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Bus Rapid Transit

Busway Opponents Pump Up the Volume at CB 5 Meeting on 34th Street

Image: NYC DOT.

Manhattan CB 5, which is shaping up to be the "swing district" along the route of the 34th Street Transitway, is only at the earliest stages of formulating a stance on plans to build physically separated bus lanes and pedestrian improvements as part of a river-to-river redesign. Even so, two things were clear at a public input session last night: Curb access remains one of the thorniest issues for DOT street redesigns, and the Murray Hill anti-transit forces are organizing circles around bus lane supporters.

CB 5, for now, is working on getting more information out of DOT rather than taking a position. The 34th Street task force is developing a letter to send to DOT with an exhaustive series of questions divided into five stakeholder categories: business and property owners, residents, pedestrians, public transportation, and vehicular traffic. Last night's public forum was mostly limited to ensuring that the letter didn't leave out any questions that community members had.

In particular, CB 5 is holding off on casting judgment until they see DOT's traffic analysis, which is due to come out this spring. "We see them as professional traffic engineers. This is what they're paid to do," said Nancy Goshow, the task force chair.

Despite the modesty of the task force's mission last night, a committed corps of anti-busway activists, primarily from the Murray Hill neighborhood, repeatedly voiced their opposition to the DOT's plan. One 34th Street resident worried that the bus lanes would not only block access to businesses, but would prevent shoppers from even seeing stores' signage, which would be "blocked by these unending trails of buses that are going to go by it."

The more serious opposition came from those worried about curbside access. Joseph Jerome, the owner of a building at the southeast corner of Broadway and 34th, complained that if the plan goes through, DOT would have taken away curbside access on both sides of his property. "This plan basically landlocks our building," he said. "It's like taking away your front door." Jerome argued that it would hurt both the retail on his ground floor and his ability to market the upper-floor apartments.

Those worries seemed to resonate with CB 5 transportation committee chair Tom Miller. Citing this Crain's article, Miller argued that the changes to Broadway had benefited cyclists and pedestrians at the expense of local retail. "You just have to hope that the positives outweigh the negatives," he said. Of course, rents in the "bowtie" section of Times Square have actually soared over the last two years, despite the recession, making it the second most-expensive retail space in the city.

After the meeting, Miller said that he believes the project is likely to be a net positive. "Do I think this will be a good project? Probably." Then he added, "It's too early to say."

Unfortunately, there was essentially no pushback on the anti-bus voices from local residents or businesses. The only pro-transit speaker from the audience was the Straphanger's Campaign's Cate Contino. "I feel like a lot of these concerns are that the current set up doesn't provide access," she noted, arguing that many were trying to blame the proposed changes for problems they already have with curb access. 34th Street already has dedicated bus lanes and strict curb regulations.

Hopefully, more busway supporters will make it out to future meetings. It's a sure bet that the Murray Hill crowd will. In the meantime, you can send your comments to CB 5 via their new 34th Street blog. The site is currently under construction, but should be live this Friday.

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