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Transit advocates unveil new proposal to fix NYC’s bus crisis

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It’s one way the city could potentially improve public transit service without Albany’s meddling

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Somewhat lost amid the city’s massive subway problems is the fact that the bus system has also been suffering from both falling ridership and agonizingly slow speeds over the past few years. And while larger issues around clearing up congestion from the city’s streets will have to be dealt with at some point (maybe with something that rhymes with “shmongestion trycing”), a group of transit advocates is asking the city to take immediate steps to improve the bus system.

The Bus Turnaround Action Plan is a new proposal from the Riders Alliance, the Straphangers Campaign, the Transit Center and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, acting under the umbrella of the Bus Turnaround Coalition. The proposal borrows a pair of characteristics from previous plans to fix the subway: an “action plan” and an ambitious timeline to improve outcomes quickly for the city’s two million daily bus riders.

Per the proposal, in order to achieve reliable and improved service, buses would need to reach speeds of 11 miles per hour on average, along with a five percent bunching rate (instances when two buses on the same route run directly on top of each other). Currently, local buses average just 6.7 miles per hour, which is lower than the average speeds in cities like Los Angeles, London, and Chicago. In addition, the bunching rate for local service is 13.4 percent, according to the authors of the report.

In order to fix these issues, the Bus Turnaround Coalition is asking the city to aggressively expand the miles dedicated to bus lanes, actually enforce the law regarding people parking in those bike lanes, and give more buses the technology they need to avoid getting stuck waiting at red lights.

The city’s existing 120 miles of bus lanes is inadequate, the coalition argues; to alleviate congestion, it suggests adding 100 more miles of dedicated bus lanes over the next five years, including 60 miles during the remainder of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s term. But the city’s can’t just stop at adding lanes; the plan also calls for the city to “compel NYPD to step up enforcement and stop blocking bus lanes,” and for the use of more bus lane enforcement cameras. The plan also asks the city to change its policies around curbside deliveries to account for the increase in both deliveries and congestion around the city.

And finally, the action plan asks that the city greatly expand the use of transit signal priority, or technology that gives buses preference at intersections. TSP has been shown to improve travel times by buses by an average of 15 percent, according to the report, and so the ask is for the city to install it on 20 bus routes per year, for a total of 1,000 intersections between 2018 and 2020.

Unlike the MTA’s Fast Forward plan, which needs state assistance for its billions of dollars in funding, the Bus Turnaround Plan could be implemented by the city without Albany’s meddling.

But there are possible roadblocks: The report posits that the problems that have led to diminished bus service are political and cultural, and thus far, the city hasn’t been able to solve them. Asking and begging the NYPD to stop parking in bus lanes and actually ticket drivers who use the lanes when they’re not supposed to has come up before, to mostly no avail. In addition, adding bus lanes has faced intense political opposition from business owners and parking enthusiasts—for example, the B82 SBS along Kings Highway that was proposed in 2016 is still stuck in development hell as of this summer.

Still, this plan represents concrete steps the mayor can take to actually improve the lives of transit users, without once having to get into an ill-advised fight with Governor Cuomo—which seems like a win for everyone involved.