Progressive Caucus to de Blasio: Let Us Help Build New York’s BRT Network

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Select Bus Service has made a big difference for bus riders, but it could be better. Now 17 City Council members are asking Mayor de Blasio for bolder bus improvements. Photo: MTA/Flickr

As a mayoral candidate, Bill de Blasio promised a citywide network of more than 20 “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit routes within four years. More than a year into his term, bus riders are still waiting. Now 17 City Council members are asking the administration to take bolder action on BRT and offering to help NYC DOT and the MTA bring the projects to fruition.

Today council members from all five boroughs aligned with the influential Progressive Caucus sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA Chair Tom Prendergast [PDF] in anticipation of a council hearing on BRT this afternoon.

“The physical and demographic patterns of the city have changed and the transit system is not changing with it fast enough to ensure equal access,” reads the letter. “Building on the successes of the Select Bus Service program, full-featured BRT is a cost-effective, efficient way of making [the city] more equitable, just, and sustainable.”

The council members offered to meet with Trottenberg, Prendergast, and their staffs to discuss how they “can help bring a network of BRT routes to New York City.”

Studies from the Pratt Center and New York University show that huge swaths of New York City’s low- and moderate-income residents live beyond the reach of the subway, but struggle with the high cost of car ownership. Bus Rapid Transit would be a lifeline to these New Yorkers.

To build effective busways where transit riders don’t get bogged down in traffic, the city will have to claim space from general traffic lanes and parking lanes. Inevitably, some elected officials will fight against prioritizing transit on the street. Today’s letter is the counterpoint showing that many council members want City Hall to act boldly and improve bus service for their constituents. Will de Blasio listen to them?

The mayor did highlight BRT as a component of his affordable housing plan during his State of the City address last week, but it played second fiddle to the headline-grabbing initiative to subsidize ferries.

Once in office, the administration interpreted the 20 world-class BRT routes pledge to mean an additional 13 lines on top of the existing seven Select Bus Service routes. Even by that measure, the de Blasio administration needs to pick up the pace to hit its target.

The administration has cut the ribbon on just one SBS route, the M60 on 125th Street, and has a few more in the planning stages, including the M86, which doesn’t include any bus lanes. And so far, only one project in the works, on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, is being designed to the high standard for Bus Rapid Transit that advocates and council members are seeking.

The Progressive Caucus letter was released as the City Council transportation committee began its hearing on the de Blasio Administration’s BRT plans. We’ll have full coverage of the hearing, which also includes a bill to shift more of the city’s fleet to car-share vehicles, later today.

  • Guest

    The administration needs to be planning 20 routes so that when the inevitable happens and several are killed off or delayed by local opposition, they can still end up with at least 13. Why always aim for the bottom rung?

  • BBnet3000

    The idea that the existing SBS routes are “world class” is laughable but par for the course for almost anything to improve transportation in New York: bike infrastructure, the subway, buses and even pedestrian infrastructure are all “the best we can make up off the top of our head without taking a good look at best practices”. We’ve let a few lug nuts get in the way of level boarding for instance.

    They’re also mostly ad-hoc responses when they should be systemic. We should have standards for SBS lines rather than asking Joe Six Pack what features each line (or portion of each line) should have, we should have standards for bike infrastructure, we should be widening crowded sidewalks wholesale rather than painting little slush-filled bulbouts at the corners. As New York YIMBY tweeted today, we could speed up every single bus in the city with POP rather than just a few lines but that’s not even on the table.

  • Bolwerk

    Planning the city makes way more sense. It’s not rapid if it just covers 2-3 neighborhoods. Even as a metaphor.

    I don’t know what terms like “world class BRT” even mean. If it means grade-separated busways like in developing countries, then it’s not happening unless you can find highways to get away with appropriating as ROWs. Woodhaven can come pretty close to that kind of service, but meaningful grade separation is unlikely even there. (Luckily the MTA seems to be holding off on destroying the North Shore route’s potential to connect to HBLR, though we might just have a strained capital plan to thank for that.)

    Nothing else about our transit system is exactly “world class” either, if it means qualitative stuff like cleanliness and comfort. And forget quantitative stuff like being ahead of most other places performance-wise.

  • AnoNYC

    Can we get an actual BRT NETWORK?

  • AnoNYC

    I think if we pedestrianized some streets with bus only routes along the center we could get similarly “world class BRT.” See Fordham Road which should be like Fulton Mall, only with BRT.

  • al

    Could we get a citywide surface and highway Bus HOV+3 network? It would eliminate much of the complaints about empty bus lanes, and increase carpooling.

  • ahwr

    Systemwide POP is a pipe dream. Much more feasible is to replace the metrocard with a contactless fare system and install readers at all doors.

  • BBnet3000

    … and then do POP, like San Francisco already has?

  • jackson

    Bike lanes = more pollution as cars idle at long Red lights
    Bus lanes = more pollution as cars idle at long Red lights

    Political LIES and short-sighted policies have boomeranged and hurt this city
    CO2 emissions from cars are at even higher levels than previously

  • Joe R.

    How exactly do bike lanes and bus lanes make red lights longer?

    Point of fact, if we worked on radically reducing the number of cars, the few cars which are left would hardly get stuck at red lights because there wouldn’t be a need for traffic signals at most intersections. Next time you’re waiting at a red light, look at the majority of vehicles passing in front of you on the cross street. Those would mostly be cars, not bikes, not buses. Car drivers are mostly delayed by other car drivers.

    The only short-sighted policy this city has is continuing to give a disproportionate amount of street space to cars. In Manhattan cars get 90% of the street space but account for less than 10% of the users. Bring the space devoted to cars more in line with the percentage using them first before complaining about how bike lanes or bus lanes cause delays.

  • jackson

    It’s not a complaint , it’s a fact

    More cars in fewer lanes , fewer cars get through the red lights , cars emit more pollution waiting for a green light … simple math.
    Every time I take a car , my commute is so much longer than it used to be …. same amount of cars in the city , fewer lanes to drive through

    Who are the 90% of users that you speak of who use the street space then ???

  • Guest

    Who are the 90% of users that you speak of who use the street space then ???

  • Guest

    .

  • Guest

    “world class” = joke foisted upon NYers by a minority of hacks who are abusing our freedom

  • Guest

    As usual , the OWS crowd lies and tries to bully the middle class of NYC

  • Guest

    DeBlasio is full of BS

  • Joe R.

    Mostly pedestrians plus a small number of cyclists. If anything, it makes sense to take a few car lanes and extend the sidewalks.

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