THE COMMUTE: According to Theresa Scavo, chairperson of Community Board 15, the MTA stated that it is now too late to request additional stops to the B44 Select Bus Service (SBS) because maps have already been printed. She made that announcement at this month’s Manhattan Beach Neighborhood Association (MBNA) meeting. She also stated that the board is still fighting the reduction in available parking spaces. However, that is the least of the problems this route will cause.
If it is too late to add an SBS stop at Avenue R, a likely assumption would be that it is also too late to change the route as I recommended back in 2011. I suggested that the southern portion of the B44 SBS terminate off-route at the Sheepshead Bay station instead of at Knapp Street and Voorhies Avenue, using Avenue Z to get to the station supplementing B36 service.
Whether you agree with me or not is not really important now. What is important is that I received assurances from the MTA Project Director Ted Orosz at the last B44 SBS Workshop that he would investigate my suggestion and get back to me in three months. He also stated that if they agreed that it was feasible to do, and it was something the community wanted, they would change their plans. He never investigated it, nor got back to me as promised.
Is SBS Working?
By most indications, SBS works well on Pelham Parkway / Fordham Road in The Bronx. It also works fairly well on First Avenue and Second Avenue (M15) in Manhattan. However, there have been complaints that, since its inception, service has actually increased wait times for a local bus. Riders have reported that as many as five or seven SBS buses arrive in a row before they see a local. M15 riders also have been unfairly ticketed. Will that also happen on the B44 or will fare abuse run as rampant as others think? Or will the route be a huge success, as still some others believe?
The M34 SBS does not work at all and only saves riders a minute or two because there is no enforcement of the exclusive bus lane. The jury on the S79 in Staten Island is still out since traffic signal synchronization has not yet been implemented. The important thing to remember is that, although SBS has been moderately successful, the MTA and DOT — its partner on this project — have greatly exaggerated the success of SBS by collecting and presenting incomplete data.
For example, the MTA contends that although vehicular capacity has been reduced on First and Second avenues due to the creation of exclusive bus and bicycle lanes, there has been a minimal effect on volume, and speed has not been reduced. That is stated on Page 20 of their One Year Progress Report. However, there are no traffic counts shown for Third Avenue, Lexington Avenue, York Avenue or Avenue A to determine if the traffic from First and Second avenues was not merely diverted to those streets, making them more congested.
They talk of increased ridership on the M15 but never asked riders if they formerly used the subway and merely shifted their trip to bus or if they previously rode the Third and Lexington routes. Shifting riders from subways to buses is less efficient and increases operating costs because additional buses and manpower are necessary. The MTA would like us to believe that the additional ridership on the M15 is the result of all new trips, while not actually going as far as saying that. They would also like us to believe that the M15 is widely accepted by all riders, but on Page 19, they bury the fact that only half of the local riders approve of the SBS.
Viewing Each SBS Route By Itself
Each route must be viewed on its own merit. One cannot assume that if SBS works well on one route, it will work well all over. That is just not the case. SBS works the best on routes where the average trip length is longer than average, and the streets can be redesigned to speed the buses while minimally impacting existing traffic.
That is not the case for all the proposed routes. For example, the average trip length on the B44 is only 2.3 miles, average for the system. It has been estimated by the MTA that the average passenger will only save only 4.4 minutes. Is it worth this undertaking for that type of savings, which can be the difference in your trip just by catching or missing a bus? Wouldn’t have choosing another corridor resulted in larger timesavings for the customer?
It would seem that SBS routes to LaGuardia or JFK will result in major timesavings for passengers because those trips would definitely be longer than the average 2.3-mile trip. It is a fallacy to assume that just because SBS works well in The Bronx and also works somewhat on First and Second avenues in Manhattan, that it will also work also on the B44. On Nostrand Avenue, it will help those making longer than average bus trips, not make a difference to some, and will hurt many others. Whether more will be helped than hurt remains to be seen, but don’t expect that information from the MTA or DOT.
Three SBS routes are planned for LaGuardia Airport; one for The Bronx and an SBS route on Woodhaven Boulevard has already been decided. Future routes in Brooklyn are also being considered: one for Utica Avenue and another across Southern Brooklyn, partly operating on 86th Street. A route on Utica Avenue may make sense south of Eastern Parkway, but not for the entire length of the B46 route where street width is a problem. Trying to operate an SBS route on a two-lane street under an elevated line such as on 86th Street is insane. The routes to LaGuardia may be successful because of the longer than average trips needed to reach an airport. SBS on Woodhaven Boulevard will be a disaster.
The public comment period on seeking funds for a preliminary engineering study of Woodhaven Boulevard (Project X77275) to redesign it for SBS has already begun. This is not a study to determine if SBS is needed. That has already been decided without community input or notification. The period to comment on the proposed engineering study is currently open now through March 22 (the period began March 13). I already explained how this route will negatively impact southern Brooklyn here and here. You can submit your comments in writing to: David.firstname.lastname@example.org before 4:00 p.m. of the closing date.
Not only has the Woodhaven community not been consulted about this future SBS route, DOT and MTA documentation is not even consistent. According to the DOT website, Woodhaven Boulevard is considered as a future corridor. However, that information is buried in one line on page 3 of a document called “Future Corridors.” A detailed map appears on page 18 of a document called “Public Input” where you would not think of looking for information regarding future corridors.
To make matters worse, the MTA website contains no information at all about the Woodhaven Corridor and it is also omitted from the map and description on pages 28 and 29 of the document “Introduction to Bus Rapid Transit Phase II.” Funding, however, is being requested for an engineering study to begin design work.
Next week: Why the B44 SBS is Different from Other SBS Routes and more about conflicting information that is being provided by the MTA and DOT.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.