Bus Stops, Not Bike Lanes, the Hot-Button Issue at Manhattan CB 6

design_b.jpgOne CB 6 member praised the "Design B" template for East Side avenues because of its bike safety benefits. Image: NYCDOT/MTA

Last night NYCDOT and the MTA showed their plans for enhanced bus service and safer streets on the East Side of Manhattan to the Community Board 6 transportation committee. There was no vote, but the meeting was a chance to see how ideas like separated bike lanes and bus bulbs play in the type of public forum that, typically, is slow to embrace change.

The CB 6 district, which extends from 14th Street to 59th Street east of Lexington, sees some of the heaviest traffic on the East Side corridor. It includes access points to the free Queensboro Bridge and the Queens Midtown Tunnel, and it’s a street safety desert, with high rates of pedestrian injuries and almost no bicycle infrastructure to speak of. Residents tend to fall on the affluent end of the income spectrum and not own cars, with last night’s crowd of about 35 definitely skewing to the 60-and-older side.

I don’t think we’ve ever covered CB 6 here on Streetsblog. If last night’s meeting was any indication, it may not be the stodgiest in Manhattan. Calls to extend DOT’s plan for a protected bike path through the Midtown gap — several blocks of First Avenue approaching the Queensboro and a longer stretch of Second Avenue down to 34th Street — outnumbered complaints about the idea of new bike infrastructure by a noticeable margin.

One CB member praised the agencies’ "Design B" configuration, which includes a separated bikeway, "because of
the bike safety aspect," and the biggest applause of the evening went
to 12-year-old Clark Vaccaro, who asked for a continuous protected lane through Midtown. Anti-bike sentiment rarely surfaced aside from one cranky question about whether cyclists deserve a separated lane.

Perhaps one factor at work is that, as safety data on DOT projects at Ninth Avenue, Grand Street, and Broadway continues to pile up, the case for separated bike lanes has become a universal case for pedestrian and bike safety. Last night, DOT Bicycle Coordinator Josh Benson revealed that pedestrian injuries are down 29 percent on Ninth, 28 percent on Grand, and 40 percent on Broadway since the installation of protected bikeways.

If DOT is considering extending the proposed East Side protected bikeway as they revise their plan, however, they’re not letting on. At the most congested locations, Benson explained, a separated bike lane would cause more motorists to "invade the bus lane," adding that DOT might extend the bikeway at some future date: "We’ll have to look at these segments in a couple of years and ask, ‘Is traffic changing?’" Attending these presentations, it’s hard not to wonder whether DOT would feel more confident proposing a bolder plan had the state legislature approved congestion pricing two years ago.

By far the most contentious issue at this community board meeting had nothing to do with bicycling. Since Select Bus Service will replace limited-stop service on the M15 route, but make fewer stops, the elimination of a limited stop at 50th Street, where you can transfer to the crosstown M50, and the potential addition of an SBS stop at 28th Street, near Bellevue Hospital, were the real hot-button issues for this community board. (Local service would not be affected.)

With much of the projected gain in bus speeds culled from reducing the amount of time buses spend stopped at stations, the MTA’s Ted Orosz, director of long-range bus planning at New York City Transit, warned that the addition of a few stops in each community district would compromise the whole plan. "If the SBS stops everywhere the limited stops now, it’s going to be a limited with lipstick," he said.

  • already sort of feels like Limited with lipstick

  • Andrew

    Will buses run through the tunnel by the U.N.? That might account for the loss of the 50th Street stop, at least northbound.

  • ‘. . . the biggest applause of the evening went to 12-year-old Clark Vaccaro, who asked for a continuous protected lane through Midtown.”

    really nice! wow!

  • vnm

    To me, the most important sentence of this post was parenthetical.

    (Local service would not be affected.)

    How can you create BRT but still have local bus service in the same lane?

    Local buses make stops every two to three blocks and they don’t have off-board fare collection, so they stop for a long time. As far as a passenger on a BRT vehicle is concerned, being stuck behind the local loading passengers is not that much different than being stuck behind a parked FedEx truck with the driver approaching.

    There’s no way you can have local and express service in the same lane if that lane is fully separated. Imagine what would happen if the 4 train used the same track as the 6. It would be pointless for the 4 not to make all the local stops anyway. So given that this design consigns BRT buses to having to frequently swing outside the bus lane to pull around the local buses, one can see why New York City Transit is opposed to the idea of a separated bus lane. The buses aren’t just going to get stuck behind FedEx trucks. They’re going to get stuck behind other buses.

    What you need to make this work is TWO lanes separated for buses. If that sounds like an insanely impossible political lift, it isn’t. To find a real-world example of two side-by-side bus lanes functioning just as intended, look no further than the East Side of Manhattan, because that’s exactly what we’ve had on Madison Avenue for nearly 30 years. Madison Avenue’s two side-by-side bus lanes allow buses that are in motion to pass buses that are stopped. These lanes work great … although they aren’t painted red.

    DOT needs to grow some big cojones and remove one lane of car parking and one lane of car traffic, and build two side-by-side separated bus lanes, one for BRT and one for local buses. Anything short of that is going to underwhelm the users and critics alike once it is built, not attract that many new people to buses, and make the whole project look like a failure.

  • glenn

    My wife always reminds me that the Limited is appropriately named. It’s definitely NOT Express. The limitation is that it can’t stay in the bus lane and you have less chances to get out if you get stuck in Traffic and leaves you further from your destination. SBS seems like a minor adjustment and with the same problems.

    Perhaps Select Bus Service could be renamed Really Limited Bus Service, or ReaLBS

  • glenn

    ah, vnm how true. That’s because of all the EXPRESS buses that use Madison to get to lower density areas where they expect the road to be clear for them. If only residents of the urban core would stand up for themselves more!

  • Andrew

    vnm:
    I agree 100% that there should be two bus lanes, preferably physically separated from general traffic.

    But if there’s only one bus lane – because that’s all the real estate DOT is willing to release – then it has to serve both SBS and local buses. (Or do you want to go to the local riders and tell them that, not only won’t they benefit from the bus lane, but they’re going to have to wait for the bus in the middle of the street?)

    In the design presented here, SBS buses won’t be trapped behind locals (or behind other SBS buses that have broken down or are tending to wheelchairs or are simply picking up large crowds), because the lane isn’t separated – they’ll still be able to pass other buses in the general traffic lanes. That’s exactly the way the Bx12 runs – it isn’t perfect but generally works pretty well. That’s why I’ve been strongly arguing in earlier posts that a single bus lane MUST not be separated from the general traffic lanes. I’m glad to see that somebody appears to agree.

    If we’re going to push for modifications to the bus lane design, I think our first priority should be to push for dualization. Once we persuade DOT to give up two lanes to buses, we can try to push further for physical separation. But in my experience on Madison Avenue, the bus lanes are generally respected (despite the fairly draconian turning restrictions that result) – perhaps dualization is good enough.

    glenn:
    The express buses may be a factor. But Madison Avenue has very frequent local and limited service as well – during rush hours, four local routes and three limited routes share the dual bus lanes with the express buses.

    One major improvement with SBS – probably the single greatest time saver – is off-board fare collection.

  • how elegant human-powered transport! now to transfer the percieved comfort of large vehicle transit. perhaps, we should start with the “mobile seat” not unlike an aeron chair?

  • paulb

    Working some overnights on the UES just this time last year, I biked all the way down Second Avenue around 7 in the morning. Enormous volume of truck traffic, and the 59th street bridge, 42nd st, and the Midtown Tunnel to pass. I didn’t do it twice–instead I detoured west to travel down Lex. I don’t consider myself a timid cyclist, but Second Avenue as nature hath made it was too much.

  • vnm

    Andrew you do read me right.

    Paulb:

    Second Avenue as nature hath made it was too much.

    LOL. Sadly, of course, the blame lies at the feet of humans. The avenue was designed at its building-to-building width in 1807-1811, with horses in mind. It was converted to one-way traffic on June 4, 1951, by Traffic Commissioner Lloyd B. Reid under Mayor Vincent R. Impellitteri. The individual choices made by so many motorists to use the avenue result from the fact that it’s underpriced.

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