Who’s Against Better Sidewalks and Bus Stops? These People…

CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks and bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]
Some CB 8 members oppose wider sidewalks at bus stops because they fear it will lead to gridlock. Photo: DOT [PDF]
Bus bulbs are sidewalk extensions at bus stops that enable passengers to board without the driver pulling in and out of traffic. They save transit riders time, shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, and keep sidewalks from getting cluttered by bus stop furniture. Who could be against that?

Well, on the Upper East Side, a few members of Manhattan Community Board 8 raised a stink Wednesday night about a plan to add bus bulbs to 86th Street. They were convinced bus bulbs would lead to gridlock and refused to believe a DOT analysis showing otherwise.

The plan from NYC DOT and the MTA to upgrade the crosstown M86 to Select Bus Service also calls for real-time bus arrival information kiosks and off-board fare collection, though not bus lanes. The line carries 25,000 riders daily — more passengers per mile than any other NYC bus route — and serves a neighborhood where about three out of every four households do not own a car. The plan would bring a combination of bus bulbs and neckdowns to the corners of Park, Lexington, and Third Avenues [PDF].

DOT first identified the M86 as a possible candidate for Select Bus Service in 2009, and approached CB 8 in 2012 about adding bus bulbs to 86th Street. At the time, the board didn’t object to the suggestion and, seeing that bus bulbs would provide space for off-board fare payment kiosks, asked for the machines [PDF 1, 2]. CB 7, which covers the M86 on the Upper West Side, followed suit and requested off-board fare payment in 2013.

Meanwhile, other projects were moving ahead. A Safe Streets for Seniors project, also supported by the board last year [PDF 12] included painted neckdowns and a pedestrian island on 86th Street at York Avenue [PDF]. A school safety plan included neckdowns along 86th Street and at nearby intersections.

The East 86th Street Association was also working on a streetscape beautification project to upgrade street lights and get money for new curbs, bike racks, trash cans, benches, and tree pits. To make construction simpler, the city combined many of the projects into one contract. DOT and MTA came back last October with a proposal that included street beautification, off-board fare payment, neckdowns, and bus bulbs. CB 8 voted to support the beautification component but held off on the rest [PDF 12].

The M86,
The M86 carries 25,000 riders daily. That’s more people per mile than any other NYC bus. Image: MTA/DOT [PDF]
To the East 86th Street Association, the neckdowns and bus bulbs that will improve the sidewalk for everyone and speed trips for tens of thousands of daily bus riders are just an intrusion on its “beautification” proposal.

Elaine Walsh, president of the East 86th Street Association and a CB 8 member, contends that the neckdowns at 86th and Park Avenue will be too intrusive in the historic district. (But parking lanes filled with late-model cars are historically appropriate, apparently.) The 86th Street Association sent emails to its membership encouraging opposition to the bus bulbs.

Michele Birnbaum, another CB 8 member who also serves as president of Historic Park Avenue, also opposed the neckdowns. “I do not want to see protruding sidewalks disturbing the streetscape,” Birnbaum said. Birnbaum is the same CB 8 member who has spoken against marked crosswalks linking to the East River Greenway and opposed a car-free Central Park because “it’s important that there’s a quick way for traffic to cut through local streets.”

Analysis of bus bulbs across the nation shows they cause minimal driver delay, and any effect is far outweighed by benefits to bus riders [PDF].

That’s true for 86th Street, DOT says. Wednesday night, the agency presented the results of a traffic analysis using vehicle counts on 86th Street. The model, which accounted for pedestrians and double parked vehicles during the morning rush hour, showed that the new configuration would require drivers to merge or wait while the bus is stopped, but would not cause significant delay.

Traffic modeling is not going to sway Walsh. “The whole thing is not realistic. 86th Street does not work that way,” she said of DOT’s analysis. “It will tie up traffic.”

Local council members were noncommittal about adding bus bulbs to 86th Street.

“Council Member [Dan] Garodnick has been an advocate of Select Bus Service routes, and will be meeting with the Department of Transportation to review the study that they released last night,” said spokesperson David Kimball-Stanley.

“I am pleased to have been working with Department of Transportation and the community on improvements to the 86th Street corridor, including safety neckdowns,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, who represents the area east of Lexington. “I am supportive of bus bulbs where they make sense, and will be working with DOT and the community to determine if the proposed location is one of those places.”

Off-board fare payment machines could be installed as early as this spring, with construction of other streetscape elements beginning this summer and wrapping this fall.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    The only gridlock this issue will bring about is of the political kind. Why should weightless aesthetic viewpoints hinder transit improvements for the countless number of straphangers that see this bus route as a vital crosstown lifeline?

  • r

    Don’t worry. DOT will back down at the slightest hint of trouble. They might even find ways to add parking somewhere.

  • c2check

    Curb extensions are something the City should be installing more of all over the City. They’re good for the majority of people on the streets: they improve ped safety and visibility, speed up bus travel, and often also make driving times faster, too.

  • Guest

    (Is it safe to presume Elaine Walsh doesn’t believe in vaccines, either?)

  • kingsnyc

    The DOT could easily install these in the Bronx with little political hoops to jumps through. One of these would have come in handy on the Grand Concourse earlier this week when I saw a wheelchair user essentially dumped into a pile of slush on the roadside. Walls of previously plowed snow blocked the curb cut. So basically the guys only option was to roll down the Grand Concourse or get carried over the snow bank.

  • Nance

    I want it to go to East End Avenue all the time. York Avenue has a bus.

  • AnoNYC

    So frustrating!

    Why doesn’t StreetsPac launch an advertising campaign frying these people.

    Bus stop should read: “Tired of inefficient transportation options? Blame your (insert community board/politicians/community association). They opposed (insert implementation and brief statistics).”

    Most people do not take what is going on. Most people want better transportation but do not understand the power structure.

  • SteveVaccaro

    Preposterous to suggest that a bulbout could ruin the “historic character” of 86th Street. 86th Street is a gritty commercial strip with big box stores, movie theatres, tons of street vendors blocking the sidewalks and many, many pedestrians injuries and fatalities because of overcrowding. Yes, let’s preserve it and let people die.

  • Brad Aaron

    Dan Garodnick apparently thinks bus bulbs and added sidewalk space = BRT, which he doesn’t “reflexively” support.

    https://twitter.com/DanGarodnick/status/563782164043415552

  • KeNYC2030

    I propose that at every community board meeting in the city a gong be
    set up in the back of the room that will be struck every time a CB member
    utters the words: ”It will tie up traffic.” Earplugs will be distributed.

  • BBnet3000

    Why not call any line with a bus shelters BRT?

  • Anon resident

    The issue a hand is that nobody on the cb is a trained city planner. So, start the cb meeting with a raise your hands if have a background in road design, street safety and transportation. When nobody raises their hands up then DOT gives their presentation.

  • Joe R.

    My favorite thing here was Walsh’s ignorant comment on the DOT traffic analysis: “The whole thing is not realistic. 86th Street does not work that way. It will tie up traffic.”

    Had I been there I might have been tempted to ask what her credentials were which qualified her to refute a study done by trained professionals. If she couldn’t answer that satisfactorily I might have told her to please keep quiet on matters she doesn’t anything about. Really, community boards should have no input on subjects they’re not knowledgeable of.

    Then you have the comment about the bus bulb ruining the aesthetics of the street. Where do they get these people from? Their comments are infuriating to say the least.

  • robert moses

    And you think you wouldn’t make a good biketavius.

    Joe R. for bike Czar

  • BBnet3000

    Really, community boards should have no input on subjects they’re not knowledgeable of.

    Most of them would end up very quiet indeed.

  • JKS

    As someone who attended the meeting, let’s get a few facts straight. DOT people clearly said SBS will save riders time because tickets are purchased before boarding and 3 doors are used, and equally clearly said bus bulbs are for safety purposes and will not speed bus service. DOT also said the traffic study did not take into account actual commercial traffic or actual pedestrian counts but was based on estimates, which seemed grossly inadequate to anyone who frequents 86th St., especially during the summer months. No one present opposed SBS; many opposed bus bulbs based on a traffic study that was admittedly flawed.

  • Andrew

    DOT people clearly said SBS will save riders time because tickets are purchased before boarding and 3 doors are used, and equally clearly said bus bulbs are for safety purposes and will not speed bus service.

    They contradicted their own presentation?! (“Bus bulbs reduce boarding times and separate waiting bus customers from pedestrian traffic”)

    DOT also said the traffic study did not take into account actual commercial traffic or actual pedestrian counts but was based on estimates, which seemed grossly inadequate to anyone who frequents 86th St., especially during the summer months.

    I don’t know, it seems quite obvious to me that illegally double-parked trucks and cars cause far more traffic congestion than a bus stopped for 30 seconds would.

    No one present opposed SBS

    No one? https://www.facebook.com/permalink.php?story_fbid=798604913520084&id=291883130858934

  • Ian Mitchell

    I couldn’t believe when I first went to central park that drivers were allowed to careen through the space and pedestrian access seemed like an afterthought- IN A PARK.

  • Ron Troy, former CB8 member

    Nothing wrong with a good, honest discussion. But during the years I was a member of CB8 and of its Transportation Committee, cross town buses were already horribly slow, and any reasonable ideas for improving that need to be taken seriously. It is clear that SBS can speed things up, at least when combined with aggressive traffic and parking enforcement. It’s also important to have clear bus loading only zones that make it easy for buses to reenter the traffic stream. Now I wasn’t there for this presentation, but I’d like to think that those offering specific opinions here actually have some knowledge of traffic problems and their solutions. I’m not saying that when I was a member I always agreed with DOT, but I’d certainly listen. Of course, back then Sam Schwartz was usually the presenter, and I’m always inclined to go with his expertise. I’m hoping that those at DOT currently doing such planning are well qualified.

    CB8 needs to make bus problems a priority, and not let a few members with their heads buried in the sand (or asphalt) stop real progress. At a minimum, this discussion needs to quickly move forward – preferably with DOT doing some real life tests of their proposals on 86th Street at one or two bus stops.

  • CU1

    “Really, community boards should have no input on subjects they’re not knowledgeable of.”

    I’d be inclined to agree with you, but that’s not how democracies should work. Imagine if Congress didn’t vote on matters its members were “not knowledgeable” of; we’d have a government run not by elected representatives, but by elites, which would ultimately decrease accountability, etc. Granted, CB members are not elected by the community, but they serve in a similar representative capacity where they mirror the community’s makeup. The same cannot be said for the un-elected bureaucrats who conduct the studies.

  • CU1

    Because, like it or not, the viewpoints of the CB’s on these issues are not “weightless.” They effective, if only in practice and not in law, have veto power over changes such as the one that was proposed here. And its this way because the city has limited resources and is only going to spend time/money/effort using these limited resources in areas where the community actually supports various projects.

  • Joe R.

    The difference here is there are government experts who can educate members of Congress on matters they’re not knowledgeable of prior to legislation being made. Also, Congress frequently has industry experts testifying before laws are made.

    None of these things apply to community boards. Besides that, community boards are not even elected. That’s why I feel they should only have input on strictly local matters. Transportation arteries serve the entire city. A community board shouldn’t be able to delay or stop a critical segment of transportation infrastructure. Nor should they be able to suggest solutions to problems like dangerous intersections. I say this because their “solution” is almost invariably yet another traffic signal regardless of what DOT might propose.

    Should community boards have input over subway signaling modifications on track which happens to run under their domain? The obvious answer here is no because they lack the expertise to make an informed decision. Well, it’s no different with the streets which run through their districts. They may feel as laypeople some idea is bad, but in the end we should let experts handle the matter. Would you want community boards deciding how buildings are designed as well? At some point the line is crossed between simply guiding overall policy (which is some community representatives can do) and micromanagement.

    Granted, CB members are not elected by the community, but they serve in a similar representative capacity where they mirror the community’s makeup.

    In theory maybe, in practice no. NYC’s community boards are overwhelming made up of people much older than those they represent, much wealthier, and with much greater windshield perspective. Frequently the issue of free on-street parking trumps all at CB meetings even when 75% of the people in the district don’t own a car. That’s hardly a stellar example of representation.

  • Andrew

    Mirror the community’s makeup? In what manner? (Income? Age? Race? Car/bicycle ownership? Mode choice?)

    I vote in every election for which I am eligible. I have never been asked to provide any input into the makeup of my Community Board.

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