Webster Avenue SBS Could Be Best in NYC, With Center-Running Bus Lanes

One option being considered for Webster Avenue Select Bus Service would have the buses run in the center of the street, potentially speeding service even more than existing SBS routes. Image: NYC DOT/MTA

Webster Avenue could be the place where Select Bus Service reaches the next level. At a community meeting Wednesday evening, the Department of Transportation and the MTA presented three visions of improved bus service for the corridor [PDF]. Two of the templates can already be found on the streets of New York — bus lanes running curbside and bus lanes offset from the curb by one lane — and bus riders are seeing travel times improve 15 to 20 percent thanks to those improvements. But the potential for a real breakthrough lies in the third template — buses running in the center lanes with elevated platforms — which would be a major step toward true bus rapid transit.

The world’s best bus rapid transit systems all run in the center of the street, where speeds and reliability are significantly better (see Streetsblog’s report on Mexico City’s Metrobús system for an example). Away from the curb, there are significantly fewer obstacles from parking, loading, and turn conflicts.

Since bus riders wouldn’t be able to wait on the sidewalk to board the bus, DOT would build new protected platforms in the street. If the platforms are built totally level with the bus floor, as on the subway, this would make boarding the bus much faster, especially for the elderly or disabled. As on all SBS routes, passengers would pay their fares before boarding, allowing buses to spend time moving rather than waiting for each passenger to dip their MetroCard in turn.

Median-running bus lanes and platform-level boarding are two of the most important features of world-class BRT identified in the Institute for Transportation and Development Policy’s BRT Standard scorecard. Existing Select Bus Service routes haven’t met the threshold for bus rapid transit according to ITDP’s system; the Webster Avenue route, it seems, could break the mold.

The Webster Avenue project is still in a very early stage and all three options are little more than concepts at this point. However, the potential for serious transit improvements is especially high here, because there’s already strong political support for Select Bus Service. Both State Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson have endorsed Webster Avenue SBS, though they have not spoken about particular designs. More than 50 people participated in Wednesday’s open house, said a DOT spokesperson, and were broadly supportive of the transit improvements.

Whether DOT opts for the full center-running option or not, any transit improvements are sure to be appreciated. The existing bus service, the Bx41, is the most unreliable in the Bronx, according to the Straphangers Campaign. Travel times on the five-mile corridor can vary by as much as 20 minutes, the DOT said [PDF]. There are currently about 19,000 riders on an average weekday and 24,000 daily riders on the weekend.

Select Bus Service on Fordham Road, the city’s first enhanced bus corridor, reduced travel times by twenty percent using a curbside bus lane design. Ridership increased by seven percent.