Saturday, June 8, 2019

Transit should be controlled by transit riders


I was listening to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson on Ben Kabak's new podcast, promoting his proposal to transfer control of the New York City subways from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is controlled by the Governor, to a new board controlled by the Mayor (a post that Johnson plans to run for in 2021). Johnson's thoughtfulness and his desire for real solutions were refreshing in our political scene, and I appreciated his request for feedback on his proposal. And I have some!

In particular I was struck by Johnson's claim that a board that represents the diversity of the transit riding public would do a better job of serving that public. Now, don't get me wrong: I'm definitely not going to repeat the bullshit that a board needs people with technical or business expertise; that's what staff is for. The subways and buses should be managed in a way that benefits their riders, and riders deserve a say in how they're managed.

The thing is that the system doesn't just serve riders; it serves everyone who lives and works anywhere in the whole metro area. A bank executive who is driven to work isn't going to perform well if their employees can't get in on the train. An antiques merchant in Great Barrington is going to sell less if the weekend visitors from the city have less disposable income. Taxpayers need to know that our money is being spent well. Bondholders won't lend the MTA money unless they can make sure it won't default.

I wouldn't want the Kosciuszko or Tappan Zee bridge replacement projects to be managed by and for the exclusive benefit of drivers. In fact, the problem with these projects is that they actually are being managed by and for drivers. And you know, the problem with the MTA is that it is also being managed largely for drivers.

Johnson is right that the MTA is controlled by a group of people who don't ride transit, but he fingered the wrong group. The Governor clearly doesn't ride transit, but a lot of transit policy is not set by him, but by the State Legislature. As I've written in numerous posts, the State Assembly and Senate are almost completely dominated by drivers and people who are driven everywhere.

Under Johnson's proposal the State Legislature would have almost as much control as they do now, because under our constitution they are the only entity in the state with the power to tax. State laws also have the power to overrule city laws. Even if Johnson can persuade them to implement his plan, they can change it at any time.

To the extent the city government would have control, the City Council would have more power than this "BAT Board," because they have to pass the budget, and can pass certain laws constraining what the Mayor can do. The Council has gotten much better over just the past twelve years, thanks in part to Johnson's leadership, but as Streetsblog documented recently, they still cannot be counted on to reliably prioritize transit riders.

Today the MTA Board today is at worst a fig leaf covering the Governor's management and the Legislature's budget priorities, and at best an advisory panel. On top of that we have another panel, the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee, which is appointed by elected officials based on patronage, and elects representatives to the MTA Board who have no voting rights. Johnson's proposal does not give this "BAT Board" the power to tax, so the real power would remain with the power brokers in the State Legislature.

Having the State Legislature or the City Council control the transit system would not actually be a problem if we had a truly representative system. Even the State Legislature is dominated by representatives of districts with heavy transit ridership. Unfortunately, the system is corrupt and favors elite homeowners who drive. They also subscribe to an ideology of driving as emancipation, and make deals to favor "upstate" that ignore the sizable population of current and potential transit riders outside of New York City.

The focus some advocates place on the non-representativeness of the MTA Board, in particular on the predominance of white men, winds up distracting us from the non-representativeness of the State Legislature, where some of the loudest opposition to transit funding and fair pricing for road use comes from nonwhite and female legislators like Charles Barron, Kevin Parker, Toby Stavisky and Deborah Glick. Last week when first term Senator Jessica Ramos said not only that she doesn't have a driver's license but that "car culture is something that we need to start rethinking as a society as a whole," that statement was notable for how unusual and brave it was.

So yes, we should transfer control of New York City Transit's subways and buses back to the City government. But no, we should not create a whole new authority to run them, or a "mobility czar" to oversee buses, trains, ferries, bridges and streets. We should just make them all part of the Department of Transportation. If we need to borrow money for them, we should use the City's bonding ability.

And no, we should not create a whole new board with no real power. If people want to transfer the New York City Transit Riders Council from the MTA to the city, fine. We don't need another one.

Similarly, if for some reason the City can't borrow enough money using its own bonds, I could see us setting up a temporary authority to issue bonds. Those of you who have read The Power Broker know that the authorities that issued bonds to build projects like the Manhattan Bridge were set up to dissolve once they paid off the bonds. The genius idea that allowed Bob Moses to wield power for decades without ever winning an election was to insert a clause in the law that created the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority allowing it to issue new bonds. Removing that unjustified power from the Transit Authority is an essential step in restoring democratic control to our subway system.

The bottom line: municipal control is a good idea, but a new authority is not the way to do it. It should be done by direct executive power. Representation is a good idea, but an unelected board is not the way to do it. It should be done through our elected representatives to the City Council and State Legislature.

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Did the Atlantic Ticket accomplish anything?

In June the Long Island Railroad instituted an "Atlantic Ticket" for people traveling on weekdays between southeast Queens and stops along Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn. This fits with the RER, S-Bahn and Overground strategies that have been used in European cities like London, Paris and Berlin going back to the late nineteenth century. Instead of treating suburban trains like a completely separate system from the subways (and buses) they are run through the city center, at comparable frequencies to the subway, with the same fares and free transfers. So how does the Atlantic Ticket do in getting us to this goal of using our trains more efficiently?


Of the four differences between subways and commuter trains, the Atlantic Ticket addresses the fare difference and the lack of free transfers. They are the easiest to see: a rush hour commuter who takes the LIRR and the subway pays $13 one way or $346 monthly for a 55-minute trip from Rosedale to Grand Central, compared to $2.75 or $121 for 30 days for a much more crowded ride on a local bus to a subway. Many people take dollar vans to the subway, which brings the cost up to $4.75 one-way or $241 for 30 days. Riding the x63 express bus takes an hour and a half, but you get a seat and it's less than the railroad: $5.50 one way or $238 for 28 days.

The Atlantic Ticket offers a fare close to the express bus: $7.75 for a single one-way from Rosedale to Grand Central and $240 for 28 days. However, it is only good for travel to (or through) Flatbush Avenue, which takes about an hour and ten minutes from Rosedale to Grand Central. This is still quicker than the express bus, but about twenty minutes longer than LIRR trips through Penn Station. Surprisingly to me, it's also longer than taking a bus to the subway.

Why would someone pay extra for a longer ride? Comfort is one reason: LIRR trains are rarely packed, so even if they don't get a seat on the train they would expect some elbow room. But there's still a packed subway ride from Flatbush Avenue to Manhattan. Is riding a less crowded train for half an hour worth paying $3-5 more, but not worth $10.25 more? Maybe.

Another potential advantage is reliability. The subways and LIRR trains run on dedicated, grade-separated tracks controlled by the MTA. The buses and vans all run on busy avenues filled with other commuters. One insensitive driver can hold up bus riders for several minutes.

There's no word yet on how many people have been buying these Atlantic Tickets, but given the mixed benefits I suspect the number is relatively small. The LIRR Board Book this month credited the US Open golf tournament and the Belmont Stakes for increases in ridership (roughly 2% over last year), but did not mention the Atlantic Ticket at all. In a future post I'll talk about the two other factors, a direct ride (or at least a ride that is comfortable end to end), and frequency.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

No, the subway is not in a death spiral

Recently I've appreciated Aaron Gordon's transit reporting in the Village Voice and elsewhere. I like his drive and his passion for justice, and I agree with him about almost everything. But there's one big thing he said recently that I just don't agree with. In fact, I'm concerned about it because I think it could demoralize other transit advocates and direct their energy away from where it's most needed.


Gordon thinks our transit system - specifically the New York City Subway - has entered the dreaded Transit Death Spiral. This is a familiar story from the mid to late twentieth century, if you've read any transit history. He describes it this way:

people, for whatever reason—but usually austerity measures, poor service, and/or service cuts—start opting for non-public modes of transit, lower transit ridership leads to less revenue and service cuts, service cuts lead to lower transit ridership and less revenue, etc. etc.

Gordon neglects another factor that has traditionally been blamed for lower ridership: fare increases. Otherwise it's a decent summary of the story as it's usually told. But is that the whole story? Actually, no, there's a lot missing. If we add that missing information we get a much more encouraging picture. There are still problems - lots - but it's easier to know what to do about them.

The first missing piece is our goals. We do not exist to support a healthy subway system. Transit is a tool: it moves us around so we can function in our economy. The subway is one of the safest, cleanest, most efficient ways to accomplish that, and it helps us to live close enough together to support healthy social relationships.

The second piece is that a transit system is always in competition with some other way to get around. People still need to get to work, to shopping, to visit friends, etc. Some of these, like the subway, are better for our goals; others, like private cars, are much worse. This is why we care which one people use.

If we go back and look at the historical examples that led people to coin the term "transit death spiral," they all involved overwhelming competition from alternatives with more funding, more capacity, more staying power and the ability to deliver a premium product. The only competition Gordon mentions is from for-hire vehicles like Uber, Lyft and taxis. These may have more funding and premium products, but their capacity and staying power are severely limited.

Uber, Lyft, Via, Chariot - they're all backed by truckloads of venture capital money. That's what allowed them to finance so many car and SUV purchases over the past decade. But the Penn Central and the Erie-Lackawanna were competing with thousands of lane-miles of roads and thousands of acres of parking just here in the New York area, plus billions of barrels of artificially cheap gas. The scales are not comparable in any way.

A large amount of this competition was funded directly by the federal and state governments, and indirectly by them through eminent domain takings. These subsidies brought the cost to the driver of a private car trip well below the actual cost, and to a point not much higher than the cost of a transit trip, especially after the cost of the car, garage driveway etc. were paid for. The subsidies provided tons of capacity, so that the highway and parking system could absorb large numbers of new drivers.

New York and other transit-rich cities have given way too much to drivers (like the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the FDR Drive), but we did have our "freeway revolts" - preventing the Lower Manhattan Expressway, the Golden Gate Freeway, he Mount Hood Freeway and others from being built through our neighborhoods. Other cities spent hundreds of millions of dollars to destroy their downtowns and scatter their jobs across the land. That too contributed to "transit death spirals" as Northern urbanites bought cars and fled to the glamour of California and the New South.

This subsidized capacity was also maintained by the government until a majority of travellers had invested in cars, car-dependent housing and car-dependent jobs, to the point where when they approached the capacity of the new system they didn't abandon it, they just demanded more subsidies. That in itself required a huge amount of money and political will.

The electronic hailing system has never had anything approaching the capacity dumped into the region's highways and parking lots in the mid-to-late twentieth century. It sits on top of that system, of course. But that system was almost at capacity when the first Uber started accepting rides, and there is not much new capacity. The widened Kosciuszko, Tappan Zee and Goethals bridges are not near the regional core, and they are destructive primarily because they will maintain existing capacity at enormous taxpayer cost. Southern and Western suburbs are collapsing under the cost of maintaining their humongous highway systems. Uber and Lyft can't dump any more cars onto the streets of Manhattan, because they won't fit.

Subsidized capacity can work both ways, another point that Gordon ignores. A big factor in the death spiral of the privately owned subway companies was the gargantuan city-operated Independent System built under Mayor Red Mike Hylan, a former BMT operator, with the explicit intention of driving the private companies to bankruptcy. More recently, when US auto manufacturing companies and sprawl financiers were in a death spiral, the federal government stepped in with billions of dollars.

A massive influx of federal dollars could help the MTA too. Nicole Gelinas recently reported that Standard and Poor's cut the authority's credit rating. This means that the share of the operating budget devoted to interest payments on the bonds they've issued will increase, leaving less available to run the subways. But what if the Fed bought the MTA debt? That would free up a ton of money to fix the signals and the tracks. Hell, if Andrew Cuomo kicked in as much in bank settlement cash for the MTA as he did for the Thruway Authority, we wouldn't be talking about any of this now.

Because the available capacity and funding for ride-hailing services were relatively limited, we're already reaching those limits. The cost of all ride-hailing services has gone up since UberX was introduced, in many cases by two or three times, and customers respond. When fares were artificially low (remember flat $5 Uber and Via trips in Manhattan?) and there were lots of promotions, I took them a lot more than I do now.

One thing I like about app hailing, in fact, is that it requires so little investment. If you already have a smartphone and a credit or debit card, you don't need to buy anything or move anywhere to use Lyft. You just open the app, find a car and pay. An app ride can pretty much be dropped in to replace a transit, bike or walking trip - and vice versa.

The lack of investment means that as soon as a transit provider gets its act together (for example, let's say New York City Transit removes all the unnecessary signal timers from the subways), people will come back. If it's fast, reliable and not too crowded you can't beat a ride across town for $2.75.

Actually, you can't beat a ride like this even if it costs five dollars, maybe seven. This is part of the classic story of the Transit Death Spiral. Gordon only talked about "austerity," but the fare is a factor. The typical cautionary tale is of the transit operator that raises fares too high, driving passengers away. But if raising prices were all it took to bankrupt a seller, we'd have no businesses left.

Often the problem has been that the fares are too low. A major factor in the demise of New York's two private subway operators was that for over 45 years they were prevented by law from raising their fares to cover rising costs, and the city government refused to raise the fare past a nickel until after both companies had gone bankrupt. This is not a concern for the MTA as long as the government is willing to make up the amount needed to cover costs. It was only after the IRT and BMT had been running massive operating deficits for years that they entered the spiral.

The MTA should raise fares, and this is one of the best times to do it. Anyone who uses a ride-hailing app can see how much cheaper the subway is, and we know how much faster it is than any other option - as long as it's not disrupted or the middle of the night. Again, it's a bargain at five dollars.

The big objection to raising the fares was that it placed an undue burden on poor people. That argument was addressed when the City Council passed the Fair Fares plan, which will offer Metrocards at half the current rates to New Yorkers with incomes below the poverty line. The MTA can now raise everyone else's fares while keeping Fair Fares at this level, and thus not hurt poor people!

Over and over again while writing this post, I've found myself tapping out words like "overwhelming, gargantuan, massive, huge, enormous, humongous, truckloads, tons, billions." I'm using these words to describe the government investment in private cars (and the Independent Subway) that threw competing transit providers into a death spiral. Even today's car infrastructure subsidies, like the Kosciuszko Bridge replacement, are not on the same scale. The venture capital investment in Uber, Lyft, Via and Chariot is definitely not on that scale.

That's not to say that the government and venture capitalists couldn't do some damage to transit ridership. As I wrote years ago, the new Kosciuszko span will make it quicker to travel by car (and Uber) between Brooklyn and Queens. It could poach riders from the G train, and even the Queens Boulevard trains to Manhattan.

Ben Kabak has also expressed that to him, "With the transit crisis, the congestion and the high cost of housing, along with opposition to development, the city feels on the verge of a breaking point." I understand why he feels that way. I'm also frustrated with the slow pace of transit expansion and the constant, know-nothing opposition to building transit or housing.

But we need to keep some perspective. This is frustrating and destructive, but it's really nothing compared to the massive, huge, enormous system of driving and parking constructed in the twentieth century to compete with transit. The government can do more damage, and probably will. But its ability to build something that overwhelming, gargantuan, humongous - twice in a hundred years - is limited.

I won't say for sure that it'll never happen. But I have hope. Oil and natural gas are still getting harder and harder to extract from the ground. Young people have realized that suburbs and small towns are stifling, even when they're run by hippies and punks. I think we'll get out of this.

I still like Aaron Gordon's writing. I'm going to take his historical insights with a grain of salt from now on. Bit I'm going to keep reading it and following him on Twitter, and I encourage you all to do the same.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Can we make the Central Park "drives" two way again now?

They say Central Park is now car-free. The other day I passed five construction trucks, three random cars and four golf carts, one of which was completely empty, with a guy in shirtsleeves standing next to it looking at his phone. Of course it's all relative, and this is a definite improvement over the line of cars pushing their way through the East Drive just a couple months ago.


I also passed several people going the other way - riding bikes, running, walking, even on scooters. They didn't really bother me, because they're narrow and lightweight, and traveling at relatively low speeds. If anything concerned me at all, it was that they sometimes passed me on the right - their left. I could see this potentially causing problems in really crowded situations.

That got me thinking about something I've written about before: a hundred years ago New York's streets were almost all two-way, even narrow ones. One-way traffic was at first almost entirely a response to the explosion of curbside parking. Later it was extended to avenues without parking, and curbside parking was banned in some areas, in response to a massive surge in car commuting and truck freight.

I looked up some old photos of Central Park, and the drives are two-way as late as 1928. According to the New York Times, the drives were made one way on November 29, 1929. There were two stories: a front page story on November 23 quoting Police Commissioner Grover Whalen, and a November 27 story quoting Deputy Police Commissioner Philip D. Hoyt.


Interestingly, the earlier story quoting Whalen doesn't mention safety at all, focusing entirely on the need to "relieve congestion" - without providing any specifics on how bad the congestion was. This must have gotten a reaction from the public, because in the November 27 story Hoyt made it clear there was "No Intention to Make Express Motor Highways of the Drives." Well, that's reassuring!

There's the usual assertion that "those who visit Central Park on foot will find it safer to cross the drives than in the past with two-way traffic," with no explanation of how this would improve safety. Hoyt then supplies the Times reporter with a series of truly horrific stats about car crashes in the park. There were eight people killed in the park during just the first ten months of 1929, and 249 people injured!

It's abundantly clear that the primary source of danger on the Central Park loop roads, in 1929 as in 2017, was people driving cars. It's not that people never die in the Park without a car present, but the danger is not from two-way traffic flow. In fact, the one-way rules probably encourage cyclists to speed, as they did with drivers.

People already use the drives safely in both directions on foot, bike and skate. Let's make it legal!


Photo: Columbus Circle. Ewing Galloway, 1928.

Oh yeah, and now that the cars are truly gone, let's reopen Columbus Circle to bicycles!

Sunday, July 15, 2018

A better express bus map


Express buses are easy in New York City. Just walk over to your express bus stop at the usual time and wait. Eventually the bus will arrive, you get on board, pay, find a seat and relax. When you're getting close to your stop, push the button, the bus stops, and you walk to work. Now they even have BusTime and MetroCard!

Express buses are easy if you're a regular passenger, that is. If you're not, how do you know which bus to take? You look at the complicated bus map for your borough, not posted in any subway station or bus shelter. Except if your borough is Manhattan. All the express buses are designed for trips to and from Manhattan, but the MTA doesn't show any express buses on the Manhattan bus map.

So you look at the bus map for the borough that's not Manhattan in your trip and figure out which bus is passing closest to the stop in that borough. Find the schedule for that bus. It may be posted on the stop, it may not, but the schedule is critical.

The schedule has tables telling you whether there is a bus scheduled to leave when you want to leave, and when it is scheduled to arrive in Manhattan. Everything besides the original departure time is approximate, and the buses almost always get stuck in traffic, so be prepared to board up to half an hour late depending on how close you are to the origin, and to get to your destination up to an hour late. Be sure to check BusTime so you know whether the bus is even coming.

The schedule does tell you where the buses stop in Manhattan. There used to be buses with suffixes after the route number (or not) indicating whether they stopped on Third Avenue or Downtown instead of Sixth Avenue, or maybe other routings, but the MTA has been gradually reorganizing them into separate numbers.

One key bit of information that's in the schedules but not the borough bus maps is where the buses stop and where they go express. It may seem obvious because most of the buses go on expressways, but some of them stop on the service roads of those expressways, and some don't. A few stop on Queens Boulevard or Woodhaven Boulevard, but most don't.

As you're probably saying to yourself right now, it doesn't have to be this way. Do the express buses really need to be on the same map as the local buses? Probably not. Is there a way to indicate on the map where the buses go in Manhattan? Probably. Is there a way to indicate on the map where the buses go express? Yeah.

The biggest thing that would make these maps easier to read is not showing extra information. Outside of Staten Island, where a bus network redesign is being implemented this summer, there are fifty express bus routes in the city. Almost half of them run only on rush hours, in the peak direction. Only sixteen of them run seven days a week. So if you're looking for an express bus on a Sunday you don't need to see the QM44, the X63 and the BM5. The resulting map is much cleaner.

That said, as I've written before, it's crazy not to offer Sunday service everywhere. When the Department of Transportation first started subsidizing private companies like Green Lines, they should have made funding contingent on seven day service. When the MTA took over their operations it should have immediately instituted Sunday service wherever there was Saturday service. Running buses on Saturdays and not Sundays is religious discrimination, and it has no place in New York City.

I'll have more to say about this map in the future.

Friday, June 22, 2018

What's the real story behind those photos of abandoned dockless bikeshare bikes?


At this point you've probably seen at least one, maybe several: pictures of "abandoned" or "discarded" dockless bikeshare bikes in China. I'm talking about the ones with hundreds, if not thousands, of bikes in the same picture. They're either very tightly stacked side by side, or more frequently jumbled on top of each other in a humongous heap, in a field or an empty lot. There's usually at least two different colors of bikes, representing different bikeshare companies.


There's almost never any explanation beyond a short caption. When I read "abandoned" I had this vision of some guy riding along on a bikeshare bike. All of a sudden the bike has a flat next to a field, so he casually tosses the bike into the field and walks on. A little while later a woman comes along. She gets tired of riding and stops next to the field, and sees the previous bike lying there. She tosses her bike on top of that one and walks away. Then some ill-behaved youths come running up carrying a bike that they found on a sidewalk, and throw it on top of that. It becomes the thing to do in this obscure Chinese city (Fuzhou? Chongqing? Qingdao?). For some reason, the bike companies have no interest in recuperating these hundreds of bikes, which have cost them tens of thousands of dollars. The bikes sit in the field and rust.

These photos are designed to scare, and they have been effective. Since they've appeared I have read several tweets, blog posts and articles where various people express their fear of "what happened in China." Ofo comes to town and next thing you know the hayfield behind the old Lowe's is full of bikes and there's nowhere to go smoke a joint. Those arrogant tech companies. We can't let that happen here!

You know what I haven't read? An explanation of how the bikes actually got in the field. Because the story I told is completely implausible. Yeah, I've heard about how wacky! and exotic! those Chinese people are. Then I got to know some, and it turns out they're just people. Sure, they'll do things in large numbers for money (like moving to cities) or social interaction (like the annual Lunar New Year travels) - just like Americans. They don't just do random stuff like throw bikes by the hundreds in some field.

What is the real story of what happened to those bikes in China? I'd be interested to know, but for now here's my guess: those bikes were thrown in that field - or stacked in that lot - by some organized group of people, led by a particular person or a small group. And the most likely organized group is the government. I strongly suspect that in every one of those pictures, the bikes were put there by government employees, on orders from some petty bureaucrat. Why? Maaaybe because they were broken. Maybe because the company had no permit to operate in that area. Maybe because that bureaucrat hates bikes. Maybe that bureaucrat is just an asshole.

When I think about it that way, it's no longer a story about arrogant tech companies or unsustainable bike share. It's not even about Those Wacky Chinese. It's about arrogant bureaucrats, supported by reactionary old people who drive, intent on maintaining control and preserving the hierarchy that puts them on top. And they're all boosted and broadcast by reactionary media people who love to get a rise out of us with scary photos.

That's a story as old as time, and it should scare us all that it's happening with bikeshare.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Transmillennial NYC?

A while back I was arguing with someone about "Bus Rapid Transit," and they suggested that New York should emulate the system used in Bogotá. I was skeptical; I've read about the Transmilenio and seen the Streetfilm, It didn't seem a good fit, but I felt like I didn't know enough.


I haven't been to the Colombian capital, but I've now looked at the network in more detail, and its applicability to New York area is extremely limited. Implementing anything resembling a Transmilenio corridor without converting general driving lanes to busways would require taking large amounts of land that is currently used for housing, retail or industry. I just don't see that happening on, say, Northern Boulevard or Church Avenue, and I don't want to see it happen.

The twelve Transmilenio corridors (not including the Carrera 7 stub) range from four to eight miles long, and are either at-grade or depressed, rarely elevated. They are all anchored by either the downtown or by a connection to another Transmilenio corridor. They fall into three types, as follows:


There is one corridor, the Eje Ambiental, that is roughly sixty feet wide. It could be emulated on any street of that width, like Fulton Street or Bergenline Avenue. I'm not going to consider those here, because they're everywhere.

Four corridors have sidewalks and at-grade crossings, like the Avenida de Caracas (see above); I call them Arterials. They have four to six lanes of car traffic and sometimes a bike path, and range from 120 to 150 feet wide.


The other seven corridors have grade-separated crossings, and at least some of the car lanes are limited access, like the Calle 26; I call these Highway corridors. The corridors can be up to 450 feet wide and include six to twelve car lanes and sometimes a bike path or even two. There are planted medians and sometimes even parks in the medians.

With this in mind, here are the basic criteria for Transmilenio-style corridors:
  1. At least 120 feet wide, so no Route 17 corridor in Bergen County
  2. At least four moving car lanes after the busway is installed, so no Grant Highway corridor in the Bronx
  3. At least four miles long, so no Whitestone Expressway corridor in Queens
  4. At or below grade, not primarily elevated, so no Bruckner Expressway corridor in the Bronx
  5. At least one good anchor, so no Route 18 corridor in Monmouth County
I will add the following for this exploration of New York, in keeping with our principles (see above):
  1. No parallel trains. Some trains are overcrowded, but for this let's focus on corridors with no rapid transit service at all, so no Seventh Avenue corridor.
  2. No adding lanes. If a corridor has functioning, accessible parkland, let's leave it, so no Mosholu Parkway corridor.
  3. At least 140 feet wide if the avenue already allows curbside parking. On-street parking beats off-street parking, and it's really hard to get the city to install bollards, so no 164th Street corridor.
I am not making any attempt to forecast demand in this post, aside from restricting my exploration to New York City and the counties closest to it. If you do try to think about demand, keep in mind that demand is not static, and it responds to the availability of alternatives.

One thing that surprised me looking at the Transmilenio system was how many of the lines (seven out of twelve) are the "highway" type, with separated local and express carriageways and any retail or housing set back from the sidewalks (almost all of them have sidewalks, which is a lot more civilized than most of our highways here). But when people (like the person I was arguing with) talk about adopting Transmilenio designs in New York, they're almost always talking about arterial corridors within the city limits, so that's what I'm going to focus on for this post.

So, are you ready? Here they are, all five of them!


The thing about arterial corridors in New York City is that we don't actually have very many that fit the Transmilenio model. We have a lot of big, wide avenues that feel dangerous, but when we actually measure them it turns out most of them are only a hundred feet wide, like Church Avenue in Brooklyn or Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. Even Astoria Boulevard in East Elmhurst is only 120 feet.

The remaining Arterial corridors do not form a coherent network at all in the five boroughs. They don't even extend the subway network, because stroads like Kings Highway and Linden Boulevard only widen to Transmilenio widths half a mile or more from the subway. The best you can say is that some of them would provide new routes parallel to crowded lines, like West Street.

The most promising corridor is Woodhaven Boulevard. The City has finally succeeded in upgrading it to Select Bus service, but they never proposed Transmilenio-style high island platforms. They tried to get separated center lanes, but after a long, hard fight with motorists and bean counters they settled for converting some of the inner express roadway to dedicated lanes with median boarding.

Woodhaven is also paralleled by the dormant Rockaway Beach Branch of the Long Island Railroad, which would have much more capacity and be somewhat better located. If the Rockaway Branch is ever reactivated, a Transmilenio-style busway would just add capacity to that, the way an Ocean Parkway busway would add capacity to the F and G trains a few blocks away on McDonald Avenue. Not a bad idea, but not the transformative change promised by some people.

Does that mean there's no application for Transmilenio-style busways in New York? Not quite; things actually look a lot more promising in the suburbs. Stay tuned for that!