THE COMMUTE: If the Department of Transportation (DOT) has its way, bus lanes currently being installed on Woodhaven Boulevard between Dry Harbor Road and Metropolitan Avenue will be ripped up in 2017. That is an irresponsible waste of funds.
Now these are not the Select Bus Service (SBS) or Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) bus lanes I have long been criticizing. Those are the ones due in 2017. The lanes now being installed are the result of DOT’s Congested Corridors Study, which has been going on since 2008. Why a DOT study should take eight or ten years is another story. As I previously wrote, DOT is a Joke.
If DOT has their way, and the funding they seek for Bus Rapid Transit is approved, the current bus lanes installed adjacent to the curb will be relocated to make way for new pedestrian islands, which will accommodate bus shelters and be installed between the new service road local lane and the two through lanes.
Both Streetsblog and the Queens Courier praise these new lanes, but neither mentions that these lanes are intended only for two years. Streetsblog states that these lanes were originally intended for installation last fall and are nearly one year late. Then why should we believe that the SBS lanes will be completed in 2018 and will only take 18 months to install, up from the original estimate of one year? Three more years of chaos and 2021 are more realistic projections.
Woodhaven might benefit from exclusive bus / HOV lanes during rush hours. However, DOT has ruled out HOV lanes. I am not sure how much of a benefit exclusive bus lanes will be since traffic currently moves fine — much better than on Ocean Parkway.
Now, if you think my position on exclusive bus lanes for the SBS program has softened, you are incorrect. The lanes that are currently being installed will be in effect only during rush hours and will not cause the type of havoc I have predicted for the proposed SBS lanes. Although, they will slow down traffic.
However, the Queens Chronicle, whose offices are in front of the bus lanes, quoted one person who claims her previous 45-minute trip now takes nearly 90 minutes by car. Yet, when I made similar claims last year, a few readers ridiculed me and asked for proof that vehicular traffic will suffer.
The question is still: will more be helped than hurt when considering all vehicles? Without data, we do not know, and we have no reason to believe the data will be forthcoming.
SBS first-year assessment studies have only been made available for routes where patronage increased. No assessment has been released for the B44 SBS or the M60 SBS, both of which suffered paid patronage declines. Is fare evasion rampant on these routes, or has ridership really declined?
The difference between the bus lanes currently being installed and the proposed SBS bus lanes are monumental. The proposed lanes will be in effect 24/7, which is totally unnecessary. The proposed pedestrian islands designed to separate local and through traffic, will narrow the lanes and most likely cause the speed limit to be further lowered to 25 mph. (Recently, the speed limit was lowered from 35 mph to 30 mph.) Only in DOT’s distorted view of the world will traffic move quicker at a 25-mph speed limit than it did at 35 mph.
Yet most everyone, except Assemblyman Goldfeder, State Senator Joe Addabbo, some of the community boards, merchants’ associations and the Queens Public Transit Committee, has got on the SBS bandwagon. As I pointed out in the Queens Chronicle, the predicted success of SBS is based on generalities, not on specifics.
The intelligent decision by DOT would be to carefully collect data both before and after the introduction of exclusive bus lanes to determine if they are successful. Do they do more good than harm when all vehicles are considered? How much time are buses saving during rush hours when the lanes are in effect? And the department should estimate if any additional time would be saved during the off-peak if the hours are extended. DOT should have the data to make that prediction.
However, that is not the game plan. DOT has predetermined without any studies or data that when SBS is instituted, the lanes will be extended to throughout the day. Even if the lanes being installed prove to be very successful and save buses 20 minutes or more, they will still rip them up and move them over a lane. How crazy and wasteful is that?
In Other News
The MTA announced an interim successor to outgoing NYCT President Carmen Bianco. He will be replaced by the current President of Bridges and Tunnels, James L. Ferrara. Also, in July, the MTA announced a comprehensive study of all Staten Island bus routes. This marks the first borough-wide study of bus routes since the early 1980s. Hopefully, it will be performed correctly, and comprehensively study groups of routes at a time, as I have long advocated. The current ad hoc approach is to study one route at a time. After the failure of their previous borough-wide studies, the comprehensive approach was declared unfeasible.
A few weeks ago, I presented data that showed how widespread bus bunching is in southern Brooklyn during the rush hour. On Sunday, August 2, I observed two bunched eastbound B35 buses at Church and Ocean Avenues at a quarter after midnight. What was also surprising was the buses were not nearly empty — one bus had 20 passengers and the other had about 10 passengers. Why should buses bunch at that hour? The MTA claims bunching is the result of traffic that they cannot control.
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).
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