Home Buses Good things come to those who … complain?

Good things come to those who … complain?

by Benjamin Kabak

The inherent contradictions in New York City’s approach to and embrace of transit are at their peak on Staten Island. The borough’s residents and politicians clamor for better transit. They want subways to span the harbor or the narrows; they want easier access and more reliable service. What they don’t want though apparently are incremental and easy-to-implement changes to the bus network that prioritizes road space at the expense of drivers. Anything but that.

The trouble, as we well know, started with Select Bus Service. The MTA and DOT worked to bring their baby to Hylan Boulevard. Dedicated bus lanes and some pre-boarding payment options along with, eventually, signal prioritization have led to faster buses and satisfied customers. The system has its flaws, and it shouldn’t be confused with bus rapid transit. But it’s working. The city’s notoriously slow and unreliable buses are getting faster.

Certain elements of Staten Island though aren’t happy. With the debut of camera enforcement earlier this summer, complaints skyrocketed. Earlier, Staten Island politicians had been responsible for a successful drive to convince the MTA to turn off SBS’ hallmark blue lights, and during Tom Prendergast’s confirmation hearings, Sen. Andrew Lanza went on a six-minute rant on Select Bus Service and the lack of space for cars. A few days later, Nicole Malliotakis bashed camera enforcement as a violation of civil liberties. All of this over a bus lane that’s designed to speed up travel for the masses.

Now, though, it seems as though the complaints are working. As the Staten Island Advance reported this week, DOT may change some rules regarding the SBS system on Hylan Boulevard. Michael Sedon reported:

In response to claims people have been unfairly ticketed by some Select Bus Service lane cameras on Staten Island, the city Department of Transportation is considering changing the rule slightly to better reflect reality. Instead of making the next immediate right-hand turn after entering the dreaded red bus lane — the current rule — motorists may be allowed to make a right-hand turn within 200 feet of entering the bus lane. “A vehicle may not be operated in the bus lane during restricted hours for more than one block or two hundred feet, whichever is less,” is the proposed amendment that the DOT discussed at a 10 a.m. meeting Wednesday.

The DOT confirmed that they took public comments Wednesday morning and have received written comments and will consider both as it “proceeds with the proposed rule amendments,” a spokesman said.

The possible change of heart came after local officials cited a Signature Bank in Grant City, just past Hunter Avenue on Hylan Boulevard, where bank customers were receiving tickets for turning into the bank’s parking lot, and on Richmond Avenue in New Springville, where motorists were being ticketed for not turning into a private parking lot near the next available intersection, which doesn’t occur until Platinum Avenue.

The bank’s parking lot has been a flash point in the debate over the bus lane. Politicians claim there isn’t enough space in between the turn for the bank and the turn for the private lot, and a few people who have gotten tickets have raised a ruckus. If it’s a safety issue unique to this intersection, I’m not going to argue against a change, but I can’t help but think that the NIMBYs are at it again.

Time and time again, we see transit improvements rolled back because a loud minority makes a stand. Along 34th St., there is no transitway because a handful of people were concerned about door-to-door access to their apartment buildings. On 125th St., buses are backed up from river to river because a few parking spots would have been taken away. It’s noble that DOT and the MTA involve the community and seek guidance and support from Community Boards, homes to some of the city’s most crotchety and progress-shy people, but at a certain point, the experts should be allowed to do their jobs. Progress is slow, and progress can be painful.

It involves recognizes priorities and learning that the thing you want isn’t the thing that’s best for everyone else who lives around you. When it comes to transit planning, New York City has a long way to go even though the city was built with a transit backbone that in no small way powers the entire city.

You may also like


Larry Littlefield September 27, 2013 - 6:40 am

Staten Island is a unique case in itself, a place where NIMBYs killed a ferry from Great Kills and a whole series of proposed road improvements. Then everyone complains about traffic and not enough transit.

Years ago (2001 data) I got ahold of data on the buses assigned to each borough and ridership by borough at the same time. There were 532 weekday riders per bus in Brooklyn, 536 in Queens, 587 in the Bronx, 700 in Manhattan, and just 199 on Staten Island. So that is heavily subsidized bad transit.

Herb Lehman September 27, 2013 - 9:12 am

Contrary to what you report, rest assured that there are many Staten Islanders who are very serious about better transit and are disappointed that seemingly every worthy initiative gets shot down by NIMBYs. But in this particular case, Staten Islanders happen to have a valid complaint. Living and (occasionally) driving there, I can tell you first hand that the DOT cameras have been unfairly nabbing many people who were not violating the intent of the bus lane.

SBS on Staten Island in general is an absolute joke. The bus lanes are frequently interrupted and for whatever reason, there is no pre-boarding fare payment, which defeats most of the purpose of SBS. Also, I’ve noticed that the specially painted SBS buses are put in service on non-SBS routes, confusing everyone. Personally, I think we deserve better.

Larry Littlefield September 27, 2013 - 9:37 am

I’s say you deserve better politicians, but even when the SI Borough President proposed a series of road improvements, it got shot down by the NIMBYs. They seem to rule.

Except on the Staten Island Expressway, which seems to be expanding to five lanes-plus each way with virtually NO public review at all. I guess someone figured out that on the rock “consulting with the community” really means “don’t waste your time.”

Phantom September 27, 2013 - 11:28 am

SI may not need pre board payment.

You don’t have the large clusters of people at the stop that ypu do on say Second Avenue.

I took that bus last week and there were no boarding delays.

JMB September 27, 2013 - 9:50 am

My knowledge of the borough is limited, but curious if there is any particular neighborhood/district that consistently shoots down/causes a ruckus over any progress? I imagine north shore is pro-development, but what about the rest? Can those residents who scream for upgrades outnumber the screeching nimbys?

Staten Island has so much potential and does deserve better. Unlocking that island with a subway line connection to Brooklyn or Manhattan would do wonders but can any meaningful progress take place? Seems unlikely from my perspective.

Larry Littlefield September 27, 2013 - 2:33 pm

I think the city’s plan is to focus on the North Shore. After this SBS nonsense, that’s probably a good idea.

Duke September 27, 2013 - 11:26 am

The possible change of heart came after local officials cited a Signature Bank in Grant City, just past Hunter Avenue on Hylan Boulevard, where bank customers were receiving tickets for turning into the bank’s parking lot, and on Richmond Avenue in New Springville, where motorists were being ticketed for not turning into a private parking lot near the next available intersection, which doesn’t occur until Platinum Avenue.

This is exactly the problem with traffic enforcement by cameras. Both of these cases could have been programmed around. But they weren’t, because hey, revenue enhancement!

NYCDOT should keep drivers out of bus lanes by physically separating them. Doesn’t need any extra space, just install little mini bollards such as these: http://goo.gl/maps/jg4B8
This would be far more effective at actually keeping the lanes clear, and we’d have none of this nonsense about it being an excuse to ticket people.

JAR September 27, 2013 - 12:17 pm

Agreed – physical separation is key. The right lane against the curb (or also the leftmost lane) isn’t ideal for a bus on a busy pedestrian-heavy street. Drivers need to be much more mindful (aka slow down) of pedestrians stepping off the curb.

Bolwerk September 27, 2013 - 4:02 pm

Physical separation would be nice, but since they won’t consider center-running, it’s not possible because people need access to the curb to turn into and out of traffic.

If they did it right, nobody would ever pass through a bus lane except at a 90° angle to cross it.

Duke September 27, 2013 - 7:33 pm

You can have a physically separated lane against the curb – you just have to put a break in the barrier at every curb cut and put up signs telling turning traffic to yield to buses.

Bolwerk September 27, 2013 - 7:48 pm

That’s more reserved than physically separated, and impractical in any case if there are frequent turns.

Center running just works better.

Alon Levy September 27, 2013 - 11:34 pm

Unacceptable. It puts high-speed traffic next to pedestrians.

BrooklynBus September 27, 2013 - 12:49 pm

I wouldn’t be quick to conclude NIMBYs at work in these two instances, at least not without first visiting the locations. Having previously read several accounts, I believe residents had a legitimate grievance. The high numbers of summonses issued could not be justified. That’s why the rules were changed. If the correct change was made, I cannot be sure, but it certainly seems reasonable.

BruceNY September 27, 2013 - 2:15 pm

I am really angry that some crank local politician on Staten Island caused the MTA to shut off the flashing blue lights on Select buses! I take the M15 occasionally, and it was easier to figure out if I needed to buy a pre-paid slip, or if a local was coming I could simply wait to pay on board. Now by the time I can see which bus (select of local), is approaching, it’s usually too late for me to pre-pay. Couldn’t they just keep the blue lights on without the flashing?
Or, could they use the destination sign somehow, like have it flash every five seconds “SELECT” in reverse lighting (black letters on white background)?

Bolwerk September 27, 2013 - 3:59 pm

A lot of this bullshit comes down to rigidity and authoritarianism. The MTA and DOT put partially arbitrary rules in place and then won’t tweak them when they find they don’t quite work well. The best part is the rigidity and authoritarianism of the civil servants is clashing with the rigidity and authoritarianism of the NIMBYs. They deserve each other too, but everyday people get caught in the mix.

I concur with Herb Lehman too. They should have designed this better from the get-go. I’m for onboard payment more than pre-board payment, but whatever. The fact is they selected the stupidest option of all, the one we know doesn’t work well anywhere in the city.

Spendmore Wastemore September 27, 2013 - 7:43 pm

SI is obviously different from the other boroughs, and obviously needs different rules regarding traffic. Their state rep’s attitude s-cks, but that’s another issue.

Dont’ copy/paste bus lane rules good for 34th street onto a suburb, duh.

Bring back the blue lights tho, with whatever trivial rule change it needs. If a driver really can’t tell a 27mph bus from an ambulance/5-0 etc then they should immediately pull to the right, park and leave the car.

Phantom September 27, 2013 - 9:37 pm


Spot on

There is a culture of endless, juvenile,whining about everything, including about the time the sun rises and sets, by Staten Island politicians that is hard to understand. They aren’t serving their.constituents well with stunts like vomplaints about bus lights.

SBS buses should -all – have the option of on board payment including the ones in Manhattan with the prepay option. I saw mid bus ticket machines in Naples Italy in the seventies. Not having this option in NYC means that noone runs to catch SBS buses. There isn’t enough time to do the. 2 step purchase and still catch the bus. This is a significant design flaw.

Alon Levy September 27, 2013 - 11:35 pm

This is exactly how things work on the B-line series in Vancouver: there’s a farebox up front for people without season passes or validated tickets, and everyone else boards from any door.

Boris September 27, 2013 - 10:27 pm

The root of the problem here, which has been sidestepped somehow, is curb cuts. No other SBS route has so many curb cuts and parking lots as the SBS79 route. The problem with Staten Island is suburban land use planning, which encourages the worst kinds of sprawl, not the design of its bus lanes.

Bad land use planning – high parking requirements, reliance on the strip mall as the main commercial space paradigm, fragmentation of park and entertainment space, a blanket moratorium on apartments, and poor infrastructure – are the reasons for SI’s woes. But any improvement is met with screaming about “over-development” and “assaulting our way of life”. SI politicians skillfully use the resulting hysteria with a divide-and-conquer strategy to keep SIers angry and unhappy with themselves, even though SIers are relatively wealthy and could live quite well.

Ferryboi September 28, 2013 - 10:11 pm

As a native Islander who grew up in a car-free household in the 1970s and ’80s, i can say with much assurance that the transit system on the Island was a complete shitstorm. Old buses that frequently broke down; 30-60 minute headways even during weekdays; 50-year-old trains; and absolutely no schedule coordination between buses and ferries. If a boat pulled in two or three minutes late in St George, the buses would leave regardless, even if riders were running up the platform screaming for the bus to wait. I made a concious decision that the minute i was old enough and could afford to buy a car, i would do so.

I know i’m not alone in this experience, and every time i try to give the bus/railway a chance, i’m reminded why i would rather drive. I recenty waited 45 minutes during rush hour for an S40 bus to take me two miles to the ferry, whereby i missed the boat and waited 20 minutes for the next one. It took one hour to go two miles from Snug Harbor to St George, and another 45 minutes to get from St. George to Whitehall for a total of 90 minutes to go a whopping seven miles. If there were not a body of water stopping me, i could have walked to Whitehall in that same time frame.

The MTA can do whatever the hell it wants with flashy blue buses and dedicated lanes. At this point i couldn’t give a crap if they put jets on the backs of buses and shot them down Hylan Blvd at 100 mph. I gave the MTA the benefit of the doubt way too many times. My little Kia gets me to most parts of the Island in 20 minutes, including when go shopping at those huge supermarkets with tons of free parking. I’m good.

Phantom September 29, 2013 - 4:40 pm

I guess that it depends on the area. On the Hylan Boulevard corridor, those buses run one after the other, endlessly.

I took classes at what was then Staten Island Community College during the era you speak of, spent some time out in SI.

I remember those old, groaning, Staten Island Railway cars, seemingly dating from the time of the dinosaurs, amazed that they could still run.

Theorem Ox September 29, 2013 - 8:27 pm

I wish Staten Island was an independent municipality and/or a part of New Jersey instead. Only so that the residents there could possibly get more options and/or better services than the City of New York can realistically offer them due to relative geographical isolation, developmental and lifestyle differences. Also we’d have less of these clashes between Staten Islanders and the rest of the city.

If there’s any place where the city imposed, Manhattan-centric/inspired laws and operating rules seem even more out of place than Queens, it would be in Staten Island.

Taking it very broadly: While the rest of the city might summarily dismiss the objections raised by Staten Islanders as NIMBYism, I think they do generally raise fair points from their perspective (excluding some whoppers that pop up every now and then) and way of life. What might make sense in Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn and the Bronx has no place being uniformly imposed on Staten Island.

That said, it’s also not fair to the rest of New York City that their legitimate objections also results in potential benefits being taken away from everyone else unilaterally.

If the city makes exceptions for Staten Islanders, then the rest of the city will complain about it and vice versa. This is an issue that won’t go away for as long as the status quo remains in place.

Phantom September 29, 2013 - 10:20 pm

I’m not sure how anything would be better for SI residents as part of NJ or as a separate NYC county.

Their ” problems ” are caused by geography, not government. And that’s a mixed bag – the low rise and relatively car friendly lifestyle is one that the Staten Islanders I know rather like. There’s no good reason that it should change. And it won’t change, unless someone does something really stupid like punch the NYC subway proper into SI.

Tinker around the edges, maybe do the North Shore Rail and gradually extend it to the West Shore, now you’re talking. The right balance.

Bolwerk September 30, 2013 - 1:14 pm

The car culture is entirely a creature of land use planning. Adding transit to the mix won’t by itself interfere with that, except maybe providing alternatives to a few people.

Still, keeping SI the way it almost certainly is the path to economic stagnation, with the poor connections to the rest of the city (and world) and god awful commutes. Changing the car culture requires actively encouraging car-free land use, itself not the same thing as the hyper-urbanism of Manhattan.

Phantom October 1, 2013 - 10:07 am

SI has very good connections to the rest of the city.

Frequent bus service to Brooklyn, frequent and free ferry service to Manhattan, and an endless series of heavy subsidized express buses in every nook and cranny that many other parts of the city does not have.

Its an island. You do what you can. They’ve done a lot.

Bolwerk October 1, 2013 - 10:16 am

Frequent buses to Brooklyn, but unreliable, no? Admittedly most of my experience with SI is with the VB, but that trip can suck most of the day. I guess express buses can alternatively go through NJ, but that can be slow too. The ferry is a long trip, which requires a long feeder trip for most of the island.

And that’s just the transit. It’s not like getting out by car seems delightful either.

ajedrez October 1, 2013 - 11:14 pm

The VZN isn’t particularly unreliable. Traffic generally moves well. It’s once you get into SI where you hit the traffic. But overall, I wouldn’t say they’re too much more unreliable than many other routes in the city.

Personally, assuming nothing is terribly wrong (and assuming you don’t live by Hylan Blvd (with the traffic), the express bus generally isn’t too bad. The bus to Bay Ridge isn’t too bad if you live close enough to the VZN. The ferry sucks, though.

Of course, I’d love it if there was a subway line from St. George to Lower Manhattan, but what can we do?

ajedrez October 1, 2013 - 11:07 pm

I wouldn’t really call 30-60 minute off-peak headways “frequent”. Hell, even 15-20 minute peak headways aren’t particularly frequent.

The express buses out here aren’t subsidized any more than the LIRR/MNRR are.

Leave a Comment