Four Ways to Improve Trans-East River Travel That Aren’t Gondolas

ERSWWhat does it take to get people talking about increasing travel options for people whose commutes take them across the East River?

A futuristic proposal spawned in the mind of a Manhattan real estate mogul, evidently.

The East River Skyway proposal aims to address congestion on the L train between Williamsburg and Manhattan by carrying passengers on aerial trams (like the Roosevelt Island tram). With rapid (and continuing) growth in North Brooklyn, the L train has become increasingly crowded in the last few years. But is a gondola the best way to accommodate demand for trans-East travel?

Benjamin Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas summarizes the issue nicely:

In a certain sense, this plan gets to problems with the current transit set-up including overcrowded L trains, a need to serve the southern part of Roosevelt Island, especially with the Cornell development on tap and more capacity across the East River. On the other hand, the alignment is terrible in that it tracks subway lines such as the J/M/Z that are under capacity and mirrors preexisting ferry service.

Although the East River Skyway would provide some fantastic views, perhaps we should consider improvements to the rights-of-way that already exist.

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Two Reports, Two Angles, Same Message: Infrastructure Needs Unmet in New York State

"Streets that need repair" are identified as the number one problem for NY Voters 50+

“Streets that need repair” are identified as the number one problem for voters in New York State age 50 and over. | Source AARPNY

Back-to-back reports released this week by AARP and the New York State Comptroller take two different approaches to arrive at the same conclusion: New York’s infrastructure needs are not being met.

AARP’s report, 2014 State of the 50+ in New York State, surveyed New Yorkers aged 50 and older to determine their likelihood of staying in New York after retirement, and what factors would impact that decision. The survey revealed that:

  • 60 percent are at least somewhat likely to leave New York after retiring; 27 percent extremely likely
  • 66 percent would be more likely to stay if improvements were made to transportation
  • 80 percent identified “streets that need repair” as a problem in their community
  • 67 percent cited cars not yielding to pedestrians as a problem in their community
  • 52 percent said public transportation was too far away, too limited or too hard to navigate
  • 67 percent said they would “vote for a candidate working on maintaining safe and independent mobility around town”

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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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Transitmix: Fun Site for Transit Nerds, Important Tool for Everyone Else

How do you bring meaningful public participation that’s fun and engaging into transit planning? Code for America’s new Transitmix tool may be able to do just that.

While Transitmix may have been created with transit planners in mind, the website allows users of all abilities and backgrounds to design new bus lines and tweak the routes of existing lines (though unfortunately for the region’s transit riders, the ability to tweak existing routes isn’t yet available for New York City or many communities in the tri-state region).

Transitmix-2

Renata Silberblatt designed this route from LaGuardia Airport to Broadway Junction with Maspeth’s transit needs in mind.

There is a lot of useful potential to the tool: transit agencies across the tri-state could use Transitmix to get feedback from riders when planning and modifying existing routes; community groups interested in gathering information on local transit needs and desires could also. Imagine attending a public meeting where participants could collaborate to design bus routes on iPads, or having bus riders design or modify a route while they’re aboard a bus, or redesigning your commute from the comforts of your own home, hitting “submit,” and sending your input directly to your transit agency.

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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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Bus Lanes on 125th Street Already Speeding Up Service

Without camera enforcement, some drivers will treat bus lanes as nothing more than a suggestion.

Without camera enforcement, some drivers will treat “BUSES ONLY” as nothing more than a suggestion. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

New York City Transit staff were on hand to help new SBS riders with off-board fare payment. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

New York City Transit staff were on hand to help new SBS riders with off-board fare payment. | Photo: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Select Bus Service for the M60 bus in Harlem launched earlier this week — a move the MTA expects will “speed trips to LaGuardia and across 125th Street” for the thousands of daily riders who use the service along the corridor.

To get a first person perspective of the new service, MTR rode the M60 Select Bus Service on 125th Street Wednesday morning at rush hour to see how the newly-installed bus lanes have helped to increase bus speeds. The M60 bus traveled at an average speed of 2.7 miles per hour prior to the addition of bus lanes on 125th Street.

The ride from St. Nicholas Avenue to Lenox Avenue — where there are no exclusive bus lanes – is .4 mile in length, and took four minutes and 30 seconds, for an average speed of 5.3 miles per hour, largely because the M60 doesn’t make any stops between St. Nicholas and Lenox.

The ride from Lenox Avenue to Lexington Avenue — where exclusive bus lanes have been painted — is .5 mile long, and took four minutes and 45 seconds, for an average speed of 6.3 miles per hour. While that doesn’t seem like much of a difference, during this particular trip, the bus was stopped at the Madison Avenue station for extended period. First the operator had to direct passengers to pay their fare using curbside payment machines (after just three days in service, people are still getting used to Select Bus Service off-board fare payment) and then assist a passenger using a wheelchair. That was more than enough time to capture this video and grab this photo of the real-time bus arrival signage from one of the rear doors. Take away 45 seconds from the total trip time and it’s more like 7.5 miles per hour, nearly three times as fast as before SBS implementation.

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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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Metro-North Survey Provides Insight into Westchester’s Emerging Mobility Needs

The Harlem Line's third track is part of the reason why Westchester job centers have had success in attracting reverse commuters. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich

The Harlem Line’s third track is part of the reason why Westchester job centers have had success in attracting reverse commuters. | Photo: Peter Ehrlich

Starting in 2007, the MTA undertook customer surveys on Metro-North and Long Island Rail Road, as well as in New York City (for New York City Transit). As MTR previously reported, the MTA’s New York City survey showed large income and age differences between bus and subway riders.

The 2007 Metro-North on-board survey — the railroad’s first origins and destinations survey — highlights the differences between those traveling from Westchester County to Manhattan (for both work and non-work purposes) and those traveling to and within Westchester. The survey had a 45 percent response rate, with 206,000 surveys distributed and 93,000 returned. The survey asked riders about the trips they were taking at the time surveyed, and riders’ planned return trips.

While work travel from Westchester to Manhattan comprised the largest share of the railroad’s passengers — 60 percent — more than one in five Metro-North passengers surveyed were either traveling from New York City into Westchester or traveling within Westchester (what the survey calls “Intermediate Travel”).

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Mayor de Blasio’s Next 100 Days (and Beyond)

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

Mayor Bill de Blasio | Photo: cooper.edu

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio mentioned the Vision Zero initiative early in last week’s address marking 100 days since taking office, citing a 26 percent decrease in traffic fatalities during the first quarter of 2014. He also pointed out that his administration has filled nearly 289,000 potholes this year – more than double the potholes filled last year – saying of the new record, “that’s something to be proud of.”

While he has made strides in implementing the Vision Zero program so far, much remains to be done, including identifying how he will fund the implementation of the program. Beyond Vision Zero, here are a few more transportation issues that Tri-State hopes to see tackled in the next 100 days:

Will he make good on his plan for “world class bus rapid transit?” Faster and more efficient bus service is an issue that has been gaining momentum, and better buses were a highlight of candidate de Blasio’s policy book in 2013. In it, he called for allocating funds from the city’s capital budget to “create a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 bus lines… at a fraction of the cost of major subway projects.” Six Select Bus Service routes have been implemented in four boroughs, but to achieve the mayor’s goal, his administration will have to devote considerable resources to the task. In addition, the mayor has yet to outline how he will go beyond SBS, or BRT-lite, and implement full BRT in New York City.

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