NEW YORK—Bus service is set to expand in Harlem, the Bronx, and Queens in an effort to cut travel times to LaGuardia Airport.
Three new bus routes will either be upgraded or created anew, and will notably include Select Bus Service.
Select Bus Service, also known as rapid bus service, improves travel times by up to 20 percent through the use of two sets of doors for boarding, dedicated bus lanes, pre-boarding payment, and Traffic Signal Priority, which uses equipment to prolong green lights at some intersections until buses go through.
All three planned routes would shift outer-borough transportation in a good way, according to transportation experts.
Bus service on Webster Avenue in the Bronx would be expanded over the RFK Bridge directly to LaGuardia via Astoria Boulevard. The service is expected to cut travel times by 30 to 50 percent (from Fordham Plaza to LaGuardia would take 43 minutes instead of 83 minutes).
The route may be made into an express bus service. The plan includes offset bus lanes, which would be located between travel lanes and a curbside, parking lane.
Another proposal would create a direct airport route that connects to LaGuardia via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway from Queens, speeding up travel times by avoiding residential streets.
This route would make a trip from Penn Station that connected with the bus 32 minutes, instead of 47 minutes.
Local bus routes such as the Q47 and Q33 will be tweaked to better serve the local neighborhoods, while still ultimately going to the airport.
The M60 is the busiest of the five bus routes that currently connect to LaGuardia; it spans from Columbia University in Morningside Heights, Manhattan, to LaGuardia in Queens.
Currently the M60 service is stopped 60 percent of the time, and travels as slow as 2.7 mph across 125th Street, making for long rides both crosstown and to the airport, according to a release from the mayor’s office.
The third proposed route would upgrade the M60 to Select Bus Service, with travel times expected to improve by more than 18 percent, taking 23 minutes from 125th Street, Lexington Avenue instead of 32 minutes. This proposal also includes dedicated bus lanes and would connect to 12 subway lines and Metro-North.
“I think it’s a great development,” said Richard Barone, director of transportation programs with the Regional Plan Association (RPA), a regional research and advocacy group. “There’s nothing bad to say about it.”
Barone has met with city officials, and last year the RPA produced a report examining the three airports in the region. Part of the report examined how to improve access to LaGuardia via public transit, since the surrounding highways are becoming congested and can’t handle very much more traffic.
More than 24 million passengers flew out of LaGuardia in 2011, according to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. The city’s Department of Transportation through market research estimate 7 percent of passengers get to the airport via bus and another 9 percent by subway or train.
RPA’s report recommended upgrading the M60 by increasing service.
“The M60 has slowly improved over time,” Barone said.
New M60 buses will have space for luggage, and on-board announcements will welcome air passengers to the city.
The proposed express bus upgrades would help the bus connection to Columbia University, as well as communities in Harlem, Queens, the Bronx, and Brooklyn, including thousands of airport employees, Barone noted.
The three bus route proposals will be fine tuned during future public meetings, and a Community Advisory Committee will give input for the affected areas—implementation is pegged for fall 2013.
Alternative plans have formed before, such as extending the N train to the airport, but those plans have met with public opposition. An airtrain, like the one at JFK Airport, has also been suggested during discussions.
Transit analyst Benjamin Kabak wrote on his website Thursday that the bus improvements are a good thing, but not as good as rail service.
“We should not lose sight of the endgame: The subway—or at the least, an airtrain—should extend to LaGuardia. Until then, incremental improvements, and not a game-changing scenario, are the best we can hope to achieve.”
Transit and other elected officials, faced with the daunting costs of subway expansion and commuter rail, have seen Select Bus Service as a way to upgrade transportation for a much lower cost.
Bus service also provides an adaptable system, instead of one literally being set in stone.
Citywide Select Bus Service ExpansionRapid bus routes on Webster Avenue and for the crosstown M60 are included in three of the corridors on the short list for the next bus rapid transit expansion within New York City, according to government documents.
All six routes from Phase I have been implemented or are under construction, including the latest bus rapid transit upgrade in Staten Island. http://buff.ly/RjyqKW.
First and Second avenues in Manhattan started providing Select Bus Service in October 2010. The implemented routes have sped travel times by as much as 20 percent, according to city statistics.
Other phase II routes identified for consideration include a 14th Street crosstown corridor, a corridor from the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side in Manhattan, and a route from Manhattan to Flushing, Queens.
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