Eyes on the Street: Red Means “Stop” … in the Bus Lane

Streetsblog regular BicyclesOnly is posting shots of Midtown bus lane violators on his Flickr photo stream. He writes:

[T]his cop is manually writing tickets for blocking the bus-only "red lane" on 57th St. instead of dealing with more serious crimes … For every violator ticketed, several others get away scot free. Plus FedEx ends up paying a reduced fine thanks to NYC’s stipulated fine program. Way to rationally manage those streets!

While bus riders wait for cameras and/or concrete curbs to help keep drivers out of the way, we’re seeing the makings of a new public service blog. My Bus Lane, anyone?

  • I agree there’s a lot wrong with the picture, so to speak, and I’d call Gantt worse things than “boneheaded” on this issue, but I don’t think this “instead of dealing with more serious crimes” is a good angle for “our side” to take.

    A bus that gets delayed because of a fedex truck in the bus lane could be carrying a large number of people. That’s every one of those people getting delayed. I don’t think it’s smart for us to characterize such a violation as less than a serious crime.

  • I agree with whoever said last week that towing is a better way to go.

  • Dan

    It seems obvious that if you’re not going to go for separated lanes you might as well go crazy nuts on the fines for blocking the bus traffic. In the case of Fedex and UPS, as well as other delivery services, the fines are just rolled into the cost of doing business. Obviously the deals that the big guys have are better for them, but everyone who parks their panel truck in the bus lane knows that they might get a ticket but that even if they do it’s not going to be worse than NOT DELIVERING their cargo or having to schlep that delivery for blocks. If you don’t make the fine a greater incentive, you’ll never change the behavior. I’ll bet if it was $100 the first time, $200 the second time, and $1000 the third time, with automatic towing following, people would reconsider their decisions. It would be nice if DOT could roll this out allong with increased street space for loading/unloading.

  • I hear ya, Dart. What I meant to say, rather than “more serious crimes,” is “crimes that can’t be enforced efficiently and fairly by machines.”

  • Max Rockatansky

    Maybe a better approach to the larger businesses (FedEx, UPS, Fresh Direct) is to approach it as a public relations issue. They should encourage their drivers to park in ways that minimize inconvenience to the public as a responsible “corporate citizen” otherwise they will be associated with highly negative behavior. These corporations spend millions of dollars on their images, you just need to speak their language.

  • You would think so, Max. But efforts along the lines you suggest (see link at paragraph 2 of this comment) have been attempted, without any discernable results.

  • Do FedEx/UPS/Fresh Direct trucks ever park anywhere BUT illegally? It hasn’t harmed their image thus far, so I can’t imagine that the illegal parking being parking in bus lanes rather than double-parking in regular travel lanes will have all that different of an effect.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Thanks for the link BicyclesOnly – I’m familiar with that thread. And yes they do park everywhere illegally and that sucks. BUT… as a society, we have opted for instant doorstep delivery. This is the price for such conveniences (and when I say “we” I mean the majority of people who use such service, and most likely not the readers of this blog). So my whole point is it’s going to be impossible to legislate, ticket, or tow offending delivery vehicles from all city streets. However, enough pressure judiciously applied to a very particular problem (blocking bus lanes) could be enough to move things in a positive direction. There’s no reason to block the bus lanes specifically when they can park anywhere and I believe people will have a lot more sympathy for bus traffic than bike lanes. So my idea was to take more of a pragmatic approach.

  • Thanks, Max. This is a little bit of a tricky situation because there is a curbside, red bus-only lane on either side of 57th St. that is verboten for a three-hour stretch each weekday morning. So there is no available curbside parking during that period.

    One answer would be to provide dedicated (and market-rate-metered) commercial spaces for courier services on the avenues, to the north and south of 57th St., during this three hour zone. A better approach would be to require these courier services to use carts and cargo trikes in the most highly-congested and customer-dense areas, such as the midtown and downtown CBDs. Or, have deliveries and pickups in such areas required to be made outside the 3 hour rush hour period. All of these ideas have been put out there in prior S’blog threads. The principle should be, for these three hours each weekday, moving people is the greater priority than moving packages. Use aggressive enforcement to enforce that priority.

    You raise the important point that all urban residents and workers increasingly depend on courier services as a vital link to the outside world, especially as real estate values head further toward insanity. In residential areas, meeting this need means converting free curbside spaces to market-rate-metered spaces and, to the extend necessary, imposing a commercial restriction as well. In the CBDs, meeting this need requires very carefully considered and implemented street management.

    What we’ve got instead is some red paint and one cop in a Cushman writing tickets by hand while dozens of commercial and private vehicles violate the red zone with impunity. They do it because it puts money in their pocket, that would otherwise go to private garages or competing couriers services that would ignore the restriction. From the perspective of the courier services, the customer relations issue is making the pickups and deliveries on a timely basis, not worrying about blocking customers who happen to be inconvenienced as commuters.

    You might as well tape a twenty-dollar bill at each curbside parking space with a note stating “please do not remove,” and hope that none of them are stolen. In my view, imposing stiff and certain penalties on violations in CBDs during rush hours is the only way. My guess is that the enforcement efforts would pay for itself, even if we are forced to use manual rather than automated enforcement.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Good points BikesOnly – there’s a lot of ways to skin a cat, but ultimately it comes down to people operating with a greater awareness of their actions. Whether it’s hitting them in the wallet or using societal pressures or more likely, a little of both. There’s no guarantee that higher fines won’t also be accepted as the price of doing business, and the only thing that will get the fines to an effective level is a change in attitude.

  • I’m all in favor of societal pressure. I’ve devoted many hours to applying it to stop illegal parking in bike lanes and in and parks and curbsides. But in my view blocking dedicated bus lanes in midtown during rush hour is truly a “high crime” that should receive all of the law enforcement resources necessary to prevent it. It’s a shame automated enforcement is out, but so be it. If NYPD can field 100 or more officers to issue equipment violations to a bunch of bicyclists on the last Friday of the month, there is no excuse for fielding one officer to manage this situation on 57th St. during rush hour (and in other dedicated bus lanes throughout the city). Raise the fines so the violators have to pay the increased costs of enforcement.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Great article in last week’s New Yorker about a Danish community’s switch to alternative energy – a big component was getting key community members to contribute and thereby changing people’s attitudes.