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Bus Rapid Transit -- Can It Make It in NYC?

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Say you’re standing on Second Avenue at rush hour, and you need to get downtown fast. You look uptown, at six lanes of traffic crawling along. Delivery trucks are double parked, bus drivers are waiting for a long line of passengers to board, and there is not a free taxi in sight. In 10 years time -- planners hope -- you’ll be able to get on a bus that feels nicer than the newest subway, and get downtown just as fast. But to embark on that future, New Yorkers will have to make some tough choices about whether to privilege mass transit or private cars. I have been listening in on the debate.

Facilitator: It’s like a subway train that operates in its own track –- without tracks. Rubber wheels.

A few dozen Bronx residents are attending a one of a series of work shop on bus rapid transit in New York.

Facilitator: Also, has subway-like station spacing.

Staffers from the MTA and the city DOT are showing mock-ups of what a New York street might look like.

Bus Rapid Transit – using buses like trains. You pay before you board. The bus pulls in, multiple doors open, you don’t have any stairs. There’s a lane only for buses, and stops about every eight blocks. BRT is working already in Istanbul, Mexico City, and most notably, Bogotá, Columbia

Vincente: In Bogotá, fugeddabout it that was out of sight!

Anna Vincente works for the Bronx environmental group Nos Quedamos. She was part of working group that travelled to Bogotá to see how that city has made it vastly easier to get around while greatly reducing pollution.

Vincente: If you could do something like that, that would be phenomenal because then you don’t have to worry about long lines. When we were in Bogotá Columbia, that went like (snaps fingers) that was fabulous.

But to get to that level of fabulous, a city has to be willing to make choices –- eliminating some street parking, for example, and taking lanes of traffic from private cars. Technology is readily available to turn red lights to green for buses. But there’s a catch.

Gualtieri: It reminds me last summer when I went to the Bronx zoo with my family in the car.

Retiree Richard Gualtieri got caught on the flip side.

Gualtieri: From the entrance to the Bronx zoo took a half an hour because it was constantly red so it could be green for the Fordham and it was unbelievable, half an hour, hungry kids.

The Fordham. That’s the so-called select bus service that links Upper Manhattan to the Bronx. It’s not BRT. It's a regular bus, with steps. But it shares some BRT features.

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