Bronx Bus Redesign

New York is engaging in the process of redesigning its urban bus network borough by borough. The first borough is the Bronx, with an in-house redesign; Queens is ongoing, to be followed by Brooklyn, both outsourced to firms that have already done business with the MTA. The Bronx redesign draft is just out, and it has a lot of good and a great deal of bad.

What does the redesign include?

Like my and Eric Goldwyn’s proposal for Brooklyn, the Bronx redesign is not just a redrawing of lines on a map, but also operational treatments to speed up the buses. New York City Transit recognizes that the buses are slow, and is proposing a program for installing bus lanes on the major streets in the Bronx (p. 13). Plans for all-door boarding are already in motion, to be rolled out after the OMNY tap card is fully operational; this is incompetent, as all-door boarding can be implemented with paper tickets, but at this stage this is a delay of just a few years, probably about 4 years from now.

But the core of the document is the network redesign, explained route by route. The map is available on p. 14; I’d embed it, but due to file format issues I cannot render it as a large .png file, so you will have to look yourselves.

The shape of the network in the core of the Bronx – that is, the South Bronx – seems reasonable. I have just one major complaint: the Bx3 and Bx13 keep running on University Avenue and Ogden Avenue respectively and do not interline, but rather divert west along Washington Bridge to Washington Heights. For all of the strong communal ties between University Heights and Washington Heights, this service can be handled with a high-frequency transfer at the foot of the bridge, which has other east-west buses interlining on it. The subway transfer offered at the Washington Heights end is low-quality, consisting of just the 1 train at the GWB bus station; a University-Ogden route could instead offer people in University Heights a transfer to faster subway lines at Yankee Stadium.

Outside the South Bronx, things are murkier. This is not a damn by faint praise: this is an acknowledgement that, while the core of the Bronx has a straightforward redesign since the arterials form a grid, the margins of the Bronx are more complicated. Overall the redesign seems fairly conservative – Riverdale, Wakefield, and Clasons Point seem unchanged, and only the eastern margin, from Coop City down to Throgs Neck, sees big changes.

The issue of speed

Unfortunately, the biggest speed improvement for buses, stop consolidation, is barely pursued. Here is the draft’s take on stop consolidation:

The spacing of bus stops along a route is an important factor in providing faster and more reliable bus service. Every bus stop is a trade-off between convenience of access to the bus and the speed and reliability of service. New York City buses spend 27 percent of their time crawling or stopped with their doors open and have the shortest average stop distance (805 feet/245 m) of any major city. London, which has the second closest stop spacing of peer cities, has an average distance between stops of 1,000 ft/300 m.

Bus stop spacing for local Bronx routes averages approximately 882 feet/269 meters. This is slightly higher than the New York City average, but still very close together. Close stop spacing directly contributes to slow buses and longer travel times for customers. When a bus stops more frequently along a route, exiting, stopping, and re-entering the flow of traffic, it loses speed, increases the chance of being stopped at a red traffic signal, and adversely affects customers’ travel time. By removing closely-spaced and under-utilized stops throughout the Bronx, we will reduce dwell time by allowing buses to keep moving with the flow of traffic and get customers where they need to go faster.

Based on what I have modeled as well as what I’ve seen in the literature, the optimal bus stop spacing for the Bronx, as in Brooklyn, is around 400-500 meters. However, the route-by-route descriptions reveal very little stop consolidation. For example, on the Bx1 locals, 3 out of 93 stops are to be removed, and on the Bx2, 4 out of 99 stops are to be removed.

With so little stop consolidation, NYCT plans to retain the distinction between local and limited buses, which reduces frequency to either service pattern. The Bx1 and Bx2 run mostly along the same alignment on Grand Concourse, with some branching at the ends. In the midday off-peak, the Bx1 runs limited every 10 minutes, with some 12-minute gaps, and the Bx2 runs local every 9-10 minutes; this isn’t very frequent given how short the typical NYCT bus trip is, and were NYCT to eliminate the local/limited distinction, the two routes could be consolidated to a single bus running every 4-5 minutes all day.

How much frequency is there, anyway?

The draft document says that consolidating routes will allow higher frequency. Unfortunately, it makes it difficult to figure out what higher frequency means. There is a table on p. 17 listing which routes get higher frequency, but no indication of what the frequency is – the reader is expected to look at it route by route. As a service to frustrated New Yorkers, here is a single table with all listed frequencies, weekday midday. All figures are in minutes.

Route Headway today Proposed headway
Bx1 10 10
Bx2 9 9
Bx3 8 8
Bx4/4A 10 8
Bx5 10 10
Bx6 local 12 8
Bx6 SBS 12 12
Bx7 10 10
Bx8 12 12
Bx9 8 8
Bx10 10 10
Bx11 10 8
Bx12 local 12 12
Bx12 SBS 6 6
Bx13 10 8
Bx15 local 12 12
Bx15 limited 10 10
Bx16 15 15
Bx17 12 12
Bx18 30 20
Bx19 9 9
Bx20 Peak-only Peak-only
Bx21 10 10
Bx22 12 8
Bx23 30 8
Bx24 30 30
Bx26 15 15
Bx27 12 12
Bx28 17 8
Bx38 (28 variant) 17 discontinued
Bx29 30 30
Bx30 15 15
Bx31 12 12
Bx32 15 15
Bx33 20 20
Bx34 20 20
Bx35 7 7
Bx36 10 10
Bx39 12 12
Bx40 20 8
Bx42 (40 variant) 20 cut to a shuttle, 15
Bx41 local 15 15
Bx41 SBS 10 8
Bx46 30 30

A few cases of improving frequency on a trunk are notable, namely on the Bx28/38 and Bx40/42 pairs, but other problem spots remain, led by the Bx1/2 and the local and limited variants on some routes.

The principle of interchange

A transfer-based bus network can mean one of two things. The first, the one usually sold to the public during route redesigns, is a grid of strong routes. This is Nova Xarxa in Barcelona, as well as the core of this draft. Eric’s and my proposal for Brooklyn consists entirely of such a grid, as Brooklyn simply does not have low-density tails like the Bronx, its southern margin having high population density all the way to the boardwalk.

But then there is the second meaning, deployed on networks where trunk routes split into branches. In this formulation, instead of through-service from the branches to the trunk, the branches should be reduced to shuttles with forced transfers to the trunk. Jarrett Walker’s redesign in Dublin, currently frozen due to political opposition (update: Jarrett explains that no, it’s not really frozen, it’s in revision after public comments), has this characteristic. Here’s a schematic:

The second meaning of the principle of interchange is dicey. In some cases, it is unavoidable – on trains, in particular, it is possible to design timed cross-platform transfers, and sometimes it’s just not worth it to deal with complex junctions or run diesels under the catenary. On buses, there is some room for this principle, but less than on trains, as a bus is a bus, with no division into different train lengths or diesels vs. electrics. Fundamentally, if it’s feasible to time the transfers at the junctions, then it’s equally possible to dispatch branches of a single route to arrive regularly.

New York’s bus network is already replete with the first kind of interchange, and then the question is where to add more of it on the margins. But the Bronx draft includes some of the second, justified on the grounds of breaking long routes to improve reliability. Thus, for example, there is a proposed 125th Street crosstown route called the M125, which breaks apart the Bx15 and M100. Well, the Bx15 is a 10.7 km route, and the M100 is an 11.7 km route. The Bx15 limited takes 1:15-1:30 end to end, and the M100 takes about 1:30; besides the fact that NYCT should be pushing speedup treatments to cut both figures well below an hour, if routes of this length are unreliable, the agency has some fundamental problems that network redesign won’t fix.

In the East Bronx, the same principle of interchange involves isolating a few low-frequency coverage routes, like the Bx24 and Bx29, and then making passengers from them transfer to the rest of the network. The problem is that transferring is less convenient on less frequent buses than on more frequent ones. The principle of interchange only works at very high frequency – every 8 minutes is not the maximum frequency for this but the minimum, and every 4-6 minutes is better. It would be better to cobble together routes to Country Club and other low-density neighborhoods that can act as tails for other trunk lines or at least run to a transfer point every 6-8 minutes.

Is any of this salvageable?

The answer is yes. The South Bronx grid is largely good. The disentanglement of the Bx36 and Bx40 is particularly commendable: today the two routes zigzag and cross each other twice, whereas under any redesign, they should turn into two parallel lines, one on Tremont and one on 180th and Burnside.

But outside the core grid, the draft is showing deep problems. My semi-informed understanding is that there has been political pressure not to cut too many stops; moreover, there is no guarantee that the plans for bus lanes on the major corridors will come to fruition, and I don’t think the redesign’s service hours budget takes this into account. Without the extra speed provided by stop consolidation or bus lanes, there is not much room to increase frequency to levels that make transfers attractive.

25 comments

  1. ckrueger99

    I hope this doesn’t become the model for SEPTA, which has a similar bus network redesign in the works. Jarrett Walker did a study which resulted in the expected recommendations of stop frequency, interlining, etc. SEPTA decided to take the network redesign in-house rather than get Jarrett or another to do it. Philly has even shorter distance between stops than NY, so we’ll see what happens.

    • Alon Levy

      I don’t mind that it’s in-house – the in-house person I met who managed the Bronx redesign understands transport very well, which is why I suspect upper management interference was behind the lack of serious stop consolidation.

      • ckrueger99

        I guess the risk is the in-house team is more susceptible to political manipulation, which probably results in less than optimal routing and stop placement decisions. On the other hand, the in-house team knows better than anyone what’s possible and what isn’t, given all factors.

        • adirondacker12800

          He usually ignores that in some places in the Bronx you need the climbing skills of a mountain goat. Upper Manhattan too.

        • Pokemon Black Card

          That’s not how it works, though. Qualifications-based selection ensures the consultants are never going to deliver a report that upper management doesn’t want to hear. A sufficiently ornery civil servant in a union state is impervious to politics.

      • Joe Lee

        True, especially when one hand does NOT know what the other on is doing !!!!

        But one must also remember, and take into consideration that many of these existing bus lines were formerly privately owned, and operated bus and streetcar lines as well.

  2. JFA

    Your complaint about the Bx3 and Bx13 shows a lack of understanding of ridership habits on those routes and in those neighborhoods.

    Not everybody is going to Washington Heights for the subway. Washington Heights is a major destination from The Bronx, with some going to the commercial district on W 181 Street, and some heading to catch a bus into New Jersey at the GWB bus station. People from places other than University Heights on both routes are going into Washington Heights. You aren’t going to add additional buses on the entire Bx11, Bx35, or Bx36 route just to handle those people that would be inconvenienced by such a plan.

    With regards to subway transferring, the 1 does not serve the GWB Station (the A does). The 1 stops at 181st Street and Saint Nicholas. Both of them do not go to the east side of Manhattan at all, which is what the 4 does. Those along the Bx3 who want the 4 are already taking crosstown buses (or are walking) to the 4, routing the bus to Yankee Stadium would be useless. For west side travel, not only would people on the Bx3 be subject to a much longer commute to connect to the subway, but they would have an even worse transfer scenario (the B/D operates atrociously and infrequent). The 1 alone is almost always more frequent than the B or D, and goes where people are headed to. Many of those who transfer to the 1 at 181st Street are off by 137th Street. The B/D train won’t help them in that case.

    • Joe Lee

      True, since many of these West Bronx people also work at the nearby very large NY Presbyterian – Columbia University Medical Center on 168 Street as well.

  3. newyorksfuturetransit

    Alon, what would you do to change Riverdale, Wakefield and Clasons Point? The Bx10 is very windy and should be changed. A major consideration in the Bronx is topography, which means that shorter stop spacing makes sense in parts of the West Bronx. Also, many people on New York City Transit Forums and other boards are very opposed to the changes in Co-Op City. What is your response to them?
    https://www.nyctransitforums.com/topic/53392-bronx-redesign-draft-released/page/2/?tab=comments#comment-1027295
    https://www.nyctransitforums.com/topic/53362-bronx-bus-network-redesign-draft-plan-is-coming/
    Thanks again/

    • VITTORIO BUGATTI

      I run the Express Bus Advocacy Group and live in Riverdale and have for years. The express bus changes have me concerned, especially the BxM2 and BxM18. Many of use the BxM1, BxM2 and BxM18 interchangeably, and I’d like to know how and where this new BxM18 routing came from? I went to the workshop meeting in Riverdale, and there was NO discussion about express bus service at all, so what feedback did the MTA get from actual riders? Additionally, they have chopped off all of the BxM2 stops north of 72nd street which is absurd. Many of us visit the museums or work at them along 5th and thus use the BxM2 for that purpose. Then there are ALL of the Mount Sinai doctors and RNs that pile onto the BxM2 and get off at 98th and 5th. They added a stop on the BxM1 for that but people will have to walk all the way to 3rd and 96th to get home when the BxM2 stops right in front of Mount Sinai going back to Riverdale! People are already pissed about this and as the leader of the Express Bus Adocacy Group, we plan to fight some of these changes. We are also opposed to removing the BxM4 off of the Concourse where many seniors and elderly rely on the bus. Most subway stations are not ADA accessible on the Concourse and if necessary we will seek legal action to stop the removal of the BxM4 off of the Concourse. The BxM18 to Hudson Yards is a head scratcher. We want to know what data was used to come to the conclusion that this is needed? The BxM18 served as a connector to the Wall Street area for the disabled and this connection would be lost. I could go on, but this redesign leads to LOGS of questions that need to be answered, and we WILL be demanding answers!!! Aside from the creation of the BxM17, these changes are basically service cuts or make trips more difficult for many. Also, for the people complaining about how few stops were removed, a large chunk of the Bronx is hilly and difficult to navigate as a result, so stop spacing is VERY IMPORTANT. The commuters that actually use these lines will have a lot to say, we can assure you of that, and we express bus riders Citywide will be fighting these changes tooth and nail, as we are on Staten Island. The MTA is trying to see these redesign as beneficial. They are basically masked service cuts, and those of us without subways in transportation deserts won’t stand for it!!

      VITTORIO BUGATTI – Leader & Founder
      Expres Bus Advocacy Group

      • Joe lee

        Yep, you’re right-on with this one – Look at the mess they did with the SIM Express Routes in Staten Island, which results in many passenger destined from/to Midtown Manhattan having to go sightseeing thru Lower Manhattan, via the Parking Lot known as the BQE, the Verazzano Bridge, and Lower Manhattan traffic before arriving into Midtown Manhattan, where most of these passengers are really destined to/from anyway.The routes using Lincoln Tunnel via New Jersey was always, and will always be the fastest way for Staten Island express buses to reach Midtown Manhattan anyway.

        I also remember the very first, and only two express buses to/from Staten Island known back then as the R9X from Tysens lane & Hylan Blvd to Park Place & Broadway in Lower Manhattan, and the R8X from Castleton & Jewett Avenue to Adam, and Tillary Streets in Downtown Brooklyn as well.

        • Zitao

          Can you give some examples of detrimental changes from the SIM network? As a regular user, there weren’t many fundamental changes to the network other than routes being more dedicated to different parts of Manhattan. Off peak service still slogs through Manhattan while rush hour service benefits from HOV 3+ along the Gowanus and Verrazzano.

  4. Joe Lee

    It really does not address the issues of improving overall service in the Bronx as well. Example; the Bx12/Bx12 SBS is still being CLOBBERED by using the world’s longest parking lot (the New England Thruway, similarly jammed-up like the Cross Bronx Distressway) to get into Co-op City & Bay Plaza ????? This routing KILLS the entire intention of the Bx12/Bx12 SBS, which causes these lines to become overcrowded sardine cans as we speak….

  5. Joe Lee

    Also, look at it this way, if they were really thinking LONG TERM, why not just build a short extension of the (6) line from its current Pelham Bay Terminal right into Co-op City which would benefit many, and its only a short stones throw away from Pelham Bay anyway….This was planned some 50 years ago when the entire Pelham Bay Line was to feed into the newly planned Second Avenue Subway Line, as well as severing it away from the over-clogged Lexington Avenue Subway Line on the East Side of Manhattan.

    • Guest

      Pretty sure this is on the MTA’s wish list. The problem is that there are other corridors that should come first, especially considering that Co-op City is getting a Metro North station soon.

      Running the 6 train over the Bruckner Expwy/New England thruway seems like low hanging fruit though. Maybe 2 stops?

      -Just south of Bartow Ave + new pedestrian/bicycle bridge over Hutchinson River Pkwy at Einstein Loop S.
      -Truman HS/Donizetti Pl (bonus stop).

      Modern concrete elevated rail running along the median like the Airtrain. Pedestrian connections to both sides of the highway. 2 tracks.

  6. Henry

    Most of the Bx1/2 is paralleled by the Concourse Line, so in that particular context does a lack of stop reduction really matter?

    • Joe Lee

      You should of said that the Bx1/Bx2 operates directly on top of the IND Concourse (B) & (D) Subway lines at most of their routing instead….

      • Joe lee

        You’re right – they probably will do so in the future anyway. For your information the old Bx1 Local use to operate from Concourse – 138 Street in Mott Haven to West 246 Street & Henry Hudson Parkway in Riverdale, Bronx. The old Bx2 use to operate from the Hub @ East 150 Street & Melrose Avenue to West 231 Street & Riverdale Ave (the current Bx1 terminal) with some weekend, and rush hour trips to West 246 & HHP as well. Some Bx1/Bx2 trips were also short turned @ Fort Independence Street in the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx as well.

  7. Pingback: The Bronx Bus Route Redesign is Complete - This Is The Bronx
  8. Guest

    Where I live in the Bronx (near the Shops at Bruckner), the extension of the SBS Bx6 is an awesome gift (and will become my preferred bus). The modification of the Bx36, to use East Tremont Ave, is great too. Makes sense to run it more directly.

    Overall I’m most happy about the reduction in the number of bus stops.

    Oddly, the Bx39 still terminates a long walk from the ferry terminal at Soundview Avenue in Clason Point. If the articulated buses aren’t able to turn around in Clason Point Park, the city needs to modify the road layout.

    Now more bus lanes please!

  9. adirondacker12800

    Thus, for example, there is a proposed 125th Street crosstown route called the M125, which breaks apart the Bx15 and M100.

    I can’t tell assuredly if you think that’s a good idea or a bad idea.
    It’s been a long long time since I used the Third Ave. bus. I don’t remember what the number was or where it terminated. Some of them went to Yankee Stadium instead instead of 149th and Third.
    Hard to tell if the bus was empty when it got to 149th, northbound, because the transfer wasn’t precisely timed. If it was at all. One could get off the bus or subway, duck into a store and make the transfer. I seem to remember that it emptied out at 149th. But then I don’t remember if people then got on and it continued south. Just because the bus serves Tremont Avenue doesn’t mean people are using it to get to Amsterdam Avenue. It can do things like carry people, southbound, to the Hub or a transfer to the subway and then collect people south of there for trips into Manhattan.The city and the buses don’t have a whole lot of control over traffic. Splitting the route at 149th could make a whole lot of sense. For instance if 125th is parking lot people using it to get from the subway and the Hub to places north of there aren’t affected. It may make a whole lot of sense.

    • Alon Levy

      To be fair, I can’t tell either if I think it’s a good idea or bad idea. The justification given in the plan is really bad and points to some serious problems with bus planning citywide (of which lack of bus lanes is the biggest), but the idea itself may still be good, I am uncertain.

      • adirondacker12800

        Until there are bus lanes, it’s probably a good idea. The people north of 149th, who would have Third Ave El service if it hadn’t been abandoned and torn down, aren’t at the mercy of traffic on 125th. It can be done without screeching about THE CARS, what about THE CARS!!!

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