With the cost of new transit infrastructure skyrocketing, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is pushing to expand the city’s Select Bus Service (SBS), a version of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Twenty SBS lines are planned citywide by 2018, adding 13 new routes to the current seven. A joint effort of the NYC Department of Transportation and the MTA, officials have begun planning the next phase, a route along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards in Queens connecting Queens Boulevard and the Rockaways.
“All around the world there’s been a push for BRT due to the high cost of building underground rail,” said Gene Russianoff, a spokesperson with the Straphangers Campaign for NYPIRG. “It’s particularly well-suited to parts of Queens like the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor that is already very wide and has lots of available customers.” According to NYCDOT, the corridor services nearly 34,000 daily bus riders.
Seven SBS lines already run through the city on routes identified by the Bloomberg Administration. The latest opened on May 25 running along the M60 bus line connecting 125th Street with LaGuardia Airport.
New York’s SBS is not a full BRT system, like international examples in Guangzhou, China, Bogotá, or Mexico City. SBS is characterized by dedicated bus lanes, traffic signal prioritization, pre-paid transit fares, limited stops, and other pedestrian safety amenities. NYCDOT figures show these changes can account for a 10 to 15 percent decrease in travel times as compared to traditional bus routes that are often slowed to a pace less than walking. Along the Woodhaven route, a study by the Pratt Center for Community Development estimated that travelers between Howard Beach and LaGuardia Airport could cut their transit times from 65 to 45 minutes. NYCDOT’s initial proposal for the Woodhaven line is similar to other SBS routes in the city with on-street bus lanes.
“A more fully-fledged, world-class BRT system will include fully separated bus lanes and more permanent station locations,” said Ryan Lynch, Associate Director at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “These are small things that really improve travel times and ease access for people with disabilities.” His organization this year identified Woodhaven Boulevard as among the region’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and is making a push for the new route to expand on existing SBS models. His group and others are proposing a median-aligned, physically separated bus lane with permanent, elevated stations. “When you do build out a world-class BRT system, you can expect faster transit times. Woodhaven is an ideal opportunity to take SBS to the next level.”
“It’s important to remember that SBS has been very successful throughout the city at a time when bus service has become slower on other lines,” said Lynch. “SBS has really done a good job of increasing ridership and has improved pedestrian and bike safety.”
NYCDOT has been studying the Woodhaven line since 2008 and is currently working with the community on defining what the future bus line might look like following a meeting in late April. The agency expects to have a concept plan complete by the end of the year.