Quote of the Week: Taking Bus Lanes Seriously

If we put railroad tracks down on space where a bus lane is and asked anyone would you ever stop your car on the railroad tracks, the answer would be no. The idea that 30 tons of steel is going to come down the street is enough of a deterrent. … We all have an explanation about why entering a bus lane is a little thing and it’s okay. And the fact is that it’s not okay—the fact is that 75 to 100 people on a bus are held up over that.

—  MTA Chief Executive Jay Walder

… as quoted in a must-read New York Magazine article on the success of New York City’s Select Bus Service.

17 Responses to Quote of the Week: Taking Bus Lanes Seriously

  1. Cap'n Transit July 19, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

    Walder has said the same thing to other journalists, and everyone always seems impressed.
    Except… haven’t you spent many posts trying to convince us that it’s not true? Isn’t he describing streetcar tracks? True, with streetcar tracks the cars are usually allowed to be there, so it’s not a perfect analogy.
    On the other hand, if people want drivers to stay off of tracks, they usually put up some physical separation. Maybe it’s okay because the trains can’t go away from the tracks. Maybe it isn’t.

  2. anonymouse July 19, 2010 at 9:58 pm #

    The problem isn’t with “people” taking the bus lanes seriously. It’s with law enforcement taking it seriously. When a significant fraction of the cars parked in the bus lanes (and on sidewalks and generally in places they’re not supposed to be) are cop cars, and cops’ personal cars (with Florida plates and a business card as a “permit”), you have a rather different sort of problem.

  3. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 19, 2010 at 11:16 pm #

    @ Cap'n.  Since NYC doesn't have surface streetcars (nor does London) I
    he's not thinking about streetcars consciously.  I expect he's thinking
    in terms of ordinary rail grade crossings, and that nobody would think
    park their car on one even to make a delivery.  But you raise an

  4. EngineerScotty July 19, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    We just need heavier busses. Ones equipped with 120dB horns that sound just like train whistles. 🙂

  5. EngineerScotty July 19, 2010 at 11:35 pm #

    Well, when he says “30 tons”, that’s what a streetcar weighs. Light rail (let alone heavy rail) weights much, much, much more….
    Of course, that may be ignorance on the part of the speaker on the weight of different classes of rail rolling stock, rather than an intent to refer to streetcars.

  6. teme July 20, 2010 at 2:02 am #

    Interesting. Two things that bother me though:
    First a minor point, “The stopwatch is running … Twenty-two people board; about four get off. The doors close; the bus sets off. Total wait time: 23 seconds.” Anyone else unimpressed, I mean one passenger per second with two doors loading and prepaid tickets?
    Second a major point about economics, the tone in the article that busses are cheaper in general. Hasn’t this been beaten to death? Take a tram/light rail advocate arguing that you can dig a tunnel and underground stations or for them, giving huge throughput. Sure you can, it is just going to cost as much as a heavy rail system, but will have less capacity due to lighter trains and cost more per passenger to operate. Now compare to a BRT advocate arguing that you can use special extra long busses in separated lanes, which gives you great capacity/speed. Yes you can, it is just going to cost as much as an onstreet train, but will have less capacity due to smaller vehicles and higher operating costs per passenger… Doesn’t anyone else find the everlasting debates on what is most cost effective tiresome when the obvious answer is that it depends on the amount of passengers?

  7. Ted King July 20, 2010 at 5:30 am #

    If the link to a single page version of the article doesn’t work (no page / short page) then use the link to the first page (one of six) below. The multi-page version’s sixth page has a four-point list of planned improvements to bus service on First and Second Avenues.

  8. EngineerScotty July 20, 2010 at 9:08 am #

    To answer teme’s question… “Yes”.
    One minor correction to teme… light rail trains are no lighter than metro trains, and many examples of metro rolling stock are lighter than LRTs, due to the individual cars being shorter. (Likewise, the primary reason streetcars weigh less than LRT is that the vehicles are smaller and skinnier than LRT; not because of any fundamental difference in the design).
    Light rail is light compared to heavy rail (freight locomotives, Amtrak, other long-haul rolling stock); not to to metros.

  9. EngineerScotty July 20, 2010 at 9:09 am #

    To clarify further: Light rail CARS are generally not lighter than metro CARS. A 2-car LRT train will be lighter than an 8-car subway train, obviously–but the individual cars are in the same weight class.

  10. Christopher July 20, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

    Jarret – Not to be a pedant but London does have street running trams. They’re just out in the suburbs in Croydon.
    A problem I’ve noticed with bus lanes is that they often have inconsistent restrictions and so people unfamiliar with the roads might stray into them. And if you get away with it (as you almost invariably will) then it’s hard to resist the temptation to do it again?

  11. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org July 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    Christopher.  That's exactly what Walder is saying, which is why he emphasises intense enforcement (a few years ago we might have called it "shock and awe")

  12. anonymouse July 20, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    And what I’m saying is that it’s hard to have any kind of enforcement, much less an intense one, when the people supposed to be doing the enforcing are themselves among the worst violators.

  13. J July 20, 2010 at 3:54 pm #

    I agree with Christopher, I find the least effective bus lanes are those with select hours. Someone sees cars using the lane at 2pm (legally), doesnt see the sign, and thinks they can use it at 5pm and not get a ticket because “everybody does it”.
    Bus lanes should be 24 hours. “But theres no bus service at 2am”, so what, there’s not enough demand to keep the other lanes congested at that hour.

  14. Alon Levy July 21, 2010 at 12:28 am #

    I’m going to say here what I said on the Urbanophile: it’s an uncritical fluff piece. The reality of SBS is that it’s a substandard product by European standards. The smoking gun is that during fare inspections on SBS, the bus has to stand still. The inspectors drive in and have to drive back, so the bus has to stay in one place until they get out.

  15. Alexis July 21, 2010 at 8:12 am #

    In my experience in Portland the precondition of his statement is wrong. People do drive on the MAX tracks downtown. Notably, someone passing me when I was riding my bike down there last week. There’s only a modest physical separation (small line of bumps). I wonder if also having streetcar lanes where it *is* legal to drive creates confusion.

  16. M1EK July 21, 2010 at 8:35 am #

    I continue, like many it seems, to be amazed at how often you feel the need to tell us we’re wrong about bus vs. rail in this country. Perhaps the fact that you need to keep telling us is itself telling?

  17. anonymouse July 21, 2010 at 1:30 pm #

    The fact that the fare enforcement officers won’t even ride the bus is just another sign of the lack of respect for bus service, and the cultural issues that get in the way of buses being taken seriously, and bring up larger issues of class and city vs. suburb in the context of law enforcement. When the people supposed to be enforcing the bus lanes (and bus fares) are largely from the suburbs, where they drive cars, and view city residents who take the bus as being too poor, stupid, or crazy to drive (because that’s largely who takes the bus in the suburbs), you’re going to have a lot of problems actually enforcing bus lanes. Or even enforcing a viable POP fare system on the bus.