Bronx SBS Success Story Boosts Hopes for Woodhaven Full-Featured BRT

Chicago's Ashland Ave. BRT is looking to replicate  center median-aligned exlusive bus lanes, similar to Cleveland's Healthline BRT. Woodhaven Blvd.'s 10-lane width can easily accommodate similar features. Image: transitchicago.com

Chicago’s Ashland Ave. BRT is looking to replicate center median-aligned exlusive bus lanes, similar to Cleveland’s Healthline BRT. Woodhaven Blvd.’s 10-lane width can easily accommodate similar features. Image: transitchicago.com

All seven of New York City’s Select Bus Service (SBS) lines have proven to be successful, demonstrating improved service, increased ridership, street safety improvements, as well as economic and environmental benefits. Adding to the pile of success stories, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA recently released a progress report on the Bx41 SBS line along Webster Avenue in the Bronx, which, like all other SBS routes, has yielded significant improvements for neighborhoods along the line.

Thanks to changes such as off-board fare collection, signal timing improvements and dedicated bus lanes, the Bx41 SBS is operating up to 23 percent faster than the Bx41 Limited route that it replaced. Faster bus travel times have also led to decreased bus delays, with an average time savings of 8.5 minutes per trip. Additionally, total Bx41 ridership has increased nearly 25 percent since it was upgraded to SBS in June 2013. Unsurprisingly, all these improvements led to 97 percent of riders reporting as “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with the service.

As NYC DOT and the MTA take steps toward achieving Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious call for a “world-class” bus rapid transit network of 20 routes, all eyes are now on Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens for the next roll out of enhanced bus service.

Though it will be Queens’ first SBS route, its story is familiar: according to feedback from recent community workshops and a 2008 NYC DOT Woodhaven Boulevard Congested Corridors study, the boulevard is plagued with slow and unreliable buses, traffic congestion and dangerous conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers alike.

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One Region, TSTC-Granted Funds Advance Transit-Oriented Development Throughout the Region

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Municipal grantees of the One Region Funders’ Group and Tri-State’s Transit-Centered Grant Program present TOD project updates at TOD Forum. Left to right: Nicole Chevalier (moderator), Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation; Claire Shulman, Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC; David McCarthy, Jonathan Rose Companies; William Long, City of Mount Vernon; Richard Slingerland and Bob Galvin, Village of Mamaroneck; Jonathan Keyes, Town of Babylon. Photo: Kathi Ko

Tri-State and the One Region Funders’ Group assembled Transit-Centered Development Grant Program recipients last month to discuss progress made since the first round of grants to advance TOD were made in 2009.

The value of using philanthropic support to leverage additional investment for transit-oriented development (TOD) is unprecedented. Through two rounds of grant-making in 2009 and 2012, the program awarded $335,000 in funds to 11 municipalities throughout New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. These awards leveraged $135,000 in local contributions, $6.7 million in county and regional funds, $23 million in state grants and loan guarantees, and $4 million in federal funds.

Presentations from the grantees made it clear that these funds are going a long way to undo decades of sprawl. Some notable updates include:

Affordable senior housing coming to Flushing, Queens

The Flushing-Willets Point-Corona LDC received a $14,000 grant in 2011 and used the funds as part of a larger proposal to revamp the LIRR’s Flushing station. Claire Schulman, former Queens Borough President and head of FWPCLDC, announced that the New York City Department of Housing, Preservation and Development is now poised to transform a 43,200 square foot parking lot into as many as 200 units of affordable senior housing.

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NYCDOT Outreach Meeting on Woodhaven SBS: Mix of Viewpoints and Misconceptions

Community members envision a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard during a design charrette hosted by NYC DOT and MTA Bus. Photo: Kathi Ko

Community members envision a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard at a design workshop hosted by NYC DOT and MTA Bus. Photo: Kathi Ko

In late June, the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA returned to Queens for a second round of workshops to solicit ideas for the Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service (SBS) route — the first of its kind for the borough. Residents and community groups gathered for a design charrette to submit their visions for a transformed Woodhaven Boulevard. Amid some concerns, participants were eager to share their ideas on how to speed up bus service, ease congestion, and improve walkability along the corridor.

Most workshop participants agreed that something needs to be done to relieve the infamously congested and dangerous corridor. At the first meeting back in April, participants discussed how and where they live, work and play along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, as well as their choices of and experiences with various commute modes. The feedback revealed local concerns including very slow and unreliable buses, dangerous and difficult pedestrian crossings, and traffic congestion.

During last week’s design charrette, participants engaged in a streetscape redesign envisioning process using elements of SBS and bus rapid transit (BRT) — similar to what MTR envisioned — as well as complete streets elements. The room was abuzz with a mix of proponents for big and bold ideas; others who were open to SBS, and even full-fledged BRT, but with some reservations about how SBS might affect congestion, parking and local bus service; as well as those who were seemingly opposed to any changes to the status quo.

Since city-wide SBS routes currently in service show that these concerns do not necessarily materialize, MTR decided to take a stab at addressing some of these concerns:
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Will Infrastructure Needs Be Met in Revised Midtown East Rezoning Plan?

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Mayor de Blasio’s new and improved plan to rezone Midtown East must prioritize infrastructure improvements to relieve overcrowding and congestion. Image: www.theepochtimes.com

A recent proposal to build a 65-story tower directly adjacent to Grand Central Terminal has reawakened the broader Midtown East Rezoning plan. During the Bloomberg Administration’s waning days, a previous version of the proposal was halted by the City Council due to its failure to adequately address infrastructure needs before more intense development arrived. The new plan has yet to be fully developed, but for now, a short term zoning change could clear the way for the first tower in the area and offer a blueprint for how infrastructure improvements could be made in tandem with development.

It’s not that the previous proposal ignored infrastructure needs. The Bloomberg proposal read that a District Improvement Fund (DIF) would be dedicated to transit and pedestrian improvements throughout the area, paid for by contributions funneled through a District Improvement Bonus (DIB). Developers would be able to build higher density for contributions into the DIF. The problem is that these improvements would be made after the fact – infrastructure improvements would not be made until there was enough money in the pot to cover costs. Meanwhile, an enormous influx of new employees would exacerbate the already-congested Metro-North and subway platforms and entrances, as well as strain public spaces, sidewalks and streets.

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NYPD Must Do More to Fill Gaps in Vital Crash Data Recording

NYPD must record crash information accurately in order to achieve Vision Zero. Image: Streetsblog

NYPD must record crash information accurately in order to achieve Vision Zero. Image: Streetsblog

Since the release of New York City’s much-anticipated comprehensive crash dataset earlier this month, community members, advocates, and other proponents for safer streets can more easily access traffic crash data to advocate for safer streets. Opening crash data in this format is an integral step towards Vision Zero’s success.

As the City continues to outline next steps towards eliminating traffic deaths, the public can now view the NYPD-provided dataset, which includes information on all vehicle crashes dating back to July 1, 2012. Its 332,871 records (as of May 20,2014) contains date, time, number of persons/pedestrians/cyclists/motorists involved (broken out by injury and fatality), as well as geographic information. Of the 332,871 records within this period, 28,244 represent vehicle crashes that involved pedestrians or cyclists (or both).

Of particular interest when looking at crashes involving pedestrians or cyclists was the “Contributing Factor” attribute, which is what the investigating officer indicated as a factor in what caused the crash. This attribute could help us understand the true causes of crashes, but the dataset leaves a lot to be desired.

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Why Queens’ Woodhaven Boulevard is a Prime Opportunity to Implement Full Bus Rapid Transit

Woodhaven Boulevard cross-section with proposed offset bus lanes. | Image: NYCDOT/MTA

Residents, advocates and bus riders gathered last week to kick off the community engagement process for Queens’ first Select Bus Service (SBS) route. The meeting was held to solicit participants’ transportation concerns along the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor and to describe the benefits of SBS.

Although the plans for enhanced bus service are not set in stone, the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation showed examples of offset and curbside bus lanes along Woodhaven Boulevard along with other SBS treatments that have been implemented on six SBS routes throughout the city: painted bus lanes, off-board fare payment, traffic signal priority and pedestrian safety infrastructure. Existing SBS routes have demonstrated that these modest changes do in fact yield benefits such as increased bus travel speeds between 5-20 percent, decreased traffic congestion, higher economic activity and improved pedestrian safety — but it’s time to raise the bar.

Woodhaven’s infamously wide corridor presents an opportunity to move SBS beyond the status quo toward full-fledged bus rapid transit (BRT). One key BRT feature not yet utilized on the existing SBS routes is center median or physically separated bus lanes.

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This Week: Community Planning Workshop for Queens’ First Select Bus Service Route

At long last, SBS is set to descend on dangerous Woodhaven Boulevard. Image: nyc.gov

At long last, SBS is set to descend on dangerous Woodhaven Boulevard. Image: nyc.gov

Since its initial launch in 2008, Select Bus Service (SBS) routes have been increasing the speed of bus service in all boroughs except for Queens.

That’s about to change.

The community engagement process for Queens’ first SBS route, which will run along Woodhaven Boulevard, is now underway. The New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA will be holding a series of public workshops, the first of which is scheduled for Wednesday, April 23 at 6 p.m. at JHS 210 Elizabeth Blackwell, 93-11 101st Avenue in Jamaica, Queens.

This project focuses on converting the limited-stop Q52/53 bus routes that travel along the Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard corridor to SBS. The corridor’s massive width – six central lanes and four service lanes – allows for the potential to employ full-featured bus rapid transit (BRT), complete with exclusive bus lanes in the center median, that could help decrease travel time by 30 percent.

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Vision Zero Gaining Momentum on Deadly Queens Streets

Vision Zero is coming to Northern Blvd. Image: Streetsblog

Thanks to the efforts of elected officials, advocates and community groups, Queens arterials like WoodhavenNorthern and Queens Boulevards — regulars on TSTC’s annual Most Dangerous Roads for Walking analysis — may soon receive the safety improvements they so badly need.

Mayor de Blasio and the New York City Department of Transportation recently announced that Vision Zero will make its Queens debut on Northern Boulevard. New York City Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer called for traffic safety improvements on Northern Boulevard earlier this year.

And at the state level, Senator Michael Gianaris has been pushing a bill in Albany that would make it a felony to drive with a suspended license when someone is killed or seriously injured in the process. There’s even momentum at the federal level: U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, who represents parts of Queens and the Bronx, is exploring solutions for pedestrian fatalities, and recently announced his Pedestrian Fatalities Reduction Act.

It’s not just elected officials who are looking to improve safety on Queens streets. Advocates seeking more immediate implementation of traffic safety measures have taken to installing their own DIY traffic-calming solutions near dangerous intersections throughout the borough.

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to "deter unsafe crossings". Image: DNAinfo

A fence installed on Broadway near 74th Street to “deter unsafe crossings.” Image: DNAinfo

With the hope for safer streets on the horizon, the New York City Department of Transportation must ensure that the changes made are truly transformative. Although the agency has recently implemented street safety improvements in western Queens, there have also been some missteps. On Jackson Heights’ bustling Broadway/Roosevelt Avenue, a commercial corridor with high pedestrian activity and high crash volumes, NYC DOT installed a metal barrier near the site of a fatal crash in an attempt to “deter unsafe crossings.” As MTR has pointed out before, using physical barriers to prevent pedestrians from crossing sends a message that pedestrians don’t belong on the street — the antithesis to complete streets design.

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Real-Time Bus Technology Advances While Many Bus Stops Still Lack Basic Amenities

With the launch of BusTime to Brooklyn and Queens earlier this month, the MTA completed its roll-out of BusTime, a smartphone and web app that allows bus riders to access real time bus information. This is good news for anyone who’s had the frustrating experience of waiting for a late bus. Minutes can feel like hours when you don’t know how long you’ll be waiting for the next bus — especially in inclement weather.

Advocates continue to call for other improvements like bus countdown clocks (as seen on some subway platforms), which would benefit all riders, not just those who use smartphones. And although technological advances like BusTime are welcome new amenities, many bus stops — particularly those located in the outer boroughs — still lack even the most basic infrastructure. Shelters, benches, signage with maps, route destinations and schedules, and curb-to-sidewalk accessibility are factors that can affect the comfort, safety and convenience of bus riders. When these features are missing, it impacts all riders, but particularly those who rely on buses the most: seniors, disabled riders and commuters who live in areas where the closest subway stop may be a bus ride away.

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Fairfield County Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities Highlight the Need for Safety Improvements

Stamford and Bridgeport had the highest per capita crash rates in Fairfield County (6.45 and 6.44, respectively), based on a yearly crash rate per 10,000 residents. Source: TSTC

Stamford and Bridgeport had the highest per capita crash rates in Fairfield County (6.45 and 6.44, respectively), based on a yearly crash rate per 10,000 residents. Source: TSTC

Thanks to data recently made available by the Connecticut Departments of Public Safety and Transportation via the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository, TSTC was able to map and analyze both pedestrian deaths and injuries in Connecticut for the first time.

The Fairfield County Pedestrian Crash Analysis found that during the three-year period from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012, there were 1,022 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Of those crashes, 951 resulted in injuries, and 28 were confirmed fatal. These crashes resulted in a total of 1,077 pedestrian injuries and 34 deaths.

In addition to mapping the locations of these crashes, the analysis also identifies the five most dangerous roads in the county: US Route 1 topped the list with 169 pedestrian crashes, followed by CT Route 130 (43), CT Route 137 (30), Main Street in Bridgeport (30), and CT Route 127 (29). Building off TSTC’s Most Dangerous Roads analysis released earlier this month, the Fairfield analysis found that the County’s most dangerous roads share common characteristics of dangerous arterial roads that were identified throughout the region—wide, multi-lane roads that enable high speeds and have little to no pedestrian infrastructure.

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