The Commute: Let’s Have An Honest Discussion About Select Bus Service

The Commute: Let’s Have An Honest Discussion About Select Bus Service
<i>Photo by <a href="">Patrick Cashin / MTA</a></i>
Photo by Patrick Cashin / MTA

THE COMMUTE: That is what blogger Ben Kabak requested last week in Second Avenue Sagas. What prompted his article was something I wrote, in which I suggested that the proposed Woodhaven Cross Bay Select Bus Service (SBS) could delay Phase 2 of the Second Avenue Subway (SAS). Both projects are competing for the same federal funds. The other impetus for his article was a picture of trash lining an entire SBS stop near Whole Foods on the Bowery — blocking access to one of the fare kiosks. He claimed the trash showed a lack of respect for SBS. He blamed Whole Foods, who denied the accusation and said the garbage belongs to the owner of the building, which has residential units above the grocery store.

So Ben, let us have an honest discussion. You are free to disagree with me regarding any effect SBS on Woodhaven might have over future SAS funding. However, who is to blame for the trash? Is it really the residential building owner? The law requires him to place his trash near the curb. He probably placed it in the street instead because otherwise there would have been no room left on the sidewalk for pedestrians to walk. Would it have been better to force pedestrians into the street?

A closer examination of the trash shows it was all neatly placed in black bags ahead of the bus stop. Those inside the bus stop look like recyclables due to the clear and blue plastic bags, which are also placed as neatly as possible. Therefore, the problem is the amount of recyclables, not where they are placed. Is that the fault of the building owner? No. It is the fault of the Department of Sanitation for the infrequency of recycling pick-ups. So who is disrespecting SBS? Not the building owner, but the same city that is advocating for 13 more SBS routes within the next two years. That would be an honest discussion.

As for the rest of my argument in my last piece, Kabak did not address any of the points I raised regarding the proposed SBS route, which I have addressed numerous times here. It should also be noted that his article takes a far different stance from his previous writings on SBS, which were supportive. Such as this one:

So then can we see the key to better bus service in the stories of the SBS? By improving frequency along 1st and 2nd Avenues and speeding up the on-boarding process, the MTA has made bus service attractive, and it was rewarded with increased ridership. Elsewhere, buses run less frequently and involve long waits to board. Thus, ridership is down, and the MTA seems to know it…If the authority is intent on improving bus convenience and combatting declining ridership, the answers are in Select Bus Service…

Now he states:

Since the MTA and New York City’s DOT debuted Select Bus Service in 2008, I haven’t been particularly impressed by the program or the rollout. Heralded as the next best thing in buses for New York City, it’s barely BRT-lite, and it’s taken nearly a decade for the city and MTA to identify and plan only a handful of best-practices improvements to local bus routes…

That is quite a turnaround. Now that his hopes of major improvements are dashed because of typical SBS routes, Kabak is advocating for something similar to a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) solution, such as the Woodhaven proposal provides. He conveniently ignores that BRT is over 10 times more expensive than traditional SBS. Are the added benefits worth 10 times the cost of the original SBS proposal? That’s what a cost benefit analysis would ask, if it were performed.

So how honest has Kabak been? On the other hand, my previous discussions have been honest. He accuses me of attacking Select Bus Service. I plead guilty as charged. But why am I doing that? It is to provide some balance to NYCDOT’s and the MTA’s picture of how SBS on Woodhaven would be an improvement for everyone, allowing cars to travel faster with a lower speed limit, and fewer lanes for them. Who would believe that?

The facts are that the Woodhaven Cross Bay SBS is poorly planned and will be a colossal waste of money that will increase traffic congestion and will only minimally improve bus service. It may at times even slow down bus service. Bus stops are poorly designed under the option chosen by DOT. They don’t even allow SBS and Express buses to pass idling local buses at most bus stops.

Buses would have to enter the general traffic lanes to pass other buses, which would be impossible if those lanes are clogged with traffic during peak hours. It will also hamper emergency vehicles. Yet no one is addressing any of those problems or problems with existing routes, such as worn out roadway markings, inadequate signage, broken fare machines, the expense of enforcement, the probability of increased fare evasion which is highly likely on the B44 SBS and will also be an issue on the proposed B46. Or how the introduction of contactless payment will affect the newly purchased fare kiosks at $50,000 per machine? Will they become obsolete in a few years or need an expensive redesign?

No one is asking why exclusive bus lanes make sense on Woodhaven Boulevard at 9pm on a Sunday evening when 98 percent of the traffic is not buses and perhaps less than 10 percent of the road’s users are bus passengers. But half of the through lanes will be eliminated on the northern part of Woodhaven — cutting travel speeds in half and doubling trip times for other vehicles.

It should not be a crime to get where you are going by car in a decent amount of time without constantly being stuck in traffic. No one is addressing the number of cars that will be rerouted to a narrow residential street when the left turns at Metropolitan Avenue are banned.

No one is presenting any traffic data or data from the MTA transit forecasting model that should show what the projected benefits would be. All we have are made up travel time-savings that trips by bus will be shortened by 35 percent, whatever that means.

If Kabak really wants an honest discussion, he would be asking some of the same questions I have been asking. He would be pressing the MTA to release the first year assessment for the B44 SBS. (As I have been doing.) Instead, he criticizes me for pointing out the negatives of SBS and blames a landlord for placing his trash near the curb. He should be blaming the city for not picking up recyclables on a timely basis. That would be honest.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work. Their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please email