Elected officials gave plans for redesigning First and Second Avenues positive reviews today, tempered by the desire to improve the initial outline presented by the MTA and NYCDOT. They were faced with a complex project that defies easy categorizations. The proposal unveiled last night would constitute a historic re-purposing of New York City’s streets — but stop short of creating an urban corridor where pedestrians, cyclists, and transit take precedence over the automobile.
After two years of breaking new ground and raising expectations for sustainable street design — with the city’s first Select Bus Service route on Fordham Road, its first protected bikeways, and the complete transformation of Times Square — DOT now faces pressure from elected officials who want to see an even better outcome for the majority of their constituents who walk, bike, and ride the bus.
Assembly Member Brian Kavanagh, who called the presentation "a good beginning," was skeptical of the agencies’ claim that the package of bus improvements in the plan — which did not include physically separated lanes — would deliver 20 to 25 percent reductions in travel time.
"We want to see a rigorous analysis of the tradeoffs they’re making between transit improvements and maintaining traffic flow," he said. "I think that 20 percent is optimistic… Even if we were to achieve 20 percent, I think that there may be opportunities to improve bus service even further."
The Assembly member took issue with the contention of the MTA’s Ted Orosz, who postulated that illegally parked trucks would disrupt bus service in separated lanes. "Other cities, and certainly New York, can figure out how to prevent a Snapple truck from parking in a bus lane," he said. "There are certainly ways to configure this that would reduce the chance that traffic’s going to block it."
City Council Member Melissa Mark-Viverito, who represents East Harlem and parts of the Bronx, called the plan "a great start" in an email to Streetsblog, while also calling on the MTA and NYCDOT to "move forward with an even better plan."
"I am particularly encouraged by the proposed creation of protected bike lanes, which will go a long way to promote the use of bicycles," she said. "However, I urge the MTA and NYCDOT to consider including separated bus lanes into their plan for the East Side. Many of my constituents depend on the First and Second Avenue buses to get around, and separated bus lanes will make their everyday trips both quicker and safer."
Both Mark-Viverito and Council Member Dan Garodnick noted that East Side residents can help determine the final shape of the project. "The East Side stands to benefit from dynamic changes to bus service on a route that desperately needs it," said Garodnick. "The way to get the best possible result is by getting all the details right — making buses easy to board, clearly identifying shared travel lanes for bicyclists, placing bus stops in the most appropriate locations. It is not often that we have a chance to remake the way we travel and commute, so East Siders should take this opportunity to offer their input."
State Senator Liz Krueger — like Kavanagh, Mark-Viverito, and Garodnick, an East Side representative and supporter of separated
bus and bike lanes in the project — succinctly outlined the political space that now exists for something bolder than the MTA and DOT’s first draft. "While she was pleased with some aspects of the
plan," said a Krueger spokesperson, "she is still very concerned that
the plan does not go far enough."