DOT and MTA Unveil Plan for Select Bus Service on 23rd Street

m23_design
Image: NYC DOT

About 15,000 daily passengers on the M23 will get faster trips starting this fall under the plan from NYC and the MTA for Select Bus Service on 23rd Street. Last night the agencies revealed their preliminary plan for M23 SBS, which calls for bus lanes on most of 23rd Street and off-board fare collection [PDF], to the Manhattan Community Board 5 transportation committee, which voted for it unanimously.

Most M23 passengers board close to the eastern or western edges of Manhattan. The route provides connections to eight subway lines, the PATH train, and 14 other bus routes — but it is currently one of the city’s slowest buses. The two agencies found that M23 buses are stopped in traffic or at a bus stop 51 percent of the time, and are “crawling” at speeds under 2.5 mph another seven percent of the time.

To bypass congestion, the bus lanes will run from Ninth Avenue to Second Avenue on the eastbound side and from midblock between First and Second to Eighth Avenue on the westbound side. DOT expects the lanes to be camera enforced, but buses won’t get priority at traffic signals “due to the complexity of Manhattan’s traffic signal system,” according to an agency spokesperson.

As on other SBS routes, pre-paid fares will speed up the process of boarding at stops. The project would eliminate one redundant local stop — at Fifth Avenue — that is barely 400 feet from the Broadway stop, which will remain.

On most of the street, the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between a parking lane and a general traffic lane, and in effect from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. On narrower sections, however, the bus lane will run curbside. The curbside bus lanes will not be in effect from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. to allow for commercial loading and parking midday.

The new M23 Select Bus Service will speed up on the slowest bus routes in the city. Image: DOT/MTA
M23 Select Bus Service will speed up one of the slowest bus routes in the city. Image: DOT/MTA

Committee member Daly Reville said that while 23rd Street needs commercial loading zones, “There’s no need that I can understand for parking,” and that allowing both will lead to delivery trucks blocking traffic and buses.

In a January letter to DOT Manhattan Borough Commissioner Margaret Forgione, the transportation chairs of community boards 4, 5, and 6 noted that SBS buses on 34th Street are hindered by motorists who drive or park in the bus lanes. They asked for a center-running busway on 23rd Street to avoid similar conflicts. So far DOT and the MTA haven’t implemented any SBS routes with center-running bus lanes.

Another criticism from members of the committee was the clunkiness of SBS ticket-vending machines. If passengers don’t already have a Metrocard with value on it, they have to go down to a subway station to buy one before getting a receipt from an SBS machine. The MTA’s Rob Thompson said the fare system that replaces Metrocard, which is taking the agency a considerable amount of time to develop, would improve the situation. “At the moment we’re still in Metrocard world, and I think there’s a whole ‘Manhattan Project’ within transit to do something new and better,” he said. “Once that happens, that will open up a lot more possibilities for SBS.”

Next up, DOT and the MTA will present the M23 SBS plan to the transportation committees of CB 4 and CB 6. In June, they’ll return to the boards with a final proposal, which they expect to implement between July and September. You can weigh in on the project via DOT’s online portal.

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