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

Image: NYC DOT.
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.

  • I can’t believe these Murray Hill folks are against it. When I was looking for a Manhattan apartment, I pretty much ruled out Murray Hill because of the lack of good transit. SBS takes care of the north-south issue, and the 34th Street Busway can help with east-west.

  • Jay

    Westchesterite, your observation actually explains their behavior. Many of them don’t want an invading horde of transit passengers moving in.

    They’re afraid it would destroy their genteel yellow cab and black car community.

  • Anyone who’s ever waited for a bus in New York City knows full well the absurdity of the idea of a Great Wall of buses creating some kind of obstacle.

    What’s not so funny is the rabidity of the anti-transit, anti-cycling, anti-pedestrian cabal doing its darnedest to keep us all rooted firmly in the 20th Century.

  • The funny thing is, I had to sit through meeting after meeting at Community Board 6 last spring while people just a few blocks over argued that they would not support SBS on First and Second Avenues unless the bus stopped in their neighborhood. There were loads of blue-haired seniors arguing that they depending upon the buses for their very survival. Is the demographic of CB5 so very different than CB6?

  • Brandon

    @Eric McClure, dont you mean 19th century? The guilded age of hired vehicles for the select few to travel around Manhattan?

  • If the buses aren’t getting stuck in traffic, there should be fever total, since they will be able to double back sooner.

  • Kwyjibo

    @ Jay: That’s what I was thinking. Reminds me of in-town neighborhoods in the south that have no sidewalks. Don’t want to encourage the wrong element.

  • New Yorker

    As a non-car owning, mass transit rider and occasional cyclist, I agree with my neighbors who are against the Bus Way. The Bus Way isn’t a cycle path. Nor, except for some sidewalk bulbs at intersections, does it increase pedestrian space in Murray HIll, Kips Bay or Clinton. Instead, it puts two lanes of fast-moving buses against the sidewalk, diminishing its quality as a walking space and cutting off people from their front doors. This project has more to do with linking the massive developments planned for the East and Hudson River waterfronts and for the Penn Station blocks than it does with relieving the plight of current bus riders. Mid-Town planning, if you want to call it that, is out of whack. Focus high-density where it can be accommodated; don’t saturate already congested neighborhoods with super towers!

    Reduced traffic, congestion pricing, bicycle lanes, better bus service (including the much less expensive TSM alternative that staggers bus lanes during rush hour) are widely supported by Mid Town residents. But not the Bus Way.

  • You won’t find me defending the decision to build a busway on 34th. But, may I ask, where do you think high density can be accommodated if not in Midtown Manhattan?

  • Joe R.

    Let’s see-they say it would cut river to river travel time to 20 minutes. Last I checked, the distance traveled is about 2 miles, meaning it can be walked in under 30 minutes. Add in the waiting time for the bus, and even with the “improved travel time”, you’ll still beat it walking.

  • Chris

    15 minute mile with traffic lights is kind of ambitious. Especially since the lights aren’t timed to walking. Even without any traffic signals I’d think 20min/mile is more accurate unless you’re huffing it.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Walking#Walking_speed

  • Mike

    Or even slower. You lose a LOT of time to red lights on crosstown walks, unless you’re also walking uptown/downtown and can make progress that way while waiting to cross the avenues. I’d guess 45 minutes.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t know Chris. I average about 14 minutes a mile walking in Manhattan, at least up or downtown. Of course, I just cross whether the signal is red or green, so long as it’s clear. Granted, it’s easier to do this on the side streets as opposed to crossing the avenues as you would going crosstown. I usually can’t cross against the light on Avenues on account of the fast, heavy traffic.

    My larger point here though is that I doubt there is much river to river travel. Most of the crosstown trips are probably a mile or less. Even at 20 minutes a mile, it’s got to be faster just walking than waiting 5 or 10 or 15 minutes for a bus which then proceeds at a 6 mph average speed on the “improved” busway. Honestly, the whole idea of a high-speed busway on 34th Street is a solution in search of a problem if you ask me. I’d rather the city devote those dollars to expanding mass transit in the outer boroughs where it’s sorely lacking.

    On another note, once bike share makes its way into Manhattan, I couldn’t think of a more perfect way to make crosstown trips.

  • It’s pretty sad that all these assumptions have one constant: they assume tor resident will ride the bus.

    For example, the bus does NOT remove front door curb access if your vehicle of choice happens to be the bus.

    And the “wall” of buses blocking views of the store signs….? There are 40 people per bus looking out the window, much more exposure than 1 driver in the car paying attention to the road.

  • Jass, do you mean “these assumptions… assume no resident will ride the bus”?

  • Stan

    Will 34th street be different than the SBS lanes on 1st/2nd? Those lanes allow the pickup and dropoff of passengers from the bus lane, so I’m not seeing how this eliminates curbside access to stores and apartments.

  • New Yorker

    Alon: One place to build is Long Island City, capturing commuters before they even enter Manhattan.

    Westchesterite (et. al.): Read http://www.34thstreettransitway.org again. The group isn’t against buses. It supports TSM — bus-exclusive express lanes during rush hours — but not the busway.

  • Before for some is after for others. The advantage of building in Midtown Manhattan is that it’s accessible from everywhere. Long Island City is reasonably convenient if you live in Queens, Long Island, or parts of Brooklyn, but from most of the metro area you’d need to cross Manhattan to get to it. There’s a reason that there’s been a lot more development pressure in Manhattan than in LIC.

  • tacony palmyra

    I don’t understand the “cutting off people from their front doors” argument. How does a bus lane cut someone off from their front door? It prevents people from being dropped off as easily in cabs? Your front door is primarily accessed by cab? Huh?

    Why do people take cabs? Isn’t it generally because the bus isn’t good enough for them? Wouldn’t you want to improve bus service so you don’t have to take cabs as often?

    Think about all the money people spend on cabs and how much more improved our transit system could be if we invested it in buses and subways. All those cabs swarming around the Village and Meatpacking after the bars let out are partly because bus and subway service is horrible on weekend late nights.

  • Why do people take cabs? Isn’t it generally because the bus isn’t good enough for them?

    Yes, but not as a transportation device, as a status symbol.

  • Two Young Children

    The denial of residents to their own front doors is the primary reason for the oppostion. Can you imagine having two young children, their strollers, paraphernalia, and not being allowed to drop them off at the front door of their residence? Does this make any sense? Anyone with children will understand the issue. Do we indeed want to create a neighborhood devoid of young families?

  • Ian Turner

    TYC, by my reading of Census data, there are at least 400,000 car-free households with children in New York City with no cars (out of 2,000,000 households total). Given that the vast majority of street users are not drivers, why should we cater to the minority of drivers in street design?

  • Can you imagine having two young children, their strollers, paraphernalia, and not being allowed to drop them off at the front door of their residence?

    In one sense, I don’t need to imagine it, I live it. I have no car, which denies me the ability to drop anyone off anywhere.

    In another sense, I have a child, and I can drop him off just about anywhere … on foot.

    By the way, you don’t actually need most of that paraphernalia, and the rest of it you can carry on your back. Don’t slow my bus down because you’re too lazy to do it.

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