Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bridge xRT: The Queensboro Bridge

Sorry to skip over the Williamsburgh Bridge and the Midtown Tunnel, but I'll come back to them. The Queensborough Bridge is near to my home and my heart. I often take one or another of the three local buses that cross it, the Q32, the Q60 and the Q101. I also take the five local buses that terminate at Queensboro Plaza, just before the bridge; many of them will drop you right at the stairs for the E train. I haven't taken any of the 21 express buses that make a loop through the Midtown Tunnel, up Third or Sixth Avenue, and over the bridge, but I see them on Queens Boulevard all the time.

The main problem with the eight local buses is that they get stuck in traffic. In the morning rush, they can really crawl along Van Dam Street, Queens Boulevard and Northern Boulevard. PlaNYC included dedicated bus lanes on Queens Boulevard to speed these buses through; that went more or less nowhere, sadly. But if we got these bus lanes, what would happen to the buses on the other side?

Well, the Q32 goes all the way down Fifth Avenue to Penn Station. It's also notoriously unreliable; it won the Pokey Award for Queens in 2003. If it gets rerouted to the planned 34th Street Busway, that will speed things up a bit. Physically separating the lanes on Fifth and Madison Avenues could help as well.

The Q60 and Q101 get to the other side of the bridge and turn right around. The Q60 lays up on the block of 60th Street just north of the bridge, and the Q101 stops on Second Avenue between 58th and 59th Streets, and then goes onto the upper level via 57th Street. If we sent the other buses over the bridge, or increased the frequencies of the Q60 or Q101, where would they turn around?

Well, it turns out there's a place. Joseph Brennan has a page with old photos of the trolley terminal under the western end of the bridge. Trolleys used to turn around there, and people would get out and transfer to the Second Avenue El.

Since then, the kiosks where they used to come out of the ground have been hit several times by speeding cars. One is surrounded by cast-iron fencing, the only way to protect it. I don't recommend reopening these kiosks here, but a tunnel could be dug under Second Avenue, allowing people to transfer to the downtown M15, and eventually the Second Avenue BRT. Another possibility would be to have a ramp allowing buses to connect directly to the Second Avenue BRT without getting stuck in traffic; you could have a similar ramp for northbound buses from First Avenue.

Of course, the ideal connection would be with the Second Avenue Subway. Sadly, nobody thought of that, and the current plans are to have stops at 72nd and 55th Streets. Since it's going to be years before any of that is going to be dug, let's stick a stop in at 62nd Street, and move the 55th Street one down to 52nd.

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