MTA Plans Busway Beneath the M Train in Ridgewood

The MTA is working on a plan for a short busway in Ridgewood that would run for six-tenths of a mile beneath the elevated M tracks, between Fresh Pond Road and Palmetto Street. While the project wouldn’t transform a car-choked traffic sewer into a pedestrian-friendly transit boulevard (the right-of-way is currently a series of weed-strewn parking lots), it could be NYC’s first new separated busway since the Fulton Mall opened in the 1970s.

The western end of the Ridgewood Busway route, beneath the elevated M train at Onderdonk Avenue. Photo: ##!data=!1m8!1m3!1d3!2d-73.906607!3d40.703558!2m2!1f81.89!2f90!4f75!2m7!1e1!2m2!1s11U3IamR1bjeVfaD9hLvUA!2e0!5m2!1s11U3IamR1bjeVfaD9hLvUA!2e0&fid=5##Google Maps##

The busway would have one lane in each direction and three bus stops. (Overhead, the M train stops at Fresh Pond Road, Forest Avenue, and Seneca Avenue.)

In its recently-released 20-Year Capital Needs Assessment [PDF], the MTA said the busway, which leads directly to the Fresh Pond bus depot, “will reduce travel times and reduce operating costs for several bus routes.” The MTA says the project would save approximately $1 million in operating costs annually.

Buses currently running east-west in the area are the Q58, B13, and B20, which carry a combined 41,428 passengers on an average weekday. Slightly more than two-thirds of that ridership is on the Q58.

Engineering and planning firm Parsons Brinckerhoff performed a conceptual engineering study for the busway in 2012. The project, included in the regional transportation funding plan approved last month by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council [PDF], would be funded by $11.64 million from the federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement program and $2.91 million in matching funds from the MTA scheduled for Fiscal Year 2015. The total project cost is between $12.5 and $19 million; the MTA says the cost has not been finalized and that it has not yet made a decision on whether to proceed with the project.

New York has no bus routes where cars can’t intrude and slow down transit riders. A DOT plan to build a separated busway on 34th Street was scuttled in 2011, resulting in a more modest plan to improve the M34 SBS route. The MTA has proposed a busway along an elevated railroad track on Staten Island’s north shore, but the Ridgewood project looks like it could be up and running first. While it won’t set a precedent for carving a separated busway out of car lanes, it would help show how quickly, smoothly, and reliably buses can run when traffic doesn’t get in the way.

  • Jeff

    Why doesn’t Fulton Mall in Downtown Brooklyn qualify as a “pedestrian-friendly transit boulevard”?

  • Collective brain lapse here at sblog. Post corrected.

  • Ian Turner

    What about this bit: “New York has no bus routes where cars can’t intrude and slow down transit riders”?

    Besides Fulton St., Ridgewood itself has such a section for one block here:

  • Since the cross-streets on Fulton don’t align with each other, private cars can use the busway for short jogs. I doubt this slows down the buses noticeably but you do see cars on the transit mall. This project looks like it will be a right-of-way exclusively for buses and would have multiple stops, unlike various short bus-only segments here and there in the city.

  • Stephen Bauman

    This proposed “busway” was used by trolley cars until 1949. There are several other private trolley car rights of way that were turned into lanes for automobile traffic.

  • kevd

    Well, it is very frequently used by private vehicles…
    Including me on my bike.
    But mostly by cars.

  • Ari

    Two questions:

    1) Will it be camera-enforced? If not, cars will intrude.

    2) Who parks there now? Depending on that answer, makes the change could prove difficult.

  • Bolwerk

    Got friends there I see frequently, so I’m familiar with the ROW. This one is used for parking nowadays. I’m not even clear whose parking, but it looks private. Also, a busway might destroy some green spaces and cost some sidewalk space.

    FWIW, it’s probably a better route than Red Hook for a restored surface rail service, given that it’s near a major bus depot and Maspeth is probably one of the few places in the city with lots of spare, cheap land for storage. It could even be a good anchor for a city-wide

    OTOH, it’s a short private ROW and may as well be fed by the buses already passing through. It’s not the kind of galling, wasteful anti-rail delusion the North Shore BRT or Quinn’s Triborough RX BRT are.

    But, still, it’s a low-traffic area anyway, so why a private transit ROW here? Might be worth it for a loftier project, but for a few blocks it doesn’t gain very much.

  • Bolwerk

    1) “DO NOT ENTER BUSES ONLY” signs seem to work, going by the Ridgewood intermodal bus station.

    2) Looks private/residential to me, but I am not 100% sure. Better to let the land sit fallow than to allow parking, in any case.

  • Bolwerk

    Not sure Ridgewood lacks those problems. There are two cases where small green spaces would be lost to make bus traffic effectual, and two others where significant pedestrian space might be threatened (dangerously, for peds). And I don’t really see how this speeds buses up significantly, since the traffic problems tend to be on the cross streets (mainly Forest and Fresh Pond).

    It’d be nice to get rid of the parking, but I otherwise can’t say I exactly get this project. The area already has one of the quietest “inner city” stretches of subway in NYC, and they couldn’t run enough buses to be more than a drop in the bucket next to the underutilized capacity of the M. Even the B13 bus runs parallel to the M from Wyckoff to Forest, and is practically empty.

  • It saves the MTA money while speeding up trips for existing passengers. So really the question is, why not do this?

  • Bolwerk

    What money? There are not many riders, and little traffic to circumvent. If the M isn’t inducing demand, why would a bus paralleling the M?

    Why not do it? Lost green space and intersections that would cut into sidewalks. Small, but certainly something to consider.

    The private ROW belongs on Myrtle Avenue.

  • “The MTA says the project would save approximately $1 million in operating costs annually.”

  • Bolwerk

    I saw that, but I guess I just don’t see how it adds up. Like I said, low-traffic area, and this doesn’t even avoid the traffic the Q58 faces. Depending on circumstances, it might avoid some of the passengers. :-

    I was contracting in LIC last year, and would take the B13 from Brooklyn to the Q39 at Forest Ave. It was actually an unusually fast trip for a city bus over that distance, but the last part of the B13 that needed a private ROW was parallel to the M.

  • Christina

    They’re probably planning to shut down the M shuttle on weekends and overnight and replace it with this. That’s where the savings comes in.

  • Andrew

    The M runs with one-person crews on weekends. Replacing that operation with buses – it would require far more buses than it does trains – would increase costs significantly.

    Besides, they’ve already announced that the weekend M is being extended to Essex next year.

    So, no, I don’t think that’s the plan at all.

    I think the plan is to take some buses off of the public streets, where private vehicles get in the way.


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