Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Can we get an Emergency Express Bus network?

We now know that most of the tunnels under the East River were flooded by Hurricane Sandy, including subway tunnels, and that there is flooding in other low-lying parts of the system. Because transit officials moved the trains and buses to high ground, all of the rolling stock is in working order. MTA officials have wisely refused to give a definite timeframe for restoring subway service, but have said that it will be days before there is significant service. In the meantime they have said that the whole bus system should be running tomorrow. That's good.

There are still two problems. First, the bus network is not designed to bring people into and out of Manhattan efficiently. Since the 2010 service cuts, no local buses have traveled between Brooklyn and Manhattan. The only MTA buses that do are the express buses that go to Staten Island, Canarsie and southern Brooklyn. With the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel (recently renamed in honor of former Governor Hugh Carey) filled with water, I'm guessing they'll go across the Manhattan Bridge instead. Similarly in Queens, the express buses bypass everything west of the BQE, and a good deal of what's east of it. The express buses from the Bronx go through all of Manhattan without stopping.

Now you want express buses to speed through certain areas. The problem here is that there are no express buses serving the inner neighborhoods that normally have good subway service. People from Woodside (for example) or the Upper West Side could get to Midtown or Lower Manhattan by taking local buses, but it takes a hell of a long time and it's annoying. And it leaves all the people who live in Park Slope or Bed-Stuy or Cobble Hill without a way of getting across the river.

The second problem is that the current bus system doesn't have anywhere near the capacity to handle the numbers that crowd into Manhattan on the subways and commuter trains on a normal weekday. Since most of the southern half of Manhattan is without power, that won't be an issue right away, but the demand for rapid transit into Manhattan will probably grow faster than the supply can be restored.

Now I'm hoping that someone at the MTA will figure this out and set up some kind of express bus system. The staff of Transportation Alternatives has set out some guidelines. They also have points about biking, walking and emergency vehicles, but these three speak specifically to transit:

  • Emergency Bus Lanes to allow swift transit throughout the City until subway service is restored.
  • High Occupancy Vehicle Requirements on crossings into the most congested areas of the city.
  • Carpool Staging Areas offering parking and passenger pick-up locations in support of drivers sharing rides to meet the HOV requirements.

I agree with these, but I don't think they will provide enough capacity. I would add the following two recommendations:

  • Temporary Express bus routes from major population centers and transit hubs to Midtown and Lower Manhattan.
  • Allow anyone with the proper license, registration and insurance to operate buses.

Off the top of my head, here are five locations that should have express buses running from them: Atlantic Terminal, Jamaica Center, Queens Center Mall, 86th and Lex, and Verdi Square. What are your five?

If the MTA and the DOT don't do any of that, you may want to consider the Chinatown vans.


crzwdjk said...

If they do manage to get the less-damaged parts of subway lines up and running, it would make sense to use buses to bridge the gaps. I assume the biggest gaps are going to be the river crossings, and the solution to those is probably several bus routes running from Queens Plaza and Downtown Brooklyn to parts of Manhattan, connecting the presumably-working bits of subway lines in Brooklyn and Queens to areas in Manhattan. If bus lanes are used on the bridge, and existing bus lanes are used in Manhattan, this would be a reasonable way to deploy a limited number of buses for maximal effect.

J said...

One linguistic quibble- you wrote the traditional characters for Chinatown, the simplified is 华埠.

Xbus said...

Queens Center already has the QM11, Jamaica Center has the X64 and X68