Bus to Stoplight, "Obey!" NYC Gets Traffic Signal Priority

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(Photo CC by Flickr user Stephen Rees)

Traffic lights will yield to buses in New York City -- at least on a stretch of Manhattan's East Side.

It's a small but significant step that could further speed travel times for the city's Select Bus Service. SBS routes have dedicated lanes, express stops, and passengers pay before they boards. Now New York's SBS is rolling out signal priority: stop lights that can sense when a bus is approaching -- and stay green to let it pass.

“Traffic Signal Prioritization is a vital piece in making bus travel more attractive,” said New York City Transit President Thomas F. Prendergast in a statement.

An initial run of 60 buses on Manhattan's heavily traveled M15 route will be outfitted with the technology to communicate with streetlights along First and Second Avenues. Manhattan's signal priority, which has been tested on an SBS bus route in the Bronx, will begin in November. The MTA says another 200 buses could join the program if it proves successful.

The cost of upgrading the 60 buses will cost $480,000.

SBS is a form of Bus Rapid Transit, a popular form of mass transit in other countries, often as a cheaper substitute for a subway system. Traditional BRT systems use lanes that are physically separate from other traffic. But in New York, the lanes multitask -- cars can use the lanes to make turns, and taxis can drop off passengers in the SBS lanes.