Willis Avenue Line
|Bx15 / Bx15 Limited|
|Willis Avenue Line
125th Street Crosstown Line
|System||MTA Regional Bus Operations|
|Operator||Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MaBSTOA)
New York City Transit Authority (NYCT)
|Garage||Kingsbridge Depot & West Farms Depot|
|Began service||1895 (trolley line)
April 1, 1916 (Bronx-Harlem trolley)
August 5, 1941 (bus service)
|Locale||The Bronx; Manhattan|
|Start||Fordham Plaza, Bronx – Fordham Road|
|Via||Third Avenue, Willis Avenue, Third Avenue Bridge (southbound) / Willis Avenue Bridge (northbound), 125th Street|
|End||Manhattanville, Manhattan – 12th Av / Riverside Dr (full route)|
|Fare||$2.75 (MetroCard or coins)|
|Cash||Coins only (exact change required)|
The Bx15 bus route constitutes a public transit line running primarily along Third Avenue and Willis Avenue through the South Bronx in New York City. Crossing into Manhattan, the full route also provides crosstown service along 125th Street in Harlem. Between its northern terminal at Fordham Plaza and The Hub at 149th Street, the route parallels the Bx41 bus route on Webster Avenue; the two routes are sometimes considered to share a single transit corridor through the central portion of the South Bronx.
The bus route is the successor to a streetcar line of the Union Railway Company and later the Third Avenue Railway known as the Willis Avenue Line or Willis Avenue−125th Street Line, which was replaced by bus service in 1941. From 1973 to 2013 the Bx15 shared Third Avenue with the Bx55, a limited-stop service which replaced rapid transit service on the Third Avenue Elevated line between The Hub and Williamsbridge. In 2013, the Bx55 was converted into the Bx15 Limited, extending the route south to Manhattan, but eliminating service north of Fordham Plaza.
Route description and service
In its final iteration, the trolley line began at Fordham Road and Third Avenue in today's Fordham Plaza. It ran south down Third Avenue to 149th Street in The Hub. It then ran down Willis Avenue, past its original terminus at 134th Street, and onto the Willis Avenue Bridge over the Harlem River. After crossing the bridge into Harlem on First Avenue, it turned west along 125th Street, sharing the 125th Street Crosstown Line with several other trolley routes. It terminated at the west shore of Manhattan at Fort Lee Ferry, which connected Manhattan with Fort Lee, New Jersey. The line terminated at a loop at 12th Avenue (Riverside Drive) between 125th Street and Saint Clair Place (geographically 129th Street). The line formerly proceeded further north along Webster Avenue to McClean Avenue, at the border with the city of Yonkers in Westchester County. This portion of the line was later discontinued. Between 149th Street and Gun Hill Road, the line ran directly underneath the Third Avenue Elevated line, a rapid transit line which formerly ran to Lower Manhattan. The route between Fordham Plaza and the city line along Webster Avenue was also shared with the Webster and White Plains Avenues Line streetcars.
Current bus service
The current Bx15 bus route largely follows the former trolley route between Fordham Plaza and 12th Avenue in West Harlem, with one exception. At 138th Street, southbound buses turn west and travel on the Third Avenue Bridge into Manhattan, while northbound buses continue to use the Willis Avenue Bridge. This pattern was instituted upon creation of the bus line in 1941, when the two bridges were turned into one-way spans to improve traffic flow. The Bx15 currently connects the two largest shopping districts in the Bronx: Fordham Road and The Hub. In Manhattan, the Bx15 shares the 125th Street Crosstown corridor with three other bus routes: the M100 and M101 local buses, and the M60 Select Bus Service route to LaGuardia Airport. The Bx15 is the only route to travel the entire length of 125th Street.
On weekdays except early mornings and nights, the Bx15 Limited operates the entire route between Manhattan and Fordham Plaza, making limited stops north of 149th Street. The Bx15 local runs between 149th Street and Fordham Plaza during this time.
Former Bx55 service
From 1973 to 2013, limited-stop service along Third Avenue was provided by the Bx55 bus, which replaced Third Avenue El service between 149th Street and Gun Hill Road station in Williamsbridge. The Bx55 only stopped at former stations, and mirrored the northern portion of the former Willis Ave streetcar line. In 2013, the Bx55 was converted into the Bx15 Limited, with service to Gun Hill Road eliminated.
In 1863, the first street railway was constructed in the Bronx, known as the Harlem Bridge, Morrisania, and Fordham Railroad. The route ran from the Harlem Bridge (now Third Avenue Bridge) to Fordham via Third Avenue, and began operation in 1864. It was informally called the "Huckleberry Road". In 1892, the company was incorporated as the Union Railway Company. On August 23 of that year, it was granted several streetcar franchises in the Bronx by the Board of Aldermen, as part of an expanded "Huckleberry System". This included a line from the Harlem River to the Westchester County border via Willis Avenue, Melrose Avenue, Webster Avenue, and Bronx River Road. The line was completed by fall 1895. The company would become a subsidiary of the Third Avenue Railway in 1898.
In February 1904, the Union Railroad would apply for extensions of several streetcar lines into Manhattan. This included an extension of the Willis Avenue Line from 134th Street in Mott Haven over the recently constructed Willis Avenue Bridge (opened in 1901) into East Harlem at 125th Street, connecting with lines of the Third Avenue Railway. Ten years later on July 2, 1914, the company received a permit to extend Willis Avenue service across the bridge, then west along the 125th Street Crosstown Line to Fort Lee Ferry. The service was requested to eliminate the required transfer to other streetcar lines. The new service was inaugurated on April 1, 1916, providing a link between the Bronx and New Jersey. The occasion was celebrated with a 7-day carnival in Harlem.
Beginning in the 1920s, many streetcar lines in the Bronx, Manhattan and the rest of the city began to be replaced by buses, particularly after the unification of city's three primary transit companies in June 1940. The conversion of the Willis Avenue Line occurred in 1941, as part of the conversion of the Third Avenue Bridge and Willis Avenue Bridge into one-way spans between the Bronx and Manhattan. The new traffic pattern was instituted on the morning of August 5, 1941, and bus service along the former trolley route began that afternoon. The bus route would be numbered 29, later the "Bx29". The bus route was operated by the Third Avenue Railway company until 1956, and by the New York City Omnibus Corporation (later under the brand Fifth Avenue Coach Lines) until 1962. That year the New York City Transit Authority began operating the line under the subsidiary Manhattan and Bronx Surface Transit Operating Authority (MaBSTOA), which continues to operate the route under the MTA.
On April 29, 1973, service on the IRT Third Avenue Line (since truncated to the Bronx) was eliminated, replaced by the Bx55 limited bus service. Because of its unique status, the Bx55 was one of the first bus routes to implement free transfers between subway service (in this case the IRT White Plains Road Line) and was later the first to test the MetroCard payment system. On February 18, 1984, the Bronx bus system was overhauled, which included renumbering many routes. Routes of higher priority were given lower numbers; the Bx29 was redesignated "Bx15".
In June 2002 as part of an outside study, the Third Avenue corridor was identified for the implementation of bus rapid transit service, due to heavy ridership and slow travel speeds on the corridor. In 2009, as part of Phase II of the MTA and DOT's Select Bus Service, both the Third Avenue and Webster Avenue bus corridors were studied for the implementation of a north-to-south bus rapid transit service through the South Bronx. The Bx41 Limited along Webster Avenue was selected for conversion, and became the Bx41 SBS on June 30, 2013. Third Avenue was not selected due to favoritism for the wider Webster Avenue. As part of the project, the Bx55, which had received several service cuts since 1997, was eliminated. Limited-stop service was converted into the Bx15 Limited, and extended along the route to Manhattan. Service to Gun Hill Road was replaced by the Bx41 SBS. The service changes coincided with the reconstruction of Fordham Plaza's terminal area beginning in 2013, closing Third Avenue to all non-bus through traffic and constructing a bus loop to "turn" terminating Bx15 buses. The bus loop was completed in 2014.
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