Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Bus capacity background, again

In my last post, I discussed the brewing storm over bus capacity in Manhattan. It wasn't the first time: in 2008 I wrote that the Lincoln Tunnel vans were a shining beacon of profitable transit that Dick Gottfried was threatening to firebomb. In 2009 I wrote that Alan Gerson (anybody miss him?) was holding up the East River Esplanade because he didn't want buses stored on West Street in Tribeca. A better way, I argued in both cases, would be through-running of commuter buses from New Jersey to Brooklyn and Queens.

As Joel pointed out in the comments to yesterday's post, and as the Wall Street Journal detailed recently, the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan serves a truly staggering number of buses. It has already been expanded once, in 1979, and has been at capacity for years - anyone know how many years it's been full without anyone in power trying to add capacity? This is why buses are picking up and dropping off passengers on the street - if you want to add a route, there is literally nowhere else to go.

There has been significant discussion of bus storage: I've been very critical of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign recently, but they have been involved - in their high-level way, without much organizing at the local level. Christine Berthet, of the Hell's Kitchen community group Chekpeds, has been a strong and sane voice on this issue, as she is on most transportation issues. City Planning has undertaken a study of bus parking in Chinatown, and something called the Mayor's Midtown Citizens Committee did a study in their part of Manhattan. The Lower Manhattan Development Corporation is looking to adapt the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel garage for buses.

I'll have more about potential solutions and about the media and governance issues, but in the meantime I want to highlight the fact that I've been talking about this for two and a half years now, and not much has changed. I'm loath to compare bus frequency to the shooting of unarmed civilians, but I have to ask: how long do we have to keep repeating that the bus riders matter? How long must we sing this song?

4 comments:

Raționalitate said...

I wonder, per nebulous unit of "transportation relevance," how much more passion and political will urbanists put into bikes than buses. I would honestly not be surprised if it wasn't above a factor of 100.

Adirondacker12800 said...

Why are the buses coming into Manhattan at all? Build a humongous bus station out at the western end of the XBL and have have everybody transfer to a train. Too bad the 7 will be pointed in the wrong direction. One of the options explored as an alternative during the process for the ARC tunnel was to go to Grand Central and then from there Rockefeller Center. West from there to Secaucus and then to the huge bus terminal. Trains on the old Erie lines could use it. Nah...

neroden@gmail said...

Indeed, many of the buses entering the PABT are replacements for trains which got cut decades back. (Back then many of them went to New Jersey terminals and connected to ferries to New York.)

The buses are not the most efficient or practical way of handling these huge numbers of people. The priority should be to identify the busiest bus routes through the tunnel and replace them with train routes.

arcady said...

The problem with replacing buses by trains is that this pretty much requires building a new trans-Hudson tunnel, because there's just about no spare trans-Hudson capacity. The tunnels into Penn Station are at capacity with 24 tph, most of which are long trains of bilevels. The midtown PATH tunnels have 22 tph, and the downtown tunnels have 25 tph. I suspect a bit more capacity could be wrung out of those two, but probably not that much more. The only solution is to either build a new tunnel, or repurpose one of the existing automobile tunnels for rail use. A 7 line extension through the 3rd tube of the Lincoln Tunnel could provide 30 11-car trains per hour. This may or may not be an improvement over the XBL capacity, but all those passengers could use the existing stations at Times Square, Grand Central, and 5th Avenue with no problem, rather than needing a huge terminal taking up one and a half blocks in Midtown. Or at least, building a new bus terminal on the New Jersey side and a connecting subway line would free up room in the PABT for more bus service, and taking away two car lanes of trans-Hudson capacity would make people think harder about driving to Manhattan.