Editorial: Make bus rapid transit a priority
Can anything take the edge off our rush-hour miseries and speed us along with less agita and more efficiency? We desperately need relief. Subway cars are sardine cans on wheels. Streets in every borough are packed with horn-honking drivers. Even the sidewalks of Manhattan bristle with tension as fast-walkers brush by amblers and texters.
One solution is a strong expansion of Select Bus Service, run by the city's Department of Transportation and the MTA. Part of a global trend called bus rapid transit, Select Bus aims to move jammed-up city residents around faster, using a mode of transportation that's way cheaper and easier to build than new subway lines.
In New York, of course, bus rapid transit sounds like an oxymoron. Most of us can walk faster than your typical Manhattan city bus travels. On 125th Street, for instance, MTA buses crawl along at average of 2.7 mph.
With Select Bus Service -- on routes like Fordham Road in the Bronx and First and Second avenues in Manhattan -- the MTA and DOT are working on a better way.
But they need to hit the accelerator. New York at the moment has just five SBS lines. SBS buses travel in dedicated lanes, make fewer stops, and require riders to pay their fares (the same price as a regular bus ride) before they board. They run about 15 to 20 percent faster than regular buses, the DOT says, and ridership has grown quickly.
But the program isn't the game-changer it could be.
For starters, the dedicated lanes are about as dedicated to buses as bike lanes are dedicated to bikers. Which is to say -- not at all. The off-board collection system isn't in place at every stop. Unlike other major cities, New York's system doesn't have elevated stops. And worst of all, pressure from local shopkeepers and residents is crimping the system's expansion. A planned SBS line along 125th Street was abandoned after an outcry.
So the city is left with a spotty, underbuilt system while street grids remain frozen. The next mayor needs to make bus rapid transit a priority. While not a complete solution to our troubles -- it's hardly a pedestrian idea.