Finally, a fast bus to LaGuardia

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Select Bus Service. (Stephen Rees via Flickr)
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Rapid bus service to LaGuardia will probably be arriving soon, according to a just-released announcement from the M.T.A. and the city's transportation department.

“LaGuardia Airport is a transportation hub and a city unto itself that needs a better connection to the transit network and the region’s economy,” said transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, in a statement. “These routes will open the terminal doors to new neighborhoods and bring more reliable local service to people across three boroughs.”

Today, the city and M.T.A. proposed three rapid bus routes to LaGuardia, one from the Bronx, one from Manhattan, and one from within Queens.

In New York City, bus rapid transit is called "select bus service."

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Unlike the regular slow-motion crawl of New York City buses, select bus service, which now exists on four routes in New York, moves more quickly thanks to innovations like separated lanes, pre-paid bus tickets, and traffic signal priority.

At the moment, travelers to LaGuardia airport can take one of five regular bus lines.

The proposal announced today would convert one of those routes, the M60, to select bus service, extend the Webster Avenue Select Bus Service from the Bronx to the airport in Queens, and create a new select bus service line that would serve Woodside and Jackson Heights, as well as the airport.

The city's and M.T.A.'s intentions were first revealed during a City Council hearing in June.

These new bus lines will comprise the first rapid mass transit service to LaGuardia Airport.

The full release is below.

Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Metropolitan Transportation Authority Chairman and CEO Joseph Lhota today announced that the City, MTA New York City Transit and MTA Bus have identified the first Select Bus Service routes to LaGuardia Airport in Queens. The three potential new routes will connect three boroughs, adjacent subway lines, the two commuter railroads and LaGuardia Airport with more direct and reliable service to the airport. The services would also provide improvements to local bus service, including faster crosstown service on 125th Street, on Webster Avenue, the Bronx and more reliable service in Jackson Heights, Queens. The routes would potentially offer from 10 to 40 minutes in travel time savings, with a combination of Select Bus Service elements to speed service, including streamlined stops, allowing passengers to pay before they board, bus-only lanes in areas where they are feasible and transit signal priority technology to keep buses from getting stuck at traffic lights. LaGuardia Airport served more than 24 million customers in 2011 and employs some 8,000 people, many of whom rely upon public transportation for their commutes. Improved bus service in all five boroughs is a critical goal under PlaNYC, the Mayor’s long-term sustainability agenda, and represents extensive cooperation between the Administration, the MTA and the Port Authority. The city’s four Select Bus Service routes currently serve approximately 100,000 customers daily. New York City Transit, MTA Bus and the Department of Transportation plan to implement the new bus service in 2013 and 2014, based on development of the projects with the community.

“Select Bus Service improves travel times, enhances safety and increases ridership wherever we have installed it,” said Mayor Bloomberg. “This new Select Bus Service to LaGuardia will not only cut travel time for people flying in and out of New York, but it will also benefit New Yorkers who commute to work at the airport every day from Queens, Manhattan and the Bronx.”

“LaGuardia Airport is a transportation hub and a city unto itself that needs a better connection to the transit network and the region’s economy,” said Commissioner Sadik-Khan. “These routes will open the terminal doors to new neighborhoods and bring more reliable local service to people across three boroughs.”

“The MTA is always working to make it easier to get around, and faster rides to LaGuardia will be a huge benefit for our customers,” said MTA Chairman and CEO Joseph J. Lhota. “Select Bus Service to the airport will make LaGuardia more convenient for travelers as well as airport workers, and that means a boost for the entire New York economy.”

Proposed routes to provide faster, more direct and more reliable service to LaGuardia include the M60 Select Bus Service route via 125th Street in Manhattan, a new direct route from Woodside and Jackson Heights, Queens via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, and a new proposed Select Bus Service route from Webster Avenue in The Bronx. The new direct airport service is expected to improve transit travel times, including trips via Long Island Rail Road from Penn Station or other locations via Woodside to the airport, which could improve by an estimated 40 percent or more – as much as 15 minutes faster; travel times would improve up to an estimated 50 percent – as much as 40 minutes faster – from the Bronx to LaGuardia; while improvements to the M60 route could speed trips to the airport from Upper Manhattan by up to 28 percent – up to 9 minutes faster – while also speeding crosstown connections in Harlem.

LaGuardia Airport is currently served directly by five bus routes, four within Queens and the M60, the busiest of the routes, providing a connection to Harlem, though these services are often slowed by long periods at bus stops and congestion along the routes. For example, M60 buses are stopped 60 percent of the time and travel as slow as 2.7 mph across 125th Street, making for difficult rides both crosstown and to the airport. The local Queens routes serve both air passengers and local residents, since much of the area lacks easy access to subway lines, meaning that everyday trips have to contend with crowding and customers with luggage. There is no bus service currently connecting the central neighborhoods in the Bronx to LaGuardia that does not necessitate transferring buses or trains.

In Queens, MTA Bus and the Department of Transportation propose adding new bus service in the Woodside and Jackson Heights neighborhoods connecting five subway lines and the Long Island Rail Road to LaGuardia via the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, avoiding more narrow local residential streets to provide fast, direct service. The existing local routes would be adjusted to more reliably serve their neighborhoods, while also providing airport connections.

The gap in bus service from the Bronx to LaGuardia would now be bridged by the proposal by the Department of Transportation and New York City Transit to extend selected trips on the proposed Webster Avenue Select Bus Service across the RFK Bridge to the airport via Astoria Boulevard, offering this new connection for Bronx residents to this major employment center. In addition to the expected 30-50 percent savings in travel times via a one seat ride, the Bronx related service would connect to five subway lines. The Webster Avenue Select Bus Service route has already undergone a substantial public outreach effort, including four public meetings. The proposed extension of the route to LaGuardia is still being evaluated as the public outreach continues.

The proposed M60 upgrade to Select Bus Service would significantly enhance the connection of twelve subway lines and Metro-North Railroad to the airport. The enhancements are expected to improve travel times along the route of more than 18 percent, saving at least five minutes across town, and nine minutes to the airport, with improved reliability. Bus lanes and other improvements to the 125th Street corridor would also provide additional benefits for the Harlem community, which voiced a need for bus service improvements at a public workshop last month.

The City and MTA in September launched Select Bus Service on Staten Island’s S79 route, the fourth Select Bus Service line in the city following routes along Fordham Road in the Bronx in 2008, First and Second Avenues in 2010 and 34th Street last year. Those services have improved bus speeds by as much as 20 percent, with passenger satisfaction at up to 98 percent.

The process of defining and refining the three exact routes, stop locations and service features began last night with a public meeting at Renaissance Charter School in Jackson Heights. As with other Select Bus Service services, a Community Advisory Committee, including elected officials, community boards and other stakeholders in the service areas, will guide the planning and development of each route.