To Fix the Bronx Bus Network, Byford Needs More Enforcement

Andy Byford and a friend. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit
Andy Byford and a friend. Photo: Marc A. Hermann / MTA New York City Transit

The transportation officials who are in the process of overhauling the entire Bronx bus network warn that simply redrawing colored lines on a map won’t improve service unless the city and state do more to keep cars out of bus lanes.

Even the most perfectly redesigned bus system would be dead on arrival if the streets aren’t kept clear enough to get the two million daily riders citywide, and the nearly 490,000 Bronx riders, where they need to go. The NYPD and Department of Transportation must do more to keep the lanes free of illegally parked cars, but they also need help through automated camera enforcement, said NYC Transit President Andy Byford.

“Our buses can’t levitate, they are stuck in traffic — that has been a major factor,” said Byford during TransitCenter’s panel discussion on the Bronx network redesign on Thursday. “I think buses are great, but they need to be given a fighting chance to get through the streets so we need to have a serious conversation about keeping existing bus lanes free, moving and stopping abuse of bus lanes, get better managed deliveries in those bus lanes. One poorly parked vehicle can hold up the whole route.”

And bus lane cameras are one of the best ways to keep cars out. Byford has said previously that cameras work better than cops. Currently, the state has authorized the city to install cameras on just 16 routes — a tiny fraction of the 252 routes citywide.

A pending bill by Assembly Member Nily Rozic, A6777B, would lift the cap — and increase penalties for repeat offenders. A group of City Council members have invoked a “home rule” request to get the legislature to pass the bill before adjourning at the end of June.

The City of New York spoke loud and clear: we need to make bus service work, and Albany must allow New York City to enforce existing laws and discourage illegal parking and driving in bus lanes,” said Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Straphangers Campaign and the Riders Alliance in a joint statement on Friday.This is how we make it work better: by enforcing the longstanding laws on the books and keeping bus lanes free of cars parking and driving illegally.”

The proposed Bronx bus route.
The proposed Bronx bus route redesign.

In the Bronx, nearly 60 percent of residents rely on public transit for their daily commutes, and at least 16 percent commute primarily by bus. But the slowest-in-the-nation buses crawl along at what Byford called “embarrassingly” slow speeds — an average of less than seven miles-per-hour, and some times as slow as five miles-per-hour during peak times.

Redesigning the Bronx bus system, which hasn’t been revamped in decades, will help speed things up, but the surest way to get buses moving faster is by making sure no cars are blocking them — and that’s where the cameras come in. 

“[We would need] not just simply a modest increase but something transformative — similar to what happened with the speed camera bill,” Nivardo Lopez, the DOT’s Bronx borough commissioner, said during the panel discussion on Thursday night, referring to the state’s increase in speed cameras from 140 to 750 school zones earlier this year. “We need that type of increase for bus lane cameras. That has to be a big part of the conversation.”

Earlier this month, the MTA unveiled a draft plan for the new Bronx bus system, which includes more streamlined routes, better bus stop balancing, improved connections, and more frequency. Stops now are placed at roughly every 800 feet, causing buses to be stopped or idle for a quarter of the time — placing them at least every 1,300 feet will get them moving faster, said Byford.

City and state transportation officials will ask riders who regularly use and rely on the system to offer input about how they’d like to see it improved — but that means making some choices. Straphangers may be asked to choose between more frequent service, or service on just the main arterials that would run as fast as the subway, said Byford.

“We’re starting with a blank sheet of paper and giving them choices. Is frequency the most important thing for you or is coverage, because invariably there are some choices to be made here,” said Byford. “Every route means less frequency, or stick to main arterials but run relentless service like the subway — turn up and go.”

Of course, there’s one problem. Buses are, well, buses. Byford knows his work is cut out for him with his own board.

“I do try to get buses on the transit committee agenda but all everyone wants to talk about is subways,” he said, not really joking.

The MTA will host six more open houses on the Bronx draft plan between June 17 and June 27.

  • SSkate

    Byford doesn’t need more enforcement. The Bronx needs more enforcement.

  • Sassojr

    I love when people perpetuate poor stereotypes of the Bronx. Keep it up, it keeps gentrification away!

  • Sassojr

    The plan is DOA not because of lack of enforcement, but no clear changes. Minor tweaks to some routes is not a “redesign”. The Bronx simply needs more buses if they want more bus riders. Headways were mostly unchanged. I don’t care if it now takes 13 minutes instead of 15 to get from point A to point B because we didn’t have to dodge a double parked car. I do care that there isn’t a 15+ minute wait for a bus when I get out of the train at 8pm.

    I don’t have the schedule in front of me, don’t care if it’s actually 9pm when the headways move from 12 minutes to 15 minutes, and yes, “average time matters so 7.5 minutes, blah blah blah”. The fact is, if buses aren’t frequent, people won’t rely on them. This is the problem with most Bronx bus lines, low ridership means fewer buses which means lower ridership.

    A bus lane on the Concourse won’t change anything since there isn’t much traffic north of 161 except in the vicinity of Fordham. Bus lanes mean nothing if they sit empty with current headways.

  • Dexter

    An empty bus lane is a sign of a working bus lane. A bus lane where you see buses back to back is one not working as intended. A common misconception. Secondly, tweaking routes DOES help because every aspect about a route can cause delay. Hell, acceleration and braking alone are delays and minimizing stops as well as adding TSP minimizes that. Turns cause delay. Minimize those. The list goes on. Everything must be accounted for.

    Good frequency (required for any baseline for reliable service I believe) will not make up for terrible running conditions.

  • Sassojr

    “An empty bus lane is a sign of a working bus lane. A bus lane where you see buses back to back is one not working as intended. A common misconception.”

    And a bus lane that’s empty for 15 minutes at a time is just as useless as a bus line with 15 minute headways during the evening. Didn’t say anything about stacked buses.

    “Secondly, tweaking routes DOES help because every aspect about a route can cause delay”

    While you’re not wrong that tweaks can improve service, when the problem is headways and you don’t address it, it isn’t a redesign. When you don’t start with re-drawing routes from the ground up, it isn’t a redesign. To call it a redesign is just misleading marketing.

  • Andrew

    A bus service that reliably runs every 12 or 15 minutes is far more useful (and usable) than a bus service that’s scheduled every 12 or 15 minutes but often has dropped trips due to unpredictable traffic congestion.

    Running reliable service will drive up ridership, which will prompt service increases.

    But the first step is to address the unreliability. Without that, people ride buses only as a last resort.

  • sbauman

    Stops now are placed at roughly every 800 feet, causing buses to be stopped or idle for a quarter of the time — placing them at least every 1,300 feet will get them moving faster, said Byford…Byford: 800 feet between stops is far too little. 1,300 feet is more like it.

    Carrying passengers is an impediment to increasing bus speeds. Increasing the distance between stops to 1300 feet (400 m or 1/4 mile) will increase bus speeds by drastically reducing the passenger count. The “Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manal” (TCQSM) notes:

    Walking Distance to Transit
    The maximum distance that people will walk to transit varies depending on the
    situation. Exhibit 3-5 shows the results of several studies of walking distances to
    transit in North American cities. Although there is some variation between cities and
    income groups among the studies represented in the exhibit, it can be seen that most
    passengers (75 to 80% on average) walk one-quarter mile (400 meters) or less to bus
    stops.

    The 1/4 mile threshold for walk to transit is confirmed by studies for real estate values. The premium for proximity to transit disappears after 1/4 mile.

    Mr. Byford noted that London’s distance between bus stops was around 1300 ft and that his grandfather had driven buses for London Transport. He did not note that his grandfather probably drove a Routemaster bus. This was a double decker 2-man bus. There was an open platform on the rear, where riders could get on or off at will. The distance between formal stops didn’t matter. Most riders got on or off, when the bus slowed down. These slowdowns occurred quite frequently between the formal bus stops.

    New York City’s subway system is often overlooked in discussing the bus network. About 75% of people who live and work in NYC are within 1/4 mile of an existing subway stop. Drastically increasing the walking distance to the bus stop will tilt the bus/subway decision further in the subway’s favor. The TCQSM gives 0.5 miles as the walking distance threshold to rail or “enhanced” bus service. 83% of people living and working in NYC live within 1/2 mile of a subway station.

    The Bronx is well served, despite what a Rider Alliance representative said at the Transit Center presentation. 90.7% of Bronx residents who work in NYC live within 1/2 mile of a subway station. This is a higher percentage than any borough except Manhattan. Nor are Bronx residents more likely to work in their home borough. Approximately 31% of Bronx residents who work in NYC actually work in the Bronx. This is a lower home work borough percentage than any borough except Manhattan. More than 50% of the Bronx workers’ jobs are in Manhattan. That’s a higher Manhattan bound percentage than any borough than Manhattan.

  • Sassojr

    I still strongly disagree, buses in the Bronx are generally moving OK other than a few key areas that have mostly been taken care of with bus lanes. Making buses move slightly faster doesn’t make them more appealing. Appealing is frequent service.

  • cjstephens

    Pretty sure that SSkate was criticizing the editing of the headline, not the people of the Bronx.

  • SSkate

    Yes, thank you, @cjstephens:disqus , that’s exactly what I meant.

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