Home Buses In new DOT plan, the death of a Transitway

In new DOT plan, the death of a Transitway

by Benjamin Kabak

Project opponents actually contended that the 34th St. Transitway would have blighted the area. (Image via NYC DOT)

As the city readies to unveil a drastically reduced plan for 34th St., the once and former Transitway will go down in history as another great idea for the transportation landscape in the City of New York that fell victim to the complaints of its neighbors. Instead of physically separated bus lanes and a pedestrian plaza that would promote economic activity along a busy and tourist-heavy corridor of Manhattan, cars and curbside access have seemingly won the day after months of bitter debate.

Still, despite my eulogy, the proposal isn’t all bad. Car traffic will be restricted, and buses will earn their dedicated — but not physically separated — lanes in the new proposal set to be revealed later today. Michael Grynbaum has the nitty gritty:

Cars and trucks on 34th Street in Manhattan would be squeezed into two lanes — one moving east, the other west — with a bus-only lane on either side, under a revised plan for the thoroughfare to be unveiled by the Bloomberg administration on Monday. The plan would eliminate an earlier proposal for concrete barriers that would have separated bus lanes on the street from other vehicular traffic, according to four people briefed on the city’s plans who did not want to be identified over concerns that city officials might be angry at them for releasing the information early.

The reconstituted streetscape is a stripped-down version of an earlier design, first proposed by the city in 2008, that drew ire from some residents and tabloid columnists. Other controversial elements of that plan have now also been scrapped, including a pedestrian plaza that would have banned cars and trucks between Herald Square and the Empire State Building.

The new proposal calls for buses to travel in exclusive terra cotta-hued lanes, similar to a street design recently installed along First and Second Avenues that has speeded up trips along Manhattan’s East Side. But a parking and loading lane would be installed in some places between the bus lanes and the curbside, a concession to residents and business owners concerned that the plan would block automobile access to the front of their buildings. A spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation declined to comment on Friday.

Those involved in this months-long soap opera praised the Department of Transportation and, begrudgingly, Janette Sadik-Khan for their willingness to listen to what I will politely call community input. “In the midst of all this hubbub, there has been careful analysis going on behind the scenes,” Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership said to The Times. “They have come to a scheme that they believe in, rather than one that’s only the product of political compromise.”

Daniel Garodnick, the City Council member who represents may residents along 34th Street, inadvertently exposed the true concerns: curbside space for cars. “Curb access is already the source of much frustration, and this plan may actually bring some relief,” he said. The Post meanwhile sees conspiracy theories everywhere and says the process cannot be trusted.

Even Gene Russianoff, a long-time transportation advocate, seemed ready to throw in the tunnel for the once-heralded Transitway. “This is New York. Every inch of public space has a constituency and a set of demands. It’s just realistic to pay attention to what those are and the parameters of what’s possible,” he said.

Yet, what happened here is a blow to improved transportation and pedestrian access. As Grynbaum writes in his piece, the new proposal is “also expected to create more space for parking, loading and deliveries than is found in the street’s current configuration,” and that’s just the opposite of what New York’s planners should be encouraging in mid-2011. To build a sustainable city, to cut emissions and congestion, the streets must be made safer and more friendly for pedestrians. Particularly around Midtown, in which people and not cars are the shoppers and browsers, unnecessary driving should be discouraged while activity that contributes to the economy should be encouraged.

What has happened instead is a tyranny of the minority. The people who would stand to see their personal auto access eliminated have risen a stink, and in a city in which curbside access is all but non-existent in most places, they have turned it into a rallying cry. The city itself failed to adequately consider input from commuters and allowed the opponents to grab the press. Who knows The Post has made it its mission to destroy any transit improvements that take street space away from cars? Maybe it’s advertiser-driver, but maybe it’s just ignorance and fear of positive change.

Ultimately, the city should offer this Transitway to a neighborhood that wants it. Flatbush Ave. in Brooklyn needs some serious traffic calming and reengineering. Queens Boulevard is ripe for a Transitway as well. If 34th Street does not want to serve as a model for a better city, let another borough take a crack at it. This might be a setback, but it shouldn’t be an ultimate loss.

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Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines March 14, 2011 - 9:00 am

[…] Ben Kabak: Any Neighborhood in NYC Want a Transitway? […]

pea-jay March 14, 2011 - 9:11 am

wont this also generate more potential revenue in the form of fines as well? Non separated lanes will suffer more incursions by regular vehicles than the original plan, offering up greater fine potential.

Al D March 14, 2011 - 9:39 am

Will we never be a World City in this category? The needs of the few outweigh the needs of the masses.

Fun With Urban Planning: Latest 34th Street Plan Just Calls for Bus and Loading Lanes - The Broker Buddy March 14, 2011 - 10:14 am

[…] have to wait for the full community reaction, but transportation blog Second Avenue Sagas is…not exactly loving the new proposal: “The once and former Transitway will go down in […]

Andrew D. Smith March 14, 2011 - 10:52 am

I think it’s probably better to eliminate the separation — if they use cameras to keep cars/trucks/taxis out of the bus lanes at prime times.

Lane barriers would have made it harder for pedestrians to jaywalk, a behavior that traffic engineers hate but that makes a town feel like it belongs to walkers rather than motor vehicles.

They’d also add to the cost of the project, which means that if it didn’t work for whatever reason, it would be harder to undo. Using a big open space and cameras to enforce whatever use of that open space you want is a better idea.

But again, they have to use the cameras, and they have to get someone smart enough to realize that cameras, these days, are an incredibly cheap and easy technology, not something that should cost $200 million to install the width of the island.

Donald March 14, 2011 - 11:57 am

“the new proposal is “also expected to create more space for parking, loading and deliveries than is found in the street’s current configuration,” and that’s just the opposite of what New York’s planners should be encouraging in mid-2011.”

I don’t understand your reasoning here. Delivery trucks are vital to commerce. How else are store shelves expected to remain stocked? I know you want to create a pedestrain friendly city, but pedestraions are not the ones who deliver things. Trucks are.

HCT March 14, 2011 - 2:24 pm

Grynbaum is confused, he meant to write: “Under the revised plan tens of thousands of bus riders will be squeezed into two lanes and subject to repeated delays so a few dozen neighborhood residents can unload bottled water and their aging parents.”

Donald March 14, 2011 - 2:26 pm

Having bus lanes rather than a busway with barriers will result in FASTER service since buses will now be able to pass each other.

AlexB March 14, 2011 - 2:28 pm

This interesting part of this project has been generally glossed over by everyone. This wasn’t just a transit project, it was a street design project. Changing how the lanes are kept free of cars isn’t just a technical change that affects bus speed. A big part of the discussion that should have taken place was how the street would have looked and felt with concrete barriers, segregated traffic, etc. The point was to make the street seem more civilized, orderly, efficient, and pedestrian friendly. Do you think that would have been the result or do you think the barriers and plaza would have made jay walking more dangerous and encouraged homeless people to camp out in the center of midtown???

Benjamin Kabak March 14, 2011 - 2:39 pm

Take a look at the rendering atop this post. We’re not talking about giant barriers; we’re talking about a second sidewalk. It would have been a great improvement over the current six-lane mess of speeding cars that currently constitute 34th Street.

Brian March 14, 2011 - 4:14 pm

Pardon me for being ignorant, but how would Queens Blvd ripe for a Transitway?

Car-Free New Yorker March 14, 2011 - 4:16 pm

Heck yea, the Busway would have blighted the area!

Two lanes of buses hard up against building walls, sending up their noise and exhaust! Deliveries carried from avenues blocking pedestrian movement. Bus stations with idling buses compounding noise, etc., etc., etc.

Whatever the “new” version, any improvement is due to the vigilance and action of neighbors and businesses who did their homework, organized and attended meetings, and used their variety of skill sets (from speaking, to letter writing, to web design, to data analysis) to make their case, from community groups to elected officials at the city, state and federal level.

Chris O'Leary March 14, 2011 - 5:08 pm

Huh? You realize those buses are running down 34th Street with or without the busway, right? Same noise, same exhaust… if not more, because now those buses will be blocked by deliveries and stopped cabs and illegally parked vehicles.

BBnet3000 March 15, 2011 - 12:16 pm

Car-Free New Yorker, those buses are already there, and the whole idea of the transitway is that they would idle less. And there would be less cars doing the same.

Given the sidewalk widening either way, im not sure where “buses hard up against building walls” came from.

Syme March 14, 2011 - 6:23 pm

How is this design different from the current one?

Amidst NIMBYs, a new look for 34th Street :: Second Ave. Sagas March 15, 2011 - 2:11 am

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Abridged BRT coming to 34th Street in November :: Second Ave. Sagas September 26, 2011 - 12:01 pm

[…] been over six months since 34th Street NIMBYs killed NYC DOT’s ambitious plan for a 34th Street transitway and equally as long since the agency announced modified plans for semi-dedicated bus lanes. Now […]

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