Let’s Talk Select Bus Service

If you’ve seen a red painted lane along Hylan Boulevard or Richmond Avenue, and thought “whaaaaaaaa?,” consider this your primer on Select Bus Service. I think it’s going to be great for the island

On September 2, SBS along the S79 route is set to go live. The goal is to improve service and travel times by up to 20% by designating lanes and cutting down on stops. Here’s an overview of the plan:

– The DOT has installed a number of pedestrian refuges along Hylan Boulevard and connecting streets. These refuges will help bus users to cross major intersections by increasing their visibility and protecting them from Staten Island’s many reckless drivers.

-New bus shelters have been installed along Hylan and connecting streets to help both S79 users and connecting riders. These shelters will hopefully increase driver awareness of bus zones and decrease illegal parking. They’ll also function as, you know, shelters. Which is always good.

-Painted red lanes along select parts of Richmond Ave and Hylan Blvd will designate bus lanes. I drive pretty often and have noticed some confusion around these lanes over the past few days. They’re new to SI, so this is expected. Drivers: You can cross the lanes at broken white lines, not at solid white lines.

-Traffic signal priority. Red lights will be delayed for approaching buses. This is one of the hallmarks of SBS, and a huge relief for bus riders boarding at a stop only to be stuck at a red light seconds later. My only concern is that this could reduce predictability for pedestrians. Crossing a street is already an affair at busy intersections.

-Streamlining the S79 route and stop locations. Rerouting with fewer stops will take place at the Eltingville Transit Center and Richmond Ave. Several side streets will be eliminated from the Richmond Ave portion, which could complicate things for riders now requiring a connection.

-Don’t forget the MTA’s Bus Time initiative. This is more an overall improvement for all buses and bus riders on the island, but it’s still critical to decreasing wait times.  A quick check on either your smartphone or dumbphone will tell you precisely where the next bus is. It’s an invaluable resource and most of the time it works really, really well.

-There will be no bus lane enforcement cameras on buses. Expect abuse from parking drivers. Send a letter to your Albany rep to demanding enforcement cameras on buses.

-There will be no off board payment. According to the MTA, ridership is spread out well enough along the route that embarking/disembarking the bus doesn’t add significant delays.

Why is this good for Staten Island?

Our island is sprawling. There’s no other way around it. We have concentrations of commercial and residential activity in older portions of the borough, but shopping centers, strip malls, and single family homes are ubiquitous here. Bus systems in suburban areas are notoriously difficult to deploy and maintain. Staten Island’s public transportation network has suffered significant disinvestment over the past few decades. The bulk of transportation planning has been focused on the comfort and access of drivers, rather than the movement of transit users.

It is refreshing to see a renewed commitment from the DOT and the MTA to improve service in select areas. While the suspension of service of a few local and express bus lines has hurt transit users, focusing on areas of highest ridership is bound to have the highest return on investment.

The S79 travels between the Staten Island Mall and Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. The Mall is a huge source of employment on Staten Island, and a destination for bus riders and drivers alike. For teenagers who cannot or prefer not to drive, bus access is a lifeline to jobs and shopping. Likewise for the elderly. And for Staten Islanders who do not want to drive or cannot afford a car, good transit access to such a huge commercial hub is absolutely essential.

The S79 also connects to the R  subway stop in Bay Ridge. A bus with decent service and good travel times is the closest we have to an off -borough subway connection. They won’t be lengthening the R under the Narrows, so this will have to do. Many Staten Islanders work in Brooklyn, and many Brooklynites work on Staten Island. SBS will connect people to available jobs faster and more efficiently. For Staten Islanders without easy access to the ferry or the ability to pay for an express bus, the R in Bay Ridge is a major connection to the city. More transit options between boroughs is good for everyone.

From an economic development perspective, inter-borough SBS is great news. Employment has decentralized as NYC’s other four boroughs have increased in size and economic activity. More people connect between boroughs other than Manhattan than ever before. According to a study from the Center for an Urban Future,”in Staten Island, the number of residents who travel to work in their own borough increased by 32 percent between 1990 and 2008; those going to Brooklyn or New Jersey increased by 22 percent; while the number traveling to Manhattan barely changed at all—a four percent increase in those 18 years.”

As the fastest growing of New York City’s five boroughs, and a population larger than many medium sized cities nationwide, Staten Island deserves good transit access and good transportation options. We can’t rely on cars alone. SBS is a step in the right direction.

For more information in SBS:

DOT on S79 SBS

MTA on S79 SBS

For more information on the decentralization of employment in New York City and the need for more and better Bus Rapid Transit:

Center for an Urban Future: Behind the Curb

3 responses to “Let’s Talk Select Bus Service”

  1. Vin says :

    Who is going to take responsibility when someone dies trying to make a right turn? The “dotted” lines start about 25 feet from the light giving little time to merge over before the turn – or risking a ticket if you pull into the lane a bit earlier. It is horrible

    • Joe says :

      Since painted bus only lanes are kind of a new thing on Staten Island, I think it’s going to need some time to make it work for all road users. Some of this will be people learning to adapt to the new lanes, and some will be changes coming from DOT and the MTA. Thanks for the comment.

      • Vin says :

        Exactly what I mean Joe – taking time to adapt – at what expense – a serious injury? Unsure if people know if these lanes are active or not, but this morning going to work, a whole bunch of people just ignored the red
        paint and sped 60 mph in the bus lane. SI drivers are the worst in all
        the boroughs and things like this, and added red lights and stop signs
        just make them even more aggressive. I see no need for these at
        all on Richmond Avenue. Maybe Hylan Blvd.

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