The New York City Bus Lane Blues: Paint Is Not Enough

Separated bus lanes. Elected officials are calling for them. The next version of enhanced bus service on 34th Street may include them. Why does New York City need them? Well, take a look at how the city’s current crop of bus lanes are working out for riders. Streetfilms’ Robin Urban Smith went on a couple of excursions this week, heading over to the 34th Street bus lane and the Fifth Avenue bus lane. This is what she found.

In a recent survey of bus lane violations by Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer’s office, staffers observed 350 drivers parked in bus lanes over the course of 40 hours. Every day, tens of thousands of New Yorkers ride the buses these drivers are blocking.

As DOT and the MTA move closer to releasing plans for Bus Rapid Transit on the East Side of Manhattan, advocates see a clear need for bus lanes that won’t get obstructed by other vehicles. "On First and Second Avenue, there’s plenty of lane space, as well as a
lot of support by local electeds," said Joan Byron, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development’s Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative. "DOT and the MTA need
to set the bar high by going with a physically separated busway."

"For bus lanes to work, they have to be bus lanes, not lanes that cars can enter whenever they want," Tri-State Transportation Campaign director Kate Slevin told Streetsblog. "Red paint is only so convincing. You need to add physical separation or strong enforcement to make sure that drivers stay out of the lane."

The NYPD has so far proven to be a non-entity when it comes to bus lane enforcement. In all their time counting bus lane-blocking drivers, Stringer’s staff did not observe police issue a single ticket. (Based on Robin’s footage and several photos we’ve received from readers, police are actually some of the worst perpetrators of bus lane violations.) With approval from Albany, New York could supplement police enforcement of bus lanes with camera enforcement. A bill sponsored by Brian Kavanagh in the State Assembly would do just that.

Lately, however, approval from Albany has been hard to come by. Physical separation remains the dysfunction-proof way to give bus riders the priority they deserve on the street.

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