This is New York, though, where people will ride the buses, and if the buses are better, more people will ride them. Why do we need to package the bus improvements? Especially when finding a good BRT corridor can be a challenge, let's just stick the improvements in where we can and have done.
To refresh your memory, here are the major bus improvements that make up BRT: dedicated rights-of-way, signal priority, pre-payment, right-of-way enforcement. The most important for speed is the dedicated right-of-way. What I'm talking about in this post is putting in dedicated rights-of-way where we can, to speed up the existing bus routes.
The main point I want to make in this post is that buses can be made "rapid" for a short length of their route, speeding up commutes and adding capacity, even if the rapid section isn't long enough to justify calling the entire route "BRT." In fact, the rapid section can be shared by many bus routes.
It's well-known that the biggest transportation bottlenecks in the region are at the river crossings. This leads us right to one of my favorite charts of all time, courtesy of the Federal Highway Administration:
That graph is a bit out of date; this data from nycroads.com shows recent annual average daily traffic figures. The table below is the number of vehicles; You need to multiply it by a certain number, and add subway trips for the Manhattan and Williamsburg Bridges, to get the total number of people.
The graph and table show that the capacity of the four city-owned East River bridges actually declined from a peak early in the century. Why? Because the city actually removed seventeen tracks from the bridges to make room for car lanes.
To be fair, there were actually eighteen tracks (in subway tunnels with higher capacity) added as these tracks were being removed, resulting in a net gain in capacity. If you add in the four tunnels leading into Penn Station, that's even more. These tunnels led to a significant short-term drop in ridership for the private companies operating trains and trolleys over the bridges (and ferry operators as well) and many of them went out of business or abandoned some of their tracks. The city government, believing cars to be the transportation of the future, turned the rights-of-way over to them rather than railbanking them for companies that might come one day.
Well, the time for cars has come and gone, and now we need that capacity back. We don't have the money to build new subways or elevated trains to connect to these bridges, but we can run more buses (and maybe eventually trolleys again) over the bridges.
The Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane (PDF) is one of the best demonstrations of bus capacity outperforming private cars. This single lane carries 62,000 passengers from 6:15 to 10:00 AM every weekday, in more than 1,700 buses, from the Turnpike Interchange through the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority Bus Terminal. In other words, over the course of three hours and 45 minutes this single lane transports about as many people as the four-lane Brooklyn-Battery Tunnel does in 24 hours. It's currently at capacity, and the Port Authority is looking at ways to expand it.
What if we had an XBL on every major bridge and tunnel? We could take all the buses that pass nearby and feed them through it, bringing people into Manhattan where they can get to jobs easier. This would be a form of BRT, even if it doesn't have fancy brands or fake subway stations. I would argue that it would be much more effective than implementing BRT over long routes. This is not a criticism of the DOT or the MTA, because they're actually doing this - or talking about it.
I'll write a few posts about the various bridges and tunnels involved, and what the plans are to increase bus capacity.
In response to an earlier BRT post, Alon Levy commented that "the XBL works only because it feeds directly into a gigantic terminal." So I'll also talk about what can be done to speed the buses once they get across the bridges and tunnels, too.