Select Bus Service Launches on Woodhaven Boulevard

The upgraded service speeds more than 30,000 daily bus trips with bus lanes and faster boarding.

The new center roadway bus lane and SBS station on Woodhaven Boulevard just south of Jamaica Avenue. Photo: David Meyer
The new center roadway bus lane and SBS station on Woodhaven Boulevard just south of Jamaica Avenue. Photo: David Meyer

Select Bus Service is live on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens. As of Sunday, the SBS package — off-board fare collection, camera-enforced bus lanes, and other transit-priority treatments — is speeding trips for tens of thousands of people who ride the Q52 and Q53 each day.

These routes link Queens residents to jobs, schools, and other transit lines between the Rockaways and Woodside. The improvements that debuted Sunday include off-board fare collection along the whole route and bus lanes between Queens Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue, as well as another section between Union Turnpike and the Belt Parkway.

By adding and expanding medians and simplifying vehicle turning movements, the project is also expected to improve pedestrian safety on one of the most dangerous streets in Queens.

At a time when New Yorkers are abandoning slow, unreliable bus service in large numbers, the Woodhaven SBS project shows how to overhaul routes so they work better for riders. Other SBS routes have bucked the trend of declining ridership, and advocates are calling for the same measures to be broadly expanded across the city.

Between Park Lane South and Rockaway Boulevard, the bus lanes run in the central roadway next to concrete medians, which have been widened to make room for SBS waiting areas. Buses run faster in the central roadway than the service roads, since there’s less interference with curbside traffic.

Map: NYC DOT
NYC DOT’s map of bus lanes on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards. Safety improvements at Union Turnpike, including a wide center median, are scheduled to be complete in late November.

Miguel Telleria rides the Q52/53 daily. Waiting for a bus at Jamaica Avenue yesterday, he said he’s looking forward to the same improvements that have sped service on other SBS routes. “It’s cool,” he said. “I used it before in the city, so [I know] it’s faster.”

The Jamaica stop is in the heart of the Woodhaven neighborhood, where homeowners and politicians stubbornly opposed the transit priority measures in this project. They argued, among other things, that the bus lanes would slow down people driving personal autos.

To garner support from Council Member Eric Ulrich, DOT scaled back left turn bans planned for Jamaica Avenue and seven other intersections, which would have reduced the amount of time bus riders spend waiting at red lights and improved safety for pedestrians.

“[They] gotta realize they’re not the only ones who’ve got to get somewhere,” Telleria said of bus lane opponents.

All-door boarding at Rockaway Boulevard. Photo: David Meyer
All-door boarding at Rockaway Boulevard. Photo: David Meyer

Another rider, Diana Horn, agreed. “We’re riding buses, so they’ve got to accommodate us,” she said. Horn, who commutes to Jamaica Avenue every day from Far Rockaway, said initial confusion about off-board fare machines had been the only shortcoming so far.

The fare machines are far from perfect, but they’re the only option for all-door boarding with existing MetroCard technology. Transit advocates have called on the MTA to promptly implement tap-and-go farecard technology that can enable all-door boarding on every bus route in the city when the MetroCard is replaced.

Future phases of the Woodhaven SBS project will add more center roadway bus lanes as part of a full reconstruction of the street. That capital project, however, will be built by the notoriously slow Department of Design and Construction, with completion expected at an unspecified date sometime in the next decade.

A new SBS station at Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. Photo: David Meyer
A new SBS station at Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. Local service runs on the service road and SBS on the main road. Photo: David Meyer
The same intersection, pre-SBS. Photo: Google Maps
The same intersection, pre-SBS. Photo: Google Maps
  • Setty/Steven

    Great stuff! I look forward to faster trips to the beach.

    I don’t understand why MTA uses the current payment system, and there’s no need to use a fancy RFID card for all-door boarding, either. Berlin’s system works great, and requires no fare takers anywhere, no machines standing out in the snow getting damaged, and now expensive new technology. Has it been considered here?

  • Elizabeth F

    Could you give more details on how Berlin’s system works?

  • JarekFA

    Yah, they have cyber punks hidden in the ceiling who drop down on non-payers and blast obnoxious electronic music in the non-payers’ ears until they comply. This route does not go through Bushwick so I’m not sure how replicable that model is.

  • I am pleased to see this begin over the nonsensical objections of the intransigent fools in my area. Though it is very unfortunate that we couldn’t get that left-turn ban at Jamaica Avenue.

    The only bad thing is that you used to be able to stand at the stop and take either the Q11 or the Q52/53, whichever came first; but now you have to decide beforehand, because the Q11 is going to continue to stop at the old stop on the service road. This might lead to some reckless dashes between the two stops, which could put the pedestrian in front of a careless speeding driver who might hit the pedestrian. I really hope that that doesn’t happen, because such an event would play right into the hands of the troglodytes.

  • AlexB

    It’s POP, proof of payment. You get a ticket and validate it at a machine somewhere. Every now and then someone checks. It’s not that different from what we have except it’s for their entire system, not for individual bus lines.

  • kevd

    Adding to AlexB –

    if you have a daily weekly or monthly, you just carry it after validating once.
    not need to wait in a line (potentially missing ones bus) to stick an unlimited in a machine the street to print out a receipt.
    So in some ways its much better than our SBS system.
    There aren’t even turnstiles at subway stations.
    Also, it works that way in every city in Germany, Austria and Switzerland.

  • qrt145

    It gets even better than that, because they also sell annual passes! Of course you need to be able to pay nearly $1000 in one fell swoop, but if you can, it’s extremely convenient not to have to think about your transit pass more than once per year.

  • Vooch

    The key to this system is a rather high penalty (60€ plus fare) for cheating. They have random checks.

    The penalty is nearly equal to the cost of a monthly unlimited pass (valid on all forms of transit and rail within the urban zone )

  • sbauman

    It’s unlikely that bus passengers will see a faster overall trip or even break even. The SBS schedule has reduced the number of Q52 and Q53 trips by 11% from their levels of a year ago. The Q11/21 locals have been increased slightly by 2%

    For the northbound 7-8 am period, the number of Q52/53 LTD bus trips was reduced from 15 down to 12 Q52/53 SBS bus trips. That’s a 20% service reduction that gets translated into longer headways that will overwhelm any travel time gains for the typical rider.

  • ohnonononono

    Having locals and SBS stop at entirely different locations is awful and SBS projects need to stop doing this immediately. Many people just want to jump on “the next bus that comes,” especially outside of rush hours, and these plans seem to either assume that’s not true or ignore the issue. Few people want to wait in typical January weather in the cold wind and rain for an SBS while locals pass on an alternate road.

  • Yes, there is something to that.

    Of course, it all depends on where you’re going. If you’re headed to one of the stops that the SBS bus bypasses, then obviously you’d wait only for the local bus. And if you’re headed far down the line, then you’d probably prefer the limited bus.

    Anyway, during my ride this morning I noticed that the separation of local and SBS buses that we see at Liberty Avenue is not in force north of Jamaica Avenue; I saw that both the local Q11 and the limited Q52/53 stop at the new stops on the median. (But I don’t think that the Q11 is an SBS route; I think that you still pay on board on that bus.) Having all buses stop at the new stops may be the case also at Jamaica Avenue; I will have to take a closer look at that today when I go back home.

  • kevd

    yeah of course. though 60 euros is much less than the possible arrest you face in NYC.

  • AMH

    “[Motorists] gotta realize they’re not the only ones who’ve got to get somewhere.”

    Word.

  • AMH

    Not good–since SBS reduces running time, it should result in MORE trips. Frequent service is especially important since people can’t run to catch the bus since it’s in the median and requires off-board fare payment.

  • STARK11

    Yes, so the thousands of people who take the bus get priority over the TENS of thousands of people who drive? Why are the bus riders the only ones who get improvement?? Its all I hear about. The bus riders. News flash, ALOT more people drive that road then take the bus. We are being forced to be stuck in standstill traffic. Why should bus riders get priority over everyone else?

    The buses are completely wreckless and cut off every car they can, and drivers are the issue?

    The point is, you dont ruin traffic for everyone, just to please the smaller amount of people who take the bus

  • Because each bus carries as many people as 50 or more cars. The bus is by far the more efficient mode of travel, and for that reason it should be prioritised.

    This encourages more people to take the bus, which contributes to a solution for everyone.

  • Vooch

    plus the gulag

  • sbauman

    SBS reduces running time,

    In this case SBS is replacing LTD service. There are basically the same number of stations. The only difference is fare collection. This is supposed to reduce dwell time by reducing the time it takes incoming passengers to board. According to the San Francisco study, the time savings per passenger for 3 door buses was 0.3 sec. NYC buses average 8 passengers per mile and 2.2 mile per passenger trip. Therefore, the average passenger will likely have to wait for 18 passengers per trip with a time savings of 5 seconds. The extra average wait time, due to the decreased frequency is 30 seconds.

  • Andrew

    The MetroCard system wasn’t designed with POP in mind. For SBS, the choices were to wait until after the MetroCard system was retired, to do without POP, or to use the clunky system in place today. I, for one, would rather see a clunky all-door boarding system than none at all.

    If the new fare system is just as clunky, that of course is inexcusable, but I see nothing wrong with making the best of an imperfect situation.

  • Andrew

    That’s a matter of fare policy, not fare medium or technology.

    As for convenience: http://web.mta.info/metrocard/EasyPayXpress.htm (and you still don’t need to shell out for a full year at a time).

  • qrt145

    You still need to swipe the MetroCard every time. The highly advanced European technology is a card that you just keep in your pocket in case you meet an inspector, something which happens infrequently.

  • Andrew

    For anyone who can ride either the Q52 or Q53, that’s an increase in average headway from 4 minutes to 5 minutes. The increase in expected wait time is 30 seconds.

    This increase in headways “will overwhelm any travel time gains for the typical rider” only if the typical rider’s travel time savings with SBS, ignoring the wait itself, are less than 30 seconds. That seems quite unlikely to me.

  • Andrew

    BusTime can help people make the decision in advance.

  • Andrew

    In this case SBS is replacing LTD service. There are basically the same number of stations.

    There are significant changes in bus stop spacing. Most notably, the buses now run over the Atlantic Avenue overpass rather than slogging along on the service roads.

    The only difference is fare collection.

    And bus lanes, and street reconfiguration, and new turning restrictions, and the aforementioned bus stop changes. But let’s go right ahead and ignore all of those.

    NYC buses average 8 passengers per mile and 2.2 mile per passenger trip.

    The Q52/53 wasn’t picked for SBS treatment because it’s an average bus. It’s an especially busy route, and its riders have longer trips than the systemwide average. Why are you applying systemwide averages to a route is decidedly not average?

  • Andrew

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/brt-woodhaven-may2016.pdf#page=51

    Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

    The Woodhaven buses carry over 30,000 daily bus riders, in far less space than 30,000 individual motorists would occupy. Bus riders don’t cause traffic congestion.

  • Andrew

    As I said, the MetroCard system wasn’t designed with POP in mind, and, for the time being, the MetroCard system is what we’re stuck with. Until the MetroCard system is replaced, our choices are clunky POP or no POP. Of those two choices, I’ll happily take clunky POP.

  • sbauman

    There are significant changes in bus stop spacing. Most notably, the buses now run over the Atlantic Avenue overpass rather than slogging along on the service roads.

    The Woodhaven Blv buses are primarily feeders for subway stations, despite the publicity it’s a north-south trunk route. Atlantic Ave is approximately 1/2 mile from the Woodhaven Blv J/Z stop or the Rockaway Blv A stop. People in living in the Woodhaven Blv corridor between Liberty (A) and Jamaica (J/Z) Aves will walk to the subway and not use the bus at all. Those living south of Liberty Ave take the Q52/53 to the A-train subway stop. Those living north of Jamaica Ave will take the Q52/53 south to the J/Z-train subway stop. The Atlantic Ave overpass does not figure into most people’s travel time.

    The Q52/53 wasn’t picked for SBS treatment because it’s an average bus. It’s an especially busy route,

    It’s a very long route with 3 key feeder stops. This means it will have passenger turnover. That’s not the same thing as a busy route.

    The 2016 average weekday passenger counts for the 2016 Q11/21/52/53 were: 5004; 2926; 5356; 14,752 respectively. The number of scheduled miles traveled by each route on 16 Nov 2016 were: 965.3; 539.5; 1676.6; 3542.1, for the Q11/21/52/53 respectively. This works out to: 5.2; 5.4; 3.2; 4.2 passenger/mi for the Q11/21/52/53 respectively. This is significantly lower than the system-wide average of 8 pass/mile.

  • kevd

    well with buses, I don’t understand why a cellular metro card reader couldn’t have been developed for SBS routes, so that unlimited holders could simply swipe when controlled by a roving inspector.
    But yes, it is better than front door boarding.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Actually, you can be arrested and even sentenced to up to a year in prison for riding public transportation without a ticket in Germany. But it very rarely happens (if ever) that anybody goes to jail.

    There is some debate just now about whether it should be decriminalized.

    http://www.tagesspiegel.de/politik/ueberlastete-justiz-in-berlin-soll-schwarzfahren-strafbar-bleiben/20485678.html

  • kevd

    Very interesting. I’d only ever heard of the fines. Thanks.

  • Setty/Steven

    I don’t think people are explaining well. You buy a small cardboard ticket at a vendor, typically at a store. When you want to use it, you get on a bus or subway. Somewhere on the bus or subway is a machine that you stick the ticket in, and the machine prints a time stamp on there. From that moment, you have a day, a week, a month, or a year paid up. You just carry the thing with you and get on and off transit until the card expires. There are no fare collectors anywhere. Drivers can drive, station agents can supervise, and riders can ride. Undercover enforcers occasionally ask people for their tickets, and everyone just shows the ticket. It’s incredibly elegant. If people are concerned about counterfeit tickets, anti-counterfeiting tech could be included in the cards and the validation machines that print the time stamps. The whole system is almost immune from breakdowns, and is very inexpensive.

  • Andrew

    The Q11 and Q21 (and the Q41 south of Liberty) are primarily subway feeders. The Q52 and Q53 carry significant volumes of through traffic past the subway transfer points.

    Your claim is that Q52/Q53 loads are light at Atlantic Avenue. Do you have any evidence to back that up? It certainly goes against my anecdotal experience.

  • Andrew

    Sure, it could have been developed. But at what cost, for a temporary measure to be in use only until the MetroCard system is phased out?

  • Andrew

    For better or for worse, we in New York have the MetroCard system, designed a good decade and a half before SBS started operation. SBS needed to be designed to work with the preexisting systemwide fare medium.

    The second half of your comment applies on SBS as well. SBS fare payment is 100% POP. Bus drivers don’t know or care if you paid your fare.

  • sbauman

    Your claim is that Q52/Q53 loads are light at Atlantic Avenue. Do you have any evidence to back that up? It certainly goes against my anecdotal experience.

    Here’s a diagram showing use for each stop along the corridor for the Q11/21/52/53.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2014-11-06-brt-woodhaven-pw3-boards.pdf#page=6

    If my math was correct, the loadings between (but not including) Liberty and Jamaica Aves total 4549 out of 58,445 or 7.8%.

    The Q11 and Q21 (and the Q41 south of Liberty) are primarily subway feeders. The Q52 and Q53 carry significant volumes of through traffic past the subway transfer points.

    Here’s how that story possibly originated. Here’s a link to another DOT report on the Woodhaven Blv SBS.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2014-10-22-brt-woodhaven-cac2-presentation.pdf#page=17

    It appears to indicate that more than 35% ride past the subway stops. However, read the fine print: the total is only those originating in the Rockaways. How much does this total compare to the total ridership in the corridor? Going back to the previous link, the Rockaway Peninsular boardings are only 6351. 35% of that is 2223 riders or 3.8% of the northbound ridership along the corridor.

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