The Junction in Flatbush could be an ideal site for a bus terminal. (Source: flatbushjunctionbid.com)

The Junction in Flatbush could be an ideal site for a bus terminal. (Source: flatbushjunctionbid.com)

THE COMMUTE: Each week I am challenged to write about something different. Today I will discuss a subject that I have only mentioned peripherally before – intercity and local bus terminals. When streets get clogged with too many buses terminating in a confined area, we build or should build an off-street bus terminal to reduce congestion. We rarely do this in New York City, allowing our streets to remain congested.

There are two types of bus terminals: one for local travel, and one for intercity travel. Here we’ll talk about where they are, and why we need more.

In Manhattan, there are the Port Authority (PA) and George Washington Bridge bus terminals for intercity travel. Staten Island has the St. George terminal at the ferry for local buses. Queens has two terminals for local buses: one at 165th Street in Jamaica, and another small one in Jackson Heights. The Bronx has none that I can think of. In Brooklyn we have a terminal near the Williamsburg Bridge and two mini-terminals, one at Kings Plaza and another in Coney Island, both of which are inadequate to hold all the routes that terminate there.

Additional off-street terminals for local buses are needed near 179th Street in Jamaica, and, more importantly, near Main Street in Flushing, which used to have one many years ago. In Brooklyn, we could use one near Atlantic Terminal, but instead we choose to clog our Downtown Brooklyn streets with buses we don’t need. There is enough demand in Downtown Brooklyn to operate a light rail from Atlantic Terminal to Brooklyn Bridge Park along Fulton Street, through Borough Hall Park and down to Old Fulton Street, with some going to Red Hook if buses were eliminated from Livingston Street and the Fulton Mall. A convenient transfer could be provided at Atlantic Terminal between the buses and light rail if a terminal were built there.

However, a few years ago when the Department of Transportation studied light rail, it was proposed along Atlantic Avenue. That was foolhardy because it only would have aggravated the traffic congestion.

So why are there so few off-street local bus terminals? Besides the funding issue, the other is that no one is advocating for them. Merchants, especially in Flushing, have fought attempts to construct an off-street bus terminal for fear of losing business if subway passengers were able to directly board buses underground at Main Street without having to first exit the subway and wade their way through congested streets and sidewalks.

I am all for supporting our local merchants, but their occasional selfishness deprives commuters from a faster and more comfortable trip, especially in cold and inclement weather, and worsens the street environment with traffic congestion that could be avoided.

Politicians are always complaining about traffic congestion, blaming automobile drivers as the culprits when they are really causing congestion through outsized zoning and providing insufficient long- and short-range parking. Instead of constructing a bus terminal, DOT proposed to make Main and Union Streets one-way pairs that only would increase congestion, because it would encourage double parking.

Rather than expanding municipal parking lots to increase park-and-ride spaces to encourage mass transit and reduce congestion, the city is selling off its municipal lots and replacing it with development, including garages operated by the private sector charging exorbitant rates. They did this on Kings Highway and are looking to do the same in Flushing, while doing nothing to improve bus transit.

Replacing or Renovating the Port Authority Bus Terminal?

You know you are getting old when you read that subway cars are being retired and you remember when they were purchased. Similarly, it seems like yesterday when it was announced that the Port Authority Bus Terminal will undergo a major expansion to serve future generations and now you read that the terminal is now decrepit and obsolete and will once again need a major renovation or reconstruction.

You think “future generations” means forever, but it only means 40 years. Yes, the terminal should be renovated. After all it is as old as I am, 63, and was expanded in the late 1970s, about the time I also started to expand, mainly in the stomach area. (I could alsoundergo some renovation.)

But this is what I object to: they first commission an unnecessary study to determine if the terminal should be replaced or renovated. The expanded portion is a little over 30 years old. Why would you even consider demolishing a sound structure, wasting taxpayer money, if not just to give work to construction firms? They can easily determine what renovations are needed just by reading the dozens of comments to the New York Times article discussing the terminal – problems with the bathrooms and inadequate signage, just to name two.

Likely for our readers, the worst thing about the Port Authority Bus Terminal is the time it takes to get there from Southern Brooklyn – an hour to an hour-and-a-half by subway. Once you get to the terminal, your bus trip will probably take you only two or three hours; four at the most.

Why should one third of your trip be spent getting to the terminal? We are a city of five boroughs so why should there only be two inter-city bus terminals, both located in Manhattan?

An Inter-City Bus Terminal for Brooklyn?

How many people from Brooklyn would go to Atlantic City by bus if they first had to travel to the Port Authority (PA) Terminal? Very few. That’s why those buses make local stops in Brooklyn, because it is so much more convenient. Also, intercity bus travel has made a resurgence due to low cost bus lines that do not use the PA terminal, but clog our streets instead.

Years ago when travel to the Catskills was popular, there was a small off-street bus terminal in Brownsville. That was because travel to the PA terminal took too long; at the time it took a half hour just to access the Lincoln Tunnel from the bus terminal since a direct ramp had not yet been constructed. If the PA Terminal, the busiest bus hub in the world, has outgrown its site, and now there are buses idling in the street, perhaps now is the time to build a secondary terminal in Brooklyn, reducing the demand at the PA, and shortening travel times for Brooklynites and Staten Islanders.

That is what we need a study for.

But where do we build one? The seemingly logical choice, in the center of Brooklyn near the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction, unfortunately does not make sense because there are no nearby highways. We do not need more buses clogging local streets (Of course, had the Cross Brooklyn Expressway been built, that would be another story).

Given the existing highway network, the most logical choice would be somewhere near the Brooklyn Army Terminal, between Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, because it is adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Also, land is available to construct a parking lot to make it easily accessible. A new limited stop bus route could also be initiated along 65th Street improving bus access to it (That route also could serve ferries to Manhattan operating from the Army Terminal.).

A terminal there would be ideal for trips to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and points south, eliminating the need to first travel north to the PA Terminal in order to travel south. Taking a bus from the Army Terminal vicinity may be even more convenient and cheaper than making the entire trip by automobile.

Conclusion

Bus congestion in Flushing and in Downtown Brooklyn needs to be reduced with the construction of off-street bus terminals. Inter-city bus travel also needs to be quickened by reducing the need to get to the PA bus terminal in Midtown.

I wouldn’t hold my breath that anyone will be advocating either. As I previously wrote, the name of the game is not to improve transportation or reduce congestion. They are only byproducts of putting money in the pockets of large construction, engineering and architectural firms who perform many unneeded studies when what needs to be done is plainly obvious.

We need a study of where to build satellite terminals to shorten intercity travel for the bus rider if the PA facility is now inadequate. We don’t need a study to come up with new designs for an expanded terminal at the same site when a renovation will do just as well. We don’t need a repeat of the new overly expensive PATH terminal, afterall.

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.

Related posts

  • guest

    These are darned informative articles. Good point about causes of traffic in certain areas

  • sonicboy678

    If there are any vacant lots in Flushing and Downtown Brooklyn (which I doubt), they should be put up for consideration to see if they’re large enough for buses to enter and exit from; there also needs to be room for bus bays.

    • Allan Rosen

      There are many vacant lots in Downtown Brooklyn, but there are plans to erect high rises on every one of them. Because of the economy, development plans were delayed. In Flushing, you have the large very crowded municipal lot that the city sold or will sell and develop with a high rise. They will probably replace the lot with an expensive privately operated garage with a lower capacity when more parking is needed, not less.

      I think it would be best to build a bus terminal underground in Flushing, along with new shops. It would be weather protected and greatly reduce surface traffic. But who will listen to me? DOT knows best. Ha Ha.

      • Subway Stinker

        There are many ‘worthy’ transit initiatives if we had unlimited resources, and an underground bus terminal in Flushing is a great example. Same with building light rail in Red Hook. But let’s be practical, and let’s try to move the most people at the least cost and minimize delay. My suggestions are simple, first, run the B line 24/7, bring back express West End service, ditto the F. The tracks and cars are already in place, the main expense is personnel. I ride the subways at night and the Q and B are always crowded. Second, instead of building new track and extending service, why not reopen abandoned stations and lines? The LIRR is looking at the Elmhurst station and many folks want the LIRR Rockaway line restored. Again, already mainly there, just needs to be reopened, not cheap but less cost than the grand projects now underway of dubious value. Example the Fulton Street transit extravaganza.

        • Allan Rosen

          I agree that we need to get the best bang for the buck. An underground bus terminal in Flushing with shops could be a money maker. I doubt many will use the Elmhurst Station at $8 a head. The fare should be comparable to express bus. The Path Terminal is a bigger boondoggle tan the Fulton Transit Center, I think.

        • Andrew

          In the middle of the night, the existing Q service is perfectly adequate. Trains are not crowded.

          On weekends, B service would be nice, but it would be costly, and it would push a fourth line up Central Park West, which the MTA prefers to avoid on weekends due to the frequency of GO’s. If a third line were to be added on weekends on 6th Avenue, I frankly think the M would be more helpful than the B, since the M serves a corridor that doesn’t currently have direct Manhattan service at all on weekends.

          Running West End and Culver express service during rush hours would require more cars in addition to the operating cost. It would also require new track capacity somewhere to the north – there’s no room for more F trains in Queens. That is, unless you’re proposing splitting the existing D and F service, with some trains running express and some running local, but that would leave the local stations, serving most of the riders, with long waits (8 minutes for the F and 12 minutes for the D during rush hours), and it would probably hurt more than it helps.

          I doubt opening a new LIRR Elmhurst station (it would be a new station; the old one is gone) would make sense. The subway is far more frequent and serves far more destinations of the city. If there is significant demand for service east toward Port Washington from Elmhurst, then the station may be a good idea. But for service to Manhattan, the subway is a better bet.

          The LIRR Rockaway Branch, as I’ve explained before, would also be a waste. The subway stations in the Rockaways are some of the lightest used stations in the system, so the demand for this new line would be low. And what’s the benefit in feeding more people into the Queens Blvd. line or the LIRR Main Line, both of which are already quite crowded?

          I’m certainly no fan of Fulton Street, a grand monument to Peter Kalikow’s ego. But money earmarked for Lower Manhattan can’t be diverted to Queens or Brooklyn.

  • Ron B

    Isn’t there a satellite bus terminal on Livingston Street for intercity travel?

    • Allan Rosen

      I believe there is a small Greyhound terminal building on Livingston to buy tickets off of Flatbush, but the buses stop on the street. I also heard that the buses first go to the Port Authority so you don’t save anything if you are going south. The schedule is alo probably very limited.

      • Bob

        It’s on Livingston between Bond and Nevins. Nearest subway station is Hoyt-Schermerhorn.

        I’ve only ever seen buses traveling to Atlantic City making the stop in Brooklyn. It appears to be three departures, four arrivals daily. All departures stop at PABT after Brooklyn. It appears the only advantage would be getting on a bus to Atlantic City before the PABT crowd. Otherwise, you’d be better off staying on that Manhattan-bound train and get off at 42nd Street!

  • Andrew

    In Manhattan, there are the Port Authority (PA) and George Washington Bridge bus terminals for intercity travel.

    The Port Authority Bus Terminal is primarily a commuter terminal, which also serves as the city’s primary intercity terminal. The George Washington Bridge Bus Terminal is almost exclusively a commuter terminal – it serves few if any intercity buses.

    Staten Island has the St. George terminal at the ferry for local buses. Queens has two terminals for local buses: one at 165th Street in Jamaica, and another small one in Jackson Heights. The Bronx has none that I can think of. In Brooklyn we have a terminal near the Williamsburg Bridge and two mini-terminals, one at Kings Plaza and another in Coney Island, both of which are inadequate to hold all the routes that terminate there.

    There are quite a few local off-street bus terminals that you haven’t listed. The Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal is essentially on the Brooklyn-Queens border (I believe it’s physically in Brooklyn). Brooklyn also has the Canarsie bus loop. Queens has the bus loop adjacent to the Far Rockaway terminal. Staten Island has the bus loop at Hylan and Richmond and the Eltingville Transit Center (perhaps the most substantial off-street bus terminal in the city, complete with indoor waiting area and restrooms). The Bronx has Orchard Beach, Fordham Plaza, and Gun Hill Intermodal Terminal. Manhattan has the South Ferry loop. There are probably others that I don’t know of or that simply don’t come to mind.

    In Brooklyn, we could use one near Atlantic Terminal, but instead we choose to clog our Downtown Brooklyn streets with buses we don’t need. There is enough demand in Downtown Brooklyn to operate a light rail from Atlantic Terminal to Brooklyn Bridge Park along Fulton Street, through Borough Hall Park and down to Old Fulton Street, with some going to Red Hook if buses were eliminated from Livingston Street and the Fulton Mall. A convenient transfer could be provided at Atlantic Terminal between the buses and light rail if a terminal were built there.

    Why do you want to make people transfer when they currently have through service to the core of Downtown Brooklyn? Anybody who prefers to transfer to a train can already transfer to the subway. Having to transfer to a light rail line would increase travel times and would increase costs. What’s the benefit?

    So why are there so few off-street local bus terminals?

    The basic answer is that, in most cases, the space near a major transit hub is especially valuable as residential and commercial space. An off-street bus terminal is less wasteful than a parking lot, but it’s still typcally wasteful if there’s high demand for housing or shopping in close proximity to the subway station. (Note that several of the off-street terminals are in oddly shaped spaces underneath elevated structures, of little use for any other purpose.)

    Politicians are always complaining about traffic congestion, blaming automobile drivers as the culprits when they are really causing congestion through outsized zoning and providing insufficient long- and short-range parking.

    Requiring parking has two major impacts: first, it makes it easier for people to drive, and second, it reduces the the density of housing and commercial development, thereby severely reducing the number of places pedestrians can walk within a given distance. Both of these impacts promote driving and increase driving rates. Where they reduce congestion, they do so at the expense of development – in other words, they push some of the housing and shopping further out, into even more auto-dependent areas.

    Here is an interesting article on parking requirements and density, comparing the impacts of residential parking requirements in Los Angeles and New York. If you don’t want to read the entire article, at the very least jump to the conclusion.

    New York City is one of the few parts of the U.S. that has relatively low parking requirements, and I think most New York City residents prefer it that way. If you prefer the LA or Paramus model, then perhaps you’d prefer to live in LA or Paramus. Me, I prefer New York, and I’d prefer if you didn’t turn it into LA or Paramus.

    I’m not sure why you pin this on politicians, though – most of them seem to think that the optimal transportation policy is to make driving as inexpensive as possible.

    Likely for our readers, the worst thing about the Port Authority Bus Terminal is the time it takes to get there from Southern Brooklyn – an hour to an hour-and-a-half by subway. Once you get to the terminal, your bus trip will probably take you only two or three hours; four at the most.

    Why should one third of your trip be spent getting to the terminal? We are a city of five boroughs so why should there only be two inter-city bus terminals, both located in Manhattan?

    An Inter-City Bus Terminal for Brooklyn?

    How many people from Brooklyn would go to Atlantic City by bus if they first had to travel to the Port Authority (PA) Terminal? Very few. That’s why those buses make local stops in Brooklyn, because it is so much more convenient. Also, intercity bus travel has made a resurgence due to low cost bus lines that do not use the PA terminal, but clog our streets instead.

    Years ago when travel to the Catskills was popular, there was a small off-street bus terminal in Brownsville. That was because travel to the PA terminal took too long; at the time it took a half hour just to access the Lincoln Tunnel from the bus terminal since a direct ramp had not yet been constructed. If the PA Terminal, the busiest bus hub in the world, has outgrown its site, and now there are buses idling in the street, perhaps now is the time to build a secondary terminal in Brooklyn, reducing the demand at the PA, and shortening travel times for Brooklynites and Staten Islanders.

    That is what we need a study for.

    But where do we build one? The seemingly logical choice, in the center of Brooklyn near the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction, unfortunately does not make sense because there are no nearby highways. We do not need more buses clogging local streets (Of course, had the Cross Brooklyn Expressway been built, that would be another story).

    Given the existing highway network, the most logical choice would be somewhere near the Brooklyn Army Terminal, between Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, because it is adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Also, land is available to construct a parking lot to make it easily accessible. A new limited stop bus route could also be initiated along 65th Street improving bus access to it (That route also could serve ferries to Manhattan operating from the Army Terminal.).

    A terminal there would be ideal for trips to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and points south, eliminating the need to first travel north to the PA Terminal in order to travel south. Taking a bus from the Army Terminal vicinity may be even more convenient and cheaper than making the entire trip by automobile.

    As you said three weeks ago: “They also taught me in school that when there is a problem, first you define it, and next you do research, which may involve collecting new objective data. Using that data, you draw your conclusions… then you derive recommendations.”

    So, let’s do some very simple research: to what extent does your proposed Brooklyn bus terminal improve travel times? You claim that it takes “an hour to an hour-and-a-half by subway” to reach the Port Authority Bus Terminal by subway from Southern Brooklyn – but is that number accurate, and how long does it take to reach your proposed location near the Brooklyn Army Terminal? You also state that “A terminal there would be ideal for trips to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and points south, eliminating the need to first travel north to the PA Terminal in order to travel south” – so it would be helpful to get a sense of how much time is saved on a trip to Philadelphia or Washington from the BAT vs. the PABT.

    And we can do this very easily now, thanks to Google Maps.

    Let’s start with the first question. From 15 points in Brooklyn, I’ve asked Google Maps for the quickest transit route to the PABT and to the BAT. I arbitrarily picked a departure time of noon on a weekday. Here’s what Google Maps came up with:

    Sheepshead Bay station: 43 min PABT / 44 min BAT
    Brighton Beach: 47 min PABT / 46 min BAT
    Coney Island: 64 min PABT / 38 min BAT
    Bay Ridge: 51 min PABT / 25 min BAT (or walk in 31 min)
    Red Hook: 51 min PABT / 45 min BAT
    Carroll Gardens: 34 min PABT / 35 min BAT
    Park Slope: 37 min PABT / 30 min BAT
    Downtown Brooklyn: 21 min PABT / 33 min BAT
    Gerritsen Beach: 69 min PABT / 78 min BAT
    Bergen Beach: 74 min PABT (or 76 min avoiding express buses) / 80 min BAT
    Canarsie: 59 min PABT / 74 min BAT
    Broadway Junction station: 31 min PABT / 52 min BAT
    Bedford-Stuyvesant: 37 min PABT / 56 min BAT
    Williamsburg: 27 min PABT / 45 min BAT
    Greenpoint: 36 min PABT / 65 min BAT

    So, from Coney Island and Bay Ridge, the BAT is a significantly shorter trip, from Red Hook, Park Slope, and Kings Plaza it’s a slightly shorter trip, from Sheepshead Bay, Brighton Beach, and Carroll Gardens the two are neck-in-neck, and from the other parts of Brooklyn the PABT is a shorter trip, in some cases by a large margin.

    (Obviously, Google isn’t considering your proposed bus route along 65th Street, but it wouldn’t reduce travel times from most of these locations anyway. The B9 and B11 aren’t so busy that they point to a need for yet another parallel bus route between them – especially with the N train filling much of that same corridor.)

    Of course, the BAT is a quick drive from much of Brooklyn (traffic permitting), but less than half of Brooklyn households even have a car, and presumably many of those that do would prefer not to leave it at the BAT while one member of the household is out of town. So a parking lot would not “make it easily accessible” to most Brooklyn residents, and it would not “make it easily accessible” for those Brooklyn residents who are most likely to ride intercity buses: those without cars. And a parking lot would occupy space that could otherwise be used for amenities for bus riders, who may want to grab a bit to eat or simply sit in a comfortable indoor space while they wait.

    And what’s the travel time savings once on the bus? From the BAT, driving time to Washington is 3:45. From the PABT, driving time is 3:50. A negligible improvement.

    If the exact same bus schedules were available out of both terminals, the BAT would be the more attractive terminal for residents of a small area of Brooklyn including Coney Island and Bay Ridge, while the PABT would continue to be more attractive to most of the rest of Brooklyn (and the other boroughs). Given the much smaller market, however, service out of the BAT would be much less frequent – so infrequent as to make it inattractive even to Coney Island and Bay Ridge residents.

    What does that leave? All that leaves is specialized bus lines targeted specifically to local residents – buses from Sunset Park to Atlantic City, for instance. But if the buses are serving local residents, then why pick them up in an industrial area rather than in the residential/commercial area itself?

    In other words, a bus terminal at the Brooklyn Army Terminal would be a complete failure.

  • Bryan

    In the Bronx, there’s an off street bus terminal at Fordham Plaza.

    • Allan Rosen

      I believe that was a former trolley terminal as was Williamsburg Plaza. The point is that none are being built today. Also, many of the former trolley terminals were sold off for development and not converted to bus terminals or lay abandoned like the one beneath Essex Street which the MTA is also looking to develop instead of using it for transit purposes like a bus storage facility.

      • Andrew

        I believe that was a former trolley terminal as was Williamsburg Plaza. The point is that none are being built today.

        Gun Hill Intermodal Terminal (~2011)? Ridgewood Intermodal Terminal (2010)? South Ferry (2009)?

        Also, many of the former trolley terminals were sold off for development and not converted to bus terminals or lay abandoned like the one beneath Essex Street which the MTA is also looking to develop instead of using it for transit purposes like a bus storage facility.

        What buses would be stored at Essex Street? How many buses would fit? Where would the entry and exit ramps go? How would the space be ventilated?

        (By the way, I pointed out Fordham Plaza in July.)