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

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.

  • Why is midday parking more important than midday transit?

  • J

    Center-running bus lanes are the only ones that are truly effective in speeding up buses. Curbside lanes are very difficult to enforce, as they always conflict with deliveries, drop-offs, etc. Bus expert around the world will tell you the same.

  • BBnet3000

    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.

    It’s nice to hear someone saying this out loud and in public, even though it should go without saying. This is a problem on every commercial block in the city, and causes a ton of congestion and danger as well.

  • William Farrell

    The DOT really needs to start physically separating these bus lanes. I was riding up the M15 SBS on 1st Ave yesterday during the PM rush, and I’m pretty sure the bus was out of the bus lane more often than it was in it.

  • AnoNYC

    The 10 AM to 4 PM gap is just stupid. I guess that no one is trying to travel during those times of high automotive congestion…

  • AnoNYC

    We need major parking reform in NYC. Like a comprehensive plan that starts from scratch. It is ridiculous that the problems which extend from parking are not being addressed, as though they cannot be touched. Rather than fix the issue, we prolong it because it would ruffle feathers.

  • Joe R.

    It’s refreshing to see someone who actually understands the problem. There’s just no need for curbside parking for private autos in the densest, most transit rich place in the US. If you really insist on driving to Manhattan, park in one of the many private garages. Or better yet park outside the city, then take mass transit in. This is a clear case where a well-heeled minority who drives gets to dictate policy which is detrimental to everyone else.

  • Joe R.

    In my opinion parking reform should be done incrementally in five steps:

    1) Daylight intersections citiwide with a blanket prohibition on parking within at least 25 feet of a crosswalk. This is a purely safety issue to correct a situation which never should have been allowed in the first place.

    2) Ban all curbside parking on Manhattan Avenues.

    3) Ban all curbside parking on Manhattan side streets.

    4) Ban all curbside parking on outer borough arterials.

    5) Ban curbside parking on outer borough side streets.

    I’d say allow a year between each step to allow the market to adjust. If there’s a need for more private, off-street parking at prices where a profit can be made, it will appear. If not, people will just get rid of their cars each step along the way. Once step 5 is implemented, you’ll need to have an off-street place to park if you want to own a car in NYC at all. You’ll also only be able to use it to go places which have off-street parking facilities. I can’t help but think these two things will drastically discourage car ownership and use.

  • ohnonononono

    It should be noted that there is already practically no weekday daytime parking allowed on 23rd Street, so Reville’s statement shouldn’t be too controversial. BUT the couple blocks where parking is allowed during the day are around the slowest part of the route according to the slide on speeds.

    If we’re talking about night and weekend parking that’s a different story, as a lot of 23rd Street does currently allow it. But that’s something nobody seems to care about, as the bus lanes here would, like all the other bus lanes in the city, only be for 7a to 7p on weekdays. As someone sitting in traffic on a bus on a Saturday in Manhattan, I don’t quite get it.

  • ohnonononono

    Transit is only important for reducing traffic. Midday transit doesn’t slow down the important people getting to work in their cars.

  • Nobody works on weekends. At least thats what the elites who dont think

  • N_Gorski

    I’m agreed with you through step 4, but step 5 should be limited to side streets in the transit zone rather than city-wide–otherwise you’d never get buy-in from eastern Queens residents and councilmembers/assemblymembers. (I’m leaving “transit zone” deliberately undefined here.)

    I’d also accept a return to no overnight street parking in the pre-1952 regulations in the outer boroughs,

  • AlexB

    It’s not about midday parking, it’s about midday double parking for deliveries. This is a commercial/retail corridor, I don’t think it has anything to do with accommodating people driving alone to work. Instead of changing the hours though, would have been better to have buses run in center all day long, at least between 3rd and 8th avenues. Stations would be in the middle of the street and buses would switch sides of street so doors could continue opening on right side of bus (i.e. eastbound on north side of center lanes and westbound on south side of center lanes) and have physical separation from rest of traffic.

  • Joe R.

    That might be an acceptable compromise—allow day parking on outer borough side streets in case people have visitors but no overnight car storage. Many of the people in eastern Queens who own cars have either a driveway, or parking in their building, so this wouldn’t present a huge burden.


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