bus Service program has attracted new riders and shaved trip times, but without any physically-separated or center-running busways, the routes don’t qualify as “true BRT” as defined by the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy.

SBS has rolled out at a pace of about one route per year. While two routes in the Bronx have been implemented with strong local backing, crosstown routes in Manhattan were either watered down (on 34th Street) or cancelled (on 125th Street) after facing pushback from businesses and local politicians. Meanwhile, flashing lights on SBS buses — which help riders tell them apart from local buses — remain dark due to Albany inaction.

While the MTA signaled its commitment to continuing the rollout of enhanced bus routes by releasing an updated “phase two” SBS map this week, it’s an open question whether the next administration’s DOT will be committed to the heavy lifting required to reallocate road space for dedicated busways.

Lander’s bill is modeled on the 2008 law that required the Department of City Planning to create a comprehensive waterfront plan, and he cited the Solid Waste Management Plan as another successful model for this bill. “In general, the city would be better served by more systems-level infrastructure planning,” he said. Unlike many cities, New York does not have a comprehensive citywide plan that links land use, transportation, and other key issues. Even the city’s bike master plan was last updated in 1996.

Lander is confident the city will continue to make progress on bicycling despite lacking a comprehensive plan, but for BRT, he thinks the future is less certain. “On bike infrastructure, this administration has done enough that the path forward has been given a very strong push,” he said. “On BRT we don’t have that momentum yet.”

  • Bolwerk

    The Rubinstein article today nailed the fundamental problem: “The Council can’t mandate that the department of transportation create a bus network that’s something like a surface-level subway system.” Focus should be on fixing this. Otherwise, we’re just asking for more 34th Street BRT debacles. The resources wasted fighting with NIMBYs are resources that could be spent on better transit.

    There is no rational excuse for having the process so easily hijacked by NIMBYs. The vast majority of people benefit benefit from better service the vast majority of the time. The type of crap the NIMBYs pull isn’t even excusable on environmental grounds since SBS, if not exactly green, is still an improvement over clogged local buses, which are themselves still an improvement over cars.

  • JamesR

    If this goes into effect and the plan is written, I’m hoping that the capital budget set forth in the plan takes into account the huge amount in wear and tear on city streets that will result from a significant increase in bus service (especially if we are talking about tandem-style buses). Road conditions are poor as is, and buses (like trucks) absolutely pulverize any road along their route over time.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “There is no rational excuse for having the process so easily hijacked by NIMBYs.”

    I think the excuse is that with so few people paying attention to elections for City Council and state legislature, those who do get to manipulate things in their own interest. They screw the common people and the common future because they can, because the common people who will be here in the common future let them.

    In fairness, that’s why the so-called “bike lobby” is allegedly so awesome. Not because it is so large. Because because there is so little out there.

  • ohnonononono

    The ferries! The ferries! All buses must now connect with ferries!

  • Anonymous

    If the buses go faster you can provide for the same ridership with FEWER buses, rather than more.

    Also, if buses get exclusive lanes generally when those lanes are re-paved they would be paved with concrete.

  • Bolwerk

    ‘Tis true, but not really what James is talking about. One bus going over a stretch of pavement 10 times probably has the same impact as 10 going over one time. The savings with SBS probably goes to the TA in lower bus maintenance and labor costs, not so much to the city. I have no idea how they budget for it though, or if the MTA pays the DoT for some of the new cost.

    However, it seems to me they are not repaving at all. They paint over the lane, and the paint wears off rather quickly.

  • Anonymous

    Well, i said WHEN they repave, not meaning they should do it immediately.

    The city tends to be penny-wise, pound foolish on these things, so they probably wouldnt make them concrete even though busways elsewhere generally are.

    The city HAS made some bus stops concrete though (on regular buses, not SBS), which at least cuts down on the wavy mess of asphalt where they pull off and stop/start, which I assume causes even more wear than just driving.

  • Joe R.

    The city didn’t even do the concrete bus stops the right way. The blocks always get out of alignment, to the point where one block is a few inches higher at the expansion joints.

    NYC seriously needs some quality control for road work. Whoever rebuilds a road needs to include a guarantee that it stays fixed for x number of years, or they redo it. There also needs to be standards which a freshly rebuilt road must meet. I see too many roads which are repaved but have wavy pavement, manholes or sewers not flush with the pavement, ridges, ruts, and other defects.

    And 100% of the roads should be concrete when they’re rebuilt. With the heavy traffic most roads see, there’s not much reason to use asphalt. It’s penny-wise but dollar foolish.

    In the end I just don’t get it. The Romans built roads which are still in use today. NYC seemingly can’t keep any stretch of road in good repair for more than a few years. I think we need to change our business model here. A contractor should get x dollars per year when a road is kept in good shape. If the road doesn’t meet standards, they don’t get paid until its fixed. This would encourage rebuilding roads to a high standard which wouldn’t need much maintenance for a few decades. And ConEd should have to make any repairs to those same high standards. Or better yet, put the utilities in a trench or tunnel so they can be accessed without tearing up the street.

  • Bolwerk

    I always thought asphalt looks like shit.

    Hell, it’d be nice if they’d experiment with prefabricated roadway. I bet they tear up the streets enough to warrant it in some places.

  • Ian Turner

    I suspect if the city tried to make contracts of the type you describe, then the contractors would make the city litigate for every little pothole.

  • Joe R.

    I think what would happen is all the shoddy contractors who couldn’t repair a road if their life depended on it would go out of business, and only the ones who could do quality work would remain. That’s usually what happens when you have standards. Right now there’s little incentive to fix roads right the first time when you can keep making money fixing the same pothole over and over again. There are still potholes in my neighborhood popping up in the exact same places as they did 35 years ago when we first moved here. You would think after over 3 decades somebody would finally fix them for good.

  • Ian Turner

    Right, that’s what happened with the MTA’s program to outsource escalator maintenance, right?

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