“Bus” and “rapid” are not the first words that come to mind when New Yorkers think about getting around the city, particularly in areas of the outer boroughs that are significantly underserved by public transportation—but that may be about to change.
A new report issued in December by the Pratt Center for Community Development highlights demographic and economic changes that have deepened disparities in transit access within New York City and identifies eight routes where Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) would provide a cost-effective solution to the mobility needs of some of New York’s transit-starved neighborhoods. BRT is an innovative transit option that has been used successfully in cities such as Mexico City, Barcelona, and Cleveland.
Funded by the Rockefeller Foundation, the Pratt Center report arrives at a very opportune moment for the city. Newly elected New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his support to build a BRT network of more than 20 lines citywide during the 2013 election campaign as part of his vision to address inequality.
“Transportation is a huge equity issue,” said Joan Byron, policy director at the Pratt Center for Community Development and the author of the report, explaining that a BRT network would speed commutes and improve the quality of life of millions of New Yorkers.
More robust than the Select Bus Service the city has implemented to date, BRT uses dedicated, physically protected bus lanes located along center medians rather than next to the curb. It features station platforms where riders pay their fare before the bus arrives and multiple doors to make boarding easier. BRT offers all of the speed, reliability, and convenience of subway travel—at a significantly lower cost and with an increase in street safety.
The Pratt Center’s proposed BRT corridors were selected based on their potential benefits—connecting major job centers, major health care and educational hubs—and their physical feasibility for BRT. They include one that runs along the North Shore of Staten Island, another between John F. Kennedy Airport and Sunset Park, Brooklyn, and another between Hunts Point in the Bronx and Jamaica, Queens.
As de Blasio completes the process of establishing his new team, it will become clear how his administration will move forward on BRT.
“Transit disparities are experienced acutely at the local level, but have to be solved at citywide scale. The BRT report is meant to sketch a vision of what's possible, as a way to open conversations, in communities and in City Hall, to test that vision and then make it real,” said Byron.
Text: Marion Hammon
Image: Institute for Transportation and Development Policy