Bus Lanes Alone Aren’t Enough to Give NYC Buses a Clear Path

The M15 runs on dedicated bus lanes on First and Second Avenues on Manhattan's East Side. Photo: DOT
The M15 runs on dedicated bus lanes on First and Second Avenues on Manhattan's East Side. Photo: DOT

This short video makes a compelling case to turn 14th Street into a car-free transit priority route when the L train shuts down. Regular bus lanes on a street shared with cars won’t be enough.

Judging by this time-lapse shot by the folks at TransitCenter during a recent rush hour on Second Avenue, New York City bus lanes are still de facto drop-off and delivery zones. Watch this M15 driver opt to avoid the bus lane on every single block thanks to vehicles illegally occupying the bus lane:

The M15 is one of 11 Select Bus Service lines with dedicated lanes enforced with cameras. The bus lanes make a difference — the M15 moves 11 percent faster than it did before — but they aren’t providing a real unobstructed path.

One factor at work may be that DOT and the MTA no longer use bus-mounted cameras. Instead, the cameras are mounted on street poles, so drivers may have figured out where they can park and avoid detection.

Then there’s the city’s Stipulated Fine Program, which essentially forgives many of the parking tickets racked up by large freight companies. The arrangement creates a gigantic disincentive for the companies to adhere to parking and loading rules.

The biggest shortcoming of NYC bus lanes, however, is that they are so easy to park in. A physical barrier would keep other vehicles from intruding. On First and Second avenues, this would entail setting aside two lanes for a busway (one for locals, one for expresses) as well as median space for waiting areas:

On a two-way street like 14th, the only way to go is to boot cars off and reserve the whole right-of-way for buses, biking, and walking:

Image: BRT Planning International
  • Bus Rider

    In that video the only impediment to the bus except red lights was other buses in the stop. Wouldn’t the physical barriers you recommend prohibit the moving bus from getting around the one in the stop?

  • BrandonWC

    Bus lanes are de jure, not just de facto, drop-off zones. They are no standing, not no stopping, zones so it is legal to pick up and discharge passengers in them.

  • BrandonWC

    Also IIRC, unlike speed cams and maybe red light cams which are limited per Albany’s fiat to a specific number of camera, bus lane enforcement is limited to a specific number of bus routes, but there is no limit to how many cameras can be deployed along those routes. If there really are spots where driver have figured out there’s no camera coverage, the city really needs to roll out more cameras.

  • HamTech87

    I never understood why the delivery companies aren’t in the vanguard pushing for parking reform. With the Stipulated Fine Program (missed that article in August!), now I know why.

  • AnoNYC

    I didn’t know that the MTA was using fixed camera enforcement yet. I personally haven’t seen any, are they that spaced apart? Is this only for certain routes at this time. And are there any SBS lines that do not have camera enforcement?

  • AnoNYC

    The video is a little fast but there are vehicles stopped on bus lane between every stop. That’s why the bus needs to remain outside the lane for so much of the route.

  • Brian Howald

    At the beginning of the video, there is a truck unloading in the bike lane. Further on, there are several blocks full of parked cars in the bus lane.

  • On a street like Second Avenue there would be two lanes in the transitway so buses can bypass other buses.

  • HamTech87

    I was sitting on the M60 bus a while back, and talked to the driver about using the camera. He seemed very reluctant to push the button to ticket the drivers in the bus lane; he sympathized with them. Even though cars were in the bus lane, he never took their photo.

  • Andrew

    Beyond absurd.

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