The MTA unveiled its plan to overhaul the Bronx’s bus network with new routes and better stop spacing, but the effort falls short of the “transformative plan” advocates sought.
Under the proposed redesign, the Bronx would get two new local routes and an express line to support the borough’s underserved neighborhoods. Three more routes would get extended service, bus frequency would ramp up on nine bustling corridors, and spacing between stops would be better balanced to speed up travel times, according to the plan. MTA officials called the effort “a new baseline” for the borough’s bus system.
“The Bronx bus redesign gives us the opportunity to build a foundation for a new high-frequency network to serve the largest number of riders at the times when they need bus service the most,” NYC Transit president Andy Byford said in a statement.
The biggest of the proposed changes is the elimination of 400 bus stops. Riders may view this as counterintuitive, but the Bronx has an average of 882 feet—just over three city blocks—separating its stops. That’s shorter than the international average of 1,000 to 1,680 feet, and those frequent stops can make for sluggish commutes.
Under the redesign, stops would be spaced an average of 1,092 feet, slashing 400 bus stops. Transit advocates pushed for a greater reduction of stops, but officials say they sought to strike a balance between the needs of the borough’s communities and making service adjustments.
Conversely, new routes would shuttle riders through underserved neighborhoods. The Bx25 would operate between Bedford Park and north Co-op City along Allerton Avenue, and the M125 would replace the southern portion of the Bx15 that runs along 125th Street in Manhattan up to The Hub, the convergence of East 149th Street and Willis, Melrose, and Third avenues. A new Manhattan-Bronx express route, BxM5, would provide peak-hour service between northern Bronx and midtown Manhattan.
Bus frequency will also get a shot in the arm, though only during off-peaks periods, the report says. DOT has identified key corridors where street and traffic signal improvements can be implemented for better all-day bus service. That and other changes will result in a tangible difference for the borough’s bus riders, but the effort stops short of significantly beefing up all-day bus frequency—a change that advocates say is sorely needed.
“I think the big picture is that these are good incremental changes, and they will make a difference for Bronx bus riders, but this is not the transformative plan that Bronx buses should be getting," says Ben Fried with advocacy group TransitCenter.
Fried says all-day frequency must be ramped up, especially for routes on major cross-town corridors. But it would take a budget increase for the cash-strapped authority to roll out those additional buses—money that is not expected as part of this plan.
Danny Pearlstein with the Riders Alliance called on Gov. Andrew Cuomo to support greater changes to improve the commutes of nearly 490,000 Bronxites who ride city buses each day.
“Governor Cuomo needs to deliver more for Bronx bus riders in the MTA’s once-in-a-lifetime network redesign,” Pearlstein said in a statement. “Changing stop spacing to keep buses moving is an important step in the right direction ... but riders still need much greater bus service frequency, better optimized routes, and more new routes to emerging job centers like Hunts Point and LaGuardia Airport.”
The Bronx’s 57 bus routes are largely unchanged from when the network was converted from trolly lines nearly a century ago. The MTA’s 162-page report seeks to change that, and comes as part of the Fast Forward plan to modernize service by redesigning bus systems in every borough. The effort was crafted in collaboration with the city’s Department of Transportation following multiple community meetings and in-person surveys.
The MTA board will vote on the plan before any changes are rolled out in mid-2020. In the meantime, public outreach will continue on the final proposal, including community board presentations, open houses, and public hearings. DOT will also refine details with locals on bus priority projects on 10 major corridors.
“Really making a difference is going to require on-going attention and this has to be just the beginning,” says Fried. “We really need to hold their feet to fire.”