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DOT Presents Scaled-Back Concept for 34th Street

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"Consensus" and "process" were the buzzwords last night when NYC DOT presented its new concept for improving transit on 34th Street [PDF]. Gone was the plan for New York's first physically separated busway -- scuttled by local property owners and residents seeking drive-up curbside access. In its place was a package very similar to Select Bus Service on the East Side of Manhattan: bus lanes offset from the curb, off-board fare collection, camera enforcement, and bus bulbs to speed boarding and relieve sidewalk crowding.

The average bus speed on 34th Street is 4.5 mph, and DOT's preliminary estimates suggest these improvements could improve speeds 15 to 25 percent.

City Council Member Dan Garodnick supplied one of the evening's most apt remarks, calling the plan "a lot more modest than some earlier ideas, and I believe it is extremely promising." (His East Side colleague on the Council, Rosie Mendez, also seemed to capture the spirit of the moment when she handed the mic back to transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and quipped, "There are some potholes that we need to cover up. I hit them on the way here.")

The new plan, which DOT expects to hone and present in more detail this fall, may not be the groundbreaking project originally envisioned, but it still has a lot going for it. In addition to improving bus speeds, the project would add 18,000 square feet of pedestrian space to some of the most crowded sidewalks in the city. It also drastically increases the number of legal mid-day loading spaces along the corridor, from 55 to 355.

The details are still getting hashed out, but the general concept for 34th Street now looks like this:

    • Between Ninth Avenue and Third Avenue, the street is 52 feet wide and will accommodate one lane of general traffic in each direction, one curbside bus lane, one bus lane off-set from the curb, and one parking/loading/turning lane for general traffic. The curbside bus lane and the off-set bus lane will swap sides of the street as needed -- so that the loading lane serves the side with the greatest demand for pick-ups and deliveries.
    • On the western and eastern ends of 34th Street, DOT has 60 feet to work with, and the geometry will be more symmetrical, with one loading lane, one off-set bus lane, and one general traffic lane on each side of the street.
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Bus lane cameras and off-board fare collection can launch this year, said DOT, with the new bus bulbs and off-set bus lanes slated for construction in 2012.

There's still a long way to go before this project reaches its final form, and as the public process continues, it's not clear that bus riders will be heard any more going forward than they have been to date. Will this process work for the majority of people who walk and ride the bus on 34th Street?

Last night was the fourth meeting of the 34th Street project's Community Advisory Committee, the group of stakeholders including local residents, property owners, and businesses who have helped shape the plan. One participant in last night's workshop, where the committee split into four groups to discuss different segments of the proposed redesign, reported that bus service issues didn't come up in at least one of the groups. Most of that group's focus was on the concerns of property owners and real estate interests.

If you'd like to have a say on the future of 34th Street, mark your calendars for March 30 and 31 -- that's when DOT will hold open houses for the public to ask questions and give feedback on the redesign.

The rush-hour pedestrian crush on the south side of 34th Street, at about 5:45 p.m. yesterday. Photo: Ben Fried

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