Sunday, October 19, 2008

The Annals of Lame BRT, Chapter X: Full Corridor BFD

Under Janine Bauer and Jon Orcutt, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign made a strong impression on me as a no-nonsense player who called it like it was. Lately, though, the Campaign has been disappointing, particularly when it comes to buses. It seems like one mention of "BRT" is enough to make them weak in the knees and swollow (metaphor shift alert) whatever horseshit the highway-builders shovel their way. If the New Jersey Turnpike Authority kept the exact same plans for widening the Turnpike and Parkway but called it "BRT" (with absolutely no justification), would the folks at Tri-State abandon their opposition?

Of course, the biggest example of "blinded by BRT" is the Tappan Zee project, where the Tri-State blog cheers anything that the New York State DOT calls "BRT," whether or not it falls under any reasonable definition of BRT. Yes, the "BRT" options are cheaper, but that's because they're not really BRT.

Recently I've gone over problems with the bridge replacement study itself, and today I'm going to focus on the rest of the corridor. To read the gushing press that Tri-State puts out, you'd think that Jaime Lerner and Enrique PeƱalosa were personally supervising the construction of tubes and high-platform loading areas, and that we were getting physically separated high-volume, short-headway articulated buses from Suffern to Port Chester, spurring the rearrangement of Westchester and Rockland into transit villages.

Sadly, nothing like this is going on. The only physically separated sections in the entire thirty-mile corridor are a three-mile section between Exits 1 and 5 of the Cross-Westchester Expressway, and a 1.5-mile section between Westchester Avenue and the New Haven Railroad line - fifteen percent of the total length. There is also an Option to convert the abandoned Piermont Line railroad right-of-way into a busway for two and a half miles between Suffern and Airmont - for a total of 23% of the total length - but I'm pretty sure that that's only if commuter rail isn't run on that segment.

The rest of the BRT corridor in Westchester is dedicated and separated, but without any barriers. In Tarrytown it runs along White Plains Road (Route 119), but would simply be marked as a bus lane. In Downtown White Plains it would run in dedicated lanes along one-way city streets (not such a bad thing). In eastern White Plains and Harrison it would be along Westchester Avenue, the service road of the Cross-Westchester Expressway. In all these locations it would actually take a lane away from general-purpose traffic, which is nice, but it would also be open to right-turning cars, standing cars, and any asshole who thinks they're more important than a bus.

The "BRT" on the replacement bridge and along the Thruway would be in the middle lanes, eliminating the threat from turning and standing cars, but it wouldn't be dedicated bus lanes, just "High Occupancy/Toll" lanes, separated from the general lanes by four feet of striped pavement. In this case, not only would they be open to any asshole who thinks they're more important than a bus, but it would be legal for any private car to be in the lane, as long as they either have at least one passenger or pay a little extra. These lanes would also be in addition to the existing capacity of the highway (and the proposed climbing lane), leading to a net increase in capacity for single-occupancy vehicles and trucks.

Just so you don't think it's all me, this afternoon faithful reader and linker Pantagraph Trolleypole (who has recently revealed his true identity) observed that Congress has legislated that HO/T lanes do not count as BRT (and thus do not qualify for transit funding), for the simple reason that they do not protect buses from being stuck in general traffic.

Sure, the proposed route is better than what we have now. If we've got no chance of anything better I'll take it, but I don't think we should cheer. One big thing that bothers me is that there's no allowances made for further improvements down the line. If the HO/T lanes get full to the point where buses are running just as slow as everyone else, I want someone (like, say, Lee Sander) to have the power to kick the toll-paying cars out of the lane. If it fills up again, I want that someone to have the power to kick the HOVs out of the lane and make it buses only. If the Thruway Authority loves HO/T lanes so much, they should use one of their own lanes for it.

Similarly, if the "BRT" lanes on Hamilton Avenue start filling up with standing trucks, I want our hypothetical BRT defender to have Nat Ford-style superpowers to smite them with the wrath of parking enforcement agents. That, or I'd like the State DOT to commit to putting up Jersey barriers to keep them out.

Shoot, all that and we've still got no guarantee that there'll be commuter rail across the bridge before 2099.


Pantograph Trolleypole said...

There should be a campaign to define BRT. I'm tired of people trying to pull a fast one like this.

Red said...

I think this article is mischaracterizing how a HOT lane works. At least in every description of the Tappan Zee HOT lanes I've seen, the toll rises with the level of congestion in the general purpose lanes in order to keep traffic moving at a constant speed. (I believe there are "dynamic" lanes of this sort already in California.)

So not only would traffic move at a constant speed, but I assume there would be automated mechanisms to prevent "HOT lane abuse" by non-paying solo cars.

Not only are most HOV lanes underused, in the rare cases where there are so many carpools that they slow down... there are such things as HOV-3 lanes, you know. Of course, enforcement of those is beyond mechanical means, unlike in the case above.

Cap'n Transit said...

Thanks for your thoughts, Red (although I could do without the condescension). It's a nice assumption that there would be automated mechanisms to deter abuse, but I'd rather not assume that.

The Lincoln Tunnel XBL couldn't work as a HOV-2, HOV-3 or HO/T lane. It has so many buses using it that they're talking about dedicating another lane for it. That's true BRT, that's what we should be shooting for on the Tappan Zee, and if we're not shooting for it then this "BRT" is a lie.