New Bus-Only Lanes for Manhattan's East Side
Left: What 1st Ave will look like with bus-only lanes; Right: 1st Ave

A rendering of what First Avenue will look like with bus-only lanes (left); First Avenue as it looks today (right). Image via the New York Times.

“New Yorkers are tired of waiting years and decades for changes to make their streets work better … We want to give buses  the red carpet.”-  Janette Sadik Khan, transportation commissioner, New York City Department of Transportation, quoted in the New York Times

If commuters along Manhattan’s east side seem a bit surly, don’t blame ’em. They have been waiting for years – nearly a century, actually – for a second avenue subway linefirst proposed in 1920!). In the meantime, more than 50,000 East Siders brave bus commutes along one of the nation’s most congested bus routes. A commute from Soho to East Harlem can take an hour and a half, and jolting stop-and-go traffic ensures that everyone arrives a bit woozy for work.

But by the fall,  these bus commuters should be a bit brighter in spirits: the city is opening bus-only lanes along First and Second avenues, from Houston Street to 125th Street (see map here), starting in October 2010.  The Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transit Authority believe travel times will fall by as much as 20% thanks to the new speedier bus lanes.

The new lanes are part of the city’s NYC SBS (select bus service) project, which brought a similar system to Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway in the Bronx, boosting bus ridership there by 30%.

In addition, new bike lanes and pedestrian paths will be installed along much of the route. Concrete pedestrian islands will physically separate the bike lanes from traffic. Still, bike lanes will only stretch as far as 34th Street, for now.

Below, we’ve outlined some other features – and caveats – of the $10 million project:

Additional Features

  • Quick boarding and exit: Buses have three doors for quicker boarding and exit time, and boarding will be based on the honor system (like the Bronx Bx12): Tickets will be sold at separate sidewalk kiosks to save time during boarding, and riders will not have to present them unless requested. There is a $100 fine as a penalty for “fare-beaters,” and the city is working on stepping up enforcement measures after rampant fare-beating on the Bx12.
  • Bus lanes painted brown: The designated bus-only lanes will be painted brown, but will not be physically separated from other lanes.  To prevent taxicabs from blocking the lanes, the city has promised to increase police presence and use video cameras to record errant cabs and give them a $150 ticket. (New York law doesn’t allow police to extend this enforcement measure to private vehicles. )


  • The bus lane will run along the curb for about half of the route, and other vehicles will gain access to the lanes to make deliveries from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.
  • Taxis will be allowed to pick up and drop off passengers in the bus-only lanes; cars can merge into bus-only lanes when making right-hand turns at intersections
  • There will be a 30-block gap in the Second Avenue bus-only lane, from 70th Street to 100th Street.
  • Buses will not yet be able to extend green lights to speed transit times like they can in many other cities’ BRT sytems

If you’re in New York and want to discuss the project, Manhattan Community Board 11 will be holding a Select Bus Service public meeting on June 9th. See here for details.

Select bus service in the Bronx has boosted ridership by 30%. Photo via

Select bus service in the Bronx has boosted ridership by 30%. Photo via

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