Monday, September 6, 2010

A very frequent bus network for Queens

Jarrett's been posting a lot about frequent bus network maps, so he finally convinced me to spend a few hours putting one together for Queens. On one of his posts, a commenter going by "Anon256" posted a link to an attempt using frequency at stops.

I used some relatively simple tools: the MTA's published schedules, the MTA's General Transit Feed Specification data, and Google's My Maps feature.

To calculate frequency, I simply opened the PDF for each schedule, found a point where there were no branches, and counted the number of runs that passed by that point on a weekday between 12:00 and 12:59, inclusive. I did not look at how late the buses ran.

View Queens Frequent Bus Network in a larger map

Google's My Maps has an interesting limitation: if you try to display more than 250 points, it will split them into two pages. This means that I could only fit nine routes on the map. Because the network in Queens is so frequent, this meant routes with at least eight trips per hour, or headways of eight minutes or less. I also added the M60, which runs in Queens for a significant distance.

RouteWeekday noon hour tripsAverage weekday noon hour headway

I converted the GTFS data to KML using KML Writer from the Transit Feed tools; for the NYC Transit buses I first had to take the "stop_times.txt" file out of the zipfile, or else KML Writer would crash. Then I copied the KML data for these routes into a new file. Often there were multiple trip geometries available; I usually chose the first one. I then uploaded them to Google Maps.

Already you can see that there's pretty good coverage in Central Queens. Pretty much everyone in that area is within a ten minute walk of a bus that comes at least once every eight minutes, so in under twenty minutes they can be moving.

One particular point of interest is Kissena Boulevard in East Flushing. Because of the geography of Flushing, bus planners (with the now-defunct North Shore Bus Company) decided to run three high-frequency services along this route, meaning that it sees 27 buses on weekdays between 12 and 1PM.

Still, that leaves wide areas without frequent bus service, including Western Queens, Southeastern Queens, Northeastern Queens, the Rockaways and scattered neighborhoods in the center of the borough. But if we add the subways and the buses with nine-minute headways, which we can display thanks to a handy trick, we get pretty good coverage. Then it is only a scattered handful of neighborhoods that are not served: northern Jackson Heights, Whitestone, Bayside, Douglaston, Little Neck the southeastern neighborhoods of Saint Albans and Cambria Heights, Far Rockaway and Breezy Point. All those neighborhoods see buses at least every twenty minutes, if not fifteen.

There is another high-frequency corridor formed by the Q5 and Q85 on Merrick Boulevard. If you add in the Q4 and Q84, in the noon hour there are 24 runs along Merrick from Archer Avenue to Linden Boulevard. In this area there are also lots of dollar vans, so it's pretty well-served.

I think someone should definitely make - and maintain a map like this for Queens, or possibly some smartphone app functionality. It's definitely useful to see where the most frequent routes go, and it might get some people to try the bus. It's a lot easier for beginners than the full map (PDF). I think that even as I've laid it out, it could still be a bit denser, so I would probably add the 10-minute routes, which would round out the coverage.


George K said...

The MTA should've realized that the long-term savings on subway construction exceed the short-term capital costs. When it gets to the point where you are running buses every 4 minutes during middays on 2 adjacent corridors (the Q111/Q113 and Q4/Q5/Q84/Q85 (and N4, which could've been cut back to the Queens county line is there was a subway)), that is the time to realize that you need to expand the subway coverage into those neighborhoods.

Alon Levy said...

Cap'n, I like your 10-minute midday rule. The reason is that New York is inconsistent on when frequent service ends in the evening. I've done a Manhattan map and it turns out that the interlining problem solves itself with that definition. On 5th/Madison, the M1-4 are all near-misses, so only the trunk line is frequent. On 3rd/Lex, only the M101 is frequent. In neither case is there a problem with splitting frequent lines.

P.S. Almost alone among the major two-way streets, 3th Street doesn't have a single frequent route. The M34 and M16 are both near-misses. So remind me again why they're SBSifying 34th and not any other crosstown Manhattan street?

Unknown said...

Based on Jarrett's post, I made something similar for a number of cities.

It's generated automatically from the schedule data. What do you think?

James Dowden said...

How many other routes would taking the threshold from 8 to 10 minutes add?

George K said...

Aren't they putting SBS on 34th Street because all of the express routes use it?

Alon Levy said...

No, actually very few of the express routes use 34th. The reason they're adding it is because it fits Bloomberg and JSK's ideas of urban renewal, whereas 125th would require them to invest money in an ungentrified neighborhood.

pAYYORFARE said...

You mention Kissena Blvd having three high frequency routes. I'm a transportation professional and lifelong bus fan who grew up at the outer end of the section where all three routes share Kissena Blvd. Despite this level service, in peak and, especially off-peak, service was rotten enough to discourage discretionary rides by those with available alternate means (walk, bike, car, teleportation via CB radio). Guide-a-Rides, intermodal transfers, bus stop shelters and on-board maps-all wonderful innovations-helped very little. It was common to wait 15 - 20 minutes for a Q17, 25 or 27 to come, even at 8 PM on a weeknight. Its so infuriating to the customer to be subjected to long waits and bunching during hours that the system clearly isn't stressed by congestion. Once that first or second family car is purchsed the battle is lost. It wouldnt be so bad if they purchased and used bikes though. I have very little faith that such problems will be resolved. The political will to deal with it head on and have a Toronto-quality surface system can only materialize after all the cars starve for lack of fuel and blow away with the wind. Thats is when the transit constituency will be viewed as worthy of attention (funding/top management).