Frequent New York City Buses

Following Jarrett Walker‘s repeated focus on frequency as the main distinguishing feature of local transit service, some people have gone and made maps of the frequent buses of their local areas, complementing official maps in such cities as Portland and LA. The importance is that regular bus maps are overly complex, and do not make it clear which buses can be relied upon all day and which are too low-frequency for show-up-and-go service.

So as a service to the New York City bus-riding public, here are my maps of frequent routes in Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The standard I use is 10-minute service in the afternoon off-peak, barring slight one-time irregularities. Some frequent trunk lines have infrequent branches; only the trunk lines appear on the map. The color scheme is meant to help dissimilate routes and reduce confusion. If multiple routes sharing the same trunk line are frequent, then they all appear, helping indicate very high frequency.

A slightly stricter map of Queens, using an 8-minute standard, is available on Cap’n Transit’s blog.


  1. Matt

    Is it weird that there’s a gaping hole covering Tribeca, Soho, and a huge chunk of the West Village? Perhaps because there’s more subway service down there?

    • Alon Levy

      Yeah, probably because of good subway coverage. But bear in mind that because New York doesn’t have a frequent network brand, the frequent buses are not treated differently from the rest, and there are plenty of near-misses, including some that serve Downtown Manhattan.

  2. Joseph E


    On the map, you comment “buses now display citywide ridership rank, to help distinguish marginally frequent routes from routes that should ideally be subways.”

    Would you agree that the high-ridership bus routes could also be considered for surface “light” rail lines? High ridership is a capacity issue in this case. A grade-separated subway (or elevated) rail line can be faster than at-grade light rail if the stations are more than 1/4 mile apart. But light rail (or BRT) with signal preemption at all intersections and 1/2 station spacing can average 18 mph, the same as some of the subway lines with closely-spaced stations in Manhattan.

    Considering the ridiculous costs of building new subways in New York, BRT later upgradted to light rail at grade would make the most sense for overloaded bus routes. Though subways were certainly be “ideal”, as you said.

    • Alon Levy

      Yes, I would agree that light rail is another option. The reason I quipped about subways is that Utica and Nostrand really should be subways.

      BRT in practice doesn’t get upgraded to light rail. The conversion costs are too high, and since a major route has to be reconstructed twice – once for BRT, and once for LRT – there is twice as much disruption and NIMBYism. And, judging by the LA Orange Line’s problems, it might not even provide enough capacity for Utica and Nostrand, unless the city starts making compromises it shouldn’t make on signal priority. Conversely, if the cost of LRT is what DOT claimed it’d be for the Red Hook streetcar, then it’s easily affordable for the ridership on Utica.

      • Joseph E

        The orange line is at capacity because LADOT doesn’t want to make cars wait at cross-streets. This limits headways to every 5 minutes in each direction at rush hour. If the Orange Line were operated like BRT in South America or East Asia (or like a streetcar in Toronto), it could easily have 2 minute headways, which would more than double current capacity. Cars (and pedestrians) might have to wait longer at intersections. California law also currently limits the length of buses allowed, but Metro is considering asking for an exception to buy double-articulated buses, which would increase capacity as well.

        But I agree that the Orange Line should have been light rail, since it was a totally separate right-of-way and had to be built from scratch. Stupid political problems prevented it from being built that way.

        In New York, I could imagine BRT with good POP, off-vehicle payment, and exclusive bus lanes along the curb to start, perhaps with some barriers and cameras to better enforce the lanes against illegal parking, and signal priority at intersections. This would not have as much of a capital cost as a full BRT like the Orange Line, and it would be easier to justify building light rail in the median of the avenue in the future. But I honestly don’t know much about those particular streets in New York.

      • Alon Levy

        Nostrand is already facing NIMBY complaints about loss of car access. Curb lanes are likely to face the same complaints about loss of parking space as the 34th Street proposal.

        Median BRT is actually more NIMBY-friendly (there’s loss of a car lane, but a trivial loss of parking, at the stations). It’s also better from the point of view of service identity (the lanes can be physically separated) and from that of reducing conflicts.

        However, the problem of double street disruption remains.

      • Stephen Smith

        And, judging by the LA Orange Line’s problems, it might not even provide enough capacity for Utica and Nostrand, unless the city starts making compromises it shouldn’t make on signal priority.

        What do you mean by “compromises it shouldn’t make on signal priority”?

      • Alon Levy

        Stephen, what I mean is that good BRT or LRT requires priority at all intersections. The Orange Line doesn’t have it, as Joseph explained; if I remember correctly, the buses stop about once every three red lights. Neither do the New York SBS lines; I doubt the city even reconfigured the green wave on 1st and 2nd to proceed at SBS speed rather than at traffic-free car speed.

        It’s easier to implement signal preemption in the US with LRT than with BRT, because of the history of rail priority at level crossings. It’s a stupid historical accident – but the same is true for US construction costs, the FRA, etc.

      • Wad

        There’s also the marginal costs that blow a BRT-to-rail conversion out of the water.

        Take the Orange Line, with the costs being about $400 million for the current BRT configuration and $1 billion for an equivalent light rail service.

        Because the Orange Line already exists, L.A. would pay $400 million more for a $1 billion rail line. The light rail line itself would cost 2.5 times more in capital. It would need ridership to scale up 2.5 times or more to be worth it.

        With Orange Line ridership hovering in the 20,000-25,000 range, light rail would need 62,500 boardings to match the productive capacity of the busway. To justify the full $1.4 billion cost, ridership would need to reach 87,500. Not even the Blue Line does that.

        Realistically, converting to rail might add about 10,000 more boardings, but nowhere near a full multiple.

        • Nathanael

          The fact that the Orange Line pavement falls apart on a regular basis and will need to be replaced *does* change the computation somewhat. The time for rail conversion would be the next time the pavement dies (so that several tens of millions need to be spent either way)

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  4. Henry

    I personally find it odd that the southernmost crosstown route is at 14th Street – trying to get across downtown from Chambers Street is hard due to the blockades set up after 9/11, and the walk across town on Canal Street is unpleasant, to say the least.

    Also, if you’re interested, I’ve created a frequent network map for Queens on my page (although to a 15 minute standard, because very few routes in Queens run at a 10 minute standard consistently).

  5. ajedrez

    I just realized: For Staten Island, there is the S53, which runs every 10 minutes for most of the day. There’s also the Hylan Blvd routes (S78/79) and Richmond Avenue routes (S44/59), which have more than 6 BPH combined (unfortunately, there’s no effort made to space them apart). The S74/76 would probably also qualify, but I think they’re spaced closer together.

  6. Nathanael

    The weird thing about this is that many of the frequent buses in Manhattan, being the infamous crosstown buses, are slower than walking *and* overcrowded. Which means that the “frequent network” map for Manhattan fails to be a map of *attractive* bus routes, which it is in most cities.

    • Gilberto Klaumonier

      Nathanael, I agree with you. Buses are slow and have really expensive tickets. I often see alternative routes that ste (, but I’m riding anymore than by bus.

  7. Pingback: Buses in Brooklyn: Frequency is Freedom, but 15 Minutes isn’t Frequency | Pedestrian Observations

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