Nobody likes buses. Drivers can't stand sharing the road with them, and bus riders have to deal with traffic, lines to board, and late and infrequent service. But Bus Rapid Transit, soon to be implemented in New York, just might be the ticket to making buses sexy. BRT lines have a number of advantages over regular express buses that give them the ability to cruise down the road at near-subway speeds, for a tenth of the upfront cost.

Though BRT has been implemented quite successfully from Paris to Mexico City, NYC has only recently started checking it out. A couple weeks ago, MTA announced the location of 5 pilot Bus Rapid Transit lines - one in each borough - to be constructed in the next two years. Currently, 188,000 people per day use the bus lines along the planned routes, a number that could easily double when they're completed in 2008. But if MTA and DOT don't commit to the full set of BRT improvements, the whole thing could end up as little more than a slow, costly marketing campaign. How do the announced lines complement the existing subway system? Will they actually make it easier for New Yorkers to get around the city? Read on to see how each line stacks up.



Manhattan: 1st/2nd Aves
With the Second Avenue Subway at least a decade away from completion, east side Manhattanites are desparate for relief from crawling traffic and overcrowded 6 trains. BRT along 1st and 2nd Avenues has the potential to make a much quicker trip possible - provided they are allowed to do their job. Streetsblog, for example, warns that painting bus lanes a different color, as the City plans to do, won't be enough to keep the street clear.

In Bogota and Paris, the buses are given their own, physically-separated right of way... the lack of physical separation [in New York's system] has the potential to be a system-breaker. Without physical separation, that single guy in the double-parked SUV may still have the ability to delay the morning commute of 80 New Yorkers.

Brooklyn: Bedford/Nostrand
The new Nostrand line will provide a conduit of cross-borough transit that Brooklyn sorely lacks. It should be especially helpful in East Flatbush, Midwood, and Sheepshead Bay, where low car ownership rates and poor subway service add up to painfully long commutes for many residents. Buses will get priority on traffic signals, which should considerably speed up the time between stops. But subway-style platform boarding is conspicuously absent here and in other lines, meaning that you'll still have to wait two minutes at every stop for people to swipe their metrocards.

Bronx: Fordham Road/Pelham Parkway
The line selected for the Bronx travels east-west along Fordham Road and Pelham Parkway. With its eastern terminus at rapid transit-starved Co-op City, the route crosses every Metro-North line - a boon for reverse commuters. On the other hand, MTA's choice to construct this line rather than the ones on the Grand Concourse or Webster Avenue means that residents of working-class neighborhoods Morrisania and East Tremont are still without rapid public transportation.

Queens: Merrick Boulevard

The Merrick Boulevard line runs from Jamaica, where riders can connect with LIRR and three Subway lines, to Green Acres Mall. This part of Queens has some of the longest commute times in the city, so any improvement in service here is welcome. It was probably a good call to pick this line over other proposed choices serving Northeast Queens, where car culture is more firmly entrenched.

Staten Island: Hylan Boulevard
The current buses along the planned Hylan Boulevard route serve only 11,000 people daily - a far cry from the 61,000 poor souls that have to suffer along the 1st and 2nd Ave bus lines. Staten Island is by far the most car-friendly borough, and it will be interesting to see if the Hylan Boulevard line is actually able to get more people swiping. Considering that you'll have to take the bus to Bay Ridge and ride the R train for 45 minutes to get to Manhattan, I'd say the prospects are dim.

Adam Brock, Gothamist's mapper-in-residence, is a GIS specialist at the Pratt Center for Community Development, and is studying environmental design at NYU.