World-Class Avenues for the East Side: What Great BRT Looks Like

BRT_Variant_curb.jpgBRT + bike: East Side avenues have enough space for physically separated busways and protected bike lanes.

The biggest sustainable transportation story in New York right now is how DOT and the MTA plan to design Bus Rapid Transit corridors for the East Side of Manhattan. Will we get world-class avenues that attract more riders to the bus, relieve the jam-packed Lexington subway line, make cycling safer, and enhance the pedestrian environment? If so, the city will improve life for hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers and set a tremendous precedent in sustainable street design. If not, the standard for BRT corridors will be set low as the city starts rolling out up to a dozen more routes.

Sometime next month, reports Pete Donohue in today’s Daily News, DOT intends to release detailed plans for First and Second Avenues. So far, we’ve only seen what an "off-set" bus lane configuration would look like, but DOT and the MTA are still considering a range of options. It’s pretty clear that off-set bus lanes, placed between curbside parking and traffic, won’t qualify as world-class.

Unlike separated lanes, off-set lanes require camera enforcement — and state legislation — to function properly. Albany rejected bus cams last year, and even if legislators suddenly change their minds, a camera-enforced off-set configuration invites conflict. Buses would have to contend with cars and delivery trucks trying to access the curb. Separated lanes eliminate that conflict and, paired with protected space for cyclists, invite more biking and walking.

So what would real-deal BRT look like on the East Side? The image up top is one of two options that Transportation Alternatives is backing to deliver the maximum benefits for transit riders, cyclists and pedestrians. The window of opportunity to get these ideas out there won’t stay open much longer.

"We are pushing for a visionary design that’s going to catalyze thousands of pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders, and turn them into champions of BRT," said TA’s Wiley Norvell. "We know there will be opposition to change on First and Second Avenues, regardless of what is proposed; what is critical is that the design delivers the kind of new mobility that will build its own constituency of ardent supporters." Each option is projected to reduce the 70-minute travel time along the whole M15 bus route down to about 40 minutes, Norvell said. Implementing the same improvements applied to the Bx12 route on Fordham Road would only bring travel time down to 60 minutes.

Follow the jump for the other preferred design, showing a center-median bus-and-bikeway.

BRT_Variant_median.jpgA center-median BRT configuration, with a protected bike lane similar to the new path on Allen Street.

Keep in mind that these are conceptual plans, and there’s a great deal of flexibility in the details. In both configurations, local buses would operate in the separated busway, with smaller local stations placed in the median. Correction: In the first configuration, local bus service continues unchanged along the curbside. In the second, local buses would operate in the separated busway, with smaller local stations placed in the median. The second design can accommodate either two bus lanes in between stations, so BRT buses can pass the locals, or bays spaced at intervals for local buses to pull over and allow BRT buses to pass. Elements like bikeway design, curbside parking, and turning restrictions on vehicles could likewise vary within the framework of these plans.

Also, don’t forget that BRT enhances service mainly by reducing the amount of time buses stand still or get bogged down in traffic. Average speeds improve dramatically, but these buses won’t be zooming down the avenues.

Organized support for a multi-modal solution for the East Side is starting to coalesce. "If the DOT doesn’t put bikes in their BRT designs, they’re missing an opportunity," said Kurt Cavanaugh, managing director of the East Village Community Coalition, a local advocacy group. "Planning for buses and bikes together makes it as sustainable as possible."

Second-rate design is really not an option on this one. We have a mayor who’s gone to the mat for congestion pricing, a DOT commissioner committed to safer, greener streets, and an MTA chair who’s made better bus service priority number one. If New York can’t pull off a visionary design for sustainable transportation now, maybe we never will.


A Transit Miracle on 34th Street

NYC DOT is proposing to turn Manhattan’s 34th Street into a river-to-river "transitway." In what she half-jokingly called "probably the first-ever co-presentation" between their two agencies, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan stood with New York City Transit President Howard Roberts earlier this week to unveil the city’s current Bus Rapid Transit program in its […]

Bus Rapid Transit Designs for East Side Avenues Still in Flux

Earlier this week DOT and the MTA showed plans for Bus Rapid Transit on the east side of Manhattan to the Seaport/Civic Center committee of Community Board 1. With implementation scheduled for next September, the question of how to allot space on First and Second Avenues is increasingly urgent. Robust bus improvements paired with protected […]

19 NYC Electeds Call for Separated Bus and Bike Lanes on East Side

State Assembly member Micah Kellner, City Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Dan Garodnick, Council member-elect Margaret Chin, and State Senator Bill Perkins are among 19 local electeds calling on DOT and the MTA to implement "true BRT" and "complete streets" on First and Second Avenues. A group of 19 elected officials has urged NYC DOT […]

Slow-Moving Bus Rapid Transit

The Oil Drum has coverage of last night’s bus rapid transit forum on the Upper East Side: Despite the broad-based community support for faster, more efficient and higher quality bus services all that is being discussed by city/state/MTA officials is a STUDY that will examine 15 routes to pick JUST 5 in June 2007 and […]