Home Buses Amidst NIMBYs, a new look for 34th Street

Amidst NIMBYs, a new look for 34th Street

by Benjamin Kabak

The latest plan for 34th Street isn't nearly as ambitious as the Transitway was.

The Department of Transportation unveiled another new new look for 34th Street on Monday, and despite my earlier doom and gloom, the proposed design isn’t all bad. Despite giving more space over to cars and parking while removing many of the benefits for pedestrians, it seemingly prioritizes buses and does give more sidewalk space to those who most need it.

Per the latest DOT presentation, 34th Street’s new look will feature dedicated — but not physically separated — bus lanes as well as bus bulbs and more curbside space. Traffic will be confined to one late in each direction, and from 9th Ave. to 3rd Ave., only one side of the street will enjoy precious curbside access. Plus, the MTA will institute pre-boarding fare payment procedures this year, thus speeding up the bus in the process.

During the presentation last night, DOT officials spoke about their goals for 34th Street. As it stands right now, the street plays host to 33,000 bus riders per day, but the vehicles average only 4.5 miles per hour. It also features some of the most tourist-laden sidewalks in the city and, as the Far West Side emerges as a residential and commercial hub, will play host to future growth.

Meanwhile, with input from the community, DOT tried to incorporate a variety of aspects into the new plan. While the old Transitway reserved most space for pedestrians and buses, the new proposal called for shared road space. DOT tried to “improve curbside access wherever possible” while also maintaining two-way traffic. Despite the focus on cars, though, the department also wanted to make sure that pedestrian improvements were key. Thus, the new plan includes 18000 square feet of new pedestrian space while increasing daytime loading spots from 55 to 355. As compromises goes, this one, while far from ideal, isn’t awful.

The future for 34th Street, though, is still hazy. Nearly four years after the Transitway was first presented to the public, DOT still has another year to go on this new plan. It will conduct open houses on March 30th and 31st before presenting a traffic analysis in the fall and an environmental assessment report by early 2012. We’d be lucky to see these badly needed street improvements before the next presidential election. That’s a timeline far too elongated by rampant NIMBYism.

And that brings me to this interesting article in The Times’ Week in Review. Noting the small but loud minority of folks who hate the Prospect Park bike lane, Elisabeth Rosenthal accuses liberals in particular of espousing green development — except for when it impacts their lives. She writes:

Nimbyism is nothing new. It’s even logical sometimes, perhaps not always deserving of opprobrium. After all, it is one thing to be a passionate proponent of recycling, and another to welcome a particular recycling plant — with the attendant garbage-truck traffic — on your street. General environmental principles may be at odds with convenience or even local environmental consequences.

But policymakers in the United States have been repeatedly frustrated by constituents who profess to worry about the climate and count themselves as environmentalists, but prove unwilling to adjust their lifestyles or change their behavior in any significant way. In Europe, bike lanes crisscross cities, wind turbines appear in counties with high-priced country homes and plants that make green energy from waste are situated in even the wealthiest neighborhoods. So what is going on here?

Robert B. Cialdini, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies environmental behaviors, points to two phenomena: Humans hew to the “normative” behaviors of their community. In places where bike lanes or wind turbines or B.R.T. systems are seen as an integral part of society, people tend not protest a new one; if they are not the norm, they will. Second, whatever feelings people have about abstract issues like the environment, in practice they react more passionately to immediate rewards and punishments (like a ready parking space) than distant consequences (like the threat of warming).

It’s something to chew on at least as we’ve seen an ambitious plan for 34th street pared down to some relatively minor bus improvements. Of course, NIMBYism is a curse and a blessing for any democracy, but at some point, those of us who espouse pedestrian- and transit-oriented development have to win those folks over to our side. Along 34th Street, we didn’t, and the future plans are worst off for it.

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BoerumHillScott March 15, 2011 - 7:29 am

I liked the original plan better, but this is a decent compromise in the face of politically connected opposition.

John-2 March 15, 2011 - 8:13 am

As others have noted, the alternative plan does allow for more flexibility as far as bus movement goes, if you were to have a vehicle breakdown on 34th Street. But it would also require more extensive police enforcement of the rules for the center vehicle travel lanes in order to produce any significant improvement in crosstown travel speed, since the vehicle and bus lanes are not physically separated.

As for Park Slope, I don’t know how much is part of a “Do as I say, not as I do,” mentality, when it comes to wanting environmentally-friendly modifications for others but not yourself, and how much is simply due to the percentage of professional complainers in the area who don’t pay attention to pending changes and then gripe when they happen (it would be fun to see if the same people going nuclear over the bike lanes are also the ones who went crazy over the MTA’s Culver viaduct reconstruction work and station bypasses on the F and G trains, because they weren’t paying attention to the reports and notices the past two years that the repair work and line detours were coming).

BoerumHillScott March 15, 2011 - 8:28 am

My take is that complainers are 2 different groups, because much of the bike lane opposition is from people on Prospect Park West who rely on cars more than transit and are politically connected.

Once you move away from the expensive buildings on PPW, most people in Park Slope and surrounding areas like the bike lanes.

The anger over the the viaduct reconstruction seemed to be from younger people who rely on the subway and do not keep up with community issues.

Scott E March 15, 2011 - 8:31 am

I don’t like the one-lane-in-each-direction concept for regular traffic. No one in their right mind would take it because of the traffic jams it would create (meaning all the drivers clogging those lanes are out of their minds), and I fear it will become a disaster like Canal Street. I’d much rather see either two lanes in the same direction (eastbound), or somehow restrict the travel lanes only for access to parking/loading areas.

The illustration above notes “right turn allowed for buses only”. Is that only in this particular block, or all blocks? While there is indeed a danger in having turning traffic cut in front of a bus, forcing vehicles to either turn left or travel all the way across the island is no solution either.

BBnet3000 March 15, 2011 - 12:07 pm

Indeed. To me it seems like it might make more sense to have 2 lanes of cars going east, along with one well-enforced bus lane.

Then there could be a seperated contraflow bus lane on the other side of the street.

The problem with this is just making sure pedestrians know to look both ways.

AlexB March 15, 2011 - 5:04 pm

I agree that 2 lines in 1 direction is better than 1 in each direction, but that has already been proposed and rejected by the “community,” so we get this instead. It’s not the end of the world and might have a calming effect on traffic. At the very least, it will increase revenue with all those tickets the cameras will generate.

Nathanael March 20, 2011 - 8:42 pm

If this is all about the critical ZOMG CURBSIDE ACCESS FOR LOADING ZOMG, then the best solution involves “NOT A THROUGH STREET” signs and one-lane one-way access deliberately arranged to eliminate all through traffic. Then you can get plenty of room for loading and unloading.

stan March 15, 2011 - 9:10 am

when i was in college 20 years ago, i did a project on NIMBY-ism, using the exact same language that is in the times article. my source material was writing on NIMBY-ism dating back almost 30 years prior to that.

there is no solution.

Christopher March 15, 2011 - 10:40 am

It’s built into our DNA as a culture. I remember when a friends Aunt moved to Canada for her husband’s work. They moved to Vancouver and loved the city overall but couldn’t believe how easily Canadians rolled over the government. Their school district boundaries changed every year. And the response was generally, “well the school system generally knows best.” As my friend’s Aunt commented at the time: “I guess that’s why the Canadians didn’t fight a revolution!” So bitching about (and fighting!) government — it’s an American tradition!

Chris March 15, 2011 - 2:22 pm

There is a solution – to eliminate the community review and impact assessment processes that give small minority groups a forum to voice their concerns. This is especially true for non-eminent domain projects like this one, where there’s no obvious lever for a strong legal challenge.

That most of us would find this an unappealing suggestion indicates to me that nimbyism doesn’t actually bother us that much.

Streetsblog New York City » Today’s Headlines March 15, 2011 - 9:19 am

[…] Sadik-Khan Announces Scaled-Back Plan for 34th Street (TransNat, DNA, NY1, News, SAS) […]

Mike March 15, 2011 - 9:25 am

This is basically the same as what they did to Livingston St in downtown Brooklyn last year.

Eric F. March 15, 2011 - 11:33 am

Though it may be sacreligious to note this here, the sidewalk on the north side of 34th street between 5th and Madison is way more wide than it needs to be. That sidewalk could be reduced in width by half and the space allocated to a barrier/bike lane/ what have you, for that block at least.

Nathanael March 20, 2011 - 8:40 pm

Have you seen the crowds on that sidewalk during rush hour? I have.

Yes, pedestrian rush hour requires wide sidewalks. I suppose if you narrow them maybe fewer pedestrians will come (the opposite of induced demand), but that would probably involve moving businesses away from 34th Street.

Joseph Alacchi March 15, 2011 - 3:35 pm

How do they expect cars to parralel park or load without blocking the bus lane?

AlexB March 15, 2011 - 5:05 pm

quickly, watching for buses

David in NY March 15, 2011 - 4:47 pm

There could be an even better option to consider.

Instead of trying to cram all things onto 34th Street while still keeping the street useful to local businesses, split the transit-way onto both 34th and 35th Streets.

Westbound buses would use an exclusive lane down the center of 34th Street with an island station before intersections. There would then be two driving lanes and, except at stations, there would be two parking/loading lanes without traffic crossing lanes. Sidewalks would be widened 6 feet on both sides. Sidewalks should be kept clear of vendors and other barriers.

The eastbound bus lane would use an exclusive lane on 35th Street with stations along the existing sidewalk. A westbound driving and parking/loading lane remains on the other side. Yes, a full lane of parking is removed here but that’s less critical than on 34th Street.

A split transit-way could maybe offer the best compromise.

Alon Levy March 16, 2011 - 8:52 pm

On the contrary, it would provide the worst compromise. For example, the ITDP standards for BRT say or assume the following: BRT should be placed in the median of a street; if the street is too narrow, which 34th isn’t, then possible compromises include a shared-traffic lane, a transit mall, and a one-way pair; of those compromises, the last one compromises service identity, since it’s not a surface subway if it runs on two different streets.

Another issue is that people’s destinations are more likely to be on 34th than 35th.

Abridged BRT coming to 34th Street in November :: Second Ave. Sagas September 26, 2011 - 12:03 pm

[…] ambitious plan for a 34th Street transitway and equally as long since the agency announced modified plans for semi-dedicated bus lanes. Now those plans are coming to fruition, and DOT is eying a November roll-out for its so-called […]


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