In the wake of the death of the 34th St. Transitway, transit advocates have been down on the state of citywide bus improvements. Everyone in New York admits that buses are too slow, but an ambitious plan to bring physically separated bus lanes with dedicated rights-of-way to Midtown has been replaced by another half-hearted proposal to paint some stripes on the street and call it a bus lane.
With the demise of the Transitway, none of the Mayor’s plans to slowly bring bus improvements to the five boroughs will include a “best practices” approach to BRT. While pre-boarding fare payment plans will speed up bus dwell times, the vehicles won’t enjoy the benefits of a dedicate ROW. To improve bus service then will require stringent bus lane enforcement efforts and true signal prioritization efforts.
Over at Streetsblog, Noah Kazis took a few minutes to wonder about the future of BRT. He writes, in part:
It seems likely that without physical separation on 34th Street, there won’t be physical separation on any bus lanes implemented before the end of the Bloomberg Administration. The remaining routes in the city’s first phase of BRT rollout — on the Nostrand Avenue corridor in Brooklyn and Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island — are scheduled to debut in the next two years and do not include physically separated lanes…
“A number of the environmental and transportation groups are starting to recognize that the next administration after Bloomberg is going to have to answer to us on where they stand on these issues that have been wildly popular for New Yorkers,” said Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.
Though a new physically separated busway is unlikely to be constructed in the next three years, said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, “Planning can happen and dialogue with stakeholders can happen that make it a lot more likely that the next phase is gets built and has those features.” Byron said she hopes that the BRT team at DOT can assemble a coalition along its next routes that can politically lock in full-featured bus improvements. “There are workers and residents and employers in the outer boroughs who would love to have this problem of a Select Bus route running by their door,” she said.
To get dedicated busways, the city will have to change its outreach approach. It’s going to have engage folks like Joan Byron of the Pratt Center and work with Community Boards to explain why dedicated lanes are necessary. It’s not enough to propose these improvements by fiat, but rather, DOT must educate New Yorkers who aren’t familiar with the rationale behind transitway improvements.
For now, the 34th St. changes are a set-back, but their ramifications echo into the future. It’s not too late to bring dedicated bus lanes to the city, but it will require stronger and more inclusive leadership than what we have seen so far. To improve the buses, we’ll need it.