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!


threestationsquare said...

Why exclude highway corridors? I think the best use for Transmilenio-style busways in NYC is making more efficient use of some of the space that is currently wasted on freeway lanes. The Staten Island/Gowanus Expressway (with a new transfer station on SIRT north of Grasmere) seems like a particularly good use case; some circumferential corridors that could complement the radial subway (e.g. Belt Parkway, Van Wyck Expressway, Grand Central Parkway, Cross Island Parkway, Cross Bronx Expressway) also seem worth considering.

Capn Transit said...

The main reason I'm excluding highway-type corridors is that the people who talk about implementing Transmilenio in NYC focus exclusively on arterials. I'm planning a post on highway corridors, but you can write one if you like!

James Sinclair said...

I understand you looked at Transmilenio because that was the prompt, but I dont think its the best model, because as you said, it is highway focused. And thats fine, why not use what you have available?

BRT came from Curitiba, and most of their corridors are on pretty regular streets.

They even managed to go back and add bike lanes.

Of course, as you said, this requires taking a lane away from cars. And the NYC metro area is so single-auto focused they cant even stomach an HOV lane.