A More Democratic Use of Space on 34th Street

who_uses_34th_st.jpgImage: NYCDOT

This graphic tells you all you need to know about the rationale behind DOT’s plans for 34th Street, which are getting some play today in the Times and on Gothamist. DOT displayed it prominently at Wednesday’s info session about the project.

The biggest group of users — pedestrians — will get wider sidewalks and refuge islands, as well as a major new plaza between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. For the roughly 33,000 daily bus riders, DOT predicts the physically separated busway will improve travel times by 35 percent. Private drivers? Well, they may take up a lot of space, but there just aren’t very many of them.

34th Street is relatively narrow for such an important corridor. This will be a democratic redistribution of scarce space, giving a little more room back to the overwhelming majority of people who use the street. 

  • people are priority. i love this chart.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I can’t see the graphic, but I can tell you the problem from the point of view of a typical state legislature — it’s unweighted. There is no adjustment for some people counting more than other people, and many people not counting at all. That’s how they act, and thus probaby how they think.

  • MyrtleGuy

    Someone should show this graphic to Marty Markowitz and ask him if he still agrees that there needs to be more of a “balance”.

  • Boris

    NYC DOT seems to have a strategy of expanding street space for the majority mode of transportation. This can only get us so far. To get the chart for large swaths of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island, switch the “Pedestrians” and “Private Vehicles” labels. Does that mean those areas are doomed forever to have cars dominate the streets?

    I don’t blame DOT for picking the easy projects first and for doing what it can within fairly narrow limits set by the city. But until the mayor, the legislature, and other city agencies agree that getting people out of their cars is a good thing, DOT’s actions will largely be limited to older areas of the city where repurposing street space is easy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (To get the chart for large swaths of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island, switch the “Pedestrians” and “Private Vehicles” labels.)

    Those are places where there is much less traffic, more street space, and fewer objections. I actually think bicycle transportation actually holds the most potential for relatively dense (by 2000s standards) suburbs, where origins and destinations are too spread out to walk but not to ride.

  • But they really need to fix 34th in Murray Hill as well. It’s ridiculous to have a traffic light on a residential street with no crossing light.

  • Daniel Millstone

    How will truck deliveries be made under this plan? Where will the traffic now on 34th Street go? Will it overflow onto nearby streets? I saw no discussion of either of these questions. Have you?

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Imagine the graphics other cities my have that are similar to this chart, and then hopefully that will get them scratching their heads they should do the same.

    Of all things: some of my friends in Portland are expressing outrage that the city recently revised a downtown transit corridor that now allows some private vehicle access where there was none before. You had it right the first time Portland!

  • Jonathan

    I’m a daily cyclist in that area, but color me skeptical. You can’t erect some bollards and flower pots and expect Queens or NJ motorists to infer they should seek alternative modes of transportation into Manhattan and crosstown — especially between the Lincoln and Midtown tunnels. That traffic will just gridlock side streets, rendering them unsafe for cyclists and residents on those streets.

    Attrition works in some cases; Times Square and Herald Sq are exemplary. But this isn’t just narrowing an artery; it’s full-on blockage. To wit:
    http://jalopnik.com/5522992/bloomberg-continues-his-assault-on-nyc-drivers

  • Moser

    Smart drivers going tunnel to tunnel now don’t use 34th St. because one left-turning vehicle hung up by oncoming traffic brings it to a total halt. Traffic is not a hydraulic equation like compressing a liquid – it’s a huge series of demand and supply decisions and in a grid environment, it will sort itself out as it has done re: Bway. People do not drive straight into gridlock day after day – they will change routes or modes.

  • Commuter

    What happens to the Sixth Avenue bike lane that crosses 34th?

  • Boris

    Larry,

    I agree with the density argument, but I’m just pointing out that simply giving more space to existing non-drivers (and letting them do more of what they already want) is much easier than getting people out of their cars and onto bikes. Mode change is not really on the mind of DOT outside of a few special areas like 34th St. Which, again, doesn’t mean DOT is bad, just that its power is quite limited.

  • this is a _great_ idea — design a street so that most cyclists cannot use it, and then use the fact that most cyclists can’t use the street as a justification for keeping cyclists off of it — brilliant!

  • Zmapper

    Well, Cross Manhattan traffic isn’t likely to be as flexible as regular commuting or local traffic so it is not like all of those travelers can switch to public transit. Plus, the reason 34th street is designated as a impromptu I-495 is because I-95 is on one side and the “real” I-495 is on the other side. Cartographers are designing their maps to be legible and help travelers navigate more easily, so having a 495 sticker plastered on 34th street helps provide reassurance to people and let them now they’re going the right way. I think the best solution is to put up big VMS signs at both entrances to Manhattan telling people to use 36th and 37th streets. Oh, and there’s the added benefit of those streets being Thru Streets so travel times might be faster, too.

    I really like the fact that NYC is proposing closing down a main road to vehicular traffic. This should really improve ped conditions.

  • Boris: this is exactly the city’s strategy, or at least how it may justify it to itself. The actual policy is to neglect anything north of 96th and southeast of Prospect Park because the people there don’t matter enough. (But… but… they’re against BRT! We’ve never asked them and we’ve never proposed anything, but they’re all NIMBYs! Trust us – we’re politicians, how can we possibly lie to you?)

  • But… but… they’re against BRT! We’ve never asked them and we’ve never proposed anything, but they’re all NIMBYs!

    Never asked, huh?

    http://www.mta.info/mta/planning/sbs/bx12.html

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/04/17/queens-residents-oppose-loss-of-parking-for-bus-rapid-transit/

  • fdr

    Saturday’s Daily News found the perfect spokesperson for ped plazas:

    Josh Long, 29, who stands in Herald Square wearing a big sign on his chest reading, “Help! I need money for weed,” said he would certainly benefit from the change.

    “More foot traffic equals more profits,” said the Mott Haven resident, who has put his real estate studies on hold to panhandle. Long said he clears close to $150 a day near the pedestrian mall that is already set up near Macy’s.

    “I do most definitely think it will help me out,” he said.

    Read more: http://www.nydailynews.com/ny_local/2010/04/24/2010-04-24_get_malled_on_34th_city_plans_to_make_a_busy_midtown_block_a_safe_haven_for_pede.html#ixzz0m1dHg23D

  • To get the chart for large swaths of the Bronx, Queens, Brooklyn, and most of Staten Island, switch the “Pedestrians” and “Private Vehicles” labels. Does that mean those areas are doomed forever to have cars dominate the streets?

    Not unbroken swaths. Most of these areas have at least one good walking street: Bell Boulevard, Austin Street, Jamaica Avenue, Tremont Avenue. These can become the nuclei for more balanced areas.

  • The Bx12 is part of a pre-JSK program upgrading one bus route in each borough as a test trial. The same is true for Merrick and Nostrand. The 34th Street plan is unique in that it’s the first new route added to the BRT roster, and the first to get a complete BRT-oriented overhaul.

    It has nothing to do with the usual excuses against bus improvements on more important bus corridors than 34th, such as 125th or Utica. Those excuses are particularly irrational in light of the feeble opposition to Nostrand BRT in Bed-Stuy.

  • Andrew

    The implementation of Bx12 SBS was done entirely under Sadik-Khan. Nothing about the program is pre-JSK.

    Why Utica rather than Nostrand? How do you implement off-board fare collection along 125th when the four bus routes on 125th extend as far south as Cooper Union, as far north as Fordham Plaza and Inwood, and as far east as LaGuardia Airport? Off-board fare collection as currently implemented can’t be used on only part of a route. And do you really think that Harlem elected officials would be willing to give up their precious parking lanes on 125th in favor of bus lanes?

    DOT is only going to make this sort of change where the local community leaders are in favor. In Midtown, that hasn’t proven to be much of a challenge; the opposition seems to mostly come from cab drivers and suburban drivers. Even on Fordham Road, the loss of the parking lane was a hard sell, and in the end, the bus lane is only active part-time (something along the lines of 10 hours per day on weekdays and not at all on weekends) – a big compromise.

  • The BRT program was conceived as experiments in cheap subway alternatives, often along proposed Second System subway lines; the route choices are old. The only post-experiment route added was 34th. They could have added 125th, or Utica, which is busier than Nostrand; instead, they added 34th.

    (And I’m glad to know that JSK implemented everything on the Bx12. Do I get to blame her for the completely moronic, globally unique POP implementation on the route?)

    The “Do you really think that Harlem elected officials would be willing to give up their precious parking lanes on 125th in favor of bus lanes?” is exactly the problematic attitude DOT is projecting: “we didn’t ask and we aren’t going to, but we’re sure all those minorities just hate civic improvements.” JSK has put pedestrian plazas and bike lanes against public opposition in the past, as long as it was in neighborhoods she deemed acceptable. It’s not as if she’s a great believer in community input to begin with.

  • Andrew

    No, SBS had nothing to do with the IND Second System; the initial routes were selected based on ridership characteristics, street layout, projected benefits, and community input.

    These plans for 34th are nothing new – see http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/04/17/a-transit-miracle-on-34th-street/ (note the posting date).

    I’m sorry you don’t like the quick-and-dirty temporary POP system that will be carrying SBS through until smartcards arrive. I know that you think that NYCT could have ordered a bunch of custom-made portable MetroCard readers for next to nothing and have them delivered a week ago, but, alas, NYCT forgot to ask you. Meanwhile, the POP system, while imperfect, is a heck of a lot better than what was there before. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

    While the bus riders themselves like SBS, there was a lot of opposition from elected officials and from local businesses when it became clear that Fordham Road would lose parking. DOT and NYCT had to push very hard to make their case. Even then, haven’t you seen the periodic newspaper articles quoting failing store owners blaming SBS (rather than, say, the state of the economy) for their business downturns? Most four-wheeled politicians don’t see this as a “civic improvement” – they see it as a loss of parking. What do you think happened on Merrick Blvd?

    Which of the recent pedestrian plazas and bike lanes have been implemented without the approval of the local Community Board?

    I’m still curious: “How do you implement off-board fare collection along 125th when the four bus routes on 125th extend as far south as Cooper Union, as far north as Fordham Plaza and Inwood, and as far east as LaGuardia Airport? Off-board fare collection as currently implemented can’t be used on only part of a route.”

  • You don’t need card readers to make the fare inspectors ride the bus they’re inspecting. Did you even read the post I linked to? It says nothing about card readers, and compares New York with card reader-free cities.

  • lic res

    queens blvd is already configured to be a perfect brt. why hasn’t this been studied?

  • Because that would make too much sense.

  • queens blvd is already configured to be a perfect brt. why hasn’t this been studied?

    Because it’s beyond the gentrification zone, so there’s no point in breaking the one-route-per-borough rule for it.

  • lic res

    is there a brt route being studied/implemented in queens i don’t know of?

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