Klein Backs Off Bill to Restore Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

Flashing lights on Select Bus Service vehicles are designed to help riders distinguish between pay-before-boarding SBS and pay-onboard local service. After years of operation without issue, Staten Island lawmakers exploited a minor state law to have the MTA turn off the lights 16 months ago. Bills in Albany to find a solution are stuck in committee, and now the bill’s most powerful sponsor is backing away.

State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein is not interested in reviving his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate
State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein doesn’t plan to revive his bill to bring back flashing lights to SBS buses. Photo: NY Senate

State law restricts flashing blue lights to the vehicles of volunteer firefighters. Bills from State Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein and Assembly Member Micah Kellner would allow purple lights, designated for use on buses by the DMV, only on routes that require riders to pay before boarding.

This would exempt the S79, the sole SBS line on Staten Island. But it failed to appease State Senator Andrew Lanza, an SBS critic who opposed the lights with Council Member Vincent Ignizio. The bills failed in Albany last year and remain stuck in committee.

Klein’s office indicated that the SBS bill isn’t on his agenda at this time. “Senator Klein wants to see Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan come to fruition this year and that will be his transportation focus this session,” said spokesperson Anna Durrett. (Streetsblog asked if that means Klein will amend his speed camera bill to allow more cameras and fewer restrictions. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back.)

Meanwhile, Kellner said he would push hard this session to pass the bill in the Assembly and put pressure on the Senate. “I’m going to sit down and talk to Senator Klein, I’m going to talk to Senator Lanza, and see if we can come to an agreement,” Kellner said. “The nice thing about both Senator Klein and Senator Lanza is that they are very reasonable people…If not, we’ll seek another Senate sponsor.”

Kellner added that he has filed a “Form 99” to push the Assembly’s transportation committee chair to act on the bill during this legislative session, which ends this year. An NYU review of Albany procedure called this tactic “ineffective” because it does not force the bill to be reported out of committee.

The push to pass the bill is also complicated by Kellner himself, who has been sanctioned by the Assembly ethics committee for sexual harassment violations and is not seeking reelection this year.

Kellner’s constituents rely heavily on SBS along First and Second Avenues, and Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution this week asking Albany to bring the lights back. “My constituents call on a daily basis wondering why the lights are turned off,” Kellner said, adding that he has never received a complaint from a motorist who thought “two simultaneously flashing lights that flash very slowly” on a bus looked anything like an emergency vehicle.

Kellner expressed frustration that the issue has languished. “Our bill specifically exempts Staten Island,” he said. “This should not be a controversial thing.”

  • azab

    Do we have to defend every nonsense because it’s somehow tangentiallly related to public transport?

    Light is pollution, flashing lights are obnoxious pollution, and when we put random lights on vehicles like buses for terrible reasons (permanently flashing lights on a bus to tell riders (not other vehicles) some intricate payment detail? Are you kidding?) it diminishes the visibility of those that need lights most, which would be emergency vehicles and everything with two wheels.

  • Emmily_Litella

    No not kidding. When waiting for a bus or deciding to wait for a bus, looking far down the street and seeing those lights is very reassuring. Anyone that used SBS when the lights worked would understand this. Anyone that has used transit in Canada and Western Europe would understand SBS is a just a first baby step toward having a real bus service that attracts people the hell out of the cabs and cars that are what congestion is made of.

  • Charles

    The difference between now and when the flashing lights were introduced is that now Bus Time is live. So, if you have a phone, you can use it to find out when the next bus is coming. As a next step, how about putting Bus Time displays at the SBS stops?

  • ddartley

    azab, I live above one of these stops and use the SBS buses and the local buses on the same line often, and deal with light and sound pollution where I live, I can tell you from real experience with these buses, from living near them before, during, and after the times the lights were active, and from many conversations with others, it is not a nuisance to bystanders and it was extremely useful to bus riders. They weren’t so bright they lit up the street like an ambulance’s lights. They did not project light; they were just noticeable if you were looking for buses far away.

    I was recently at a “quality of life” townhall in CB6 and an elderly woman got up and asked what happened to the SBS lights that had been so useful. The crowd started applauding. This is not tangential nonsense, thanks very much.

  • Aunt Bike

    In the minds of State Senator Andrew Lanza and City Council member Vincent Ignizio, it’s got nothing to do with the lights. It’s the bus lanes.

    They get complaint after complaint from Staten Island drivers who see something that takes away a traffic lane they want to fill up with cars. They tried to block the bus lanes, they carry on about the bus lane camera enforcement, in fact they complain about every little thing that has to do with SBS. And as petty as it is, one of those things is little flashing blue lights.

    Staten Island politicians are noted for throwing monkey wrenches into every attempt to improve Staten Island’s public transit and street safety.

  • Bolwerk

    The lights were less bright than headlights, and were impossible to confuse with emergency vehicles. The flashing was subtle. If anyone is blind or stupid enough to confuse the two, they should not be driving.

    And, yes, the lights were helpful.

  • Mark

    I cannot emphasize enough how much I think anyone looking at this as comparable to other bus lanes should go spend 15 minutes on the northbound side of Richmond Avenue, and decide if they really think this was implemented well.

    I fully support the Hylan Blvd bus lanes, and almost every other one in the city. I also think that most of Hylan Blvd should be No Standing/Stopping 24 hours a day to create less lane changes for buses and avoid conflicts with turning vehicles. But the way this was done on Richmond Avenue’s Northbound side creates some of the most hazardous traffic situations I have ever seen, and the volume of buses outside of rush hour does not justify a 24/7 bus lane.

    I use these bus routes and the express buses extremely regularly, which is why I wish they would come up with a better solution.

  • Aunt Bike

    Well, there may be a problem with the northbound Richmond Avenue bus lane, but I don’t see what Vincent Ignizio and Andrew Lanza working so hard to get those flashing lights removed is going to do to improve that.

  • Mark

    As I understand your argument, you were saying that Staten Island politicians and electorate are opposed to Select Bus in general, which is why they are opposing the lights.

    I was explaining where that opposition to the whole program is coming from.

    Additionally, as I’ve posted on several of the articles on this topic, my personal experience was that the lights on the S79 were significantly brighter and more “strobe like” than those on the other routes I saw like the M34.
    I haven’t seen data one way or the other on that, but as they were implemented I did feel that the S79 lights were extremely distracting.

  • Aunt Bike

    Oh, I understand their opposition is to the entire program. But I don’t think they oppose the entire program because of some problems with Richmond Avenue and elsewhere. I think they simply do not want bus only lanes, period.

    For that matter, they don’t want bike lanes or camera enforcement either. Not surprising on an island so dominated by cars and drivers. However, I think better public transit would help this island grow, and their kind of thinking holds us back. I think cyclists have a right to access public thoroughfares safely, and I think camera enforcement has become a necessity. Island politicians feel differently….

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/08/25/electeds-local-media-wage-war-on-staten-island-cyclists/

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/03/13/ignizio-bill-would-turn-pedestrian-timers-into-countdown-clocks-for-drivers/

    …and I think they make life difficult for commuters and dangerous for cyclists by their pandering to drivers. I have seen these flashing lights while driving and I don’t believe they constitute a dangerous distraction to drivers.

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