New York City has one of the slowest bus systems in the United States. In places like midtown Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn, average speeds are around 4 to 5 mph, and many routes are far worse. This must change.
Outerborough commuters depend on buses to get to their subway stations. In Manhattan, buses are often the only mass-transit option for crossing town. But in a city where everyone's in a mad rush, buses are an epic fail.
The Straphangers Campaign, a transit advocacy group, has clocked the MTA's crosstown M79 bus inching along Manhattan's 79th Street at 3.2 mph. As the Straphangers have noted, Hawaiian lava flows faster -- at up to 6 mph -- and the average pedestrian, whose gait is 3.5 mph, could beat the M79 in a race from the East Side to the West without breaking a sweat. The M79 is hardly the only laggard. There's the M42, which wheezes along 42nd Street at a wretched 3.8 mph.
But here's the worst part: As ridership grows -- to about 2.1 million fares a day -- service only bogs down more. That's because a huge amount of travel time on city buses is devoted to loading and unloading passengers. Then there's New York's hopeless and endless traffic.
Now there is some good news. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced last week that the city will spend $295 million to create 13 new select bus service lines beyond the seven that exist. On select buses, riders pay before boarding, and buses use dedicated lanes. The city wants lines on 86th Street in Manhattan, Utica Avenue in Brooklyn, a route between Jamaica and Flushing, and on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards in Queens.
Beyond that, the city's challenge is to get other drivers to respect the painted select bus lanes. Experts say tighter enforcement with cameras might work -- but who knows?
What has worked, in places like Brazil and Australia, are bus lanes separated from other traffic by physical barriers. The drawback in New York -- for the city and the MTA -- is that separated bus lanes would be costly.
We ought to try them. Better to pay a steep price for a real solution than to buy a nonsolution on the cheap.