A Transit Miracle on 34th Street

NYC DOT is proposing to turn Manhattan’s 34th Street into a river-to-river "transitway."

In what she half-jokingly called "probably the first-ever co-presentation" between their two agencies, Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan stood with New York City Transit President Howard Roberts earlier this week to unveil the city’s current Bus Rapid Transit program in its entirety — including a plan that would "redefine the public realm" on Manhattan’s 34th St. by redesigning it as the city’s first "transitway."

At a forum co-hosted by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, the Pratt Center for Community Development and the Straphangers Campaign, over 100 people gathered at the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx Tuesday morning, just a few blocks from where the city is poised to launch its first BRT project on Fordham Road, to hear international experts explain how other programs work, and don’t work, around the world. Walter Hook, executive director of New York’s Institute for Transportation and Development Policy, profiled elements of BRT models in cities like Jakarta, Indonesia and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, where his organization has served a consultatory role. Oscar Edmundo Diaz, also with ITDP and once a senior advisor to former Bogotá Mayor Enrique Peñalosa, detailed the workings of the wildly successful TransMilenio, which Hook described as state-of-the-art in Bus Rapid Transit.

Outlining New York’s plans, Sadik-Khan previewed big changes for some of the city’s major corridors.

The block between 5th and 6th Aves. would be reserved for buses and people, with cars traveling away from the CBD on either side

  • 34th Street, Manhattan: DOT will repave and restripe for five lanes between Third and Ninth Avenues by the end of this year, with painted bus lanes on the north and south sides and three auto lanes in the center. Service hours will also be extended. Phase 2 calls for a 34th Street Transitway, closing the street to cars between Fifth and Sixth and installing pedestrian plazas. On either side of that block, there would be two lanes for cars heading in one direction — toward the rivers — while on the other half of the street, buses would have two extra-wide lanes separated from traffic. In other words, buses would constitute the only through traffic on 34th Street. According to Sadik-Khan, 34th Street BRT will eventually tie in to new East River ferry service (details to be announced next week). Here’s the 34th St. slideshow.
  • Hylan Boulevard, Staten Island: BRT will run from Richmond Avenue across the Verrazano Bridge. The route will include a reversible center-lane protected busway with raised boarding stations. We hope to have more on this soon.
  • Fifth and Madison Avenues, Manhattan: On Fifth, dual bus lanes will be installed from 23rd to 59th Street, while dual lanes on Madison will be extended from 42nd Street to 23rd.

NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly has pledged a unit dedicated to bus lane enforcement, Sadik-Khan said. But she added that the city needs Albany to approve bus-mounted cameras as well. Though the program lost $112 million in funding with the defeat of congestion pricing, Sadik-Khan said the city has applied for federal funds to expedite BRT build-out. While the timetable for some projects is still undetermined, Bx12 Select Bus Service will launch in June as planned, and Phase 1 of 34th Street will be completed this year.

Sadik-Khan and Roberts acknowledged the gap between New York BRT and other world-class systems, where six-door, articulated, level-boarding buses travel in buffered lanes, taking on up to 42,000 passengers per direction per hour. For one thing, Roberts said the MTA has yet to find a manufacturer that can produce a bus that both meets modern BRT standards and can stand up to the city’s demanding transit schedule (this bus wasn’t mentioned). So for now, the city is moving ahead with components it can put into place relatively quickly: pre-board payment, signal prioritization, more buses, fewer stops, and painted (mostly curbside) lanes.

"We’re not Curitiba and we’re not Bogotá," said Sadik-Khan, "but we’re getting there."

  • Red

    I’m a Murray Hill resident and I’m a big fan.

  • Murray Hiller

    Well, Red, the co-op and condo boards up and down 34th Street and adjacent streets are embarking on hiring counsel to stop this thing.

    In addition to our other complaints (listed above), blocking our entrances during the day means doubling our service costs at night (that’s right, we have to cover increased staff AND delivery costs), putting undue burden on residents, including many of whom are retired and living on fixed incomes. And service and deliveries at night means unwelcome street noise for people who have to get to work in the morning!

    The Murray Hill Neighborhood Association has formed a special sub-committee to help rally the community. We’re not going to see our area ruined and our property values evaporate for DOT’s vanity project.

  • Ian Turner

    MH, you can’t be serious in thinking that this project is going to increase the amount of street noise from 34th St.

  • Murray Hiller

    That’s right, Ian Turner, because trash pick-up, oil deliveries and apartment move-in/move-outs will have to happen at night all along the north side of 34th Street.

    PLUS the concentration of buses on the north side of the street will increase noise for all apartments overlooking that side of the street, not only as the buses rumble by but as they stop and idle at the new “BRT Stations” located every block.

    Murray Hill already has a 98 rating (out of 100) for walkability — perfect, according to the Brookings Institution AND 13 points HIGHER than the New York City walkability average. We don’t need — or want — this aggravation for a couple of widened sidewalks at the Empire State Building.

  • Ian Turner

    MH, you’re aware that the vast majority of traffic on 34th St is through traffic, not originating or destined to your neighborhood, right? And you are further aware that most of this traffic will disappear or move to other streets? Do you actually have any evidence for your claim that night noise will increase, or is it just conjecture on your part?

    I once looked at an apartment on the north side of E 34th St. It was a nice apartment at a good price, but the street noise was constant and obnoxious, so I passed on it. From my perspective, the only place street noise can go in this neigborhood is down.

  • Murray Hiller

    Of course, Ian Turner, it’s obvious that 34th Street is a through street. And yes, night noise has already increased because of recently-installed designated bus lanes that restrict building service to evenings. (I know, my apartment overlooks 34th Street. And after living here 10 years, I can also say those bus lanes, even without the Transitway, have increased the noise against my building. My windows literally shake, which they never did before!)

    As for traffic moving to other streets, that means Murray Hill streets, our neighborhood, one of the most walkable in the city, as mentioned above, just spreading the bad effects of this unconsidered plan. (Uh huh, DOT has said publicly it hasn’t studied the impacts of this plan, and is only now getting around to it.)

    DOT’s already ruined Lower Park Avenue — one of the most beautiful and walkable streets in Manhattan — by closing the Grand Central approach tunnel to south-bound traffic, congesting the avenue with through-traffic. Murray Hillers are fed up with these Robert Moses-like dictates. And we’re organizing.

  • Ian Turner

    MH, closing the Park Ave tunnel southbound has already saved lives. 33rd St and Park Ave was one of the most dangerous intersections in the city; somebody died there almost annually. If you are “fed up” with the idea that saving lives matter, then I pity your lack of compassion.

  • Murray Hiller

    Ian Turner, cite source of your mortality rates, please.

  • Murray Hiller

    OK, Ian Turner. Since you’re not citing your sources about pedestrian fatalities on Park Avenue, we can back to the Transitway.

    DOT is putting the cart before the horse by producing a design before executing the research to support it — contrary to Planning 101.

    Murray Hillers are smarter than that. And we’re not going to let this arbitrary plan get by.

  • Ian Turner

    33rd and Park was the most dangerous intersection citywide, 1995-2005.

    Changing the tunnel has resulted in a 77% reduction in crashes.

    Nobody has been killed since introduction of this project.

    Incidentally, these three links are also the top Google search results for “E 33rd St & Park Ave Southbound”; these are not exactly obscure documents.

  • J. Mork

    The crashstat link is interesting.

    Does anyone know where “Flatbush Ave & Flatbush Ave” is? (Listed under Brooklyn Ped Crashes)

  • Murray Hiller

    Ian Turner:

    None of your references support your fatality statistics.

    We’re done here.

  • “Murray Hiller” is awful quick to dismiss data he/she doesn’t like.

    It turns out that Ian may have been exaggerating the data. Crashstat shows only one fatality – and 166 crashes resulting in injury – between 1995 and 2005. That’s an average of seventeen injuries a year. Beautiful and walkable, huh? Not that corner.

    Your rants have nothing to do with standing up for beauty or walkability, or speaking truth to the power of a modern-day Bob Moses. They’re just plain old territorial pissings dressed up as a good-government crusade.

  • Murray Hiller

    Cap’n Transit, what you call “t…. p….” is for us neighborhood organizing. And just as neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights and the Upper West Side organized against Robert Moses, East and West Midtown and the Union Square area are organizing against DOT. Our neighborhoods and streets aren’t just dots and lines on a transit map.

  • Murray Hiller,

    Your peeps did a piss-poor job of organizing the Union Square neighborhood against DoT, if last night is any indication. Opponents of the DoT’s Union Square plan bitched endlessly about the bad process and bad-faith motives of DoT, but you convinced your community board, to a one, that you are a bunch of obstructionists with no interest in constructively engaging to help improve the neighborhood. The fear-mongering, distortions and outright lies of the opponents to the plan literally drove the few remaining Community Board members who had questions about the process into the DoT’s arms, proclaiming “I trust the DoT.” Made the job of the plan proponents even easier than it would have been. Way to go!

  • Murray Hiller, your lives will be much more fulfilled once you learn the difference between genuine neighborhood organizing and territorial pissing.


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