SBS Makes Its Confusing Debut

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Whether you take the bus or drive, you probably noticed the new bus lanes, different traffic patterns, and general confusion from Woodhaven to Cross Bay Boulevard, all the way into Rockaway. Starting this week the MTA launched their newest Select Bus Service (SBS) for the Q52/Q53 lines. During any major changes to your morning and evening commute, there is usually lots of confusion and frustration, but hopefully SBS will be a quicker and eventually a smoother ride for all.

These changes are a part of the MTA’s expansion of their SBS system that integrates Mayor Bill de Blasio's Vision Zero safety program into what the MTA hopes to increase reliability, reduce travel times, and create safer streets. The new SBS route covers 14.7 miles, the longest ever for the service, and the corridor serves over 30,000 daily bus riders.

Among some of the changes Q52/Q53 bus riders may notice are “off board fare collections” or ticket vending machines located by the bus shelters. This means no more swiping your MetroCard on the bus itself, but at a curbside vending machine. These machines are similar to the MTA vending machines seen in every Subway station, and provide a “ticket” that allows you to use any door on the bus without showing your ticket to the driver. NYC Transit Fare inspectors randomly inspect tickets to cut down on fare evasion, and can hand out a summons up to $100. This system according to the MTA, will allow for a quicker boarding, and shortened stop times.

Another change is that your usual bus stop may no longer be there. As part of the new system, several stops were consolidated, so people may need to walk further to get to their nearest bus stop. The Q52/Q53 lines no longer stop at Atlantic Avenue, 5th Road in Broad Channel, Beach 86th Street, Beach 69th Street, Beach 98th Street, Beach 101st Street or Beach 105th Street. Local buses still make these stops. Some new stops were added on the mainland of Queens, including 91st Avenue and 101st Avenue on Woodhaven Boulevard and Pitkin Avenue on Cross Bay Boulevard.

The buses themselves are also a new addition to the area. For the first time, Rockaway has accordion-style buses, or “articulated buses” as part of the new SBS system. They are 60-feet long as opposed to the older 40-foot long buses. The longer buses accommodate more passengers.

Reducing traffic lanes for both commercial and private vehicles, in order to free up bus lanes, seems to be a recipe to increase traffic for private vehicles, in an already congested thoroughfare. Generally any push towards increased mass transit improvements, is done with the hope of increasing ridership, thereby reducing single use private vehicles travel, and reducing overall traffic volume. Decreased ability for speeding vehicles during peak traffic, i.e. rush hour, should decrease traffic injuries and fatalities. The NYC DOT and Vision Zero Priority intersections are designed to increase pedestrian safety to reduce pedestrian crossings accidents. The rollout of the system comes after roughly 20 community meetings that were held to garner feedback for the project. Many opposed the idea in general, but the City went full-steam ahead with implementing the new system.

The newly established red Bus Lanes provide a traffic free access lane for MTA Buses that are meant to increase quicker commute time for bus ridership, and allowing for a more efficient ride. Bus lanes will be in effect curbside in residential areas from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday, and curbside along Cross Bay Boulevard from 7-10 a.m. and 4-7 p.m. Monday-Saturday. Bus lanes offset from parking lanes or in the main road will be in effect 24 hours, seven days a week, and curbside parking will be preserved.

Those clear traffic lanes can be extremely enticing to any frustrated driver stuck in traffic to jump into that free lane and zoom home. Unfortunately, if you do, be aware that there are Bus Lane automated cameras that will catch you. Starting November 19, there will be a grace period of 60 days, in which you will receive by mail, a warning. Once it is in full effect, sometime in January 2018, you will be fined between $115-$150 for violations issued against your vehicle, but not the driver, as points will not be deducted from your license.

The MTA SBS Woodhaven/Cross Bay lines will be using Transit Signal Priority (TSP) to better coordinate bus arrival times with the current flow of traffic lights and reduce wait times at red lights. According to NYC DOT, this will reduce bus travel times by approximately 18 percent, though certain locations may vary. Basically the individual bus GPS tracking devices, will electronically coordinate with the Traffic Management Center, relayed through the MTA’s Bus Command Center, to adjust traffic lights in order to ease the delay at traffic lights. The signal can then either extend the green light to allow the bus time to pass through the intersection, or shorten the red light to clear the intersection before the bus has to stop for a red light. Pedestrian crossings, traffic volume, street width, and walk signal timing has been factored into the timing and safety of the light change.

With all these changes, both major and minor, there will be confusion, frustration, and a couple of valid excuses for being late to work. The changes seem to be geared toward mass transit riders. In theory, increased use of mass transit systems would decrease single occupant vehicle usage, thereby reducing the numbers of passenger cars on the road, creating less traffic. Time will tell if it works out in practice. In the meantime, breathe deep, try to relax, and give yourself a little extra time to get used to the changes.

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