When Cops and Placard Holders Set the Tone for Transportation Coverage

Today’s Jim Dwyer column in the New York Times is a nice little encapsulation of everything that can go wrong when NYC’s press corps turns its attention to matters of transportation.

The slug for the story on the metro section homepage reads: “New York often resorts to revenue-raising expedients like a lucrative new campaign to keep drivers on Broadway below Houston Street from venturing into the bus lane.”

Dwyer’s piece then uses the enforcement of the Broadway bus lane in lower Manhattan as a kind of poster child for what he sees as an excessive reliance on fines and fees in the city budget. He writes: “Whatever the virtues of bus lanes, and there are many, this one is a trap — a lucrative one.”

Dwyer’s source for claiming that the Broadway bus lane is a “trap”? Well, he doesn’t quote any transit planners with the MTA or NYC DOT, which implemented bus improvements on Broadway in 2007. He doesn’t quote any bus drivers familiar with the route. He doesn’t turn to any of the 41,000 or so passengers who ride the New York City Transit buses that ply Broadway every weekday. Instead he cites a cop who “concedes that traffic would be backed up to 14th Street if some drivers did not make their way into that Broadway bus lane.”

The other expert who turns up at the tail end of Dwyer’s piece is an anonymous state official who, “as it happens,” was pulled over for driving in the bus lane and “managed to wiggle out of the ticket.” A member of the placarded class who got busted but didn’t have to pay. Exactly the type of credible source Times readers should trust to render judgment on transportation policy. The official says of the Broadway lane: “It goes against the intent of bus lanes because it causes congestion.”

And here I thought the intent of bus lanes was to help bus passengers reach their destinations quicker. But who needs transit planners, bus drivers, and bus riders to weigh in on a bus lane when cops and anonymous state officials who drive in the bus lane are so generous with their expertise?

Go back a few years in the Times’ archive, and there’s a great explanation for why Broadway needs bus lane enforcement. From a Willie Neuman story in 2007:

As the bus continued south on Broadway, the driver pointed to the lane next to the curb, which was marked on the pavement as a bus lane. Despite that, the lane was mostly full of parked cars, most of them with city-issued placards on the dash, showing they were used by law enforcement personnel.

More than one bus stop was blocked with parked cars as well, some with placards, others with drivers sitting at the wheel. While the cars with placards are allowed to use the bus lane under the current rules, parking in a bus stop is prohibited.

“This is always like this,” the bus driver said. “And you know what’s missing? There are no ticket agents down here.”

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