Lancman and Simanowitz: Let’s Keep Queens Bus Riders Stuck in Traffic

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.
Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Tonight, DOT and the MTA will hold an open house to solicit input for proposed Select Bus Service routes linking Flushing and Jamaica. The plan to reduce travel times for tens of thousands of Queens bus riders has broad support from advocates and local electeds, including Assembly Member Nily Rozic. But the Times Ledger reports that Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who purport to be in favor of the project, oppose dedicating new street space to buses.

Bus service could be upgraded along Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, and/or 164th Street, according to a DOT map of proposed SBS routes. The Times Ledger notes that these routes were chosen for SBS after studies found current trips to be “long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders.”

A key component of bus rapid transit is, of course, dedicated bus lanes, but Lancman and Simanowitz would rather keep riders mired in traffic.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

Lancman opposed congestion pricing and once blasted a DOT proposal to improve a deadly intersection outside a school. That he considers a dedicated transit lane “closed” says something about what Lancman thinks of people who use transit. Beyond that, it seems Lancman and Simanowitz simply don’t want to take the necessary steps to make BRT work well.

But other electeds do. “BRT is good news for drivers as well,” wrote Rozic in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Dedicated bus lanes reduce interaction between buses and other vehicles. This will reduce traffic jams and minimize the risk for traffic crashes.”

Eleven Queens lawmakers signed on to a letter this month in support of the plan, the Times Ledger reported.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” said John Raskin of Riders Alliance.

Tonight’s open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:00 at the Townsend Harris High School Library at 149-11 Melbourne Avenue.

  • BBnet3000

    we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

    Reads to me like they aren’t opposed to converting it into a transit lane, just opposed to closing it to public use altogether. /s

  • Joe R.

    The stuff about parking is a red herring. Most of the businesses where a significant number of customers come by car already have parking lots. Most of the parking which might be lost is private vehicle storage, something which at best is a privilege granted by NYC, not sacrosanct. It’s high time the needs of other users besides private automobile owners were considered.

    I really don’t see how synchronizing lights will help, either. Bus boarding times are so variable chances are good any synchronization scheme won’t be any better or worse than what exists now. We need traffic signal priority for the buses, period. It shouldn’t take 20 to 30 minutes for a bus like the Q65 to go the ~3.2 miles from where I would get it to downtown Flushing. Adding in the usual 10 to 20 minute waiting times and I can typically get there as quickly by walking, which is exactly what I do all the time.

  • Dolph Dingbat

    They are opposed to anything that will make their personal car trips slower by even 2 seconds. They should be serving their constituency and not themselves.

  • Simon Phearson

    How can we more effectively educate these lawmakers (and community boards, while we’re at it) so that they can understand that sharing roadspace is not a zero-sum game?

    What SBS means for underserved portions of Queens is: the ability to work and shop farther from home; fewer drivers as some of them opt for efficient transit over driving their personal vehicles; and a boost to land values as people choose to live closer to efficient, reliable transit. Among other things!

    The person who is driving on these streets to park in front of a business along them is not necessarily a person who would continue to drive if you make it easy and relatively fast to get through or to the same places without a car. Absolutely everyone who is driving and trying to find parking in these neighborhoods expects it to be more or less of a hassle. The only people who aren’t taking transit when they could are people for which the hassle of transit is greater than the hassle of driving. Lower the hassle of transit, they’ll leave their cars at home.

  • rider

    Who represents those 68,000 daily bus riders? Lancman and Simanowitz have a very narrow definition of “constituents.”

  • Bolwerk

    Yes, transit should be preempting lights.

    If you ask me, most bus routes should simply borrow from old streetcar practice: run in the center, stop in the center. When the bus stops, traffic behind waits. For modernity’s sake, bus bulbs can come out and meet buses at stops. Parking, if necessary, can be behind the bulb. Buses then set the pace for all traffic. A faster pace than is probably averaged now. Even carheads might buy into it because it ironically means more parking space, except at the bulb.

    Making buses pull out of the flow of traffic to stop was truly one of the dumbest ideas in the history of transit.

  • Andres Dee

    Constituents =
    Car dealers
    Car repairers
    Car services
    Realtors
    Developers

    “Caaars! Must. Sell. Caaars! Hooomes! Must. Sell. Hooomes! Pededestrian! Must. Sell. Car. To. Pededestrian! Must. Sell. Home. To. Pededestrian! Pededestrian no buy car? Pededestrian no take loan? Eat. Pededestrian. Brain! Make. Pededestrian. Disappear! Nooo. Crimininality. Suspecteded!

  • ahwr

    Some of the commercial stretches on main seem to have pretty good churn on the curbside parking, I think they limit you to 60 minutes. You could minimize the impact by putting meters during the day on some side streets,

    (re-)Synchronizing lights was probably to minimize the impact on general traffic if they took away a travel lane, not for buses.

  • Andres Dee

    Some people don’t see transit as a solution to their problems. “The bus” is something no one they care about takes and certainly not something to waste tax dollars on.

  • Simon Phearson

    Yes – but! For those people, buses are “vehicles that can more compactly carry the people who are making you sit in traffic.” We need to tell carheads that no one’s coming for their cars; we’re just trying to get people out of their way.

  • sbauman

    How did you come up with the figure of 68K? I know that’s the figure quoted by DOT. It’s based on the Q20 – 13,609; Q25 – 19,324; Q34 – 7,054 and Q44 – 28,689. The problem is these buses also go outside the Flushing-Jamaica corridor. The Q20, Q25 and Q44 get 1/3 of their riders between Flushing and College Pt or Whitestone. The Q44 gets 1/2 of its riders between Flushing and Bronx Park. This brings the number within the corridor to 41K.

    This illustrates one of the problems with this project. DOT and the MTA are proposing solutions before quantitatively defining the problem.

  • ahwr

    Is that kind of ridership breakdown available for other buses anywhere?

    edit: And is there any estimate for how many riders don’t touch the flushing-jamaica corridor – how many who board in the bronx get off before flushing etc…?

  • sbauman

    It’s a red herring both ways. According to the presentation this evening (Jan 22nd), the Q44LTD operates in excess of 20 mph in Kew Gardens Hills. It does not need a separate bus lane there – remember the speed limit is 25 mph. That’s the area that’s complaining about losing a lane.

    The slow zones are Jamaica and Downtown Flushing. There isn’t the road space to put a dedicated bus lane in these areas. None would have been proposed despite the slow speed.

    There is one small problem crossing the LIE. The problem is due to a lack of synchronization between traffic lights at the LIE west bound service road and 60th Ave. It’s a short block. They both have to be green simultaneously – otherwise traffic backs up. They usually are not.

  • sbauman

    The only ridership figures the MTA gives out are by line. Here’s a link to the data.

    http://web.mta.info/nyct/facts/ridership/

    You are asking for on/off statistics for every bus stop. It’s a logical request for analyzing what’s going on. If the MTA does take such measurements, they don’t publicize it. The best they have for some of the SBS presentations is is a graphic that shows a daily count. There was such a graphic at the presentation. That’s how I came up with the ratios. A breakdown by time of day would be better.

    There’s another estimate I’ve used, in the absence of hard data. How much scheduled time is spent inside and outside the region of interest? Assigning passenger counts based on this proportion yields similar results.

  • Andres Dee

    Funny (and seriously), back in my early 20s and I owned a car “because that was the thing to do” and joined AAA, I was horrified by their anti-transit rhetoric and that’s the same flaw I saw in their position.

  • AnoNYC

    I doubt realtors and developers are pro-car, more like forced to accommodate automobiles due to parking minimums. That’s one of the biggest issues in this city right there. Eliminate the parking minimums, discourage parking. We need better mass transit and this is a great place for BRT,

  • Joe R.

    These buses get caught at a lot of lights besides the ones crossing the LIE which slow them down. Traffic light priority would help a lot in that regard. During heavy traffic times so would a dedicated bus lane.

    According to the presentation this evening (Jan 22nd), the Q44LTD operates in excess of 20 mph in Kew Gardens Hills. It does not need a separate bus lane there – remember the speed limit is 25 mph.

    Is the speed consistently that high all day long, including during peak hours? Moreover, are they talking about average speeds over 20 mph, or just cruising speeds in between stops? The latter doesn’t matter if the bus still stops every block or two for passengers or traffic signals. As for speed limits, I personally feel certain vehicles operated by well trained professionals, particularly public transit buses, should be either exempt from them, or subject to a higher speed limit. I want bus travel in this area to consistently average at least 20 mph so it would be on par with a subway. In order to do that we need dedicated lanes, full traffic signal preemption, sanely spaced stops, and a speed limit between stops of at least 40 to 45 mph (not a problem if the bus preempts traffic signals well in advance of reaching an intersection).

  • ddartley

    SBS routes should not just absolutely get a dedicated lane that private vehicles have to stay out of. Wherever possible, they should have two lanes that private vehicles have to stay out of–so that they can pass each other and the frequent invaders. With only one dedicated lane, bus riders still get the shaft, massively (try the 2nd Ave SBS some weekday afternoon), even though by every ethical measure imaginable, they should get more consideration, accommodation, and space than occupants of smaller, private vehicles.

  • ahwr

    Preempting lights doesn’t work so well on some of these roads where the pedestrian walk phase is five seconds or so before it starts flashing don’t walk. Until it stops you can’t give buses a green.

  • Joe R.

    The answer to that is smart design. Have one pedestrian walk signal which just applies to the bus lane and another to the rest of the street. Put a pedestrian refuge between the bus lane and rest of the street in case a bus comes before the pedestrian starts crossing the bus lane. If you do this, the only delay for a bus preempting lights will be the time for any pedestrians already in the bus lane to clear it. That’s ~5 seconds at most.

    Thinking about this further, the pedestrian signal to cross the bus lane can actually be green all the time, except when a bus comes through. This can give them a head start crossing the rest of the street, even when non-bus traffic still has a green light.

  • sbauman

    The methodology wasn’t explained, possibly to avoid peer review. There are a lot of tools out there that make this easy. Analyzing the feeds for their Bus Time application should answer all the questions regarding speed, vs. time of day and location, etc. Instead, they only presented fancy looking graphics for a daily average. They did differentiate between travel direction.

    Hard evidence does not support your feeling that transit buses can be operated safely at speeds in excess of the 25 mph limit. Buses accounted for roughly 10% of pedestrian fatalities in 2014. That’s far in excess of the percentage of buses in the vehicle mix.

  • Jonathan R

    I’m a daily Q44 rider, from the Bronx to 14th Ave.

    The bus could be sped up significantly with:
    1. dedicated tollbooth lane on the Queens-bound BWB
    2. heading to Queens, left-turn signals at Tremont Ave, White Plains Rd and 14th Rd

    A dedicated bus lane on the Whitestone Bridge should be considered, as the Q44 and Q50 carry probably around one-sixth of the total volume of passengers over the Whitestone and Throgs Neck Bridges’ six lanes in each direction.

  • Bolwerk

    Preemption never meant never stopping at red lights, but it does mean minimizing time spent at red lights.

  • ahwr

    ~35k bus riders on 44 and 50, how many cross the bridge? Half? A quarter? Whitestone bridge sees ~105k daily vehicles. Bus riders are not 1/3 of bridge users. Throggs neck sees ~108k vehicles. Bus riders are not 1/6 between the two.

  • Jonathan R

    The Whitestone is down to two lanes in each direction now, so when construction is complete, why not keep the third lane as a bus lane?

  • Bolwerk

    Better question: what percentage of peak users (actual people) are bus riders during congested periods?

    Other times, there is probably space for all vehicles anyway.

  • Andres Dee

    I meant developers and realtors who specialize in “green-field” suburban housing.

  • ahwr

    http://www.timesledger.com/stories/2013/23/whitestonebridgeclosure_bt_2013_06_06_q.html

    http://www.mta.info/press-release/bridges-tunnels/new-traffic-pattern-bronx-whitestone-bridge-begins-saturday-may-7th

    Is it three lanes in the peak direction still? How does traffic move off/reverse peak, and how would it with three general traffic lanes? I wonder if they could just use the shoulders as bus lanes.

  • ahwr

    Are there ten peak hour buses over the bridge? Even if they have a hundred people each that wouldn’t be a third of whitestone bridge users.

  • Bolwerk

    ~35k has got to mean peak usage of well 10 BPH. With average vehicle loads of 75 people, that’s ~467 buses per day or ~19/hr. And that’s the average, not the distribution.

    105k is 4375 vehicles/hour crossing the bridge, ~2200/direction or ~1100/lane on a 4-lane bridge. Rush hour jams might even cause a below-average number of hourly crossings during those times bus usage is highest.

    Then there is another question: how many people would use such a service, were it available?

  • Bolwerk

    well ^above

  • Jonathan R

    There are no shoulders.

  • Jonathan R

    Current timetable says that there are 31 Q44 buses heading to Queens leaving Hugh Grant Circle between 6:30 am and 10:00 am, and nine Q50 buses leaving Lafayette Ave in the same period. At 75 riders per Q44 articulated bus, that’s 2325 riders, plus another 360 (40 per bus) on the Q50.

    That’s 2685 riders in the morning rush, over 52.5k (half the bridge traffic), or 5% of ALL daily traffic. And that’s southbound, which I think is the off-peak direction.

  • ahwr

    The link said the MTA is adding shoulders, I meant after construction is completed.

  • Jonathan R

    Your numbers indicate 750 bus passengers per hour, divided by 2200 private motor vehicles. That’s one-third.

    During my commutes I have spoken to several people who drive to the Bronx and take the bus into Queens, saving almost $3 per trip. If the bus was quicker, I assume more people would do this.

  • ahwr

    35k is the q50 and q44. not all q44 buses go to the bronx, and a lot of riders get off before leaving queens, or going the other way don’t get on until the bus gets to queens.

  • Bolwerk

    My numbers could be mistaken I see. I was treating ~35000/day as bridge throughput.

    Still, 750 for peak hour peak direction across the bridge should be trivially easy even if bus user bridge throughput is half that.

  • ahwr

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/bridge-traffic-report-2012.pdf

    Page 200 (214 in the pdf file) has hourly traffic volume on the whitestone bridge.

    North bound vehicles:
    6-7: ~2900
    7-8: ~3700
    8-9: ~3950
    9-10: ~3050

    South bound vehicles:
    6-7: ~3100
    7-8: ~3300
    8-9: ~3100
    9-10: ~2800

    So that 2685 riders is compared to 10-11k vehicles, probably a decent amount of carpooling given the usurious tolls. Remember, if MoveNY or a similar plan is enacted we’d be lowering the tolls on this bridge.

  • Bolwerk

    That lists bus crossings too. 235 northbound and 222 southbound (printed pg. 178, PDF pg. 192) during the 7-10am time spans.

    75 buses northbound between 8-9am. If there are only 750 riders in that direction at that time, those are some bloody empty buses.

  • ahwr

    Traffic data on roads in NYC is pretty inconsistent, I don’t see that breakdown for the Bronx-Whitestone bridge anywhere. Page 192 in the pdf shows a breakdown for the Whitestone expressway bridge over the flushing river. For MTA crossings I only see that sort of breakdown for the two tunnels.

  • Bolwerk

    Oh, hmm, I didn’t even know about that bridge.

    I wonder why they wouldn’t include those statistics for Bronx-Queens trips. Sheesh.

  • Canarsie Yankee

    What would be the difference between a bus only lane and “closing” the lane?

  • BBnet3000

    Something that’s closed doesn’t have hundreds or thousands of people using it.

    Its like calling MSG “closed” during a sold out concert because you think it should only be used for Basketball.

  • ahwr

    Not sure they have that sort of hourly breakdown for every bridge. I’ve seen a couple reports complaining about the lack of data, I’m not sure why the city, state, mta, whoever doesn’t do a better job studying traffic flow city wide. Or if they do why they don’t publish it. The MTA might only have the two tunnels for the hub bound report.

    http://web.mta.info/mta/investor/pdf/2014/Stantec-TBTA-Ind-Eng-Rpt043014.pdf

    Annual vehicles on the whitestone: ~39766k

    Two axle Franchise buses: ~43k

    Three axle Franchise buses: ~113k

    Not sure what to do with those numbers, not sure if it counts all non MTA buses that use the bridge. Not sure if it counts mta buses actually.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/2015-01-22-brt-flushingjamaica-pw3-boards.pdf

    The community feedback says there is a need for more Bronx-Queens buses. Maybe with all franchise buses and a few new city transit routes bus passengers could be a third of total bridge users, either during peak hours or all day. But even then buses might move well enough on the bridge that saving limited political capital to put bus lanes elsewhere on the route would do more to speed up the Q44.

    Or maybe when construction is complete they’ll just put buses on the newly built shoulder.

  • Bolwerk

    Finally looked up the schedules.

    Q44: ~11 BPH
    Q50: ~4 BPH

    Each bus needs to average around 50 people to reach that 750 mark. Doesn’t exactly seem unlikely that it would at least clinch 1/3 of the passenger traffic.

  • ahwr

    Not all of the Q44s go to the Bronx. And 750 isn’t a third of road users during peak or any hour between 6am-10pm in either direction. Just counting vehicles 7-8am you have 3726n/b, 3311s/b, 8-9am 3955n/b, 3147s/b

    http://www.nymtc.org/project/surveys/files/exsum00321.pdf

    Vehicle occupancy rates are reasonably uniform across the region, with most counties fairly close to the regional average of 1.40 persons per car for weekday travel.

    That ups those numbers to 7-8 5216NB, 4635SB, 8-9 5537NB, 4405SB. If bus riders are a third of road users, then they are half of non bus riders. You aren’t getting 2600-2800 riders on 12 or so transit buses running north over the bridge during peak, and you aren’t getting 2200-2300 riders on the 12-15 transit buses running south over the bridge during peak.

    http://www.transalt.org/sites/default/files/news/reports/rolling_carbon.pdf

    They figure a lower rate of 1.25. But even if it was 1 you would need 1850-1975 bus riders northbound, 1575-1650 riders southbound. Neither seems realistic using the existing 12-15 per hour transit buses alone.

  • marv

    The kgh community and our politicians showed our worst colors at the meeting regarding the BRT as the goal of the masses was opposition to bus lanes rather than discussion of ideas.

    The masses are opposed to change. When DOT wanted to convert our streets to one ways, the cry was “you are going to make me drive alllllllllllll the way around the block”. The feeling was the we had the right to sideswipe each passing car with out SUV tanks.

    One would have though that Bloomberg was shutting down the city with his pedestrian plazas.

    Ideas that we oppose often turn out to be good ones.

    Elements of BRT should be done. The bus lane should not be done, but not just because it is bad for us, but rather because it will do little if anything to improve the speed of the buses through KGH as they are already at the limit.

    Missing from the meeting was any discussion with how to deal with the congestion at the south end of Main Street or near the LIE.

    It is time for real discussion of transit issue.

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