MTA Wants A Dedicated Bus Lane Along Flatbush Avenue. Will The City Oblige?

Flatbush Avenue. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

The city is yet to reveal its transportation plan to deal with the additional 200,000-400,000 workers are expected to return to work next week, but everyone, including the Mayor, expects an increase in car traffic, and Mayor has so far focused on making mass transit “safe” rather than “reliable” and “fast” to get around.

Yesterday NYC Transit Interim President Sarah Feinberg sent Mayor Bill de Blasio a letter asking for more dedicated bus lanes to help make busses a reliable, not just safe, alternative to the subway and cars as Phase One of reopening the city begins on Monday, June 8.

“New York City is a mass transit city – it always has been, and always will be,” said Mayor de Blasio. “These ideas will give New Yorkers the confidence that public transit is more than just the fastest way to get around – it’s a vital ally in our ongoing fight against COVID-19. I urge the MTA to implement them right away.”

What the Mayor recommends is increasing frequency while reducing the capacity of each bus and subway car,
monitoring platform crowding and temporarily closing stations when needed during peak hours, requesting MTA “put markers on platforms, trains and buses. Demarcate specific seats on trains and buses for riders, block off every other seat to maintain social distance,” in addition to providing hand sanitizer and face coverings everywhere.

Unlike the Mayor himself, the great majority of residents in this city depend on mass transit to get around. The city has not meaningfully expanded its protected bike lane network to encourage commuting by bicycle, though some 40 miles of the street space has been opened to residents for recreational purposes.  DOT has expanded the signal timing ahead of reopening so bicyclists could ride the Green Wave along Smith Street from Bay to Schermerhorn streets, Streetsblog reported today.  Dedicated bus lanes, however, remain the exception not the norm.

If there is anything to learn from the cities in China, it is that people are reluctant to use overcrowded mass transit following a pandemic, the Daily News reported on Wednesday. All four Borough Presidents and transit advocates are urging the city to expand bus lanes, anticipating a massive shift to cars that would slow down buses and potentially gridlock the city.

MTA is asking for 60 miles of bus lanes and busways citywide, an almost 42% increase over the existing 144 miles of bus lanes. They would also like to see Traffic Signal Priority implemented on streets across the five boroughs. DOT’s current plan (before proposed budget cuts) envisioned adding only 10-15 miles of bus lanes a year across the city.

This bus lane on Church Avenue was added last fall. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

In Brooklyn, MTA would like to see bus lanes on Flatbush Ave. between Ave. H and Empire Blvd. and a busway (like 14th street in Manhattan) on Livingston St. between Court St. and Flatbush Ave. to be instituted as soon as possible.

“In this difficult time, it’s more important than ever that we transport customers as quickly and effectively as possible. With city streets virtually empty in the last few months, we saw average bus speeds rise and commute times drop dramatically. Now with ridership steadily growing (from ~400,000 at our lowest point to 715,000 on June 2) and car congestion returning, we must act to maintain these improvements for our essential customers,” Feinberg wrote to the Mayor.

“We have seen firsthand how dedicated bus lanes can dramatically improve the customer experience. Following the establishment of the 14th Street Busway and SBS service last year, ridership increased by 14 percent and travel times improved by 24 percent. We want to emulate that success on other lines wherever possible, as soon as possible.”

The City Hall was noncommital in their response.

“New York is a mass transit city, and there’s no recovery without a safe, reliable, and fast bus system,” their Mayor’s deputy press secretary  Mitch Schwartz told us. “We’ve discussed bus lane expansion with the MTA, and we look forward to their commitment to increased service on bus lanes the City creates to safely serve more New Yorkers.”

He would not, however, elaborate on the timeline or locations, only adding that more information would be coming ‘soon’. For those planning their Monday morning commutes, ‘soon’ cannot come soon enough.

DOT did not comment.

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Liena Zagare

Editor of Bklyner.com. Tips? Complaints? Suggestions? Email me at Liena@bklyner.com.

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