NYC’s Car-Free Majority Deserves a Share of Defunct Bus Stops

When the MTA service cuts took effect last month, 570 bus stops around the city suddenly became a collective no-man’s land. Buses weren’t pulling up to the curb anymore, creating an irresistible vacuum for motorists. If you belong to a neighborhood message board or listserve, you may have come across a few dispatches from car owners salivating over the prospect of more parking.

Maybe it’s impolitic to discuss how to use this space while the pain of the service cuts still stings, but the NYPD isn’t waiting to manage all that real estate: They’ve stopped ticketing motorists for parking in the bus stops. Acres of space that used to accommodate transit riders are now de facto parking spots.

We reported in May that this is mostly what the city has in mind anyway. DOT’s plan is to turn most bus stops into parking spaces, or convert them to loading zones where deemed necessary. At a meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 6 last night, a DOT
representative reiterated the department’s intention to primarily use
the bus stops for storing private vehicles. He also expressed some
openness to installing bike parking in the bus shelters, but not on the
street itself.

While the loading zones will help reduce double-parking, it looks like we’re still on track for a significant redistribution of public space that won’t benefit the 55.7 percent of New York households which don’t own a car. 

It doesn’t have to end up this way. In San Francisco, the city took some highly visible steps to convert defunct bus stops to non-automotive uses. Some bus stops were re-purposed as bike corrals, with secure parking for six to twelve bikes at each stop. Elsewhere, they used the free space to shuffle around the street’s parking spaces and install a "parklet," a temporary public plaza built along the curb.

This is an important time to act on the idea, exemplified by Summer Streets, that streets form the bulk of the city’s public space and belong to everyone. Here are a few treatments that would make life better for New York’s car-free majority:

  • At dangerous intersections, shift the parking spaces around so that the pedestrian crossings are daylighted, allowing drivers and peds to see each other better
  • If a BID or other group can maintain the space, set it off with planters and add some seating
  • On streets with lots of foot traffic, designate official zones for food vendors
  • We said it before but it just makes so much sense: bike corrals

DOT has figured out how to do some pretty ingenious things with newly available curbside space, and really, the only equitable way to divide up these stops would be to devote most of them to car-free uses. New Yorkers who don’t own cars shouldn’t be shut out of using our old bus stops.

  • If NYC does follow in the footsteps of DC, Denver, Minneapolis, and Montreal and implement bike sharing then these former bus stops seem like logical locations for bike sharing stations…

  • kaja

    I prefer them as parallel parking spots. Otherwise, I expect cars might ride up onto the sidewalk.

    Car storage on the edge of the street is pretty fantastic, for separating the speeding metal from the soft bags of flesh.

  • Maybe DoT wants these for parking so it can crank out some statistic along the lines of: “DoT’s street redesign work over the past year has resulted in a net increase of X on-street parking spaces, after increases due to Muni-meters and converted defunct bus stops are considered.” If in fact this public land is given away for free to the motoring minority, I do hope DoT does at least calculate that number to help assuage critics of SBS, pedestrian plazas, cycle tracksover the next year.

  • ddartley

    I was thinking what BicyclesOnly said. One of the claims (not always in the form of a complaint) I most often hear from people who are not aware of any livable streets movement is that these rededigns appear to reduce the number of parking spaces. Maybe DOT is mindful of that and preparing for it this way.

  • MRN

    I can say confidently that increasing parking capacity is not high on the priority list, and that the increase in parking capacity is effectively negligible.

    I have an issue with the tone of this article – it’s set up to pit motorists against non-motorists without considering the needs of the city, who actually own the curb. DOT’s mission is to help make the city work better. While you may say that DOT should be focusing on reducing driving, they already are, and there _is_ currently a lack of parking in many parts of town that leads to double parking, excess cruising, etc. Those issues don’t resolve themselves and the DOT is doing a good job of long-term actions, but that doesn’t alleviate the need for them to respond to short-term situations.

  • LN

    I have long been an advocate of loading zones. If there were a loading zone on every block, then cars and trucks could park there instead of double parking in the bike lane and just plain double parking. I can park my bike anywhere, I would rather not get run over pulling into the middle of the street around a double parked car or truck.

  • JK

    The bus stop spaces which are not built out as bike/ped amenities, can be NYC’s first pay-by-phone metered parking. These spaces should absolutely not be given away. This should be an opportunity to make the city work better — not worse — and free parking solves no problems. This is an ideal opportunity to pilot pay-by-phone because local motorists have no claim over this curb space, and no compelling basis to complain about it becoming metered. In fact, they may actually like pay-by-phone, as they do in Miami.

  • J:Lai

    LN,
    While in theory it seems that designated loading zones on each block would eliminate much double parking, I think in reality this is not the case. I have often seen people double parked, parked in bike lanes, or otherwise illegally taking up street space even where there is open curbside space on the same block. I think this evidence of the sheer laziness of most people – they will double park or park in a bike lane in order to avoid walking an extra 50 feet.

  • I live near the corner of Union St and 8th Ave in Brooklyn, where 3 bus stops just became available. I say put Muni Meters there and charge $5 an hour or $20 a night, Premium Parking. That way nobody will complain that they can’t find a spot. They will just have to pay for it.

    http://whatyourdonotknowbecauseyouarenotme.blogspot.com/2010/05/so-what-are-we-gonna-do-with-all-those.html

  • Here’s a draft map of bus stops that no longer exist in lower Manhattan (PDF): https://wfs.gc.cuny.edu/SRomalewski/MTA_GISdata/June2010_update/drafts/bus%20stop%20cuts%202010_DRAFT.pdf Might help put the debate in context. If I have time I’ll post the data in KML format.

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