Tonight: Speak Up for the 34th Street Transitway

The big event for the week of Thanksgiving (and the only calendar item we’re highlighting) is the public forum on the 34th Street Transitway put on by Community Board 5 tonight. It’s a critical moment to speak up for prioritizing walking and transit on one of NYC’s busiest, most iconic streets.

Passengers on 34th Street currently travel at an average 4.5 mph in regular curbside bus lanes. The transitway project can set a major precedent, establishing the city’s first physically separated bus lanes and speeding up the tens of thousands of daily bus trips on 34th Street. New curb extensions, pedestrian medians, and, potentially, public plazas would transform the corridor and transfer large swaths of space from traffic to people.

Image: NYC DOT
Image: NYC DOT

With pedestrians already spilling out onto the street during rush hours and substantial new development planned on the West Side, now’s the time to re-design 34th Street to work better for greener, more efficient transportation. But as you might expect with a change this big, not all the neighbors are pleased. Opposition is strongest on the east side of Midtown, where the main complaint seems to be that the transitway would block deliveries, drop-offs and pick-ups directly in front of personal residences, a concern that DOT is working to address.

This NIMBY website also claims that giving more space to walking and transit will make pedestrians worse off and threaten public health. An anti-transitway petition posted on the site is being collected by the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association.

Of the three community board districts along the route, we’re hearing that CB6 (the east side) does not like the project and CB4 (the west side) is mostly in favor of it. That puts CB5 in a critical position and makes a good showing by supporters at tonight’s meeting all the more important.

The forum starts at 6:00 p.m. at the McBurney YMCA, 125 West 14th Street, between Sixth and Seventh Avenues.

  • The selfishness of these residents is infuriating. Please, if you can attend, speak up for your right to better transit!

  • I’m going to echo Chris. I can’t make it tonight, but please attend if you can. The NIMBYism along 34th St. — especially toward the eastern end of the block — is out of control and utterly wrong-headed.

  • Yes, the opinion of these residents is not only selfish but also goes to show how spoiled those who generally do not take public transportation are. I bet this plan would also make anyone who choses to live on 34th St find themselves in a pickle getting in to their black cars…

  • J

    Taken from the NIMBY website:

    “In the 1950s, when transportation planners preferred highways, Robert Moses slashed a series of vital neighborhoods with the Cross Bronx Expressway, helping to destroy them… Now DOT wants to slash an Above Ground Subway across 34th Street.”

    How do you even respond to crap like this?

  • The whole site is a joke! How about the intended “arborcide”? LMAO. And a boondoggle…isn’t 34th street already a boondoggle?

  • Marty Barfowitz

    http://www.34thstreettransitway.org.

    OMG.

    This is truly some of the most moronic, overwrought NIMBY lunacy to emerge from the Livable Streets Backlash of 2010.

    Ben and Noah really going to have a tough time figuring out this year’s Streetsy Award for Top NIMBY. Will it be Mrs. Sicklick of the 1st and 2nd Avenue bike lanes, the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” in Park Slope, the Hasids Against Pedestrian Safety on Ft. Hamilton Pkwy, or these Murray Hill dipshits?

    I’m leaning toward Iris Weinshall and crew on Prospect Park West but these 34th Street folks look promising. Will someone make sure to interview them after the Transitway is installed and they discover, lo and behold, there are actually fewer cars driving in their neighborhood rather than more?

  • Ha, let’s have fun! An elevated veloway to-and-from Penn Station across 34th St to Grand Central; to incorporate the city’s first bike share.

  • Meh. The double standard about here versus 125th Street annoys me. When one CB meeting in Central Harlem about bike lanes went bad, it obviously means all of Harlem is against transit and bike improvements and better streets should be given to other neighborhoods. When a CB on the East Side is against a transitway, it obviously means they’re NIMBYs and the transitway should be built anyway.

  • J

    Alon,

    Not sure I get your concern. First, the two projects are VERY different. The AC Powell bike lanes in Harlem weren’t that great, and probably wouldn’t serve that large a group of users(they practically invited double parking). Community concerns were reasonable and not implementing that project wasn’t the greatest loss. Much of Harlem, including organizations and CBs are strongly in favor of livable streets, but the project just wasn’t that great.

    The 34th St transitway would serve over 33,000 people per day, linking numerous local and regional transit corridors. It would also provide proven pedestrian safety measures and much-needed public space. The project has strong political support and funding. With opponents comparing it to the Cross Bronx Expressway, they clearly are somewhat separate from reality, and it is harder to take their complaints seriously.

  • I love how the “People’s Stories” section of the 34th St. haters website has no attributions for any of the supposed quotes, which obviously are not actual quotes because no one speaks like that. The quotes contain such pearls of native wisdom as:

    “Every morning I see firsthand what slows down travel time: long lines of passengers boarding buses, many try several Metrocards before paying the fare, passengers who refuse to step to the rear and exit through the front doors…these issues will not be fixed by this plan!
    Occasionally, there is a turning car, a garbage or postal truck stopped in the lane, but buses seem to maneuver around them with ease.”

    I know the solution! Get rid of the buses altogether! Then all the bus passengers will go away! And they’ll be more room for cars! Perfect!

  • J,

    I know that Harlem is generally supportive of livable streets. What I’m complaining about is the dismissive attitude of JSK and some of her supporters here toward Harlem. Ever since the Powell bike lanes got torpedoed, they’ve decided that Harlem likes cars and doesn’t deserve better. Thus, although 125th Street is a crawl, nobody even thought to treat it with SBS. The new 1st/2nd bike lanes stop at 96th Street. East Harlem is the most asthma-stricken part of the city, and yet there’s no plan to reduce its car traffic levels. The list goes on and on: much like Robert Moses before her, JSK neglects neighborhoods with demographics she doesn’t like.

    I’m well-aware that the community concerns over the 34th Street SBS are completely overhyped and frankly stupid. Obviously, this isn’t an elevated freeway, it won’t make the streets less safe, etc. But the question is why JSK et al ignore this opposition, while using one example of opposition in Harlem as an excuse not to do much in Upper Manhattan.

  • Chris

    Alon,

    The 1st/2nd Ave Bike Lanes terminate at 34th street. Transportation Alternatives and others are pressing for the extension to 125th street, but DOT says “maybe”

  • Josh

    My opinion won’t be particularly popular on here but 34th street is a major connector between the LIE and Lincoln Tunnel to Jersey. Truck traffic will alternatively be dispersed onto residential streets at all hours of the night. That is why the East Side doesn’t want it. If they build a tunnel into Jersey from Queens, then the 34th street bus lane would make sense.
    I know what most of your arguments against this will be but to be honest I really don’t care. Like most of Bloomberg’s other Fatwahs against cars, they are being done without the proper infrastructure to offset the possible benefits.
    To reduce car/delivery truck levels in Manhattan and in the region there need to be alternatives for people who work and transport goods in the boroughs. This has yet to happen. But you guys have your agenda and an arena here to express them where people agree with you so zealotry unfortunately becomes the rule.

  • #13 Josh, “To reduce car/delivery truck levels in Manhattan and in the region there need to be alternatives for people who work and transport goods in the boroughs.”

    Yes, this is true and there should be major initiatives on this front as well which may not be as daunting as it currently seems.

    A high level of engagement, cooperation, and innovation would be amongst the key ingredients that would make this happen and local city government is very accessible in this regard.

  • I know what most of your arguments against this will be but to be honest I really don’t care.

    Any reason we need to keep this comment, then?

  • Chris,

    The bike lanes are being extended to 96th. The official excuse to not extend them further north is that they “start at Houston” and should be extended south-to-north.

  • Chris

    Alon,

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/06/07/east-side-re-design-moves-ahead-but-full-bike-corridor-is-on-hold/

    There is nothing about 96th mentioned there – only that it’s being halted at 34th street for now. Please point me to something that says it’s been extended to 96th? As nothing I’ve read says *anything* about 96th street.

  • M

    Alon is wrong (as is often the case, despite his constant self-assurance).

  • Sorry, not 96th – I misremembered. But the city is refusing to do much for East Harlem despite the community’s requests for a bike lane. See e.g. here. It’s not just Transportation Alternatives that wants a bike lane in Harlem.

    And M is, of course, a random anonymous coward, despite what I’m sure would be self-assurances that he’s a constructive contributor to the discussion.

  • People — feel free to debate and correct each other. But no more insults or I’ll start deleting comments.

  • Alon, it’s been pretty clear that halting the protected lanes at 34th Street was not DOT’s call.

  • Ben, it doesn’t look very clear to me. The link I gave, the one I misremembered as saying the lanes stop at 96th, attributes the final decision to Bloomberg, but quotes DOT as defending the decision:

    “Why don’t we start in East Harlem?” asked one community board member.

    The response from Joe Barr, DOT’s director of transit development, was that the agency prioritizes the extension of bike infrastructure where it already exists, in order to build an interconnected network. “My sense is that — and this isn’t a fair answer for this community — we have a lot of bike infrastructure leading up to First and Second Avenue” from the south, he told the crowd.

  • J

    Josh,
    I understand your concerns about traffic. I wouldn’t want truck traffic on my street, either. I am therefore really curious to see the results of the traffic study. That said, I am not sure how much traffic is through traffic using this corridor. If your fears are correct, than the through-traffic would need to be rerouted. If most tunnel traffic is bound for Manhattan, though, than it’s much less of an issue. Given the high tolls and congestion in Manhattan, I can’t imagine most people using the Lincoln tunnel do so to get to Queens or Long Island and vice versa. I may be wrong, though.

    34th St today already has many stretches with only one vehicle lane in each direction, so it’s not really moving that many cars. You must also remember that the Lincoln Tunnel and Queens Midtown Tunnels don’t have just one exit and one entrance. There are Lincoln exits on 30th, 40th, and 42nd St as well. The Queens Midtown Tunnel empties onto 37th, 39th, and 42nd streets. These will handle whatever through traffic there is, but again, I doubt that through traffic makes up a significant portion of trips.

    Finally, calling us anti-car is unfair and misinformed. It’s like calling people who advocate the separation of church and state “anti-religion”. Many of us use cars and recognize their purpose in our society. You’ll see us promoting car-sharing schemes and the like, which are certainly not anti-car in any sense. What we are against is automobile-centric planning, which occurs at the expense of all other modes and concerns. What we are for is streets that serve the people that use them in the best manner possible. In general, it seems that most people here think that the transitway would create bus lanes for the 33,000 people that use them every day, more public space for the countless thousands of people who walk on 34th Street, all at reasonable cost (compared to, say, subway or light rail).

    I’m glad you raised your concerns here and they seem legitimate and honest, but calling the other side names is not part of good debate.

  • J

    Alon,

    I don’t think DOT is dismissive of Harlem at all. In fact they’ve moved forward with a number of safe streets initiatives this year:

    1) 125th & Lenox-ped refuges & neckdowns
    2) 125th & St. Nick- neckdowns
    3) 163rd & St Nicholas ped & bike improvements (I know, technically Wash Heights, but still)
    4) Safe Routes to School around Frederick Douglas btw 140th & 144th streets & around Lex btw 117th & 122nd streets
    5) Harlem River Waterfront Park Access
    6) Montefiore Park ped plaza @ 137th & Broadway (long-term planning)

    Just because one project got stalled by another part of the city’s administration does not mean DOT has turned its back on the neighborhood completely.

  • J,

    With all due respect, those projects are quite small. Neckdowns are a small administrative matter, rather than evidence of investment in a neighborhood the way full-scale bike and bus lanes are. It’s consistent with the views at DOT that Upper Manhattanites just don’t want alternative transportation, so the best they can get is small, imperceptible changes. All of those projects you mention together aren’t nearly as important as protected bike lanes in East Harlem, let alone making sure the 125th Street buses are faster than walking.

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