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More Buses Should Control Traffic Lights, City Councilman Says

By Gustavo Solis | September 8, 2017 10:35am | Updated on September 10, 2017 5:06pm
 City Councilman Mark Levine wants at least 10 buses to get Transit Signal Priority every year until 2020.
City Councilman Mark Levine wants at least 10 buses to get Transit Signal Priority every year until 2020.
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DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis

HAMILTON HEIGHTS — The BX19, which connects Hamilton Heights to the South Bronx, is so slow that people who are in a hurry might as well stick to the sidewalk, said City Councilman Mark Levine during a press conference on 145th Street and Broadway on Thursday.

“On a slow day, we are not much better than walking speed on this route,” Levine said standing in front of the 145th Street bus stop. “Even on the better days, we’re not much better than a slow jog.”

This year, buses have seen more delays, slower run times, and less riders.

To address these problems, Levine plans to introduce a law that he believes would make buses a lot faster by giving buses the ability to control traffic signals.

Transit Signal Priority (TSP), allows buses to speed up red lights or prolong green lights in order to keep moving. Levine wants to pass legislation that would require the Department of Transportation to upgrade at least 10 bus lines every year until 2020.

"We have a pilot program in place in five bus lines already that is yielding as much as a 30 percent increase in speed," Levine said. "That is an amazing improvement and we are demanding that we get rolled out at a much faster rate across the city."

The city's current plan is to go from five lines to 20 by 2020.

Increasing TSP is particularly important after the “summer of hell” in which subway riders experienced a derailment, delays, and congestion, Levine said.

Because buses already have GPS tracking and the city controls the traffic signals and the network over which the signals communicate, this would be faster, easier and less expensive than fixing the subway system, the councilman added.

Hamilton Heights resident Antonio Abreau, 72, stopped during the Thursday press conference to show support for the proposed legislation. He doesn’t like waiting for the bus.

“I wait more than 30 minutes for the BX19 and more than 45 for the M5,” Abreau said.

Levine chose to have the press conference at the BX19 stop on 145th Street because more than 9 million trips are made on that line every year but it runs slower than 5 miles per hour.

Before adding TSP to any bus lines, DOT undertakes a detailed traffic study of the route to ensure safety and make sure traffic signals are coordinated, a spokeswoman said. 

The spokeswoman did not comment on Levine's proposal to increase TSP expansion through legislation.

Similarly, an MTA spokesman did not respond to specific questions about the state agency's position on Levine's proposed legislation. Instead, the spokesman gave DNAinfo New York a generic written statement. 

"Reliable and strong bus service is a key priority of the MTA which is exactly why we are installing [TSP] technology across our fleet and exploring ways to expand all door boarding," wrote Kevin Ortiz. "We look forward to continuing to work with our partners at the NYPD who do bus lane enforcement, as well as at NYC DOT who play a key role in reducing congestion on their streets and helping our buses move faster."