How Ambitious is Mayor de Blasio’s Bus Plan?

You have to give Bill de Blasio credit: when someone else forces his hand, he will immediately claim that he was on the more popular-seeming side all along. After other people brought up the idea of a bus turnaround, starting with shadow agencies like TransitCenter and continuing with his frontrunning successor Corey Johnson, the mayor released an action plan called Better Buses. The plan has a bold goal: to speed up buses to 16 km/h using stop consolidation and aggressive enforcement of bus priority. And yet, elements of the plan leave a bad taste in my mouth.

Bus speeds

The Better Buses plan asserts that the current average bus speed in New York is 8 miles per hour, and with the proposed treatments it will rise to 10. Unfortunately, the bus speed in New York is lower. The average according to the NTD is 7.05 miles per hour, or 11.35 km/h. This includes the Select Bus Service routes, whose average speed is actually a hair less than the New York City Transit average, since most of them are in more congested parts of the city. The source the report uses for the bus speed is an online feed that isn’t reliable; when I asked one of the bus planners while working on the Brooklyn route redesign, I was told the best source to use was the printed schedules, and those agree with the slower figures.

In Brooklyn, the average bus speed based on the schedules is around 11 km/h. But the starting point for the speed treatment Eric Goldwyn and I recommended is actually somewhat lower, around 10.8 km/h, for two reasons: first, the busiest routes already have faster limited-stop overlays, and second, the redesign process itself reduces the average speed by pruning higher-speed lightly-used routes such as the B39 over the Williamsburg Bridge.

The second reason is not a general fact of bus redesigns. In Barcelona, Nova Xarxa increased bus speeds by removing radial routes from the congested historic center of the city. However, in Brooklyn, the redesign marginally slows down the buses. While it does remove some service from the congested Downtown Brooklyn area, most of the pruning in is outlying areas, like the industrial nooks and crannies of Greenpoint and Williamsburg. Without having drawn maps, I would guess the effect in Queens should be marginal in either direction, for essentially the same set of reasons as in Brooklyn, but in the Bronx it should slow down the buses by pruning coverage routes in auto-oriented margins like Country Club.

With all of the treatments Eric and I are proposing, the speed we are comfortable promising if our redesign is implemented as planned is 15 km/h and not 16 km/h.

How does the plan compare with the speaker’s?

City Council Speaker Johnson’s own plan for city control of NYCT proposes a bus turnaround as well. Let us summarize the differences between the two plans:

Aspect Johnson’s plan De Blasio’s plan
Route redesign Yes Yes
Bus shelters Yes Probably
Stop consolidation Not mentioned Yes
Bus lanes 48 km installed per year 16-24 km installed per year
Bus lanes vs. cars Parking removal if needed Not mentioned
Physically separated bus lanes Yes 3 km pilot
Median bus lanes Probably Maybe
Signal priority 1000 intersections equipped per year 300 intersections equipped per year

For the most part, the mayor’s plan is less ambitious. The question of bus lanes is the most concerning. What Eric and I think the Brooklyn bus network should look like is about 350 km. Even excluding routes that already have bus lanes (like Utica) or that have so little congestion they don’t need bus lanes (like the Coney Island east-west route), this is about 300 km. Citywide this should be on the order of 1,000 km. At the speaker’s pace this is already too slow, taking about 20 years, but at the mayor’s, it will take multiple generations.

The plan does bring up median lanes positively, which I appreciate: pp. 10-11 talk about center-running lanes in the context of the Bx6, which has boarding islands similar to those I have observed on Odengatan in Stockholm and Boulevard Montparnasse in Paris. Moreover, it suggests physically separated lanes, although the picture shown for the Bx6 involves a more obtrusive structure than the small raised curbs of Paris, Stockholm, and other European cities where I’ve seen such separation. Unfortunately, the list of tools on pp. 14-15 assumes bus lanes remain in or near the curb, talking about strategies for curb management.

The omission of Nostrand

The mayor’s plan has a long list of examples of bus lane installation. These include some delicate cases, like Church Avenue. However, the most difficult, Nostrand, is entirely omitted.

Nostrand Avenue carries the B44, the second busiest bus in the borough and fifth in the city. The street is only 24 meters wide and therefore runs one-way southbound north of Farragut Avenue, just north of the crossing with Flatbush Avenue and Brooklyn College. Northbound buses go on New York Avenue if they’re local or on Rogers if they’re SBS, each separated from Nostrand by about 250 meters. The argument for the split is that different demographics ride local and SBS buses, and they come from different sides of Nostrand. The subway is on Nostrand and so is the commerce. And yet, parking is more important to the city than a two-way bus lane on the street to permit riders to access the main throughfare of the area most efficiently.

Moreover, even the bus lanes that the plan does discuss leave a lot to be desired. The second most important street in Brooklyn to equip with high-quality physically separated bus lanes, after Nostrand, is Church, like Nostrand a 24-meter street where something has to give. The plan trumpets its commitment to transit priority, and yet on Church it includes a short segment with curb lanes partly shared with delivery trucks using curb management. Limiting merchant complaints is more important to the mayor than making sure people can ride buses that are reliably faster than a fast walk.

Can the city deliver?

Probably not.

The mayor has recurrently prioritized the needs of people who are used to complaining at public meetings, who are typically more settled in the city, with a house and a car. New York may have a majority of its households car-free, but to many of them car ownership remains aspirational and so does home ownership, to the point that the transit-oriented lifestyle remains a marker of either poverty or youth, to be replaced with the suburban auto-oriented lifestyle as one achieves middle-class status. Even as there is cultural change and this mentality is increasingly not true, the city’s political system keeps a process that guarantees that millions of daily transit users must listen to drivers who complain that they have to park a block away.

The plan has an ambitious number: 16 km/h. But when it comes to actually implementing it, it dithers. Its examples of bus lanes are half-measures. There’s no indication that the city is willing to overrule merchants who think they have a God-given right to the street that their transit-riding customers do not. Without this, bus lanes will remain an unenforced joke, and the vaunted speed improvements will be localized to too small a share of bus route-km to truly matter.

The most optimistic take on Better Buses is that the mayor is signaling that he’s a complete nonentity when it comes to bus improvement, rather than an active obstacle. But more likely, the signal is that the mayor has heard that there are political and technical efforts to improve bus service in the city and he wants to pretend to participate in them while doing nothing.

68 comments

  1. petey

    just one point: we here in NYC use mph and yards, as does the rest of the US, and we’re not changing anytime soon, fortunately. i have no idea what 16 kmh would feel like, though i have some idea of what 24 meters would look like – it would look like 24 yards. speaking only in metric when discussing US transit is precious. can you also give numbers in the US system?

    • Nilo

      1 km is .6 miles. Really this isn’t that hard and facilitates cross national comparisons when they’re made.

      • petey

        that’s of no use to us who live here and don’t deal in kmh or meters. it;s not that hard, to use your term, to include the US measures.
        also, it’s not .6 mi really and that’ll add up after a bit, leading to inaccuracy.

        • Alon Levy

          I mean, New York has a vast community of immigrants, who almost always know the metric system. (In San Diego, for example, the museum I went to in Balboa Park has information in English and Spanish, using English units in English and metric units in Spanish, because that’s what first-generation Mexican immigrants know.) Immigrants are disproportionately riding transit – US-wide 32.5% of transit commuters are immigrants, NYC-wide it’s 44%, both figures counting Puerto Ricans as native-born Americans. For the actual users of NYCT, metric units aren’t necessarily stranger than English ones.

        • Michael James

          we’re not changing anytime soon

          It’s not true today. You do realise that all your “knowledge” workers use metric for everything? From rocket scientists to biotech, medical-tech, engineering, etc etc. Only if the need arises to “communicate” to the unwashed masses are measures converted to your ancient cumbersome Imperial measures. Imperial measures can’t even be consistent amongst the only two countries that still use them, though please note that metric is actually the legal measure in the UK and the country only stays stuck halfway because of Thatcher who reversed the metricisation process in the early ’80s. That gives you an idea of the backwoods stubbornness and ignorance of Thatcher and the neo-liberal “intellectuals”.

          But also realise that your Imperial measures are actually metric under the hood. That is, they are now legally and scientifically defined in terms of their metric equivalents, for the obvious reason that Imperial measures don’t have reliable fixed physical constants (bars of steel or lead or whatever ceased to be accurate enough more than half a century ago) while metric measures are fixed against universal physical constants.

          BTW, I happened to watch a bit of Star Trek (Next Gen.) which is 32 years old. All metric, from kilometers to centimetres to kilograms etc.
          Perhaps its time for you to catch up. Five billion people manage it so how difficult can it be?

          • Tonami

            The US can be a weird place. I work in the civil engineering division a California utility and all our measurements are in Feet and inches which drives me nuts(I assumed that all engineering in the US is done in metric). I have friends in the auto industry and it’s metric during engineering then once the product is ready for release, everything gets converted to Imperial for marketing purposes. However it seems Imperial is the standard in civil engineering across the US. Apparently our contractors can provide engineering drawings in metric, but it costs more, about 45% more for the same job. So in some cases there’s a financial reason why the US has not changed yet. Only a federal mandate will move the needle.

  2. Seb

    What do you think about the new bus network in Pairs? It seems not ambitious enough, or is the network not that broken?

        • Stephen Bauman

          The bus figure alone comes to 333 million. The RATP Metro had 1.539 billion passenger trips during the same period. This meas there were 0.22 bus trips for each Metro trip . By contrast there were 2.677 billion NYCT subway and SIRT trips and 844 million MTA and NYCT but and brt trips, according to the NTD. The NYC ratio was 0.32 bus passengers per subway passenger.

          This makes NYC buses 43% more popular than subways than the Parisians’ metro/bus preference.

          • Alon Levy

            The NTD counts unlinked trips, so it highballs NY rail ridership. Actual subway ridership is about 1.7 billion. Bus ridership is indeed 844 million unlinked, but very few trips involve bus-bus transfers (3% according to one study from 1999), so linked ridership is hardly lower.

            Of course, many, many trips involve a bus-subway transfer, whence the apparently low revenue per rider on NYCT buses per the NTD…

          • Eric

            If the bus figures are for just the municipality of Paris, it is better compared to Manhattan than to all of NYC.

          • Alon Levy

            They’re just in Paris, yeah. Ile-de-France-wide it’s 1 billion. But then the Metro mostly just serves Paris as well – the suburbs have the RER. Overall rail ridership in Ile-de-France is just short of 3 billion a year, which I believe double-counts intermodal transfers (i.e. Metro-RER).

    • Michael James

      Like Alon, I avoided buses when I lived in Paris and for the same reason: the Metro is so good and reliable and gets you very close to your destination (much closer than the likes of the Underground in London or the Subway NYC). But it’s also because we transients tend to live in the centre of Paris. The bus network is huge and may serve you better if you live or work in the banlieus. The night service (Noctilien) is a pretty good backstop if you’ve missed the last Metro or RER.
      As to “new bus network”, not sure what you mean. The only changes I am aware of are summarised in Wiki:

      Paris’ bus lines interconnecting all points of the capital and its closest suburban cities. There are 58 bus lines operating in Paris that have a terminus within city limits.
      The capital’s bus system has been given a major boost over the past decade. Beginning in early 2000, Paris’ major arteries have been thinned to reserve an express lane reserved only for bus and taxi, usually designated with signs and road markings. More recently, these bus lanes have been isolated from the rest of regular circulation through low concrete barriers that form “couloirs” and prevent all other forms of Paris circulation from even temporarily entering them.

      Presumably this means they are less subject to traffic snarls and that thing we hate about all buses: wait forever for one then three arrive together.

        • Michael James

          Yes, it just happened over the weekend! 20th April.
          When you look at these dense bus route maps its not easy to really see what has changed, however I found this article from 2017 with a bit of explanation:

          https://www.thelocal.fr/20170629/relief-for-parisians-as-new-bus-map-with-better-links-to-suburbs-unveiled
          Paris unveils new bus network map for first time in 70 years
          The Local, 29 June 2017.

          ….
          Aiming to create better links between Paris and its surrounding suburbs, the transport network will create four new lines (45/59/71/77) and update 57 existing ones, meaning that nearly 65 percent of the current routes will change.
          Line 45 is set to connect Concorde (8th) to Aubervilliers/Saint-Denis to the northeast of the city. Line 59 will transport people from place d’Italie (13th) to Clamart in the southwestern suburbs, while line 71 will travel between porte de la Villette (19th) to the François-Mitterrand library in the capital’s 13th arrondissement.
          Finally, buses on route 77 will travel between Gare de Lyon (12th) and Joinville-le-Pont in the southeastern suburbs of the capital.
          Among the 23 lines that run between Paris and the suburbs some six have been modified and four have been extended.
          ….

          It has a link (below) to a map that is one of those fancy divided graphics of the bus maps before and after, with a vertical line that you can drag left or right to see the changes in a kind of dynamic fashion.
          https://gpbus-v3.serveurlc.com/

          You wrote: “I feel like I’m just missing some good analysis of the plan, from you or someone else.”

          I agree. Alon should give us an analysis:-) Tout de suite.

  3. Stephen Bauman

    Nostrand Avenue carries the B44, the second busiest bus in the borough and fifth in the city. The street is only 24 meters wide and therefore runs one-way southbound north of Farragut Avenue, just north of the crossing with Flatbush Avenue and Brooklyn College…And yet, parking is more important to the city than a two-way bus lane on the street to permit riders to access the main throughfare of the area most efficiently

    According the the DCP online map, the the street width is indeed 80 ft (24 m) between Eastern Pkwy and Kings Hwy. However, this is the building line to building line measure. It includes sidewalks. According to the NYC Street Centerline map, the roadway width is only 44 ft (13.4 m) along the same stretch.

    By contrast, the Bd. Montparnasse is approximately 120 ft (36.5 m) wide building line to building line, as measured by Google satellite view.

    • Alon Levy

      Yep. This is why Nostrand is difficult. Unless you get rid of the sidewalks, you have room for four lanes. Right now the city chooses two parking lanes, one car moving lane and one painted bus lane. A city that gave a crap about transportation would change it to two bus lanes and two car moving lanes (or one car moving lane and one parking lane), but that’s not de Blasio’s New York.

      • Stephen Bauman

        A city that gave a crap about transportation would change it to two bus lanes and two car moving lanes (or one car moving lane and one parking lane), but that’s not de Blasio’s New York.

        Only a few NYC streets meet the 120 ft (36.5 m) building-to-building width of the grands boulevards of Paris. The extra 40 ft (12 m) width translates to 4 extra traffic lanes. Re-purposing 2 of 8 lanes for buses is a lot easier than re-purposing 2 of Nostrand Avenue’s 4 lanes. I wonder how Paris officials would have reacted had they been confronted with NYC’s spatial constraints.

        • Alon Levy

          Look at what they do on 24-meter streets. Those streets are often one-way, which isn’t good, but they don’t have on-street parking. Boulevard Saint-Michel has four traffic lanes, two for buses (one contraflow) and two for cars.

          • Michael James

            According to Janette Sadik-Khan in her book Street Fight, she implies she implemented plenty of that while she was Bloomberg’s head of DoT for 6 years. Certainly the book lays out the schema for converting such American streets, and with some actual examples in NYC. She explains that the American convention (not a law) of 12 ft (≈4m) per lane is excessive when most vehicles are only 2m wide. She says that often reducing both vehicle lane width and redrawing lanes (often reducing lanes for private vehicles) can actually improve traffic flow, and certainly improve passenger movement and safety. I think she boasts that her changes have carried over to the De Blasio era.
            BTW, in response to a complaint by adirondacker below, these schemes incorporate loading zones in clever “bulb” arrangements at intersections which narrow the crossing and improve pedestrian visibility/safety.
            However I haven’t been to NYC for yonks so I don’t know how much actually got done. Her book highlights just how painfully slow it is to bring change to the streets of the US, even in relatively progressive NYC.

          • adirondacker12800

            I’m gonna have to buy lottery tickets. The place I decided to drop the Streetview icon onto the block had two vans parked illegally, I assume loading or unloading something.

          • Stephen Bauman

            they don’t have on-street parking.

            They built underground parking lots to store them. The one on Place Saint-Michel holds 428 cars and should cover the Latin Quarter. There are 4 more between Bd. Saint Germain and the Luxembourg Gardens that are within 150 m of Bd. Saint-Michel.

            Boulevard Saint-Michel has four traffic lanes, two for buses (one contraflow) and two for cars.

            There’s the question of size, when comparing Bd. Saint-Michel to Nostrand Ave. The Bd. Saint-Michel section with bus lanes extends for roughly 0.5 mi (800 m) from the Seine to the Luxembourg Gardens. The Nostrand Ave section from Eastern Pkwy to Flatbush Ave is 2.5 mi (4 km) long. Proportionately that’s 5 times the difficulty of Paris. There’s also the question of the cost of underground garages to hide the parked cars, in the Paris fashion.

          • Alon Levy

            Okay, but if we’re permitting parking within 150 meters of the destination, then there’s plenty of that on the side streets next to Nostrand.

  4. adirondacker12800

    Limiting merchant complaints is more important to the mayor than making sure people can ride buses that are reliably faster than a fast walk.

    Merchants are one of the amenities that makes people get on the bus. If it wasn’t for those pesky merchants you’d have a whole bunch of origins without any destinations.

    • Eric

      So let the merchants get deliveries between midnight-6am, and have it bus-only the rest of the time.

      • adirondacker12800

        Yes, UPS, FedEx, the USPS etc. are going to have special routes just for those blocks. And all of the other deliveries they get so they, as merchants selling things, have things to sell. Pesky customers, expecting there to be goods in the shops.

    • Alon Levy

      The merchants keep selling goods even if they’re inconvenienced by having to park half a block away. The sort of apocalyptic rhetoric we get from them (and from New Right actors in general – it’s the same with the Prop 13 tax revolters, the Sagebrush Rebellion types, the NRA, etc.) comes precisely from the fact that they don’t have a credible exit threat. They know that if the city builds bike lanes and bus lanes and removes parking over their objections, within a year everyone will forget that the parking even existed and move on.

      • Jacob Manaker

        What is the “New Right”? (I get a sense of it from your examples, but it’s a term I’ve never heard before, so could you define it more clearly?)

  5. Herbert

    I know you like to tear into local government for being do-nothing… Well IGEB has the same criticism of Berlin city government, in part also when it comes to buses. What are your thoughts there?

    • Alon Levy

      I’m mainly annoyed at S21, rather than the buses, but that could be because my local tram, the M10, is actually getting dedicated lanes extended.

      But S21… I’m probably going to post about it after the holiday. It’s orthogonal to the S-Bahn’s most pressing need for more capacity.

  6. Stephen Bauman

    Getting back to comparing Bd. Saint-Michel to Nostrand Ave, there is plenty of on street parking on the side streets close to both. Paris’ underground garages have the capacity to displace only the parked cars in the bus lanes.

    Here’s my guesstimate for the construction cost of similar parking garages for Nostrand Avenue.

    Using DCP’s City Map data, I estimate there are 700 curbside parking spaces between Eastern Pkwy and Flatbush Ave. My method was to take the total length on Nostrand and subract the building-to-building width of each of the 67 cross streets. I also guessed there were 2 fire hydrants per side that each took away 20 feet of curb space and that each car required 20 ft of curb space. No allowance was made for curb cuts or bus stops, which are generally fair game for “short” periods of time.

    Shoup estimated the cost for each NYC underground parking space at $35,000, using 2012 construction cost data. This means the Shoup estimate would come to $24.5M to remove the parked cars from the two-way bus lanes on Nostrand. I’d assume a this is a lowball figure: it’s 2012 dollars; the construction estimates were for building sites not streets (water, gas, electric, sewer, steam etc. services); and the MTA or NYC would be running the project. It would probably be closer or more than $100M, if ESA is any yardstick. That’s 2 bus lanes of 2.5 miles each. That comes close to $20M/single-bus-lane-mile ($12.4/single-bus-lane-km).

    Mr. Johnson’s 48 km bus-lane/yr comes to $595M per year to build underground garages in the Paris style. Mr. DeBlasio’s more modest plan comes in at half that.

    This is the investment that Paris made to prevent strangulation from parked cars. One should not ignore it, even though it’s hidden from view.

    • Alon Levy

      What you’re missing is that the customers don’t actually drive to the shops that much. They mostly arrive by transit or on foot, but the merchants think their customers drive because the merchants themselves drive.

      It’s not really a question of parking capacity. New York has more than enough for the amount of car traffic it should be planning for, which is far lower than it has today. Removing car lanes in favor of bus lanes on wider streets and removing obstructive highways like the BQE should remove more moving capacity than two-way bus lanes on Nostrand and Church should remove parking capacity. It’s a question of how far merchants have to park from their businesses, and there the answer is that what works in Paris should work in New York equally well.

      • adirondacker12800

        They aren’t parking on Nostrand Ave. They’d take up all the spaces their customers, who drive, want to use.

    • Michael James

      Stephen Bauman: This is the investment that Paris made to prevent strangulation from parked cars. One should not ignore it, even though it’s hidden from view.

      First, those Parisian underground car parks were built decades ago (most in the 60s & 70s) so they have absolutely zilch to do with policy re bus lanes or whatever. And they have zilch impact, other than negative (induced demand) on “strangulation” or congestion.

      Second, though there are surprisingly plenty of them in central Paris, for such a dense city (people & businesses) it is still not much; in the 5th arrondissement there are 5 (though make it 7 for two on the border with the 6th) which even at several thousand places is probably 1% of people each day in the area. Note that those are public parking stations. There are private ones usually associated with ‘recent’ (post-war) redevelopment; not many in the 5th but a big one is rue des Saints Pères in the 6th where you can buy a spot (leasehold for defined time) or rent on monthly basis. The Saints-Pères Parking goes at least 7 levels down and the last I saw (2016) to buy a spot (and it’s not lock-up, just an open spot) cost €45,000. In my files I found a lock-up (“box ferme”) in Mabillon-Lobineau (marché St Germain, 6e) going for €92,000 in 2017! (Of course in one sense these are capital investments so may make more sense than paying absurd parking rents that you never get back.)

      Third, those public Parkings are expensive (the private ones too but less on long-term lease) being >€50 for a day-long park, so I assume they are mostly used by short-term visitors (one or two hours) or of course by the wealthy who don’t care. In all my time in Paris I have never known anyone to have used them, or been with anyone who has, but several friends rented a long-term carpark (not in central arrondissements where you would have to be wealthy) or had one as part of owning an apartment in one of those ‘modern’ (70s-80s) blocks in an outer arrondissement. In the Italie complex (13e) the parking (which has both public and private) it goes ten floors down and is quite freaky driving down there. So you get the slightly weird (but logical) situation where people drive in and park their car in one of these, then catch the Metro to their apartment across town … and yes, they mostly keep a car for extra-mural purposes.

      Fourth, as you say, there is still quite a lot of surface parking–just less and less on the major arterials–but of course in high demand which means endless “circling the block” syndrome if you need to find an overnight one close to where you live. This means you have to be a super-dedicated driver and slightly loco to either own a car in Paris or to use it daily and worse, expect to park it near to where you live. This is as it should be.

      Thus, this is to reinforce what Alon wrote in his last comment: this kind of parking is no “solution” to mobility issues in a dense city. Once, back in the early-post-war period up to early 80s, they may have tried to cater for cars in Paris but it is obviously hopeless and counter-productive encouraging them into the city in the first place. They are certainly not looking at this “problem” of displacement when they create exclusive bus lanes (which also double as cycle-lanes). Just like expropriating a swathe of the boulevardes-des-Marachaux for the T3 tramway, or the recent closure of the riverside expressway (voie Pompidou, rightbank) no carmaggedon ensued. That’s because congestion is self-limiting. Pushing such schemes (bus & cycle lanes) into the inner-fringe suburbs (Petit Couronne) along with GPX mass transit, can only improve things a lot. They absolutely don’t need to be accompanied by absurd expense and absurdity of building parking stations. That is seriously outdated thinking.

    • Paul

      A 1:1 replacement of parking spaces is not the answer, since parking demand responds to price and scarcity. The problem in most of the US (including New York) is that, aside from garages, parking is underpriced — either free or very cheap. If you’ve read Shoup’s work, you’re probably familiar with these arguments.

      What I’d do around Nostrand is decide on a split of short-term vs. resident parking in the area. Build the bus lane on Nostrand. Meter the short-term spaces and adjust the price per block based on demand. San Francisco and Calgary have been doing this and it seems to work well — you can find a metered space near your destination, although it might cost you. Then, auction off resident parking permits so that demand matches supply. There are fair auction strategies so that they don’t necessarily all go to rich people.

      • Stephen Bauman

        There are fair auction strategies so that they don’t necessarily all go to rich people.

        That’s the whole point of “congestion” pricing. The very rich found it cheaper to use cars than to pay their fair share of building and maintaining public transit. Their interest in public transit was to make sure it did not raise their taxes. Public transit suffered.

        Soon, the less rich had to opt for cars because public transit became unreliable. It wasn’t cheaper for them but they had no choice. The less rich, getting no visible benefit from public transit, also turned against financing it.

        Unfortunately for the rich, cars are an inefficient way to move people in urban areas ( and possibly elsewhere). Their solution is to raise the cost of car travel by various means. This would drive the less rich back onto public transit. The additional cost would still be cheaper for the very rich than paying their fair share to build and maintain public transit.

          • Stephen Bauman

            what if the congestion pricing money goes to fund public transit?

            My last sentence holds: “The additional cost would still be cheaper for the very rich than paying their fair share to build and maintain public transit.”

            The monies gained from congestion pricing will never be sufficient to make the very rich to pay their fair share to build and maintain a public transit system for all people. NYC’s current congestion pricing law illustrates this point. It’s designed to raise $15B in bonds. Estimates for the capital needed start at 3 times that amount. More importantly, it’s to go for paying back bonds. Should congestion pricing fail to reduce congestion or improve public transit, it cannot be repealed as was Prohibition. The bonds will have to be paid back first.

          • Alon Levy

            But it did reduce congestion in Singapore and London (and I think also Stockholm and Milan?)… and the estimates for NYCT capital needs are relative to obscenely high construction costs. No shit, if it takes you $40 million to make a station elevator-accessible rather than the more reasonable $3 million, you’re going to struggle to raise money.

  7. Stephen Bauman

    those Parisian underground car parks were built decades ago (most in the 60s & 70s)…

    At the same time that the RER was being built and the Sprague’s were being replaced. Urban planning wasn’t one dimensional in Paris during that era.

    …so they have absolutely zilch to do with policy re bus lanes or whatever.

    Workable policies must address existing conditions. Policies that ignore existing conditions and assume they will be enforced by fiat will fail.

    When implementing bus lanes, one existing condition that must be considered is the disposition of parked cars. This isn’t a problem for the 120 ft (36.5 m) wide boulevards. There will be enough remaining lanes to accommodate parking and motion. It is a problem for the narrow 80 ft (24.5 m) two-way boulevards because parking and/or sidewalks have to go.

    Fortunately, there were adequate, existing parking garages for Bd. St-Michel for two dedicated bus lanes. The fact the garages may have been built without considering future dedicated bus lanes is immaterial. Their existence is what was key. If they didn’t exist, they would have had to be built. They existed in Paris, which made the bus lane installation easier. They don’t exist in NYC, so their cost needs to be added to the cost of a bus lane policy.

    One other problem for NYC is that there are very few streets that are 120 ft (36.5 m) wide. What to do with the existing parked cars, will be a problem for most bus lane proposals.

    • Alon Levy

      Right, in the 1960s and 70s transportation investment included more car infrastructure as well as rail infrastructure that would get trains out of cars’ way. West German cities built U-Bahn tunnels with the express purpose of replacing the surface streetcars in order to make more room for cars. West Berlin built A100 and is still expanding it, although the next phase is finally seeing serious opposition from the left. The changes in urban planning toward more surface livability specifically postdate the big S-Bahn/RER investments, and mostly go back to the 1990s or 2000s, including French tramway revival, various freeway removal projects, bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrianization.

      The parking may seem like it’s making transit investment easier, but it’s the exact opposite. Thanks to all the effort Paris made in the third quarter of the 20th century to be car-friendly, it has very high density of cars per square kilometer (I believe about on a par with the most motorized US county per km^2, which is San Francisco), which are disproportionately driven by middle-class suburbanites who can take the train but don’t want to. These suburbanites have sued the city over its livability plans, though thankfully the courts permitted the motorway removal to proceed. They’ve also turned the city into one of Western Europe’s pollution capitals, making it harder to sell people on living in the city (remember, this is why I left, the riots were just an indication things aren’t going to improve much).

      • Herbert

        That’s also part of the “streetcar versus metro” lines of argument in Germany. Metros are compatible with wide car only streets. Streetcars aren’t. Hence red red green at least paying lip service to tram expansion into west Berlin and some impressive tram improvements in a few cities (Karlsruhe comes to mind)

    • Michael James

      Stephen Bauman:

      The fact the garages may have been built without considering future dedicated bus lanes is immaterial. Their existence is what was key. If they didn’t exist, they would have had to be built. They existed in Paris, which made the bus lane installation easier.

      I don’t believe that for a moment. You’re thinking as an non-Parisian, presumed American or Anglosphere type. There will be essentially no new Parkings built in Paris, except perhaps on fringe new developments. So far there have been three Paris administrations elected on the slogan “Paris for Parisians Not Cars”. The riverside expressway was closed without any real alternative. More and more road closures or lane closures for bus & bike & pedestrian space will happen. The serious questions don’t concern what the cars will do or where will they go (there will simply be far fewer of them) but how the Metro etc will cope. Part of the answer is GPX which will remove the need for lots of people to needlessly come into and out of Paris. An example is of tramway T3a which carried 30+ million pax shortly after opening (I can’t find figures since T3b opened but it surely must be carrying the same, ie. another 30m.) BTW, I am not aware of any construction of new parking stations to cope with all the cars displaced from the boulevards des Marachaux by the tramway.

      Also, as we have seen–with Velib, dedicated bus-lanes, street closures (Times Square) even High Line (Promenade Plantée was 13 years before HL)–where Paris leads, NYC and others eventually follow. It is already happening. It doesn’t mean there won’t be resistance by some car drivers who can’t imagine anything else other than “their” ownership of our road space. That happens in Paris, mostly by banlieusardes who think the same way. Luckily the mayor of Paris doesn’t have to worry so much about them as they aren’t her voters! But even the president of Ile de France, right-wing Valerie Pécresse, has had to backdown on her previous rhetoric designed to appeal to that same road lobby. I think that says more than any argument bloggers can have.

      OTOH, I am not sure Paris isn’t correct in avoiding congestion charges, though of course parking scarcity and costs are already a very big deterrent to driving intramuros. It really does favour the rich and privileged. I’d bet in all such places that have such zones, including or especially Singapore, the top echelon award themselves all kinds of exceptions or someone else is paying for their permit. Instead I wonder if all car owners couldn’t be given a set number of days of free access; this would be linked to the driver not the car.

      • Alon Levy

        For what it’s worth, the populists loathe Anne Hidalgo. I don’t think she’s even that popular in Paris anymore; Eastern Paris shifted from far left posters to generic UKIP-style posters calling for Frexit and accusing Hidalgo of turning Paris to shit (“emmerder”).

        In Singapore the elites don’t give themselves exemptions from paying ERP, they just have enough money that they can eat the cost and benefit from clear roads. The waste of space at the Ministry of Transport pulls well over a million dollars a year in salary.

        • Michael James

          Yes, I understand. I have written some criticism too–such as the recent weird new urinoirs (on my ile-saint-louis) and I am still not convinced about closing the riverside expressway (even as it didn’t induce carmageddon on the streets of Paris). As for populists hating her, isn’t that a good thing? Popularity is of questionable value and isn’t necessarily reflected in elections. She runs ahead of popular opinion but that is not a bad thing. In any case elections are next scheduled next year (or is it 2021?). Is it clear she wants to run again? Being deputy-mayor for 12 years and this term as mayor it will be 18 years in the hot-house of Parisian politics. She has previously expressed the wish of running for mayor of Toulouse …

          Yes, Singapore pays it pollies a cool one million dollars p.a., justified on the grounds of neutralising corruption! In a state where nepotism rules. But I’d be surprised if governmental limos weren’t somehow exempted the normal road rules. The city-state has the worst inequality in the developed world.

      • Stephen Bauman

        You’re thinking as an non-Parisian, presumed American or Anglosphere type

        I prefer to attribute my thinking to knowledge of Menken’s Law: “Whenever A annoys or injures B on the pretense of saving or improving X, A is a scoundrel.”

        In the case of bus lanes on Church and Nostrand Aves, X are bus riders and B are people not using these buses and parking cars. In the case of Robert Moses: X were automobile drivers and B were everyone else. On St-Michel the B were pedestrians, who were now prevented from crossing mid-block by barriers.

        • Alon Levy

          You’re describing literally any government program that didn’t get 100% approval. Maybe A is the NHS, B is Tories who thought paying higher taxes = communism, X is British health care. Maybe A is child labor laws and compulsory education, B is parents’ rights types and the US Gilded Age Supreme Court, X is children. Maybe A is mandatory vaccination, B is assorted anti-vaxxers, X is public health.

          • Stephen Bauman

            You’re describing literally any government program that didn’t get 100% approval.

            I’m not the literalist nor absolutist you are describing. I also see merit in utilitarianism’s “greatest good for the greatest number” mantra. In this instance, I believe more consideration should be given to B in various bus lane “uber alles” proposals.

  8. Reedman Bassoon

    Last time I was in Paris, I used the underground Parking Etoile Foch (near the Arch de Triomphe. It has 2312 spaces, a gas station, and a car rental agency. New York should duplicate this.

      • Michael James

        Because I presume Reedman Bassoon is an American!
        The real question for him is did he use the car while in Paris? That would be freaky. OTOH, if one didn’t plan to use it within Paris it makes more sense to park it out in the suburbs (or at CDG) and catch the RER back. This reminds me once of when a (ageing) Stanford professor was visiting my Paris lab and we took him to dinner. There was much joking (can’t remember if in his presence) on the fact that he had hired a car and brought it into central Paris; he was already known as a somewhat idiosyncratic driver in California so we just could not imagine how he could cope with Paris, except perhaps in a Mister Magoo fashion (it is everyone else who suffers while Magoo blithely sails thru the chaos untouched). Are you Mister Magoo, Reedman?
        I know: you need a car because you have to lug that bassoon around with you!

  9. Stephen Bauman

    The NTD counts unlinked trips, so it highballs NY rail ridership. Actual subway ridership is about 1.7 billion. Bus ridership is indeed 844 million unlinked, but very few trips involve bus-bus transfers (3% according to one study from 1999), so linked ridership is hardly lower.

    Thank you for that correction. I’ll use the MTA’s Facts and Figures web page for ridership numbers from now on.

    Actually, the correction makes my point stronger. The 1.727B subway riders and 725M NYCT+MTA bus riders means there are 0.42 bus riders per subway rider vs. 0.22 for Paris. This means that a NYC public transit rider is 90% more likely to use a bus than his Paris counterpart.

    • Alon Levy

      Yep! I bring up the weak ridership of buses in Paris proper (since the Metro has complete coverage) when people ask me for opinions about the bus network there. I never took it, I don’t think I was ever in a position where it made sense for me to take it, and I suspect that if the entire intramural network shut down (e.g. due to strike) the Metro could absorb its traffic without too much pain. The policy relevance is that you don’t see me calling for median bus lanes on Saint-Michel even though I do call for same on Nostrand and Church, because Saint-Michel is frankly not as important a bus corridor.

      • Stephen Bauman

        I did take buses, when I first visited Paris in 1967. I wanted to see the City and the two-man buses were quite civilized compared to NYC. Buses were probably more popular because I spotted many going to “Complet”. One of the buses took a direct trajectory from the American Express office to where I was staying. It used Bd St-Michel. It took forever. I could walk faster, if I did not examine St-Michel’s bookstores.

  10. Stephen Bauman

    But it did reduce congestion in Singapore and London (and I think also Stockholm and Milan?)…

    That depends on one’s definition of “congestion.”

    I’ve studied London’s experience. If one equates congestion with traffic volumes, then the traffic volume into the charging cordon has remained 20% lower than its pre-charging level. The story is different, if one considers average vehicle speed (or excess min/km as in the TfL reports). The TfL metric defined a non-congested baseline min/km during midnight hours. Congestion level was defined as the excess of the min/km from that baseline during other hours. The congestion levels dropped 30% during the first year. The excess min/km measure subsequently increased so that after 5 years they exceeded the pre-charging congestion levels.

    There was a hint as to the reason for the first year’s spectacular results. During the hours when charging wasn’t in effect, vehicle volumes returned to their pre-charging levels but the congestion level remained 30% lower. Another factor was involved. London did about 5 years worth of street mains repairs in the year leading up the congestion pricing’s start. They did not pursue street mains repairs with the same vigor after its implementation. The result was that congestion gradually increased, as the street mains infrastructure gradually deteriorated.

    Singapore first instituted a cordon toll like London. It did not experience any increase in vehicle speed within the cordon despite a reduction in vehicle volume entering the cordon. They went to a different system that monitored when and how much each vehicle traveled within the cordon. The congestion price was based on vehicle distance traveled within the cordon. The second implementation increased vehicle speed within the cordon.

    Stockholm’s system is a pure cordon toll on bridges leading to the congestion zone. Vehicle volumes and travel times on the bridges were reduced. Vehicle speeds decreased to the previous levels the further one traveled from the bridges and their access roads.

    NYC is instituting a pure cordon toll. The London, Singapore and Stockholm experiences are the reason I’m dubious regarding any congestion improvement. I’d like an escape, if congestion pricing is a failure. I define failure as not increasing vehicle speed while simultaneously not improving public transit. The bonding requirement in the legislation prevents such an escape.

    • Michael James

      Stephen Bauman:

      Singapore first instituted a cordon toll like London. It did not experience any increase in vehicle speed within the cordon despite a reduction in vehicle volume entering the cordon. They went to a different system that monitored when and how much each vehicle traveled within the cordon. The congestion price was based on vehicle distance traveled within the cordon.

      Good points about the various congestion charge models. I believe what the Singapore experience foretells is a generalised kilometres-travelled toll for all roads. It will probably be forced within the next 5, or certainly 10, years as e-cars eat away government receipts from gas taxes. It could also be progressive, charging more at various thresholds, as well as zoned. Like progressive taxes it could also build in some social equity.

      • Stephen Bauman

        I believe what the Singapore experience foretells is a generalised kilometres-travelled toll for all roads.

        I’d prefer to examine the underlying data before jumping to a conclusion. London’s initial bottom line did not tell the whole story. There may be other factors in Singapore.

  11. marvin gruza

    Have we considered half width buses but twice as long? Many of the “trollies” at zoos are much narrower than a regular buses but are several carriages long. Once we make a dedicated bus lane we want it to run near capacity and this could be the solution. What I am really proposing is trackless rubber tired guided narrow width trains with each articulated unit steering itself based on inground (or painted) censors.

    • Stephen Bauman

      Have we considered half width buses but twice as long?

      My attempts at modelling congestion have led me to consider the ratio of area occupied by moving vehicles to available roadway space. Any geometry change while keeping the footprint constant would not have any affect. Bus stop length is another problem for longer buses. Short blocks and long buses limit the number of buses a single bus stop can simultaneously handle. Dwell time is another factor at bus stops, so double deckers are not necessarily the solution.

    • santogigantepatriota

      You sum up de Blasio’s posture on this pretty well. I think this can be applied to virtually all of the mayor’s stances on the issues facing New York City.

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