M15 riders in for a quicker commute Downtown

By Robert Voris

The accordion-style M15 Limited bus was nearly full at 12:20 on Tuesday afternoon when it left the Allen Street stop, just below Houston. Twenty minutes later it arrived at its destination, City Hall, one-and-a-quarter miles away. The MTA bus map estimates that a person could walk that distance in about twenty-three minutes, meaning that the riders on that bus saved only three minutes for their $2.25.

That is the reasoning behind the Department of Transportation’s recent decision to extend “transit signal priority” to buses along the M15 route, as part of its Select Bus Service (SBS) from 125th Street to South Street Ferry. Signal priority allows bus drivers to change the lights in front of them in order to reduce time spent idling in traffic. A similar program along Fordham Road in the Bronx has reduced travel time by 20 percent, according to a January presentation by the MTA and DOT.

“If it worked and made the buses quicker, that would be great,” said Nancy Cronkite, 61, as she waited for the M15 at the Stanton Street stop. Cronkite uses the bus to commute to her job as a yoga instructor on 86th Street. She said that the trip took anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes, depending on the traffic.

Though the Select Bus Service will entail street re-designs along most of its route, the impact below Houston is muted, with new SBS stops at the intersections of Oliver and Madison Streets, Grand and Allen Streets and Houston and Allen Streets the only planned changes for Downtown.

That was welcome news to Manolo Urena, 34, who was unloading a truck full of Dow gas lines at Grand and Allen on Tuesday. Urena said the recent redesign of Broadway had caused extra traffic and decreased the availability of parking. He said he normally could accomplish six or seven deliveries in an hour, but that number would drop to four or five if he got stuck on Broadway.

“It’s like ‘Survivor’ out here, you just do what you gotta do to get the job done,” he said. “But it helps when they don’t change things on you.”

Kay, the driver of the M15 bus that navigated Downtown’s busy streets on Tuesday afternoon, said that she is delayed on her route about 25 percent of the time. She said the signal priority would be helpful, but that the knots of traffic and delivery trucks downtown were a bigger problem below Houston than red lights.

“It only takes one truck to create a catastrophe,” Kay, who declined to give her last name because she was still on duty, said.

Ro Sheffe, a Community Board 1 member, said that the Select Bus Service was “kind of a no-brainer.” He said the loss of parking spaces that would result from the new stops would be more than offset by the new ease with which people could move through Downtown.

“I have yet to see anything that even resembles a downside to this,” Sheffe said. “Any improvement, I don’t care if it’s oxcart transport, to allow people to move between downtown and uptown, I’m for that.”