Over the past few years, the battle for street space has become a headline-grabber in New York City. On the one hand are folks who support vibrant street life. These folks argue for dedicated bus lanes, bike lanes and policies that promote pedestrian safety and mass transit over parking. On the other are those who believe that taking away a lane for driving or parked cars is an affront to liberty and freedom and that bike lanes are a part of the tenth circle of hell. Clearly, you know which side I’m on.
While the bike lane battles have been brewing in Park Slope and Williamsburg, the MTA and New York City DOT have been S-L-O-W-L-Y laying out plans for Brooklyn’s first Select Bus Service route. The new service will follow the path of the B44 along Nostrand and Rogers Avenues from Williamsburg to Sheepshead Bay, and throughout the planning process, it has received the usual array of windshield criticism. Community Board 15 voted it down due to its potential impact on parking while drivers complained that pedestrian-oriented improvements would take away space for their cars.
The MTA and DOT have been listening though, and now they’re making a case for their plan. Last week, they unveiled the latest iteration of the B44 SBS service, and while it still takes away some space for parking and auto lanes, businesses are rallying behind it because DOT has preserved capacity. In other words, by reallocating space from parked cars to vehicles in motion, the street will be more active. The latest presentation is available here as a PDF, and Streetsblog’s Noah Kazis offers up a thorough summary of the plans. He writes:
Nostrand Avenue SBS will, as in the Bronx and Manhattan, create dedicated bus lanes enforced by automated cameras and use high-capacity buses and off-board fare payment. With fewer stops, the bus will also spend more time in motion and less time starting and stopping. The Nostrand project will add another new feature: bus bulbs. By extending the sidewalk out to the street, bus bulbs mean that drivers don’t have to pull to the curb and back into the lane, resulting in a smoother and speedier ride. A raised curb means more level boarding onto the bus, advantageous for the elderly and the mobility-impaired. The extra space also means that the bus stop won’t crowd the sidewalk…
In order to preserve the same number of motor vehicle lanes during rush hour, where a bus lane is being installed DOT proposes turning the left parking lane into a through lane during the morning and evening peaks. This shouldn’t have too much of an impact on local merchants. At Nostrand and Empire Boulevard, only 14 percent of shoppers had driven to the area (and not all had parked on Nostrand). Further south, at Glenwood Road, only 13 percent of shoppers had arrived in a car.
Moreover, there’s a lot of room to add parking in other ways. On much of Nostrand and its cross streets, parking is currently free. The installation of meters will encourage drivers to move on once done shopping, freeing up space for others. The use of Muni-Meters will also allow more vehicles to park in the same area. Finally, loading zones and delivery windows will ensure that trucks have space at the curb rather than being forced to resort to double-parking.
This is transportation planning as it should be. In total, the amount of space constantly available for parked cars will dwindle, but what good are parked cars? They may provide transportation, but once idle, they sit lifeless in vibrant urban shopping areas. Muni meters will encourage turnover of parking spaces while buses, a major mode of transportation, will move more freely up and down the avenues. Cars won’t lose lanes, and businesses will gain loading zones. It’s a close to a win-win-win as one will find on the city streets these days.
Ultimately, though, this Select Bus Service suffers from the same problems that most of the MTA’s bus offerings do: While the route ends at the edge of the borough, most riders want to continue beyond that arbitrary border. The B44 SBS service would be far more useful if it crossed the Williamsburg Bridge and provided a direct connection with the M15 SBS as well as the F train at Delancey St. That’s a dream for another day though. Next fall, Brooklyn will finally get its first faster bus route.