The Case for Center-Running Bus Lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard

We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.
We can rebuild Woodhaven Boulevard as a great transit street. We have the space.

The proposal to improve bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens is the most exciting street redesign in the works in New York City right now, with the potential to break new ground for bus riders and dramatically improve safety. With as many as five lanes in each direction, Woodhaven Boulevard has plenty of space that can be devoted to exclusive transitways and concrete pedestrian safety measures.

NYC DOT and the MTA are holding a series of public workshops to inform the project, with initial improvements scheduled for this year and more permanent changes coming later. This is a chance for the city and the MTA to build center-running transit lanes that will speed bus trips more than previous Select Bus Service routes, where buses often have to navigate around illegally-parked cars. Critical design decisions could be made this summer.

Kathi Ko at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign has filed dispatches from the first round of public meetings, and she reports that participants ranged from change-averse to eager for “big and bold ideas.”

Of course, it’s the change-averse who sit on the community boards and are getting most of the local press attention. Queens Community Board 9 transportation committee chair Kenichi Wilson told DOT that “the only way I would support” the project is if it doesn’t affect curbside parking, according to the Queens Chronicle. At an earlier meeting, the first vice chair of Queens CB 10, John Calcagnile, predicted that the elimination of parking to make way for interim bus lanes “will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area.”

Experience with Select Bus Service suggests otherwise. Along Fordham Avenue in the Bronx, parking was eliminated and meters were added to side streets in order to run curbside buses for the city’s first SBS route. Merchants objected at first, but three years later, retail sales had improved 71 percent — triple the borough-wide average.

Those results shouldn’t be surprising: Each curbside parking spot takes up a lot of space — in terms of spatial efficiency, parking can’t compete with providing better customer access through improved bus service.

But there’s also a best-of-both-worlds opportunity buried underneath the opposition to parking loss on Woodhaven Boulevard. The most effective configuration for the bus lanes would be to run them along the center of the street, where drivers trying to access the curb won’t get in the way. One side effect: The curb could stay the way it is.

In this case, we’re looking at a rare alignment between the best transit solution and the parking-above-all contingent.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Three birds can be knocked with one stone with the benefits of 1) center-running bus lanes comparable to Bogotá’s TransMilenio 2) actually preserving curbside parking and use it to our advantage via parking-protected curbside bicycle infrastructure and 3) reducing vehicular travel lanes reduces the opportunity to speed thus more in-line with Vision Zero. (See the graphics per the MTR link). Woodhaven Blvd has the potential to be the flagship intermodal thoroughfare if constituents were not so change-averse. This is as good as it gets to a Goldilocks solution and the City should take advantage of this now before we deadlock ourselves with alternate plans floating around that will just shortchange Queens residents. I use to live on Woodhaven Blvd and the Q53, even though it was a Limited, was packed to the rim. The Q11 never comes when you want it. This was before the TA added 2 new lines to alleviate overcrowding.

    On a related note, people have suggested to reactive the old LIRR ROW for active transit use. Forget about it, it will never happen. This may be one of the rare legitimate cases for a NIMBY to be one, since the ROW literally runs adjacent to property owner’s backyards. Either the ROW will be fresh parkland or nothing will happen, but an active transit line of any sort on that railway…keep dreaming.

    If this implementation is successful, this can be a model for the rethinking of other major thoroughfares throughout Queens (i.e: Queens Blvd, Northern Blvd, Union Tpke, etc…)

  • Bob

    And PLEASE beautify the median with trees, a la West Street in Manhattan. I know some of WB has trees, but they aren’t well-kept and they are surrounded by asphalt and concrete with small beds (thus drying out very quickly, which makes them look like they belong in a horror movie). A small, but worthwhile move to beautify the road and reduce stormwater.

  • Daphna

    I would like to see center running bus lanes. I would also like to see center running bike lanes. Then there would not be double parked vehicles in the bus or bike lanes. Also, it would take the bus and/or bike lanes out of the fight about curbside use. NYC curbside parking regulations are broken and thus create a scarcity of curbside availability. However, as soon as a curbside bus or bike lane is created, then that lane become the scapegoat, as if there was no curbside parking problem until that lane came along. I would like to see bus and bike infrastructure along the median so that they are out of the fray of the fight for scarce curbside space that remains too under-priced to create the turnover of spots needed.

  • Roger R.

    Great article Ben! This follows the Dutch approach, which maximizes safety…and that’s reflected in their amazing record. Put the largest vehicles, with the highest priority, on reserved lanes in the center. Doesn’t matter if it’s buses or LRT. Then, moving out from the center, your car lanes. Then your parking lane (if you have it or a concrete buffer if you don’t) and then the bike lane, and then the sidewalk. It’s the safest and most equitable way to do it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The Brighton Line runs through backyards too. People seem to want to live there even so.

  • BBnet3000

    Just posting to dispel the left side door requirement myth in advance.

    You can have right-side doors in a center-running busway if you stagger the stops (ie both directions stop after the intersection).

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    The Brighton Line was never deactivated. It most likely predates the houses that surround it. To deactivate a line, allow development adjacent it to occur, and then reactive it suddenly, especially after ~ 50yrs of inactivity, will not be without overcoming heavy opposition.

  • Andrew

    And here are a few cases against:

    1. Everybody catching the bus, from any direction, will have to cross a wide street to reach the bus stop in the middle, significantly increasing access time. Intending bus riders who haven’t yet crossed to the middle and see a bus approaching will be incentivized to cross against the light so as not to miss the bus. And, assuming the crosswalk is only at the intersection, anybody approaching from the other end of the bus (from the front end at a far-side stop or from the rear end at a near-side stop) will have to walk the length of the bus only to reach the crosswalk in the first place.

    2. A narrow island in the middle of the street is an inhospitable place to wait for a bus. It will be hot in summer (standard NYC bus shelters don’t provide shelter from sun) and cold in winter. People waiting for the bus won’t be able to kill time or duck out of nasty weather in a nearby business, since all the nearby businesses are across a wide street. If there’s a delay in service and the waiting crowd gets unusually large, there may be crowd control issues given the limited space available – especially when the bus finally arrives and another large crowd gets off and steps into the same space.

    3. On other SBS corridors, local buses also benefit from the bus lanes. Presumably, here, the Q11/Q21 locals would retain their current curbside stops, rendering them unable to use the bus lanes to bypass traffic jams. And it’s not clear to me where the QM5/QM15/QM16/QM17 would land.

    4. Related, for reasonably short trips (and even moderately long trips off-peak, when service is infrequent), many riders are best off taking whichever bus comes first, whether SBS or local. On current SBS corridors, the SBS and local stops are nearby – usually at adjacent stops on the same block, or in some cases on opposite sides of a narrow side street, but rarely if ever on opposite sides of a wide street. If the SBS is placed in the center, it will be virtually impossible to wait for whichever bus comes first – riders will have to pick one in advance and commit to it. While BusTime mitigates this concern somewhat, I don’t think we should require the use of BusTime in order to make a short bus trip.

    5. Depending on the bus lane layout at bus stops, it may be difficult or impossible for one bus to pass another. (Anybody who thinks buses don’t pass other buses, please take a look at any street with frequent bus service.)

    6. At any intersection where general traffic is allowed to turn left, the signal timing is necessarily complex – which delays buses and pedestrians.

    That’s not to say that there are no benefits to median bus lanes, but it’s not at all clear to me that the pros outweigh the cons here. Just because it can be done doesn’t mean it should. If the goal is to simply to discourage double-parking in the bus lane, let’s move the parking to the median and reserve the prime curbside space for bus riders.

  • Bolwerk

    Selfish/dumb opposition can and should be ignored. Modern rail transit can be so quiet it can’t even be heard. That’s impossible with diesel buses.

    Except for removing some encroachments, the impact of reactivation could be about zero. Whether they want it or not, the locals have no excuse for depriving the rest of the city.

  • Bolwerk

    I don’t see center-running as a panacea, but a lot of these drawbacks aren’t very serious. Passing vehicles? That should be discouraged under any circumstances. They should adhere to schedule like trains. While missing buses that might work could be frustrating, by and large the best outcome is for riders to go to the vehicle that provides the (frequent) service they need.

    I think curbside running can work about as well as center-running, when it comes down to it. Still, if there are significant differences in throughput between locals and express, maybe center-running makes sense.

  • StepUpAndSaySomething

    Will there be concrete islands for pedestrians to wait for the bus? Will they be protected from the drunk and/or cell phone drivers who can’t control their car?

    Or will busses need to cut across multiple lanes for curb side pickup?

    Dedicated bus lanes are a big improvement over the 1 person per SUV that fills up most lanes now. We just need to make sure it’s done right so it works. Half the effort returns far less then half the reward.

  • BBnet3000

    The Q53 is already frequent enough that it doesnt pay to run for it really. This would be doubly true if the buses didnt bunch all the time.

  • Regarding people crossing against the light to get to the middle of the street, a version of this already happens with current configurations, when someone on the other side of the street needing to catch a bus in the opposite direction sees a bus coming and sprints across the street, against the light. One can not control for every possible “bad” behavior.

  • QueensWatcher

    Yes, there would be concrete islands. This design exists in many cities around the world and is very successful. Google “Bogota BRT” and you will see several examples of the way medians could be designed.

  • QueensWatcher

    1. This would function more like a subway than a local bus. There are plenty of examples where subways and local buses run in parallel – one above the other, and users have to commit to one or the other. With dedicated lanes you can increase the number of buses and maintain the schedule. Add traffic light control to the buses and they should work like clock work so it would not be difficult to plan your trip and make the right choice for you.

    2. BRT systems don’t utilize narrow islands. Again more like a subway stop with an elevated platform so you walk or roll straight on to the bus.

    3. True with an SBS curbside lane the locals would benefit, but then the locals would be backup behind the SBS which itself was forced to dodge around parked cars and get stuck in traffic, so the benefit isn’t all that great. A true BRT though should take cars off the road and that would benefit the local busses more.

    4. Again, this is the same issue where you have subway and bus lines running together. You have to make the choice and its not that big of a deal.

    5. Buses wouldn’t need to pass each other. Buses pass each other now because Bus #1 gets delayed in traffic and is busy picking up passengers when Bus #2 comes along and leap-frogs it. A BRT with a dedicated lane and traffic light control doesn’t have this problem because it doesn’t get stuck in traffic and it is much more able to maintain its schedule.

    6. There are light-rail and tram lines all over the world that have to deal with this issue. The BRT would have priority and would control the lights. Really not a problem at all.

  • BBnet3000

    You can also see examples of what the stops might look like on the T-Third light rail line in San Francisco.

  • Seth Rosenblum

    To respond to the heat concerns of #2, adding concrete bus stops in the middle of the road also provides a good location for tree pits. These not only provide shade for the bus stop, but they also can extend over the previously exposed asphalt, greatly reducing the heat island effect on such a wide roadway.

  • Bolwerk

    IIRC, removing traffic has a nontrivial effect on ambient heat.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll also add that with traffic signal preemption and infrequent stops you can run the buses in the center lane much faster than 30 mph. They will be segregated from other traffic in terms of time and space. Street crossings will be operationally closer to railroad crossings than to intersections, so it should be possible to run the buses at up to their maximum speeds (65 mph?) in between stops. If stops are spaced about 1 mile apart, and we assume dwell times in the neighborhood of 30 seconds per stop, you could end up with average travel speeds well over 30 mph. These much higher average speeds would give lots of people incentive to use the bus who wouldn’t even think of using a pokey local bus now.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding #4, there’s absolutely no reason the local bus couldn’t make curbside pickups, and then stop at the relatively infrequent center lane bus stops to make connections with the center lane express. In fact, that’s the best way to do it since the majority of people will probably need to board the local bus first to take them to the nearest express stop.

    As for #1, no reason you couldn’t have an overpass or underpass to reach the bus stop. That’s really a preferable solution anyway over missing a bus because you’re waiting to cross a street with long light cycles like Woodhaven Boulevard.

  • Joe R.

    As would repaving major roads in concrete, which both lasts longer and is far less prone to potholes.

  • lop

    Why would we want buses swerving across multiple lanes of traffic on a heavily congested road several times every run? If someone needs to transfer from a local to SBS why can’t they cross half of Woodhaven/Cross bay? Wouldn’t it slow the locals down getting across the road?

    Think about the required footprint for an ADA compliant under/overpass. Might not be the most practical solution on a truck route that would need a high clearance.

  • Joe R.

    It’s faster for a bus to get across several lanes of traffic than for someone to cross it on foot. It’s also safer. And if this is successful there would be considerably less traffic to deal with.

    Same line of thought regarding over/under passes. You really don’t want people crossing Woodhaven Boulevard at all to catch buses given the numbers that would be doing so. And not everything needs to be ADA compliant. While I feel for people who have difficulty getting around, in the end the great experiment with giving the handicapped more mobility has come at the cost of far fewer major projects being built due to the huge increases in cost. This is a case where it’s more cost effective for society to just pay the handicapped to remain at home than to take measures to help them get to work.

    Frankly, I’m not a big fan of center lane running as it creates as many problems as it solves. You can have a pair of bus lanes curbside (the local lane near the curb and the express/passing lane next to it) which accomplish pretty much the same thing. Stick the parking along the center median, if you have to have car parking at all (which in NYC I don’t see why you do). With traffic light preemption curbside bus lanes can be just as fast as center-running bus lanes without the problems.

    The real reason center-running bus lanes are being talked about here is thanks to people like Kenichi (we can’t lose curbside parking) Wilson. Really, it’s ridiculous in 2014 that curbside parking in a place like NYC should even factor into policy decisions.

  • lop

    Traffic levels will remain high no matter how good the bus setup is, don’t be ridiculous, buses will have difficulty getting across the road. Why not put the locals in the middle in a second bus lane there? The bottlenecks with 3 lanes wouldn’t have any bus stops, so it’s alright if the buses merge down to one lane, then the whole road would have only two general traffic lanes. And you wouldn’t have to fight over parking.

    “This is a case where it’s more cost effective for society to just pay the handicapped to remain at home than to take measures to help them get to work.”

    …um…is that an option? Or are you suggesting putting this project on hold for a decade to fight over a change to federal law? How would that be easier than getting rid of a few parking spots for larger bus stops on the curb with a bus passing lane next to it, or the bus lane on the curb and the parking offset with gaps in the parking lane for buses to pull in?

    This part of southern Queens is very auto oriented. Because it was built as a car oriented Manhattan suburb. Not sure why you’re surprised people want to keep their parking.

  • lop

    You’ll have a hard time keeping cars from speeding when the buses zoom by at 65. Not to mention the noise from a bus moving that fast is severe.

  • Joe R.

    Not sure why you’re surprised people want to keep their parking.

    I’m not surprised but I don’t think curbside parking should factor into NYC policy decisions. If car parking is that important to a business, then it will provide a parking lot. And if a business really claims to need below market rate curbside parking to survive, then perhaps the business simply isn’t viable. What NYC needs to take a hard look at is how much do auto-oriented businesses generate in tax revenue versus how much the negative effects of auto use (and land use for parking) cost. We might find it’s more cost effective to just let a lot of businesses disappear than to continue with indirect subsidies like curbside parking.

    …um…is that an option? Or are you suggesting putting this project on hold for a decade to fight over a change to federal law?

    If it’s a federal mandate then why isn’t the federal government picking up the tab for the extra cost of ADA compliance?

    And mandate or not, this is something which needs to be looked at nationally, and not just for this project. I understand the rationale behind the ADA. And if the US had ten times as much money for major infrastructure projects I would be 100% behind it. However, the fact is we don’t. We need to build as much as we can to serve the greatest number of people with the limited money we have. That’s going to mean throwing out ADA compliance in many (but not all) cases. I wish it wasn’t so, but that’s the reality. If we have a choice of building 50 miles of subway which serves 95% of the population, or 15 miles of subway which serves 99.9%, I’ll opt for the former in a heartbeat. It may even be that with help of some sort, the 95% accessible subway will be able to serve most of the disabled without providing expensive means of access. Several things even look really promising in that regard, such as wheelchairs capable of negotiating regular stairs: http://www.frankmobility.com/scalamobil.php

    It may be that we can rethink the ADA in terms of current and future equipment. I’m all in favor of mobility for all, but we need to find more creative, cost effective means to enable it.

  • Joe R.

    Noise on Woodhaven or other arterials where 65 mph buses might make sense is moot. None of them are exactly tree-lined, quiet side streets right now. And you can quiet buses running at speed considerably with different tires, more streamlining, and perhaps eventually electric operation.

    As for the cars speeding, speed cams could deal with that.

  • Andrew

    I don’t see center-running as a panacea, but a lot of these drawbacks aren’t very serious.

    They certainly seem like they could potentially be far more serious than the supposed benefits.

    Passing vehicles? That should be discouraged under any circumstances. They should adhere to schedule like trains.

    Seriously? So if a wheelchair rider is taking too long to board, the driver should just drive off in order to stick to schedule?

    Even with perfect bus lanes, there’s still quite a bit of unpredictability in bus service. Train service, too, to a far lesser extent, and the inability for one train to pass another is a bug, not a feature. When it comes to trains, the advantages of capacity and speed outweigh the disadvantage of inability to pass. Is that the case for buses as well? I’m quite skeptical.

    While missing buses that might work could be frustrating, by and large the best outcome is for riders to go to the vehicle that provides the (frequent) service they need.

    Yes, once you’ve eliminated the option to take whichever comes first, riders are best off waiting for the more frequent of the two. Off-peak, based on current headways, you’ve effectively cut service for such riders by 30%, from 13 bph to 9 bph, on top of increasing access time. Should these riders consider that effective service cut as a good thing, because BRT?

    I think curbside running can work about as well as center-running, when it comes down to it. Still, if there are significant differences in throughput between locals and express, maybe cen ter-runn ing makes sense.

    If center running is more beneficial than disbeneficial, great! But I have a feeling that much of what we’re seeing is a burning desire for “True BRT” as defined by Walter Hook. But who gives a hoot what Walter Hook calls it? I want the best bus service possible, wherever that may happen to be, curbside or center. Center bus lanes should certainly be considered, but if curbside lanes would yield better bus service for the people who will actually be riding the bus, then we shouldn’t put the bus lanes in the center just to please Walter Hook.

  • Andrew

    Whether or not you personally think it’s worth running for the bus (base off-peak headways are 10 minutes on the Q53 and 20 minutes on the Q52, assuming no bunching whatsoever, and I certainly wouldn’t be happy to miss a bus at anywhere close to those headways), the basic point remains that access time to and from the bus stop is increased, which is a service degradation. If the benefits of center running outweigh the disbenefits, let’s go for it! But I’m not at all convinced that they do.

  • Andrew

    Roughly twice as many people would have to cross busy Woodhaven to reach the middle of the street than to reach one side – and those who have to cross currently would be restricted in sequence.

    For instance, take a northbound far-side bus stop, on the northeast corner of the street. People approaching from the northwest are marginally better off with center-running, since they’d have to wait for the light in either case, but with center-running they’d only have to cross halfway. But people approaching from the southwest are worse off, since they’d have to cross first north and then east, while at present they can cross either street first. And, quite obviously, anybody approaching from the northeast or northwest can currently reach the bus stop without crossing Woodhaven at all, while with center-running, they’d need to wait for the light and cross midway.

    On average, it will take three-quarters of the riders longer to get to the stop they need, and it will take three-quarters of the riders longer once they get off the bus. That increase in access time is significant and can’t be ignored.

  • Andrew

    1. This would not have the speed or the frequency or the capacity or the reliability of a subway. If done right, it would be a great improvement over standard bus service, but it’s still a bus. Subway riders don’t have to commit in advance to the express or the local, and off-peak, many will gladly take whichever one pulls up first (especially in hot weather!).

    2. There are certainly not going to be high-level platforms at bus stops. That would require every single stop on the line – down to the Rockaways and up to Woodside – to be fitted with high-level platforms. Nobody is envisioning service using anything other than typical low-floor (probably articulated, if the other SBS corridors are any indication) buses.

    3. Have you ridden the M15 or Bx12 or Bx41 or B44? In fact, both the locals and the SBS benefit from the bus lanes.

    4. As I said, it’s more akin to local/express subway service, where riders most certainly have the choice and take advantage of it.

    5. There will inevitably be service perturbations. An unusually heavy load (due to a connection with a crowded train, perhaps), a wheelchair, a traffic jam on the outer sections of the line (the sections without bus lanes), etc. And buses certainly won’t have “traffic light control” – they’ll have some degree of priority at signals, but they will still hit red lights.

    6. As I said, buses would not “control the lights.” Even if DOT is willing to grant buses the closest thing possible to absolute priority (which is quite unlikely), pedestrians who started crossing in the walk phase will still need to be given enough time to finish crossing the street.

  • Andrew

    Are you out of your mind? This is a city street, with cross traffic and pedestrians. It will absolutely not run at 65 mph!

  • Andrew

    A very small minority of SBS riders transfer to or from the local. Most riders are in walking distance, and if that weren’t the case, SBS would be a major service degradation to the existing rider base.

    As lop has said, swerving back and forth is really not a good idea.

  • Joe R.

    Regarding #6, I assume there would be pedestrian refuges adjacent to the bus lane so anyone caught crossing when the bus preempted the traffic signal would have a safe place to wait until the bus passed.

    Yes, anyone already crossing in the bus lane itself will have to be allowed to at least reach a refuge before the bus can proceed but we’re talking here about the time to cross a ~12′ bus lane. That’s under 10 seconds even at the speed my 75 year old mother walks. Of course, the bus can preempt the traffic signal several seconds before it arrives at the intersection to get around this problem.

    As for DOT granting buses full traffic light control, that remains to be seen. From a fairness standpoint it should be done. The only time a bus might hit red lights if it was done is when there’s a bus on the cross street. In that case it might be whichever bus got to the intersection first gets priority. Practically speaking, waiting at a red light for a bus to pass is only a delay of a few seconds. For all intents and purposes we can set this up so 99% of the delay the bus encounters is loading at stops. That’s obviously variable by its nature but buses should be able to keep to schedules somewhat better than they can now.

    We both know this isn’t a replacement for true subway service but it’s the best we can do in an era where nobody is willing to fund the 50-100 route miles of subway NYC sorely needs.

  • Joe R.

    Look, I pretty much agree center running isn’t all that great an idea here. It’s something which might be more suitable for current routes which are express only where there’s only boarding at a few stops before the bus proceeds to Manhattan or wherever its final destination is. I think curbside local and possibly express/passing lanes are much more suitable for the types of service patterns we see in NYC but that means curbside parking must be eliminated/relocated.

  • Andrew

    Agreed strongly regarding a pair of curbside bus lanes. As long as they’re in a pair, they can be curb-separated. Parking can be against that curb.

  • Joe R.

    Put RR type crossing gates at intersections and it absolutely could if doing so would significantly speed up schedules. There are indeed city streets where light rail runs at these kinds of speeds, at least for portions of its run. Remember many city arterials often have 1/4 mile or more in between cross streets. Assuming this is an express service with no need to stop in between intersections, you can greatly reduce scheduled time by running well above the current speed limit with no impact whatsoever on safety. Note I’m assuming two things here. One, there will be RR type crossing gates at any and all intersections the bus might pass at high speed. Two, in between those intersections the bus lane will be physically fenced off so people can’t cross midblock. If we can’t do both these things then obviously it’s not safe to run at high speeds but on many streets this would be perfectly feasible.

    Or NYC could just start doing what it should have done 50 years ago-namely build more subways instead of trying to pretend subways can be replaced by buses.

  • lop

    If you have parking on the curb, then a bus lane, then general traffic lanes, you could keep the existing bus stops, make them a bit longer if necessary so that locals can pull in fully and leave the lane free for SBS and express buses to pass.

  • Bolwerk

    Seriously? So if a wheelchair rider is taking too long to board, the driver should just drive off in order to stick to schedule?

    No, but the schedule should have some expected wheelchair boardings built in. And wheelchairs can board reasonably quickly with level boarding (admittedly a weakness for buses), so maybe this is a minimal adjustment.

    Train service, too, to a far lesser extent, and the inability for one train to pass another is a bug, not a feature. When it comes to trains, the advantages of capacity and speed outweigh the disadvantage of
    inability to pass. Is that the case for buses as well? I’m quite skeptical.

    I would call the need to frequently pass unpredictably a bug. However, passing is impossible on many surface tram services that work in mixed traffic. They deal with the same interference that buses do, and often work at least as well if not better than comparable bus services in mixed traffic.

    Beneficial to have available or no, it’s not that important.

    Off-peak, based on current headways, you’ve effectively cut service for such riders by 30%, from 13 bph to 9 bph, on top of increasing access time. Should these riders consider that effective service cut as a good thing, because BRT?

    9bph should mean a bus more than every seven minutes, hopefully predictably rather than a guess based on traffic variance. That’s better than much off-peak train service.

    Anyway, shouldn’t the first priority be tailoring each service to ridership demand? Presumably, in this scenario, each service will be quite frequent. If the gap were 15m, my opinion might be different, but ~7m? (If service gets much slower than 4bph, people are probably consulting a schedule anyway.)

    If center running is more beneficial than disbeneficial, great!

    I don’t see that many things you mention that don’t apply to either method in some way. Crowding? Can happen on the sidewalk too. Turning problems with cars? Curb service has its own. Narrowness? Well, that may be a point, but Woodhaven is wide, and sidewalks can be too narrow too.

    The overarching problem in either scenario is: cars. Whatever is done, it requires taking a lot of space from them to make surface transit work better.

    But I have a feeling that much of what we’re seeing is a burning desire for “True BRT” as defined by Walter Hook.

    *shrug*

    Well, I’m obviously far from a Hook acolyte. Buses should be for scaling out, not up. But I think Hook’s ideas are fine if they’re not a doctrinaire ideology. I take it they were designed more for the developing world, where capital is expensive and labor is cheap.

    BRT-the-concept was sold as subway-on-the-surface, rather than as better bus service. As soon as SBS went into operation, SBS wasn’t BRT anymore to that crowd. Embracing someone like Hook gives everyone who thinks all public investment should be poured into BRT an easy rationalization for why their grand designs didn’t work.

    I also think existing SBS works well, and moving to the center lane won’t much alter the dynamics. The drawbacks and benefits will be much the same. It won’t be a subway, but it will still do the things subways don’t do.

  • Bolwerk

    Most of us cross streets all the time whether we intend to take transit or not. I get there are incidental difficulties introduced for some people (e.g., being in different to what bus you take, but the first one that comes is on the wrong side), but overall worrying about crossing the street seems like making a mountain out of a molehill.

    Here is a German equivalent to Woodhaven Blvd. It’s light rail, rather than bus, but otherwise pretty comparable. Left turning cars is largely illegal. Stations are modest concrete slabs. There is no reason a station here can’t be long enough to berth two buses at once, since vehicles obviously can’t be as long.

  • Bolwerk

    Where is anything like this done without grade separation? Even most light rail systems I’ve seen stats for average around 25mph at most, probably slower in city centers.

  • BrooklynBus

    Just came back from Toronto where on Spadina Avenue they have trolleys on their own right of way in the center of the street and the stations were long enough to accommodate at least two trolleys. Crossing the street proved no problem at all. Didn’t even have to think about it.

    The problem was that we had to wait 30 minutes for a streetcar and three came all at once. Can’t really blame that on the traffic.

    So why would reliability be improved with SBS on Woodhaven?

  • lop

    Good point Allan. A dedicated lane only does so much.
    That’s why Spadina was supposed to be more than a dedicated lane. They put stops past traffic lights, and set it up so the trams could hold a green. That way they wouldn’t have to wait for a red. Then wait for passengers to board. They would only have to wait once. But they never turned it on.
    They also don’t have regular boarding through all doors. POP and more or larger doors would help.
    A vehicle level with the curb would help speed boarding too.
    So keep an eye on DOT and the MTA. make sure they don’t let this get watered down for the sake of motorists like Toronto’s line did.

  • Andrew
  • Andrew

    Express buses are inefficient, wasteful abominations that starve the local bus and subway systems that the overwhelming majority of transit riders use. Establishing special bus lanes for only their use would be a gross misallocation of resources.

  • Andrew

    If you have parking on the curb, then a bus lane, then general traffic lanes, you could keep the existing bus stops, make them a bit longer if necessary so that locals can pull in fully and leave the lane free for SBS and express buses to pass.

    You’re describing offset bus lanes, which has been the favored approach for much of the SBS program. They’re not perfect, but the principle basically works, and it doesn’t force every bus rider to cross to and from the middle of the street.

  • Andrew

    No, but the schedule should have some expected wheelchair boardings built in. And wheelchairs can board reasonably quickly with level boarding (admittedly a weakness for buses), so maybe this is a minimal adjustment.

    The schedule should be based on typical running times, which should include a typical number of wheelchair boardings. But that doesn’t change the fact that one bus may happen to pick up four wheelchair riders on one trip while its follower picks up none. The first bus will inevitably run late, but must it also delay its follower, which is probably carrying a relatively light load and can easily accommodate the crowds that by now have built up at each stop?

    I would call the need to frequently pass unpredictably a bug. However, passing is impossible on many surface tram services that work in mixed traffic. They deal with the same interference that buses do, and often work at least as well if not better than comparable bus services in mixed traffic.

    Trams have advantages and disadvantages, but the inability to pass is a clear disadvantage. I’m suggesting that we not jump headfirst into a disadvantage before determining that the offsetting advantages are greater.

    Beneficial to have available or no, it’s not that important.

    On the contrary, lateness breeds lateness, as a late bus gets more and more crowded due to unusually heavy loads waiting to board at each stop – it’s picking up not only the people who should have ended up on it but also many of the people who, per the schedule, should have been on its follower. The follower typically has plenty of room to spare. Allowing the follower to leapfrog ahead and serve the busy stops is a good way to break out of the cycle and restore some semblance of reasonable service.

    9bph should mean a bus more than every seven minutes, hopefully predictably rather than a guess based on traffic variance. That’s better than much off-peak train service.

    The off-peak Q53 runs every 10 minutes; the Q52 every 20.

    Do off-peak subway riders have to commit to the express in advance, or can they take the local if it happens to pull up first? Forcing bus riders who can use either service to commit to the SBS in advance is in effect a service cut, and it shouldn’t be done without good reason. There may be a good reason here – there was one on the northbound B44, where the SBS takes a significantly shorter route than the local – but I haven’t seen it yet.

    Anyway, shouldn’t the first priority be tailoring each service to ridership demand? Presumably, in this scenario, each service will be quite frequent. If the gap were 15m, my opinion might be different, but ~7m? (If service gets much slower than 4bph, people are probably consulting a schedule anyway.)

    Are you seriously saying that you’d be happy waiting 7 minutes (in the heat or cold or rain or snow) for one bus while a different bus, which might take 2 minutes longer to reach your destination, pulls up across the street, where you can’t reach it? I think most people want to get where they’re going without waiting unnecessarily.

    Service is periodically tailored to demand. If SBS is successful and ridership goes up, then buses will run more frequently. But that doesn’t change the question – why would we deliberately take away a choice that riders currently have?

    I don’t see that many things you mention that don’t apply to either method in some way. Crowding? Can happen on the sidewalk too. Turning problems with cars? Curb service has its own. Narrowness? Well, that may be a point, but Woodhaven is wide, and sidewalks can be too narrow too.

    Passengers waiting on the sidewalk aren’t constrained to the immediate area of the bus stop – the sidewalk is long, and they can spread out as much as necessary. Some of them might even duck into a nearby business, to enjoy the air conditioning or to grab a snack while they wait.

    The overarching problem in either scenario is: cars. Whatever is done, it requires taking a lot of space from them to make surface transit work better.

    If we can take away two car lanes in each direction, then clearly the best option is a pair of curbside bus lanes. And if we can’t take away two car lanes in each direction, then anything in the center is going
    to be narrow and inhospitable.

    *shrug*

    Well, I’m obviously far from a Hook acolyte. Buses should be for scaling out, not up. But I think Hook’s ideas are fine if they’re not a doctrinaire ideology. I take it they were designed more for the developing world, where capital is expensive and labor is cheap.

    Here we agree. There’s a major distinction between BRT that serves as a city’s or region’s primary high-speed, high-capacity transit system and BRT that fills in the gaps in an even-higher-speed, even-higher-capacity rail system with something better than standard local bus service.

    We don’t need a TransMilenio here; the Woodhaven Blvd. corridor doesn’t have the ridership or the importance (or the width) for it. What we need is a major improvement over the bus service that exists at present.

  • Andrew

    Do you agree that placing the bus stops in the middle of the street will increase access time to and from the bus for the average rider?

    Do you agree that the fundamental point of SBS is to save bus riders time?

    If you agree with both, then do you also agree that the two are at odds? In order to be worthwhile on purely a time-savings basis, the reduction in running time for the average rider attributable to placing the bus stops in the middle of the street needs to exceed the increase in access time (boarding plus alighting) for the average rider.

    I haven’t seen any indication that this would be the case.

  • Joe R.

    No arguments there. And from a personal standpoint I would much rather take a subway than an express bus. The ride is smoother, it’s generally faster, and I don’t smell diesel fumes, or hear the engine revving up constantly.

  • Andrew

    Trolleys run on Spadina Avenue for only about a mile and a half, through a much denser area than on Woodhaven, with lower traffic speeds and presumably higher transit mode share. The two really aren’t comparable at all.

    I’m sorry you had a long wait for your streetcar, but as you should know by now, I refuse to draw conclusions from isolated anecdotes. Nice try, though. If the TTC has a problem with spacing on the 510, I hope they’re looking for strategies to reduce the problem. Signal priority and off-board fare payment might be good places to start. And I’ve already highlighted the problems with vehicles that are unable to pass their leaders.

    You’ve spilled a lot of bytes on the question of access time, based on your assertion that most SBS riders have longer walks to the bus now than they did in the pre-SBS days. As I’ve explained, that isn’t the case on the current SBS routes, where, even pre-SBS, most riders rode between what would later become SBS stops. But if Woodhaven gets center-running, then it would be the case for a significant majority of the ridership along the corridor, so I’m a bit surprised you disagree with me here. Perhaps I shouldn’t be.

    I hope you enjoyed your trip.

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