Home Buses Defending the 34th St. Transitway

Defending the 34th St. Transitway

by Benjamin Kabak

Project opponents believe the 34th St. Transitway will blight the area. (Image via NYC DOT)

Since early 2008, New York City has been working its way toward implementing a true Transitway along 34th St. The city’s plan would include all of the trappings of Select Bus Service — dedicated and physically separated lanes, pre-board fare payment, etc. — and an elimination of two-way traffic along the thoroughfare. This heaven for pedestrians and transit would provide for higher-speed connections to, from east to west, the 6, N, R, Q, B, D, F, M, 1, 2, 3, A, C and E trains as well as a stop at Penn Station. Who could argue against it?

Well, as the Stop the 34th Street Transit website makes abundantly clear, the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association thinks these upgrades are the devil incarnate. Powered by people who are mostly irate over the fact that taxis won’t be able to drop them off directly in front of their apartments, these wealthy residents have couched their opposition to the Transitway in faux-populist terms. They claim that a “wall of buses” that operate at “rapid” speeds will “create safety issues for young children.” They claim the Transitway will “clog small streets with traffic.” They claim noise and air pollution levels will increase. They ignore the reality that pedestrians will find 34th St. far friendlier with the Transitway than without.

My favorite argument is one of blight. Saying that they’d prefer elevated train lines because they “had the courtesy of being above street level,” the Transitway opponents claim that the bus lane improvements “risk re-creating the old els’ blight, depressing home values and the viability of local businesses.” Even though the NYC DOC is aware of the more legitimate concerns, Murray Hill will not be easily swayed.

It’s easy to mock these folks not brave enough to put their names on their critiques for their windshield/NIMBYism perspectives, but as Streetsblog notes, those who support this project have to take these opponents seriously. CB4 on the West Side supports the project while CB 6 on the East Side isn’t a fan. Thus, proponents of better bus transit need to convince CB 5 that this is a worthwhile project, and at 6 p.m. today at the YMCA on 14th St., that vital community board is hosting an open house.

With this Transitway, bus speeds will increase by 20-35 percent depending upon the time of day, and the city is prepared to ensure adequate curbside access. Traffic will be calmed, and the area will become more accessible. Streetsblog’s Ben Fried sums up the benefits:

Passengers on 34th Street currently travel at an average 4.5 mph in regular curbside bus lanes. The transitway project can set a major precedent, establishing the city’s first physically separated bus lanes and speeding up the tens of thousands of daily bus trips on 34th Street. New curb extensions, pedestrian medians, and, potentially, public plazas would transform the corridor and transfer large swaths of space from traffic to people.

So if you have a chance tonight, go to the YMCA at 125 West 14th Street at 6 p.m. and make your voices heard. After all, in the area around the proposed Transitway, 86 percent of workers commute by transit or their own two feet and 82 percent do not even own cars. We don’t want to see a vocal minority stop a vital transit project, and their spurious claims should not carry the day.

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Todd November 22, 2010 - 3:26 pm

The 34th Street Transit website (the unsigned “People’s Stories” section included) reads like it was all written by one angry anonymous person.

Alon Levy November 22, 2010 - 3:40 pm

Who could argue against it?

Anyone who’s had to ride the busier-by-a-factor-of-five, slower-than-walking buses on 125th?

Benjamin Kabak November 22, 2010 - 3:41 pm

Well, that’s not arguing against 34th St. as much as it’s arguing for the 125th St. corridor first. I don’t disagree with you there.

Alon Levy November 22, 2010 - 3:54 pm

In principle, yes. But in practice, the city is spending money and political capital on 34th instead of on other routes; for example, Albany’s bus cam compromise locks in the existing 6 SBS routes, forbidding bus cams elsewhere.

BrooklynBus November 22, 2010 - 7:31 pm

Now this one, I’m in favor of.

tacony palmyra November 22, 2010 - 5:37 pm

Biggest problem with 125th is the large number of passengers who require assistance with their wheelchairs. If I come into Manhattan on the M60 and notice a couple wheelchairs I bail before we even get to Lex and walk home quicker.

Alon Levy November 22, 2010 - 5:58 pm

There are passenger in wheelchairs everywhere, including on the (relatively) geriatric Upper East Side. The best thing that can be done to speed their bus trips is level boarding, which is one of the benefits bundled together in SBS.

Andrew November 24, 2010 - 11:44 pm

They’re not busier by a factor of five.

Al D November 22, 2010 - 3:49 pm

First, who in the world would let their children run around on 34 St unsupervised or at least anywhere near the curb. Second, as if it’s some sort of children’s Utopia today. These are supposed to bright and wealthy people, and this is the best NIMBY junk they can concoct? Better get that Sheephead Bay CB15 lady up there as a paid consultant. Now she knows how to NIMBY it up!

NYGabriel November 22, 2010 - 5:09 pm

I am all for improved transit, but living on 35th st, which already moves at a snails pace, it will only get worse. The traffic on this “side street” is already horrendous. In the 17 years I have lived on this street, the traffic, noise and pollution has gotten continually worse. THe 34th st transit-way will push even more cars to 35th.

Benjamin Kabak November 22, 2010 - 5:11 pm

Eliminating lanes eliminates cars. You’ll see that happen along 34th St. when the Transitway is built. It won’t make traffic on already-clogged side streets worse.

Steven November 23, 2010 - 2:58 pm

Not sure what you mean by “eliminating lines eliminates cars,” but I assume you mean that if the lines are shorter for mass transit, fewer people will use their cars. Even if that’s true, I don’t see how it is relevant to a discussion of traffic on 34th street and surrounding streets, because I don’t imagine that too many of the people in the cars on those streets are just folks driving across town because the lines for the 34th street bus were too long. Many of them are coming from or going to the Lincoln Tunnel or the Queens-Midtown tunnel, and I don’t think improved 34th street bus service is likely to have any impact on whether they drive or not.

Sprooklyn November 23, 2010 - 6:48 pm

He said Lanes with an ‘A’ – not lines. I assume that changes your argument?

Steven November 23, 2010 - 10:35 pm

My eyes must be worse than I thought. But I don’t really agree with the “eliminating lanes eliminates cars” argument either. You need to understand what those cars that currently use 34th street are doing there, and what they will do if those lanes disappear. I find it perfectly plausible that they will use other nearby streets rather than not drive at all.

BrooklynBus November 24, 2010 - 10:33 am

It doesn’t eliminate cars. It just moves them elsewhere, not necessarily to the side streets. May just spread them far away so you can’t quite figure out where they went. I think eliminating parking is a greater deterance to eliminating cars than eliminating a lane.

Andrew November 24, 2010 - 11:54 pm

No, it eliminates cars. Many people have choices of how to get where they’re going. The more lanes you make available to cars, the easier it is to get around by car, and the more people opt to use their cars than otherwise.

On the flip side, improving transit makes transit more attractive, which draws people from other modes (including cars) to transit.

When the West Side Highway collapsed, much of its traffic disappeared. Drivers knew that north-south driving capacity had been reduced, so many of them shifted to other modes (or to other destinations).

BrooklynBus November 25, 2010 - 1:18 pm

I was talking about 34th Street in particular not some abstract theory which may be true elsewhere.

No one will make the decision whether or not to bring his car into the City based on the number of lanes available on 34th Street. His decision will be based on other factors, parking being one of them, and if he has packages that he does not want to lug on the subway, for example. Those who are willing to pay for the parking and there aren’t that many, will continue to drive. They won’t leave their cars no matter what and that will never change. Some have not seen the inside of a train or bus in 30 years.

Quicker transit on 34th Street may draw a few from their cars, but I believe many will come from other crosstown buses, moreso than from autos, as well as new trips generated. As I said, I believe parking and packages to be greater factors than speed when someone is determining whether to leave his car home or not. Don’t forget, for most the 34th Street portion will only be a small portion of their trip.

As far as the West Side Highway, show me the statistics that much of its traffic disappeared and were shifted to other modes. I do not believe this to be true at all because capacity there was never reduced. It was merely shifted to the surface. When the Highway was elevated, the space below was mostly unusable. It has since been turned into a wide boulevard, perhaps increasing capacity, not reducing it.

Andrew November 25, 2010 - 11:05 pm

Improved transit and/or or reduced car capacity on 34th Street could be the tipping point for someone formerly on the car side of the fence.

As I pointed out elsewhere, the traffic disappearance occurred immediately – not over the 2+ decades that it took to build the replacement roadway.

Peter Smith November 22, 2010 - 5:19 pm

Who could argue against it?

Um, people of good conscience?

Banning bikes from New York City streets is not the right way to proceed. We need to allow bikes on all of New York City’s streets, and eventually even invite them to be there. That’s pretty much the exact opposite of what the 34th Street Anti-Bikeway will achieve.

ajedrez November 22, 2010 - 5:47 pm

a) 34th Street is already unfriendly to bikes, with is high traffic volumes.

b) I’m sure there is a way to create bicycle space in the portion being used for automobiles.

Alon Levy November 22, 2010 - 6:01 pm

They don’t allow bikes on subway tracks, either. So what?

SEAN November 22, 2010 - 5:46 pm

Who could argue against it? Someone who doesn’t think before they speak?

Boo hoo! Cry me a river

Red November 22, 2010 - 5:54 pm

If you live in the area but can’t attend the forum, please take the time to at least write a letter to CB5 sharing your experience as a pedestrian/bus rider and explaining why you support the bus. I did – you can e-mail office@cb5.org and have them forward your comments to the CB’s Transportation Committee.

The Transitway opponents’ website also has a nice list of elected official contact information.

Anonymeese November 22, 2010 - 7:09 pm

I get the feeling that digging for a subway shuttle would be less of a hassle than this transitway. Don’t we have some ARC funds lying around?

Alon Levy November 22, 2010 - 7:27 pm

To what end? The existing shuttle is 8 blocks up. If you want to spend money on a crosstown line, try 125th, or Triboro RX.

stevesleeps November 23, 2010 - 2:42 pm

I was recently in Manhattan on a Saturday night, and could not believe how overcrowded the street corners were as I walked rom Times Sq. to East 40th and Third Ave. I could not help thinking that putting pedestrians on a seperate level from the traffic would be a benefit to both, and improve the experience of travelling as well as sight-seeing. On the other hand, eliminating busses from 34th Street would also have the effect of speeding-up traffic. Batching pedestrian crossing at corners while vehicle traffic is delayed via red lights might also speed things up if pedestrians have the patience to wait their turn to cross streets, while vehicular traffic takes its turn. In other words, we need more cross-town subways; I whole hartedly agree with you.

JP November 22, 2010 - 8:07 pm

As it is, 34th is crowded with parked buses on both sides. That’s all I saw Friday afternoon when I walked most of the way across the island.

Jason November 26, 2010 - 8:42 pm

That is one of my primary concerns with the 34th Street transitway. What is going to happen with all of those parked buses? If you have only a two lane two-way bus route, tour buses are going to use it as will ferry buses “waiting” for their scheduled departure times. Unless this route is M34/M16 only, I don’t see it helping the situation.

The Guardrail November 22, 2010 - 9:35 pm

I love how the opponents state that this will create a “boondoggle” on 34th Street. Isn’t 34th Street already a boondoggle? Also, their claims or “arborcide” are unsubstantiated. They took a generic schematic and compared it to the tree-lined section of 34th St on the EAST SIDE! Puhleeez…

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines November 23, 2010 - 9:01 am

[…] Ben Kabak Smacks Down 34th Street Transitway NIMBYs […]

Gary November 23, 2010 - 9:40 am

I had a CB6 meeting last night – did anybody make it to this meeting that can give Ben a report?

Kid Twist November 23, 2010 - 10:53 am

Oh my God! These people are wealthy! How dare they speak out on a public issue!

Benjamin Kabak November 23, 2010 - 10:54 am

Not the point. Because they’re wealthy, they have a skewed perspective on the Transitway and they have the resources to mobilize effectively to present a voice that’s louder than the number of constituents they actually represent. There’s nothing wrong with being wealthy and plenty of wealthy people support the Transitway, but this particular group of wealthy Murray Hill residents is flexing power disproportionate to its numbers.

Larry Littlefield November 23, 2010 - 11:14 am

For those of you who don’t know, there used to be an elevated railroad on 34th Street from 3rd Avenue to the East River.

tom November 24, 2010 - 1:27 pm

If you are a wealthy Murray Hill resident and support this plan please respond now. Attach a copy of a recent 1099 and W2. Not that we don’t trust you. We’re all trusting people here and think the best of everyone.

Waiting for a Transitway on 34th St. :: Second Ave. Sagas January 27, 2011 - 1:22 am

[…] few months ago, I explored how ridiculous these arguments are, but still, the vocal minority speaks out. The city, meanwhile, will drag out the planning process. […]

34th Street: The life and death of a Great Idea :: Second Ave. Sagas March 3, 2011 - 1:28 am

[…] sparred with these claims in the past. Basically, they amount to glorified NIMBYism. New Yorkers hate change, and they particularly hate being told that the streets belong primarily […]


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