Utica Avenue Select Bus Service Will Roll Out This Fall

The B46 is the second-busiest bus route in New York City, carrying nearly 50,000 passengers each day. A subway line on Utica was planned decades ago but never built, and today bus riders on the B46 struggle with crowded conditions and slow trips. Now service is set to get faster and more reliable with the addition of bus lanes and off-board fare collection later this year [PDF].

B46. Map: DOT/MTA
Almost four miles of Utica Avenue will receive bus lanes as part of B46 SBS. Map: DOT/MTA

Last year, bus lanes were installed along most of the 1.3 miles between Church Avenue and St. John’s Place, the busiest stretch for the B46. The lanes have sped up bus trips between 8 and 15 percent during peak hours, DOT says, while car travel times have also decreased by 20 to 25 percent in the peak direction.

A more complete suite of improvements is on the way, as NYC DOT and the MTA upgrade the B46 to Select Bus Service, scheduled to start operating this fall.

The bus lanes will be extended south another 2.5 miles to Avenue O, near the end of the route at Kings Plaza. All SBS stops will get off-board fare collection, and next year, bus bulbs and real-time arrival signs will be added. Signal priority for buses will also be installed between Broadway and Kings Highway, with the possibility of future expansion.

Service patterns will shift slightly under the SBS plan. Today, the B46 local runs only as far north as DeKalb Avenue, while the B46 Limited makes local stops from DeKalb all the way up Broadway to Williamsburg Bridge Plaza. The B46 SBS would replace the limited and run between DeKalb Avenue and Kings Plaza. Local service would be extended round-the-clock up Broadway to the Williamsburg Bridge Plaza.

Tyler Wright, 30, commutes almost two hours each way from Church Avenue to LaGuardia Airport, using two buses and a subway ride. “It is a long commute,” he said at an open house on the plan last night. “There is no easiest way.” Wright uses Select Bus Service on the M60, the final leg on his journey to work, and said the changes have shaved 10 to 15 minutes off his commute.

He’s excited for Select Bus Service on the B46. “You have a bus lane and a car lane. It makes it easier for the buses,” Wright said. “We’re going to go down Utica Avenue fast.”

The project also features pedestrian safety improvements, including median islands at Avenue M and Avenue L. Some intersections along the new stretch of bus lane will receive turn restrictions, while others will get dedicated turn bays. At the intersection of Utica Avenue, Malcolm X Boulevard, and Fulton Street, DOT is planning to fill in two angled “slip lanes” for turning cars with sidewalk extensions to improve crossings at the busy transfer point between bus and subway [PDF].

Pedestrian-focused design changes for the angled intersections where Utica crosses Kings Highway and Flatbush Avenue will be revealed next month, said Eric Beaton, Director of Transit Development at DOT. “They’re both skewed intersections and there is a lot of potential for shorter crossings,” he said. “There is a lot of concern about safety on the southern end of the corridor.”

Last year, DOT observed 60 percent of drivers on Utica exceeding the speed limit, which was then 30 mph. Between 2009 and 2013, there were 18 traffic fatalities and 250 severe injuries along the 7.8-mile project corridor, according to DOT.

The bus bulbs are funded in the mayor’s preliminary budget. The project is also receiving funding from the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Highway Administration.

One feature B46 SBS won’t have at first is camera-enforcement of the bus lanes. Albany legislation currently limits bus lane cameras to six routes in NYC, and the B46 isn’t one of them. Expanding the use of bus cams will require action in the capitol.

  • BBnet3000

    Great plan for a very important line, though a lot depends on enforcement. The outside lanes on parts of Utica are very frequently blocked by parked cars and trucks today (especially btw Kings Highway and Church Ave where there’s a ton of auto shops, sidewalk parking is rampant as well).

    Camera enforcement would be nice but I’d love to just hear some assurance from the local precinct commander that these lanes will be respected by the police in all the ways that bike lanes are not.

  • Christopher Edwards

    Knowing how the Nostrand Ave bus lane south of Empire seems to have turned into the automobile express lane, I’m not thinking enforcement is planned at all.

  • Moncada’s Codpiece

    Would be very nice to see improvements to crossing Kings and Flatbush on Utica. Those can be quite difficult to cross for able-bodied folks.

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