On Webster Avenue SBS, Buses Run 20% Faster and More People Are Riding
Last June, DOT and the MTA cut the ribbon for Select Bus Service along Webster Avenue in the Bronx. Now the agencies have released a status report showing the impact of the 5.4-mile, $9 million project [PDF].
The bottom line for bus riders is that, as on other SBS lines, trips are faster and more predictable. The previous Bx41 Limited, with no bus lanes or off-board fare collection, averaged seven miles per hour and was unreliable, with trip times fluctuating by up to 20 minutes.
Trips on the Bx41 SBS are 19 to 23 percent shorter. Northbound evening trips now take 40 minutes instead of 52 minutes. Local service on the route has benefitted from the bus lanes, too, with trip times dropping by 11 to 17 percent. The share of total trip time that SBS buses spend immobile at stops and red lights is down from 49 percent to 39 percent
Opening up bottlenecks with new bus lanes helped eliminate many of the old delays. Northbound riders saved an average of nearly two minutes on each morning trip between 187th and 195th Streets, while southbound riders saved nearly four minutes on evening trips between 179th and 173rd Streets.
Bus lanes and off-board fare collection are responsible for the lion’s share of the speed improvements. These gains are all the more impressive considering that, unlike other SBS routes, Webster Avenue’s bus lanes are not camera-enforced. (Albany restricts the number of bus lanes that NYC can enforce with cameras; a change in state law would lift that restriction.) Trips are likely to get faster after DOT and the MTA install concrete “bus bulb” curb extensions and signal technology that gives buses priority at traffic lights, beginning next year.
In addition to faster speeds, service is more frequent along the route. The Bx41 SBS replaced limited-stop service on the Bx41 and the Bx55. The Bx41 Limited ran every 12 minutes during peak hours on weekdays, while the Bx41 SBS runs every eight to 12 minutes from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
With faster rides and more frequent service, ridership has grown. Trips are up 25 percent on both the local and SBS Bx41 routes. Total bus ridership on the busy stretch between The Hub and Fordham Road, served by both the Bx41 on Webster and the Bx15 on Third Avenue, is up 7 percent from May 2013 to May 2014. Virtually all of that gain has been absorbed by the Webster Avenue buses, as Bx15 ridership has remained steady.
DOT also included a number of pedestrian safety improvements in the project. Last year the agency built nine pedestrian islands, two elongated medians, and a curb extension on Valentine Avenue near Webster. Further construction over the next two years will resurface sections of Webster that didn’t get new pavement last year, build more curb extensions, add more medians and street trees, and widen the eastern sidewalk on Webster between 193rd and 197th Streets. Select Bus Service stops will also receive wayfinding signage featuring real-time bus arrival information.
Car and truck traffic on Webster remains mostly unaffected by the changes. Average speeds actually ticked up slightly from 2011 to 2013, with signal changes between 170th Street and Claremont Parkway contributing to much of the gain. To the south, travel times either dropped slightly or stayed the same.
Car volumes also stayed steady, except in two locations that now see additional traffic: On southbound Webster near the Cross Bronx Expressway, DOT added two right-turn lanes for drivers using the expressway on-ramp, and on northbound near Fordham Road, traffic was diverted to Webster from Third Avenue for the Fordham Plaza project.
While DOT considered center-running bus lanes for Webster Avenue, it ultimately rejected that design over concerns about the impact on traffic, loading zones, and local buses. Today, bus lanes run in each direction along four miles of Webster, from 165th Street to Gun Hill Road. Most are sandwiched between moving cars and parking, with some running alongside the curb.
In addition to the capital projects that will bring additional upgrades for bus riders and pedestrians, the report says the extension of the Bx41 to LaGuardia Airport is “under consideration” but remains “unfunded in the MTA budget.”