Home MTA Politics Assembly rep Colton denies MTA funds, then bashes it

Assembly rep Colton denies MTA funds, then bashes it

by Benjamin Kabak

Fourteen years ago, the 47th District in Brooklyn elected William Colton, a Democrat, to to serve as its Assembly representative. His district includes Bensonhurst, Gravesend, Bath Beach, Dyker Heights and Midwood, transit-heavy areas that depend on numerous subway lines and bus routes to connect it with the rest of New York City.

Colton’s district is a minority in New York City in that more than 50 percent of his constituents are car owners. According to stale numbers, 46.1 percent of households in District 47 do not own cars while 53.9 percent do. However, only 3.2 percent of drivers head into Manhattan’s Central Business District from Colton’s area while 31.2 percent of workers take transit to that CBD. Still, Assembly representative Colton can join the long and growing list of Albany representatives who are happy to bash the MTA with one hand while taking the agency’s money away with the other.

Colton’s comments come to us from the Brooklyn Eagle in what appears to be a press release. The Assembly rep is upset about the elimination of numerous station agents. “The MTA has been going down a dangerous path of reducing front-line personnel to a minimum,” Colton said. “Leaving booths in portions of major stations closed inconveniences people from all walks of life, including the elderly, disabled and other persons needing assistance. Closing these booths, some of which are the only booths serving a station entrance, is a disgrace.”

He continued with a typical rant about the MTA’s service becoming akin to that offered in the 1970s when track fires, massive delays and rampant problems were the norm. With new rolling stock and an investment into the physical plant of the subways, no comparison less apt. “It’s time to look at reorganizing the MTA into an agency which is focused on improving transit and increasing service, not raising fares and cutting service. If we fail to change course, we risk our subway degrading into a crime-ridden, unreliable service such as existed in the 1970s.”

The MTA is doing everything Colton accuses it of doing, but for someone who has shown no willingness to support transit, his moralizing rubs me the wrong. Colton, who claims that the MTA is “failing to meet the public need for safe and reliable public transit,” has been nothing but bad for transit. In 2008, despite the make-up of his district, he didn’t support congestion pricing and couched his opposition in populist terms. At the time, he said that the city’s “real goal of the proposal is to provide a new revenue source from the middle class and working poor.” Never mind the fact that middle and working class residents simply do not own cars or, if they do, do not drive into Manhattan’s CBD during the congestion pricing hours. Never mind the fact that these residents would stand to benefit from investments in transit.

His finest moment came when he levied this claim, using what I would call reverse logic to take apart congestion pricing:

In fact passage of this plan will almost guarantee a large fare increase because whatever monies which are given to the MTA will not be used to pay for public transit improvements but instead will be used to collateralize borrowing which will result in higher future interest payments which public transit users will need to repay with higher fares. Therefore it will not encourage people to use cars since use of mass transit will be almost as expensive. The congestion fee will impact on those with low and middle incomes and will have little impact on the wealthy who will simply use it as a business deduction.

Colton did not stop in 2008 or start bashing the MTA yesterday. Earlier this year, he called for the authority to inform community boards of changes to station staffing levels and has, as Cap’n Transit noted, called for eliminating waste and corruption. He also voted for removing $143 million in earmarked money from the MTA’s coffers late last year.

The problem with Colton’s position is the noise. The MTA should be more willing to talk about the safety impact of cutting station agents. MTA leadership has engaged in an extensive effort to cut waste at all levels. But the MTA can’t fund station agents without money, and Colton is just one of many who has worked to undercut the MTA’s funding streams. He hasn’t approved measures — such as congestion pricing — that the majority of New Yorkers support, and he voted to take away earmarked dollars. His left hand is criticizing the MTA for actions of his right, and that cannot stand.

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29 comments

Al D August 17, 2010 - 9:45 am

And his district was a big loser in the service cuts, no more M at rush hours, no B37, a truncated B64, a truncated B8.

Most of his constituents who work in Manhattan use the x28, the B N or R. They use their cars primarily after work or on the weekend to run errands and so on. In his district, it is miles more practical to use a car to get around. A 10 minute car ride can take 30 to 40 minutes on mass transit.

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BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 10:31 am

I don’t see anything wrong with any of Colton’s statements. You yourself admit that the MTA is doing everything Colton is accusing it of doing. So what’s the problem? Why are you attacking Colton? Two reasons: He voted to cut the MTA funding which was wrong and he opposed congestion pricing which he was right in doing. Since everything he says about the MTA is true, you should be attacking them and not Colton. Why did he vote for cutting the MTA funding? Probably because because like all the other elected officials, he never read what he was signing and had no idea what he was doing. That’s what you should be attacking him for.

As for your insinuation that the majority of New Yorkers support congetion pricing, where is your proof? Was there a referendum that I missed? I believe most people are against congestion pricing and that’s why it was defeated. There were many valid reasons to oppose it.

Also, you state that the MTA is attempting to cut waste at all levels. Does that include Walder’s hiring of the former head of the most ineffective state agency, former Mental Health Director Ritter, who he hired at a salary of $217,000 per year, a story you refused to publicize? Have they solved the problem of track workers working 2 hours per day for 8 hours pay?

Telling only part of the story while pretending to be objective is what also cannot stand.

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VLM August 17, 2010 - 11:05 am

Considering you have some anti-MTA agenda because you feel wronged by your former employee, telling Ben that he should be objective when he never puts himself out there as objective is patently absurd. You’re rude and very disrespectful to a lot of the people on this site, and oftentimes you’re just flat out wrong. Numerous polls had congestion pricing support well above 50 percent in the city as long as the money went to the MTA, and the City Council passed a home rule request as well. That’s democracy for ya, buddy.

As for Ritter and that hack Greg Mocker, perhaps you should read through this report. Shockingly, there are two sides to every story. You can believe either the toolbag muckracker no one in New York likes or not. Ben’s decision to cover a story only you and Mocker seem to care about is perfectly defensible.

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BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 12:56 pm

First of all I have no anti-MTA agenda. I tell it like I see it. I criticize the MTA when they are wrong and I stick up for them when I believe they are correct. It’s just that with all the knowledge and experience I have with them (much more than Ben), I don’t believe they are frequently right. That’s why I may seem anti-MTA.

Second, I am never rude or disrespectful here or anywhere. If I am wrong, just tell me, but that doesn’t happen too often. I realize that Ben has many friends here, and I expect to be attacked whenever I say something negative toward the MTA since this is a pro-MTA site. Ben generally does a pretty thorough job and I’ve complimented him for that. However, to slant most every article so it’s pro-MTA is not right either.

As far as Ritter is concerned, the proof will be in the pudding. We will see what she accomplishes if anything. So she cut overtime at Mental Health. That doesn’t mean she was effective. It’s easy to slash services. The hard part is picking what to cut. As for the report, I don’t know whose fault it is but one page is not even visible. If that’s how Mental Health released it, shame on them for not checking it first.

This site is fast becoming like Streetsblog where there is a specific agenda (and you say I’m the one with the agenda) and anyone who disagrees is bashed. I don’t believe that’s what Ben wants since he’s often stated that he wants free and open discussion.

And you are wrong about Ritter and Mocker. No one has pointed out so far anything factually wrong with Mocker’s story and that includes Ben. Also, Mocker and I are not the only ones who care about that story. Here is someone else who cares:

http://www.bksouthie.com/2010/.....-spending/

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VLM August 17, 2010 - 12:59 pm

However, to slant most every article so it’s pro-MTA is not right either.

Pro-transit and pro-sensible transit investment doesn’t equate with pro-MTA. Clearly, this piece about Colton is about how the State Assembly doesn’t have a sensible transit policy or a sense of how to invest in transit or why it’s important. If things turn out too pro-MTA for you around here, that’s probably because the MTA is, for better or worse, in charge of transit. But just because the MTA isn’t too efficient doesn’t mean New York state should sacrifice sensible transit policy and investment.

I ask this without sarcasm: Do you see the subtle differences there?

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BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 1:25 pm

I guess people read what they want to read. Your first point is correct but not your second. You say that this piece is about how the State Assembly does not have a sensible transit policy. They may not have a sensible policy but that’s not what I read in this article. All I see is Colton bashing when nothing can be said about his comments being wrong.

I also don’t see how the MTA being in charge of transit is related to this site being pro-MTA.

I spoke to Colton once and I wasn’t impressed. When I asked him why he cut funding to the MTA, he told me because they waste too much money. He is certainly correct on that one. (Since I’ve spent 25 years with them, I couldn’t even begin to tell you all the money that I’ve seen them personally waste.) Perhaps if the State believed the MTA wisely spent their funds, they wouldn’t have cut funding so much. Perhaps they were trying to encourage the MTA to be more efficient. Is there anything wrong with that?

I’m certainly not trying to stick up for the State here, and believe the Assembly and the Senate to be big messes, but the MTA isn’t too much better either. The state never had a sensible transit policy and investment and that is wrong. But it’s also wrong for the MTA to continually be crying for more money and not spending it wisely either and the State always increasing their subsidy prior to drastically slashing it. When the MTA had a surplus, they still wouldn’t invest in the bus system other than buying new vehicles. All routing changes had to be cost neutral with no estimates ever made for increased revenue when expansion was considered. That was wrong. If the routes were improved to better serve the people, ridership and revenue would have risen and perhaps many of them wouldn’t have had to be recently cut.

Nathan H. August 17, 2010 - 9:26 pm

This statement is problematic: “The congestion fee will impact on those with low and middle incomes and will have little impact on the wealthy who will simply use it as a business deduction.”

It’s not strictly false; at least one low income person would be affected. But the picture that it paints is false. The large majority of people who would be affected were the upper middle class and the wealthy. (And whatever he’s trying to say about business deductions, it’s a red herring.) Very few others are driving a personal automobile into Manhattan every day, because it costs a great deal of money to park it once there. The demographics were well established, unsurprising, and undisputed. Ultimately it was Silver and his cohorts who killed pricing for their own petty reasons, but it didn’t help that a lot of substantially false populist rhetoric was deployed against it by the likes of Richard Brodsky, and repeated ad nauseum by the New York Times.

But this post isn’t about whether the statements are false as much as whether they left any room for successful transit operation in this city. I agree with the author, I do not see that they do and I don’t think that transit riders in this man’s district are at all represented. We had two good shots to fund transit in the past few years, and both sank in the state legislature. The onus was on the opponents to find some other means to fund transit, but of course they have stuck to their old game of declaring our transit authority (conveniently, the only one) to be unworthy of funding. That is MTA-bashing, effectively transit-bashing, and to point that out is not to be pro-MTA but just honest.

The MTA is making the cuts that it has been forced to make; this is what “trimming the fat” feels like, to borrow a phrase from the incessant critics. The fact that the same man who is partially responsible for the cuts is complaining about them is deeply hypocritical, yes, and entirely worthy of the criticism this post sends his way.

BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 10:24 pm

I agree that the middle class probably do not drive to Manhattan everyday because of the parking expense, but that does not mean that they would not be hurt if they drive in once a week for example.

The MTA has to become more efficient, and that also is honest and not MTA bashing. You say that the MTA is making the cuts that it has been forced to make. But did they make the right cuts? I don’t think so. They decided against cuts that won’t effect the public like taking a 10% salary cut or deferrment for all managers. Compared to City agencies, MTA employees are more than adequately compensated. Someone making $70,000 at a City agency is making $100,000 at the MTA. I worked with people making over $95,000 per year and some of them certainly did not work for that money. However, I don’t think it is fair for any salary reduction to affect someone’s pension, or to just layoff 15 and 20 year veteran managers without regard to the type of work those people were doing, as the MTA did several weeks ago.

Perhaps Colton was hypocritical on some level, but if the author could not find anything wrong with the specific comments he made that was the subject of the post, he did not deserve to be bashed. And to make a false statement that most people were in favor of congestion pricing and criticizing Colton for not supporting it, was also wrong.

Andrew August 18, 2010 - 11:38 pm

Few members of the middle class drive into the Manhattan CBD even one day per week. And those who do would probably prefer to pay a few dollars to avoid sitting in heavy traffic. Especially if, on the other days, they use transit (which would be receiving funding from congestion pricing), especially buses (which would be faster due to reduced congestion).

The only people who truly lose out in congestion pricing are time-insensitive drivers to the Manhattan CBD who rarely use transit. As VLM has pointed out, New Yorkers were in favor of congestion pricing as long as it would have been used to fund transit – and that’s despite the demagoguery of Brodsky and friends!

That said – Colton was entitled to disagree. He was welcome to propose a different solution to the transportation funding crisis. He didn’t, and a transportation agency was forced to cut service. The blame lands on his shoulders.

The layoffs affected both recent hires and long-time veterans, and, from what I’ve heard, were selected based on both function and merit. Layoffs allow the agency to eliminate its least productive employees and its least essential positions. A 10% salary cut would have simply chased away the most qualified employees in search of higher paying positions elsewhere.

BrooklynBus August 19, 2010 - 10:41 am

You are assuming congestion pricing would significantly reduce congestion which it would not. As I stated there are far better ways to reduce congestion than through this scheme.

Colton has been in the Senate a long time. He has seen an agency that is continually broke and always asking for more money. If you had a child like that would you keep raising his allowance or would you ask him to spend his money more wisely. Yes, it would have been nice if he would have proposed an alternative. He’s not totally innocent but neither is the MTA.

You say the layoffs were based on function and merit. That’s not what I heard. I understand that the layoffs of tech workers and managers (somewhere between 50 and 100) were limited solely to MaBSTOA employees. Funny that all the non-essential workers are MaBSTOA and not TA. I believe it is easier to fire a MaBSTOA employee and as I previously stated, the MTA always looks for the easy way of doing things, not the best way.

Finally, in this economy, someone who is already overpaid, will not leave his job because of a 10% salary reduction. MTA employees are very well compensated by comparison with other workers of the same caliber doing their type of work.

It seems that you have to disagree with everything I say.

BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 1:03 pm

As far as congestion pricing polls are concerned, apparently anyone can pull out any statictics they want to prove a point. Here is a poll that shows New Yorkers were overwhelmingly against congestion pricing. So please don’t try to pass it off as a fact that New Yorkers supported it when in fact they did not.

http://gothamist.com/2007/11/1.....ests_w.php

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VLM August 17, 2010 - 1:07 pm

And here’s a more recent poll that says exactly what I said: “But a 60 percent majority of [city and suburban New York] voters polled support the congestion pricing plan if revenues were used to improve mass transit. Nearly 70 percent of New York City voters were in favor of the Mayor’s congestion pricing if revenues are reinvested in public transportation, while 27 percent opposed it. Opinions were more divided in the suburbs, with 51 percent in favor of the plan, and upstate voters support it 59 percent.”

BrooklynBus August 17, 2010 - 1:35 pm

“If the money were to be used to support mass transit.” That’s a very wide statement. Mass transit where? If too much money went to the rails instead of the subways and buses (like what happened with the toll revenue), would people still be in favor of it? IF congestion pricing fees doubled within two years and continued to rise every two years, just like the tolls, would people still be in favor of it?

I wonder if you saw anything by age. Because those of us who were around and active in the 70s already learned that politicians can’t be trusted. If congestion pricing were approved, I bet the state and City would entirely eliminate their subsidy to mass transit. And who is to say that a portion of the congetion pricing won’t be shifted to the general fund after a few years, or limited to capital improvements while the MTA continues to cut services. There are just too many what ifs here. I’ve also read somewhere that more than half of the projected revenues from congestion pricing would go to administering the program, another reason why fees would likely be doubled in two years.

Bolwerk August 18, 2010 - 10:54 am

So now you’re arguing CP is bad because it could be misspent? What reforms would you like to make it so transit money is spent more sensibly? You can’t just dismiss every idea that can be abused because anything can be abused. I would, personally, love to see it legislated that the money can only be used inside the city – or, at least that no more than 50% collected from those outside the city could be used outside the city. The latter proposal would mean that anyone who lives in the five boroughs would see their fee spent on improvements in the five boroughs, and would split the difference with suburbanites. Meanwhile, suburbanites would at least be paying for their use while getting something in return that could make them less car-dependent.

Anyway, IMHO, CP is a good idea regardless of what it does for mass transit. Why? The streets are too crowded. Who does that crowding harm the most? The working and middle class people the anti-CP demagogues always pretend they care about. How? Besides from the fact that those of us who like to engage in this primal form of exercise called walking are highly prone to being run over, it doesn’t really do consumers any favors that delivery trucks are often delayed hours at a time by congestion, increasing pollution and driving consumer prices up.

If it funds mass transit improvements, CP is really just a nice bonus.

BrooklynBus August 18, 2010 - 1:21 pm

So now it is about congestion (which it wouldn’t even improve) and not about funding mass transit? Come on now.

The streets are too crowded because the City’s aim is to “calm” or slow down traffic rather than removing bottlenecks to speed it up and reduce congestion. The City is even testing the idea of lowering the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph. Do you have any idea what that idea if implemented all over the City would do to congestion?

We also shouldn’t be making this a City vs. suburbs issue. The money should go to where its most needed and the way to insure that is to divide it according to usage, with the subways getting the most since they carry the highest number of passengers, and not splitting it 50-50 with the rails like I believe the way the toll money is split. And of course money collected in NYC should not be spent in Buffalo.

Bolwerk August 18, 2010 - 2:15 pm

Congestion pricing was always at a minimum about congestion (congestion pricing – get it?). And why exactly would it not improve congestion? And what are these bottlenecks that you expect should be removed? The Brooklyn Bridge? Bottlenecks or no, the real problem with congestion has always been that there are too many cars trying to use too little space. That’s why adding lanes has generally always made traffic worse (even a carhead Daily News editorial cretin admitted as much today.

The idea behind lowering the speed limit in places with lots of pedestrians should be non-controversial: it will lower the number of pedestrians getting killed by autos. I expect it would be congestion-neutral, like most policies that don’t address the cost of using an auto. Regardless, it’s a bit galling to not be able to be safe in your own neighborhood because of the behavior of people who don’t even live there.

I agree the issue shouldn’t be made a city vs. suburbs issue, but it’s probably too late for that. The demagogues who talk about CP harming the middle class are usually coddling wealthy suburbanites they parade as the essence of “middle class” – it’s the poor and sometimes actually middle class in the city who suffer.

I’m not really surprised if commuter rail (if that’s what you mean “the rails”) gets the bulk of the toll collections, but at least a large reason for that would be that the LIRR is a tremendous money loser. But there is a logic to that, unlike taxi surcharges for rural upstate: at least those LIRR commuters might drive into the city if they didn’t have rail, and that would just cause more problems.

BrooklynBus August 19, 2010 - 12:02 am

Congestion pricing was never about congestion, it was always about raising money. Currently the only people who drive into the congestion zone (other than those who get free parking like police and politicians) are the very rich to whom cost doesn’t matter, and those who have little or no other choice, for example they are picking up or dropping off a large object they can’t take into the train. Those people will continue to drive regardless of congestion pricing. A few people may choose to drive less. The City’s own estimates only predicted a 10 to 20% reduction is congestion. Enforcing rules against double parking and requiring more night-time deliveries would have a greater effect on reducing congestion, than congestion pricing would.

It is true that adding lanes to highways for great distances (unless it’s for car pool lanes) does ultimately increase traffic. This was recognized forty years ago. Adding a lane for a short distance reduces congestion. One example, is the Belt Parkway eastbound just before the Farmer’s Boulevard exit. Although the overpass allows a fourth lane, there are only three, with the right lane striped off. There are always cars entering from the JFK Expressway and cars exiting onto Farmer’s Blvd. All that is needed is to unstripe a distance of under a hundred feet for a fourth lane, and traffic would move much better. That is an example of a bottleneck.

For 20 years the entrance from the FDR onto the Brooklyn Bridge merged into one lane, and traffic was always at a standstill. Minor reconstruction permitted a second lane at least 10 years ago, and traffic moves much more smoothly. A similar improvement was made on the BQE when it was reconstucted near the Battery tunnel when a third lane was added also about 10 years ago. Traffic also moves much better there today.

Extra turn lanes were added at the Bay Parkway exit of the Belt Parkway last year, also reducing congestion. That is the only recent improvement I am aware of. Most of DOT’s other “improvements” worsens traffic flow and increases congestion.

The problem with the City speed limit is that it is a flat 30 mph. Many streets would benefit from a 35 or 40 mile per hour limit, while many side streets would benefit by having their speeds lowered to 15 or 20 mph to make them safer and would not impact traffic flow. However, the City doesn’t want to spend money on the thousands new signs that would be needed. Perhaps, the speed limit should be different on four lane streets than it is on two lane streets with a higher limit for the lanes not near the parked cars where it would be safe for them to travel faster. That would reduce congestion and not make it more dangerous. The problem with lowering the speed limit on streets with many pedestrians, is that there aren’t many pedestrians at all times of the day. Perhaps the limit could be in effect from 6 AM to Midnight only or only during the hours needed. We have some turn restrictions signs only during certain hours, so why not speed limits?

Andrew August 18, 2010 - 11:47 pm

I needn’t reply to most of what you write; Bolwerk does a better job than I could possibly do.

But I will address two points.

First, lowering traffic speeds does not necessarily reduce capacity. (And if lowering traffic speeds entices some drivers to switch to other modes, like the subway, that leaves even more room on the street for everybody who’s left.)

Second, as I’ve explained to you before, the TBTA subsidy, as written into state law, sends $24 million of the surplus to NYCT, and the remainder is split equally between NYCT and the commuter railroads. Only the state legislature – e.g., William Colton – has the power to change the breakdown. If you’re concerned about this issue, have you written your state legislators about it?

BrooklynBus August 19, 2010 - 12:18 am

If you ever took a traffic engineering course you would know that the number of vehicles that can pass any given point on a highway increases the higher the speed. You can have X number of cars travelling. If they are all doing 60 mph, the traffic appears light. Lower the speed to 40, and the traffic is moderate. At a limit of 25 mph, the same number of cars on the roadway would be heavily congested. That’s why highways were built when local roads became congested when the auto became a popular mode of travel.

Of course on city streets, many other other factors besides the number of vehicles travelling and the speed limit determine if there is congestion or not, for example, traffic light synchronization, merging lanes, double parked vehicles, and number of cars turning, etc.

No, I have not contacted my state officials about changing the law to get more money to fund the subways, because the local officials would be all for it. It’s the upstate legislators that have no interest in changing the laws to help the City. They would want something in return to help their counties.

Bolwerk August 19, 2010 - 2:17 pm

For some reason this isn’t letting me reply directly to BB’s posts, so I can just respond to both here.

First, lowering traffic speeds does not necessarily reduce capacity. (And if lowering traffic speeds entices some drivers to switch to other modes, like the subway, that leaves even more room on the street for everybody who’s left.)

Raising speeds can have the effect of reducing capacity. Higher-speed travel requires more stopping distance.

Regardless, temporal and spacial capacity are separate issues. Pulling numbers out of my ass here, but if a car can go by a point every three seconds at 30mph and every seven seconds at 60mph, you get more cars going by that point in a minute at 30mph (60/3 vs. 60/7) – and that’s not accounting for more obvious causes of congestion, like driver error and lack of capacity.

And BB’s posts…

Congestion pricing was never about congestion, it was always about raising money.

If it addresses congestion, even stupidly, it’s about congestion. I’m sure money was a motivation, but I don’t see how that’s an inherently bad thing. The money is coming from people who are causing a specific problem. That it’s invested elsewhere in the transportation system, in a way that might offer solutions in the long term, I don’t see what the crime is.

Even I wouldn’t be especially supportive of the idea of using CG to pay for schools or lifeguards, but to pay for transit makes sense.

Currently the only people who drive into the congestion zone (other than those who get free parking like police and politicians)

And civil servants.

are the very rich to whom cost doesn’t matter, and those who have little or no other choice, for example they are picking up or dropping off a large object they can’t take into the train.

Those are the people who benefit from congestion pricing because they’re the ones who most value their time. The people who don’t benefit from congestion pricing are the ones who can substitute a similar transit trip, or don’t value the trip more than they value the congestion fee.

Even if you’re dirt poor, if you have an economic gain to make by driving into Manhattan, you would find the $8 + gas costs or whatever necessary to do it.

But I don’t buy the argument that many people will enter the congestion zone to make bulky pickups. The exact same products are likely to be available within sensible driving range of wherever their cars are kept. This notion that the cure for the city’s economic ills is to attract driving suburbanites to visit mall-like atmospheres within city limits has created boondoggles like Chelsea Piers and Gateway Center, where vast parking facilities are underutilized and city residents have dodge dangerous traffic to enjoy basic amenities. Such investments could have been directed towards public transportation for the people most likely to use the amenities, and the parking space would be economically productive as commercial space.

Larger drop-offs will happen, but they’ll be by delivery services primarily. Reduced congestion would allow them to move more swiftly, with better gas mileage, and maybe even fewer parking fines. That’s a savings that could be passed onto consumers.

Those people will continue to drive regardless of congestion pricing.

I don’t really see the harm in that. CP isn’t only about stopping driving; it’s about shifting some of the costs of driving back to the driver.

A few people may choose to drive less. The City’s own estimates only predicted a 10 to 20% reduction is congestion.

That sounds like a spectacular reduction to me, in a city where a few percentage points might mean hundreds of millions of dollars in economic savings and millions of gallons of fuel saved.

Enforcing rules against double parking and requiring more night-time deliveries would have a greater effect on reducing congestion, than congestion pricing would.

That sounds like a highly dubious claim. More enforcement means more enforcers on staff with costs in wages, equipment, processing, and the usual benefits. And, we’ve been trying an enforcement-based regime for a very long time.

I don’t know what to make of delivery hours, but they aren’t exactly always at rush hour as is.

Adding a lane for a short distance reduces congestion.

Now that sounds hihgly dependent on circumstances.

One example, is the Belt Parkway eastbound just before the Farmer’s Boulevard exit. Although the overpass allows a fourth lane, there are only three, with the right lane striped off. There are always cars entering from the JFK Expressway and cars exiting onto Farmer’s Blvd. All that is needed is to unstripe a distance of under a hundred feet for a fourth lane, and traffic would move much better. That is an example of a bottleneck.

I don’t understand this example. Are you saying that there are three lanes being fed by an entrance ramp, and adding 100′ to that entrance ramp will cure the congestion?

It seems to me the problem with “bottlenecks” tends to be that there is no way to calibrate them to every traffic situation. An exit ramp could be lightly used at rush hour, but popular on weekends to get to a stadium.

For 20 years the entrance from the FDR onto the Brooklyn Bridge merged into one lane, and traffic was always at a standstill. Minor reconstruction permitted a second lane at least 10 years ago, and traffic moves much more smoothly. A similar improvement was made on the BQE when it was reconstucted near the Battery tunnel when a third lane was added also about 10 years ago. Traffic also moves much better there today.

I’m sure there are hordes of stupidly designed bottlenecks in the city, but this seems highly anecdotal, and it strains credulity to say they’re the sole reason for congestion and fixing them will make most congestion disappear. It’s that belief that caused Moses to keep saying, well, if we just add this artery…. and LA planners to figure well, if we just add these lanes to the 405…. It just hasn’t worked in 80 years of designing arterial routes.

The problem with the City speed limit is that it is a flat 30 mph. Many streets would benefit from a 35 or 40 mile per hour limit, while many side streets would benefit by having their speeds lowered to 15 or 20 mph to make them safer and would not impact traffic flow.

Sure, if cars are all that matter, let’s set the optimal speed limits for cars on every street. However, there is that little matter of pedestrians who outnumber drivers by some ridiculous factor.

The problem with lowering the speed limit on streets with many pedestrians, is that there aren’t many pedestrians at all times of the day. Perhaps the limit could be in effect from 6 AM to Midnight only or only during the hours needed.

I don’t really object to that per se, but even having a few people out and about makes their lives must riskier if there are faster cars around.

I think if enforcement were sensible, police would only give out tickets to those who are causing harm, even if they’re technically breaking the rules. Sadly, we all know sensible enforcement is a thing of the past.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines August 18, 2010 - 9:49 am

[…] Ben Kabak Takes Brooklyn Rep William Colton to Task for Transit Hypocrisy […]

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one less car August 19, 2010 - 1:25 pm

Brooklyn Bus, I don’t agree with you on anything, but I’ll say you do have moxie. Higher speeds cause congestion, especially in NYC when they inevitably hit slower speeds. Higher speeds are funneling more cars into congested Manhattan. Your analysis only works if the world is all a superhighway with smooth ramps and even then (Los Angeles) the analysis doesn’t bear itself out. Consistent speeds even out the traffic, i.e. funneling thousands of cars going 70 mph on the BQE to the crowded streets of Williamsburg creates congestion. It is also shown that peds survive in great numbers if hit by a car going less than 25mph. It’s just logic. On the MTA, the Colton’s of the world have robbed NYC transit for years, from getting rid of the commuter tax, rejecting tolls, or congestion pricing, or raiding transpo funds… Let’s all agree that he is a hypocrite who has only hurt transit.

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BrooklynBus August 20, 2010 - 12:36 am

I’ll answer you and Bolwerk here, although I can’t address every single point. First Colton: I don’t believe you can blame the City elected officials for getting rid of the commuter tax. Blame the suburban politicians. Okay, he is a hypocrite, but so is virtually every other politician. As far as hurting transit, you can also blame the MTA by reducing bus connections making travel more difficult and that isn’t only referring to the recent service cutbacks. Even some of their so-called improvements made travel more difficult, like the elimination of the east-west portion of the B40 which made some trips impossible to make with less than three or four buses, when a simple extension of a few blocks of the B65 would have prevented that.

No cars are exiting any highways at 70 mph and no one would ever propose something that ridiculous. You are making no sense at all.

Pedestrians survive in greater numbers if hit at 25 mph. I’m sure even more survive at 10 mph. Maybe we should lower the citywide speed limit to 10 mph? There are other factors to consider here, like increasing travel time by 25% if speeds are lowered. That means deliveries take longer, costs go up and prices go up too. You can’t base a decision to lower speed limits on just one factor.

Higher stopping distance for faster moving cars has nothing to do with capacity.

I already explained my reasons for opposing congestion pricing and see no point in repeating myself. Which civil servants are you talking about that park for free? I used to be a civil servant and everyone I knew took the train. Only a select group gets free parking, judges, lawyers, court officers, commissioners, fire, police, etc. (I am vehemently opposed to that.) The vast majority of civil servants pay for parking like everyone else and in the congestion zone practically all of them use mass transit to get to work.

The $8 congestion fee would increase to $16 within one or two years. If you can’t see that, you would have to be very young.

Gateway Center parking is not underutilized. What do you consider underutilized? The fact that you don’t have to search 10 minutes for a parking space? That’s the precise reason it’s doing well.

If there were 6,000 murders last year and this year there were 5,400 murders. Would you say the police are doing a good job or would you expect more? I don’t see how a 10% reduction in congestion is significant at all. And what makes you think that most of the congestion is during the rush hour? On many streets the worst congestion is during midday when the trucks are making deliveries and are double parked forcing cars to constantly slow down and merge and shift lanes. (Also, taxi cabs suddenly stopping in front of you to discharge or pick up passengers.) That’s what causes most of the congestion in Midtown. Elsewhere it is the bottlenecks as well as double parking that causes congestion.

As I stated, I’m not for adding arteries like Robert Moses was, but for removing bottlenecks. You did not understand my example regarding the Belt Parkway at Farmer’s Blvd. There is an exit at Rockaway Boulevard. When the JFK Expressway was built, one or two exit ramps were eliminated resulting in two or three entrance ramps in succession without an exit for two miles until Farmer’s Blvd. Every evening cars are entering these ramps and no cars are getting off. By the time you get to Farmers, (between 5 and 7 PM) the road goes from moving at 50 mph to moving at 5 mph. The final entrance is about 100 feet before the Farmer’s exit, and there is an overpass between the entrance and exit. A lot of cars need to get off at Farmers. The entrance lane would connect to the exit lane but it is striped off not allowing any traffic on it for that distance under the overpass of 100 feet. If that were a traffic lane, the traffic would not slow down to 5 mph because right after that exit, it picks up again to about 30 mph. It wouldn’t eliminate the congestion problem there but would improve it somewhat.

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Bolwerk August 20, 2010 - 4:30 pm

As far as hurting transit, you can also blame the MTA by reducing bus connections making travel more difficult and that isn’t only referring to the recent service cutbacks. Even some of their so-called improvements made travel more difficult, like the elimination of the east-west portion of the B40 which made some trips impossible to make with less than three or four buses, when a simple extension of a few blocks of the B65 would have prevented that.

How much is the MTA responsible for that, and how much blame belongs to the TWU? Or how much belongs to the only party with the power to overrule them both, the legislature?

No cars are exiting any highways at 70 mph and no one would ever propose something that ridiculous. You are making no sense at all.

You should see some of the postings I read on usenet. 😉

Pedestrians survive in greater numbers if hit at 25 mph. I’m sure even more survive at 10 mph. Maybe we should lower the citywide speed limit to 10 mph? There are other factors to consider here, like increasing travel time by 25% if speeds are lowered. That means deliveries take longer, costs go up and prices go up too.

During peak hours, travel times probably average considerably less than 25MPH for almost all modes. Don’t forget, central Yonkers to midtown is ~15mi, and can easily be an hour drive.

I think the appropriate thing to do is rethink when, where, and how we deal with traffic. There are certainly streets where cars make very little sense because they simply impede more people than they move.

As far as deliveries are concerned, the current congestion-encouraging regime is already causing prices to go up on deliveries. Stop and go traffic is probably the biggest source of waste. Predictable timing and gas usage would flat out save a lot of money for the region.

I would think there should be delivery truck and transit-only access to some places at some times too. But it’s not a black and white issue.

You can’t base a decision to lower speed limits on just one factor.

You can prioritize. By confusing traffic with economic activity, the current regime prioritizes POVs over transit, pedestrians, and delivery vehicles. All three of those things are more important.

There are probably a number of smart ways to do things better, but they all entail not doing what we’ve been doing, and not trying to preserve what hasn’t worked.

Higher stopping distance for faster moving cars has nothing to do with capacity.

It has a lot to do with capacity. Manually-driven vehicles can’t travel, say, 10 feet apart at 50mph. It would be exceedingly unsafe.

I already explained my reasons for opposing congestion pricing and see no point in repeating myself.

I didn’t ask you to repeat yourself, but your “reasons” don’t seem to address the very reasons congestion pricing makes sense, and your claim that congestion pricing has no effect on congestion itself is highly dubious.

Which civil servants are you talking about that park for free? I used to be a civil servant and everyone I knew took the train. Only a select group gets free parking, judges, lawyers, court officers, commissioners, fire, police, etc. (I am vehemently opposed to that.)

A lot of the administrative workers near City Hall apparently do, or at least did a few years ago. But if it’s limited to the ones you say (and their aids, presumably), it’s already a tremendous parking subsidy for people who probably don’t need free parking.

I can understand giving a parking allowance to civil servants who might need parking in the course of their work days (e.g., social workers).

The vast majority of civil servants pay for parking like everyone else and in the congestion zone practically all of them use mass transit to get to work.

Maybe, but there are vast numbers of civil servants and it doesn’t take many to cause traffic problems.

http://nyc.uncivilservants.org/the_problem

The $8 congestion fee would increase to $16 within one or two years. If you can’t see that, you would have to be very young.

I don’t see why it would do that, but it’s probably a pretty fair price for the premium of driving into one of the most congested areas in the United States.

What I would like to see is, at a minimum, a price high enough to guarantee that there is smooth traffic at all times. I’m not sure what that price is myself, though it’s probably much more than $8.

Gateway Center parking is not underutilized. What do you consider underutilized? The fact that you don’t have to search 10 minutes for a parking space? That’s the precise reason it’s doing well.

It’s doing well because people walk to it. It might be doing better if they could walk to it more conveniently. And the transit access stinks.

That the parking lot sits mostly empty is a clear indication that there is an extraneous amount of parking space. From what recall, 10% of spaces free at all times is enough, though I’ve seen sources that say 20%.

If there were 6,000 murders last year and this year there were 5,400 murders. Would you say the police are doing a good job or would you expect more?

I rather question the extent to which police affect the murder rate, given that the presence of police is fairly constant and murders are variable.

But assuming they do, there are plenty of other factors. For instance, some of the lowering of our murder rate since the 1980s can be attributed to medical advances. People who would have died in 1985 can be saved today.

I don’t see how a 10% reduction in congestion is significant at all.

Measured in saved fuel, it’s likely (tens of? hundreds of?) millions of barrels of fuel a year. Measured in saved time, it’s likely tens of thousands of person-hours per day. Express that in dollar terms, and its direct ramifications become pretty significant – for the government, too, since they would see increased tax revenues.

And, remember, congestion caused by you doesn’t only affect you, but everyone behind you.

And what makes you think that most of the congestion is during the rush hour?

Nothing, though the most congested period is clearly rush hour. Our region has congestion for probably 12-16 hours a day.

On many streets the worst congestion is during midday when the trucks are making deliveries and are double parked forcing cars to constantly slow down and merge and shift lanes.

If they have to double park in the first place, it sounds like the implication is that there are too many cars parked in potential loading zones.

(Also, taxi cabs suddenly stopping in front of you to discharge or pick up passengers.)

That’s probably more a source for annoyance than a disproportionate cause of congestion. POVs are about point-to-point travel, which means moving cars are constantly slowing to discharge passengers, park, or alter their routes.

Elsewhere it is the bottlenecks as well as double parking that causes congestion.

Elsewhere is the same as everywhere: too many vehicles in the space provided. As a general rule, eliminate a bottle neck and the capacity will be filled, just like pouring a gallon of water into a shot glass or a pint glass will eventually cause an overflow.

The entrance lane would connect to the exit lane but it is striped off not allowing any traffic on it for that distance under the overpass of 100 feet. If that were a traffic lane, the traffic would not slow down to 5 mph because right after that exit, it picks up again to about 30 mph. It wouldn’t eliminate the congestion problem there but would improve it somewhat.

I see what you’re talking about. Here is a Google Maps satellite view of the general area.

I agree it looks silly. I would prefer to know why it’s like that before commenting though. It’s clearly deliberate.

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BrooklynBus August 20, 2010 - 8:54 pm

There are some TWU rules that are archaic and tie management’s hands when it comes to providing service like the inability to hire part-time workers and having to pay swing instead. Aside from that, I don’t blame the union that much. Also, I fail to see what power the state legislature has over union work rules. And the MTA isn’t blameless either.

“There are certain streets where cars make little sense.”

Other than Lower Manhattan’s narow streets, I don’t know what other streets you may be refering to. Many of those streets have cars banned from them. That should have been done 40 years ago.

The City has been talking about cracking down on the abuse of parking permits since the 1970s, every time the TV does an expose. But nothing ever changes. Anyone who is politically connected gets away with murder. Last summer I saw a meter maid ticket a car for overtime parking, then skip the next violator because of a placard on the windshield. So I walked over to read it. The person was a volunteer in “Youth Dares” a citizen volunteer program run by the local precinct. So that exempts him from parking meters? Ridiculous. In the end we all pay and that’s why the rates have to be constantly raised, so the politically connected don’t have to pay.

And what’s wrong with 20% of the parking spaces being empty at Gateway? I would say that the vacancy rate at surburban centers could be as high as 50% at certain off-peak times. People appreciate the convenience of the free parking and not having to search 15 minutes for a spot. I don’t see anything wrong with that. I don’t agree that many people walk to Gateway. I would say that perhaps 80% drive, 15% come by bus and only 5% walk.

Yes, mass transit there is horrendous. Only one bus route until a few years ago. I was the one who suggested the MTA extend the B83 via the Belt Parkway. That was met with immediate rejection. Then they studied it for three years and decided to try it. Also, the first route, the B13, should have been operating on Day one, but I believe it took at least a year for it to be extended and only at 30 minute intervals. It was so successful (ridership on the route increased by 80% with that awful headway) that service had to be increased. People have been asking for a new route from Southern Brooklyn (which has no access to Gateway other than by car) for five years, and the MTA has continually said no. So who do you blame for the fact that transit service there “stinks,” the unions or the State Legislature? How about the MTA where the blame belongs. And please don’t say that if the State gave them the money they could afford to provide service, because we are talking about years when the MTA had a surplus, and they still wouldn’t provide the service.

A taxi stopping in front of you causes 20 cars to needlessly stop behind it. That is congestion, more than just an annoyance.

Your analysis about the capacity being filled if a bottleneck is removed is just not true. It is true when you are talking about adding a lane to a highway, but not if it’s to remove a bottleneck.

I’ve been driving since 1970. When I would turn on the radio, the first traffic delay you would hear every single morning related to the Bruckner Traffic Circle, a chronic source of delays. It was upgraded to the Bruckner Interchange, and after that I rarely ever heard the word Bruckner again in a traffic report.

Another example. The right lane from the BQE going south used to be an exit only, leaving only two lanes to continue to the Gowanus. Traffic on the stretch of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Hamilton Avenue southbound crawled at ten miles per hour at all times except from about 11PM to 6 AM when cars could travel at the speed limit. Somehwere in the 1980s or 90s the ramp was rebuilt allowing for a third lane which eliminated the merge. Today traffic is at 10 mph only during the evening rush hours. All other times it moves at between 35 and 50 mph. The capacity was never refilled. So much for your theory.

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Bolwerk August 21, 2010 - 2:09 pm

Also, I fail to see what power the state legislature has over union work rules. And the MTA isn’t blameless either.

The state has sovereignty over the city, MTA, and TWU. But for their state charters, none of those entities could exist, or have the power they do.

Other than Lower Manhattan’s narow streets, I don’t know what other streets you may be refering to. Many of those streets have cars banned from them. That should have been done 40 years ago.

Removing cars from Times Square sure made sense. Anywhere there are hordes of pedestrians it should be considered. Cars don’t mix well with other street uses.

In the end we all pay and that’s why the rates have to be constantly raised, so the politically connected don’t have to pay.

I agree, which is why I favor pricing reform (congestion and parking).

And what’s wrong with 20% of the parking spaces being empty at Gateway?

It’s apparently more than that.

I would say that the vacancy rate at surburban centers could be as high as 50% at certain off-peak times.

That sounds reasonable. But The Bronx is not a suburb, and mis-utilized space is not good urban planning.

People appreciate the convenience of the free parking and not having to search 15 minutes for a spot. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

I wasn’t really trying to address that. I think a bigger problem is that pedestrians and transit users don’t have especially good access.

I don’t agree that many people walk to Gateway. I would say that perhaps 80% drive, 15% come by bus and only 5% walk.

Here’s what the NY Times says about it: “Mr. Goldstein said that Related originally expected about 40 percent of the mall’s customers to arrive by public transportation, but so far a majority of customers had been traveling this way. Livery cab service is available for shoppers who make bulky purchases, and some stores, like Best Buy and Home Depot, provide delivery for a fee.”

Yes, mass transit there is horrendous. Only one bus route until a few years ago. I was the one who suggested the MTA extend the B83 via the Belt Parkway. That was met with immediate rejection. Then they studied it for three years and decided to try it. Also, the first route, the B13, should have been operating on Day one, but I believe it took at least a year for it to be extended and only at 30 minute intervals.

Ah, I don’t think we’re talking about the same place. I was referring to the project in The Bronx.

I haven’t been to the one in Brooklyn. I do (or did), however, live along the B13. Has it been truncated though? I’m not sure if the service changed.

It was so successful (ridership on the route increased by 80% with that awful headway) that service had to be increased. People have been asking for a new route from Southern Brooklyn (which has no access to Gateway other than by car) for five years, and the MTA has continually said no. So who do you blame for the fact that transit service there “stinks,” the unions or the State Legislature? How about the MTA where the blame belongs. And please don’t say that if the State gave them the money they could afford to provide service, because we are talking about years when the MTA had a surplus, and they still wouldn’t provide the service.

This anecdote may be in the MTA’s court, but I largely still blame the city and state on the macro level. The MTA sucks, but they shouldn’t be left unaccountable. Years and years of bad decisions should lead to reform or disbandment of the MTA.

But I guess I’m one of those radicals who thinks the city should be responsible for its own transit service. 😉

A taxi stopping in front of you causes 20 cars to needlessly stop behind it. That is congestion, more than just an annoyance.

Agreed, but whether it’s a cab doing it or a suburban mom doing it doesn’t make a huge difference. Cabs should have unloading zones in busy areas, in places where they do not interfere with buses.

Your analysis about the capacity being filled if a bottleneck is removed is just not true. It is true when you are talking about adding a lane to a highway, but not if it’s to remove a bottleneck.

Removing a bottleneck can make a service more efficient, but it doesn’t mean it won’t alter the supply and demand dynamic. The funny thing about traffic planning has always been the circumstances where more capacity -> less efficiency (and that might be most cases).

In the specific bottleneck you’re referring to, the obvious thing would be to test your theory to see if you’re right or wrong. I would have no objection to that, though surely the state would if we did it. :-p

It was upgraded to the Bruckner Interchange, and after that I rarely ever heard the word Bruckner again in a traffic report.

The problem with that argument is it doesn’t preclude the delay from simply being moved elsewhere.

The right lane from the BQE going south used to be an exit only, leaving only two lanes to continue to the Gowanus. Traffic on the stretch of the BQE between Atlantic Avenue and Hamilton Avenue southbound crawled at ten miles per hour at all times except from about 11PM to 6 AM when cars could travel at the speed limit. Somehwere in the 1980s or 90s the ramp was rebuilt allowing for a third lane which eliminated the merge. Today traffic is at 10 mph only during the evening rush hours. All other times it moves at between 35 and 50 mph. The capacity was never refilled. So much for your theory.

The “theory” applies to cases when there is higher demand than there is supply. There are cases when that is not so.

In general, in our region, that is so however. I’m really more interested in the general than in anecdotes. I’d like the entire region unclogged, not an artery here and an artery there. Fix every “bottleneck” – if that’s even possible, and I suspect it’s not – and there will still be congestion in the region because demand for road space exceeds supply.

Hence the logic of pricing road use!

BrooklynBus August 22, 2010 - 2:02 pm

We could argue this forever. So I will just make a few points.

It is debatable if closing off Times Square was such a great idea. (I’m sot sure about it because DOT set no criteria in advance to determine what would constitute a success since they were going to declare it a success no matter what the data showed.) Traffic doesn’t look too bad around Herald Square or Times Square, but, have you seen how congested Seventh Avenue is in the upper fifties? Also the east-west streets are practically at a standstill during midday. I don’t think it was that way before. Also, the MTA claims its buses have been slowed by ten minutes because of the change.

We are not talking about the same Gateway, but apparently, transit service is deficient at both shopping centers and you only have the MTA to blame for that. You are correct that the MTA sucks and should be made accountable.

When Gateway – Brooklyn opened, the MTA extended the B13 to Williamsburg from Ridgewood to cover the northern part of the route and made the B13 circuitous so they could eliminate the B18. They extended the southern end to Gateway. Extending the northern end made no sense at all because no one was going to travel all the way from Williamsburg to Gateway Center. They did this to save one bus per day. B13 riders now had to endure a 15 diversion to get to Ridgewood and former B18 riders near the cemeteries were left with only the option of walking a half mile to the L train. Their planners figured that no one needed to travel through a cemetery. forgetting about visitors and workers and the fact that because the bus made few stops there, it was a very quick ride.

This was a dumb idea and very shortsighted because it eventually costed them more money to operate the route, rather than saving money, because when service had to be increased on the B13 from every 30 minutes to every 15 minutes because of the mall’s success, it meant that extra buses had to operate all the way to Williamsburg rather than only to Ridgewood. So, not only did this change inconvenience existing riders, it meant rather than saving a bus a least one or two additional buses were required in an area where the patronage did not justify it. This is an example of MTA planning.

Now with these latest cutbacks, the northern extension was undone because it was a failure. Only now there is no bus operating north of Ridgewood. The B13 was cutback to Ridgewood eliminating the former portion of the B18, so that route is now totally discontinued inconveniencing even more people. Had they not been so short-sighted just to save a single bus around 2002, the B18 might still be operating today.

If the Bruckner delay was moved elsewhere, then you would hear another area that is chronically delayed every morning and you don’t. Yes, there are often delays on the GWB and the Cross Bronx, but it is not every single day like the Bruckner was.

Bolwerk August 20, 2010 - 4:56 pm

Now that I thought about it, one thing about that arrangement that does make sense is it keeps entering vehicles from meandering in the exit lane long enough to interfere with vehicles that need to exit.

Perhaps this was a problem in the past?

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BrooklynBus August 20, 2010 - 8:02 pm

I don’t remember when the area was not striped off. I think it has always been that way.

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