Bx12 Select buses greeted attendees of the “Buses in the Boroughs” symposium Tuesday morning.
With spring colors and fragrance in full bloom at the New York Botanical Garden Tuesday morning, TSTC along with Transportation Alternatives, the Straphangers Campaign, and the Pratt Center for Community Development hosted a symposium on bus rapid transit to showcase how this transit option has transformed major cities around the world and to preview New York’s plans for BRT throughout the five boroughs.
Walter Hook and Oscar Edmundo Diaz, both of the Institute for Transportation & Development Policy, discussed BRT systems in nearly two dozen cities around the world (both presentations are available on TSTC’s website). Hook’s presentation spanned multiple systems and highlighted some technical “dos and don’ts” for BRT providers (such as the advantages of median bus lanes, the need for multiple-door buses, how to fit BRT into narrow streets, etc.). His presentation drew on the broad and detailed knowledge of ITDP, which consults governments around the world in planning BRT systems and produces an 850-page BRT Planning Guide.
Diaz, a native of Colombia and a specialist in urban transport systems, focused on what many consider the world’s most successful BRT system, the TransMilenio of Bogota, Colombia. TransMilenio can carry up to 42,000 passengers per hour per direction and travels an average 18.1 mph, more than twice as fast as the average bus in NYC. It is top-of-the-line BRT, with pre-boarding fare collection, level boarding at platforms, and enclosed stations — a worthy transit system for a city of 7 million. Of course, the quickest way to get a sense of TransMilenio is through pictures:
Clockwise from top left: TransMilenio in dense urban areas, level boarding between bus and station platform, fare collection at turnstiles (not on the bus), interior of a TransMilenio bus.
Diaz emphasized how a well-built system can dramatically improve the lives of commuters and residents who lack transit access, and as a result, economic and social opportunity. While 21% of TransMilenio riders own cars, the system is also accessible to low-income commuters, mothers with children in tow, the handicapped, and the elderly. In surveys, the #1 reason TransMilenio riders said they liked the system was because it allowed them to spend more time with their families.
NYC DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYC Transit President Howard Roberts jointly presented on NYC’s first BRT route, which will launch June 29 along the Pelham Parkway/Fordham Road corridor in the Bronx (MTR initially covered that story here). The agency heads also detailed some of the other projects in the first phase of the city’s BRT program. These included physically separated median bus lanes on Hylan Blvd. in Staten Island, a physically separated busway on 34th Street in Manhattan, and creating/extending dual bus lanes on Fifth and Madison Avenues between 23rd and 59th Streets in Manhattan. (Streetsblog has detailed coverage of the NYC initiatives here.)
A response panel of local voices discussed the potential of BRT from several different angles. Councilmember Gale A. Brewer of Manhattan, who authored a report on BRT in September 2007, saw BRT as a way to bring transit to communities quickly and at low cost. Elena Conte, representing COMMUTE!, called attention to how the lengthy and difficult commutes of low- and moderate-income residents reduce their quality of life (most NYC residents with commutes of an hour or longer make less than $35,000 a year). Straphangers Campaign staff attorney Gene Russianoff referred to an early vision of city planners to make buses a more robust transit option, underscoring the until-now neglected potential of advanced bus networks for NYC. Lisa Alvarado Sorin of the Bronx Chamber of Commerce emphasized that limited transit access hurt existing businesses and discouraged businesses from moving to the Bronx. Jeff Zupan of the Regional Plan Association said that advocates needed to keep fighting for transit funding in the wake of congestion pricing’s defeat, in order that new transit programs like BRT thrive and expand.
Indeed, several panelists referred to the huge financial hole in the MTA’s 2009-2013 Capital Plan (the gap has been estimated at anywhere between $13 to $17 billion dollars). While the MTA’s current 2005-2009 capital plan includes $21.9 million for BRT, this hardly seems enough even for the first phase of the city BRT program. The first phase was to be funded using $112 million of the $354 million NYC would have received from the federal government if congestion pricing had passed. NYCDOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan said that her agency was now applying for other federal grants.
Despite these gloomy financial realities, the day ended with a pleasant surprise – two Bx12 Select buses, which had been parked outside the venue, took attendees to the nearest subway stations. The sky-blue Select buses must have piqued the curiosity of onlookers as they made their way down the road. It’ll take hard work to ensure that NYCDOT and the MTA have the funding to make these buses a common sight.
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