Post-Sandy commission: Bring ‘true’ bus rapid transit to New York

Lhota, Sadik-Khan and Bloomberg launch SBS in S.I. (Spencer T Tucker)
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New York City should build a real bus rapid transit system so it can better weather the next Hurricane Sandy, according to a new report from a commission appointed by Andrew Cuomo.

The governor created the NYS2100 commission in November, after Hurricane Sandy made clear how vulnerable the state's infrastructure is to climate change.

Today, that commission released its recommendations, and some soft criticism of the city's bus rapid transit program, which the report argues is actually "not true BRT" at all.

Bus rapid transit refers to the sort of ground-level, transportation system that has revolutionized mass transit in cities as diverse Bogota, Columbia, Ottawa and Cleveland. At its most effective, it features a rapid succession of buses moving along dedicated lanes, complete with off-board fare payment and traffic signal priority.

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Here in New York City, the transportation department's and M.T.A.'s efforts to create that sort of system haven't gone very far, as I reported in November.

The commission's report argues that a true BRT system would help New York City weather the next big storm by making it less reliant on all the subway lines that run through flood-prone lower Manhattan.

From the report:

A BRT network would enhance the resiliency and redundancy of the overall transit system by supplementing existing rail transit and providing a complementary service for people who lack direct access to the subway system. Following Superstorm Sandy, when New York City subway tunnels were flooded, the MTA “bus bridge” improvised BRT-like service between Brooklyn and Manhattan, underscoring the need for redundant surface transportation options. BRT corridors should become integrated components of the overall transit system, providing connections to other modes. For example, a BRT route that runs through southern Brooklyn could connect Bay Ridge commuters who rely on the R train to the D, F, B and Q in Coney Island and Brighton Beach. Another eastwest corridor through central Brooklyn could provide riders of the above trains to connections to the 2, 5, 3, L, A and C.

The report also points out that the growth of job centers in the outer boroughs has led to "profound changes in travel demand that the current, Manhattan-centric subway system was not designed to handle."

Creating a true BRT system to handle those population changes is much, much, much cheaper than building new subways.

Read the whole commission report here, and my write-up of the city's bus rapid transit system here.

UPDATE: M.T.A. spokesman Adam Lisberg emailed the following statement: "The MTA’s mass transit system is the lifeblood of New York City region, and Governor Cuomo’s 2100 Commission recognizes both the threats it faces and the many promising opportunities to strengthen it. Superstorm Sandy demonstrated that New York needs to make its transportation system more robust by hardening legacy infrastructure, creating new connections within its network and expanding transit options. The MTA plays a critical role in the everyday lives of New Yorkers and in the functioning of the nation’s largest economy, and we look forward to working with the Governor, the Commission and the State Legislature to craft a long-range infrastructure agenda to accomplish the goals outlined in this report."