Home Buses Walder reiterates need for bus lane enforcement

Walder reiterates need for bus lane enforcement

by Benjamin Kabak

Kicking and screaming, the New York City bus network will be dragged into, well, the present. The 34th St. route features countdown clocks for buses, and the MTA and the city’s Department of Transportation are working together to plot the rollout of Select Bus Service throughout the five boroughs. None of this will work, though, without proper bus lane enforcement.

Last week, while speaking with Richard Brodsky and the Assembly Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, MTA CEO and Chairman Jay Walder started beating the drum again for bus lane enforcement. In interviews shortly after he received the MTA nomination, Walder stressed the need for these cameras, and he was at it again last week.

“I simply don’t think that the MTA ever made bus lane cameras a priority. In fact, I don’t think the MTA has made buses a priority quite the way that we’re doing today,” he said. “One of the things that I’ve tried to say from day one is that buses are an under-utilized, untapped resource in New York. We can do much more with it, and we’re making it our priority to do that.”

Of course, the State Assembly has long been a reason why the city has not yet implemented bus lane cameras. Back in 2008, David Gantt, a Rochester Democrat, torpedoed a home rule measure that would have allowed the city to use cameras to enforce the bus lanes. Since then, however, the Assembly has ceded ground on red-light cameras, among others, and Walder is optimistic that they will allow for proper bus lane enforcement as well. “I recognize the issues about privacy,” Walder said. “The Assembly, the legislature, has gotten over those issues with red light cameras. There’s no reason why we can’t get over those issues with the bus lane enforcement cameras.”

Meanwhile, a City Council measure could slow down the DOT/MTA bus lane efforts as well. At the end of the year, according to a recent Streetsblog report, the City Council passed a bill mandated a 65-day review period for all “‘major realignments of the roadway,’ particularly the addition or removal of a lane of traffic or parking on more than four blocks or ‘1,000 consecutive feet of street.'”

This move is one designed to allow for more community input in DOT roadway planning, but DOT is not bound to alter plans in the face of community reaction. On the one hand, this law should eliminate any sense of paternalism that may stem from DOT unilaterally deciding how the streets should be laid out without consulting businesses and community boards. On the other, vocal minorities who seem to obsess more about parking than they should may earn too much of a say in the process. Streetsblog isn’t concerned that this measure will materially impact too many DOT plans.

In the end, these two efforts — camera enforcement and the need for dedicated lanes — highlight what is missing from the Select Bus Service plan and what the city needs to have a truly effective higher-speed bus network. I’ve seen cars driving down the 34th St. in the new bus-only lanes, and I’ve seen buses stall traffic when they have to navigate around double-parkers and other vehicles idling in bus lanes. Without dedicated lanes and without an effective enforcement means for those lanes, buses will be subject to the whims of New York City’s painfully slow surface traffic.

Walder knows that better bus service is both cheaper and more immediate than building out new subway lines. He knows that buses can be deployed to bring people into the city’s central business districts or to subway hubs. Right now, we view the buses are an inconvenience that can sometimes get us where we need to go but are mostly utilized by the aged and infirm who can’t negotiate subway staircases. In a few years, buses can be an accepted part of the city’s transit network, and with true bus lanes and enforcement measures, that vision could be one step closer to reality.

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