NJ Gradually Clearing Away Obstacles to Bus Rapid Transit

An expansion of Newark’s GoBus service is only the first of many bus projects NJ Transit has in the works, TSTC learned after a recent meeting with agency staff. Statewide bus plans include projects on Route 9 in Monmouth County, Bergen and Passaic Counties, and Route 1 in Central NJ. But the agency faces several obstacles to bus rapid transit expansion in some of New Jersey’s most congested corridors.

In many cases, the quality of existing infrastructure is the largest hindrance to progress. In some places, old traffic signals prevent NJ Transit from implementing full signal prioritization. Other bus corridors center around highways where there are almost no sidewalks or other pedestrian amenities.

Most bus shelters in the state are maintained by private companies or local governments, giving NJ Transit limited control over their design and upkeep. This makes it difficult to implement one of the quintessential components of a “true” BRT system, updated shelter design. Features like pre-boarding fare collection and “next bus in X minutes” information greatly enhance the overall efficiency and customer experience.

In parts of the state, BRT planners have gotten pushback from local businesses who fear that loss of parking for bus lanes will alienate customers. In others, business owners want better bus access and feel that existing studies will not give it to them.

NJ Transit overcame one obstacle to better bus service in January of this year, when the State Legislature passed a bill that adjusted state regulations on bus axle weights. This clears the way for NJ Transit to buy low-floor buses, which provide easier and quicker access for passengers as they get on and off the bus.

Below is a brief outline of NJ Transit’s major bus projects:

Newark: Bloomfield Ave. – Newark Airport GoBus

Closest to completion is a project to enhance bus service along the busy Bloomfield Ave. corridor in the Township of Bloomfield and the City of Newark, connecting to the Newark light rail and the Springfield Ave. GoBus. As part of the Liberty Corridor initiative, the route also establishes a one-seat ride to the airport and connects to existing bus service to the port areas of Elizabeth and Newark.

Signal prioritization will be implemented along the whole corridor, but not at every intersection. NJ Transit planners told MTR that they are looking at Staten Island’s Victory Blvd., where NYCDOT has installed signal prioritization to speed up multiple bus routes, as a model.

However, the planned route runs on both City of Newark and Essex County streets, which use two different signal systems. Newark’s signals are too old to allow signal priority and would need to be replaced entirely. Some local merchants have balked at extension of dedicated bus lane hours, due to the loss of parking.

Replacement of some traffic signals and construction of new shelters with improved passenger information (funded through the federal economic stimulus) began in the spring. Exact location of stops has jet to be determined, but service is expected to begin by the end of 2009.

Route 9 (Monmouth & Ocean Counties)

In 2006, buses gained access to Route 9’s shoulder lanes on a 4.2-mile stretch in Old Bridge. NJ Transit now aims to enhance existing bus service by extending the use of the highway’s shoulder lanes for buses from Old Bridge south to Lakewood. Implementation could likely begin as soon as the engineering analysis wraps up, if funding for the project is identified.

Bergen-Passaic Bus Study

This wide-ranging study is a joint effort between the North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and NJ Transit to improve bus service in Bergen and Passaic Counties, potentially improving access to northern Essex County, northern Hudson County, central and southern Passaic County, southern Orange and Rockland Counties in New York, and Manhattan (particularly via the George Washington Bridge).

Potential capital improvements include new and restructured bus and shuttle routes; vanpool, carpool, or other non-traditional transit programs and subsidies; shoulder lane, “queue jump” operations, and transit signal priority to expedite buses through congested intersections; new or enhanced park and ride facilities and transit hubs; improved passenger facilities and access at bus stops; and informational enhancements and better coordination of various transit services.

The main centers already identified in the study are William Paterson University, Bergen County Community College, Hackensack Medical Center, and numerous malls. William Paterson University will lead an examination of how to maximize student ridership. Longer term plans include bus service between Paterson and Morris County on the Broadway corridor.

The business community south of Route 4 is angry that it is not in the initial scope. The perpetually congested Route 17 may only have two stops, partially due to the complete lack of pedestrian infrastructure along the roadway. One possible solution is shuttle service between Route 17 bus stops and nearby destinations.

The next step in the process is a series of stakeholder meetings, broken up into subgroups such as Education and Shopping. According to NJTPA, the study should conclude by next summer.

Central NJ Route 1 Bus Rapid Transit

This study envisions bus rapid transit through Mercer, Middlesex, and Somerset Counties as part of the Route 1 Regional Growth Strategy. The BRT system is estimated to transport 31,200 person trips per weekday and will include several park and ride lots. Since such a system could cost hundreds of millions of dollars, the study also includes a plan to phase in implementation.

NJ Transit is currently working on ridership analysis, route configuration, and a growth strategy that will tie into any bus plans for the corridor. For example, the expansion of the Quaker Bridge Mall in Lawrenceville will include a pedestrian overpass that makes the mall accessible to bus riders. A completed study is expected by early 2010 (how soon any construction would begin is an open question and likely depends on many factors, including the progress of the Regional Growth Strategy meetings.)

Routes 42/55 Bus Rapid Transit

Announced in May, this joint project between NJDOT and the Delaware River Port Authority proposes dedicated bus lanes on I-676 and Routes 42 and 55, speeding bus travel between Gloucester County, Camden, and Philadelphia. The bus study is part of a larger South Jersey transportation plan including a new light rail line and improvements to the Atlantic City Rail Line. The agencies are seeking federal money for the project, which is clearly years away.

1 Comment on "NJ Gradually Clearing Away Obstacles to Bus Rapid Transit"

  1. Clark Morris | July 13, 2009 at 6:30 pm |

    As a former resident of Bloomfield, I hope that the new bus (and all bus that serve Bloomfield Center) will have the rehabilitated Bloomfield station as a stop. I also hope that someone was smart enough to put in high-level platforms for level boarding. Maybe New Jersey Transit would even get smart enough to treat rail as just another bus route for fare and transfer purposes.

    For everyone who supports the change in axle loadings to allow low floor buses, be aware that street and road maintenance costs will go up. Take a look at the experience of the Orange Line Busway in Los Angeles.

    If there is going to be increased expenditure on road maintenance, it might be cheaper in the Bloomfield Avenue, Springfield Avenue, Broad Street, West Market-Martin Luther King (formerly Main Street) corridors to put in streetcars.

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