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.”

  • MFS

    It’s hard to defend the Broadway bus lane until it’s a little better thought out and actually designed as a transit corridor.  I get that they were testing out things here that helped build the SBS service but its creation wasn’t paired with any service enhancements.

  • Glenn

    I think there’s a misperception not only that motorists would always be driving no matter how bad the traffic, but also that transit riders are “stuck” riding (waiting!) transit since they don’t have a car. But then if you look at most streets in Manhattan, the overwhelming number of cars are actually livery/taxi vehicles. Precisely the type of vehicle that gets used by a would-be transit rider who doesn’t own a car (or a car owner without a placard). When you improve bus flow not only on a street, but across a whole route, you actually take people off the street hailing cabs, because they can now see a bus coming or know that a bus will shortly arrive. Just reducing the number of people demanding livery/taxi service by 10-20% with improved mass transit, can more than justify the elimination of a traffic lane (particularly a parking lane!).

    Transit use is elastic based on level of service provided and is the closest thing to a public good in transportation planning. Better transit helps transit users, helps save money for those who would otherwise be willing to pay for a taxi and keeps other cars off the road allowing motorists that really need to drive less traffic.

  • Bus Rider

    MFS:

    I don’t think anyone is asking Jim Dwyer to defend the quality of the Broadway bus lane. Maybe the lane is working well, maybe it’s not. That’s not the issue here. 

    What we want is for Jim Dwyer to report the policy issue fairly and accurately:Bus lane camera enforcement is not, primarily, a revenue-raiser. The main goal of bus lane camera enforcement is to keep the bus lane clear and keep buses running on time for the tens of thousands of commuters who depend on buses. 

    Dwyer seems to believe that bus lane enforcement is unfair to New Yorkers. But he’s got that 180 degrees backwards. Allowing single passenger motor vehicles to block bus lanes is what’s unfair. 

  • @MFS Dwyer’s usually pretty solid. I could see him also doing a column about how the Broadway bus lane can become a better transit corridor. But I don’t know why he thought this “bus lane as entrapment” angle was a good idea.

  • Matt Killmoto

    ‘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.”’Such is our society.  Officer, I positively must break the law.  You would not want traffic to back up, would you?  There is simply no other option than to drive.”  Wrong.Tag and ticket and make the traffic back up.  Some people learn slowly.  But eventually some of those drivers will discover there is an express bus serving that location, and it never gets stuck in traffic because it has its own lane.  When enough of those drivers get off their lazy asses, there will be no traffic backup.If you want to be jaded and pretend this enforcement action is a revenue generating ploy, simply don’t play.  Stay out of the bus lanes and stick it to the man!

  • Zenobiaznb

    I think it is horrible to fine people $130.00 for driving in a bus lane, especially when the bus lane was just implemented. This is not about law enforcement or supporting transit, this is a dishonest way of robbing money from New Yorkers. A much lesser fee for a first time offense would have sufficed. This disgusting way of raising revenues with exuberant  fees   is why most New Yorkers do not support congestive pricing- we do not trust city hall to implement congestion pricing in a reasonable manner.  

    I am all for the environment, decreasing traffic and supporting transit as much as possible. But when I see who city hall tries to trap us into paying exobiran penalities  while at the same time plan to to sell   2000 taxi medallions, I realize that the whole thing is just bs.

    Miriam
    Queens

  • Persecuted Motorist

    What is entrapment about a clearly marked, painted lane with signs on nearly every available lamp post as well as warnings on the back of each bus that you will get a ticket if you drive in a dedicated bus lane?

    One might as well argue that traffic signals are a trap.  After all, if we didn’t have them drivers couldn’t get busted for running red lights.

  • Mike

    The bus lane was “just implemented” about 5 years ago?  Give me a friggin break.

  • MFS

    @BenFried:disqus  I agree the angle of the story was silly.  But the lack of *visible* benefits (there may be some that are not easily visible) of the bus lane makes it hard to defend and easier to write such pieces.

  • Anonymous

    That lane has been there for years (http://www.downtownexpress.com/de_294/citytells.html) and it is extremely well marked with overhead signs so claiming it is a recent change is BS. And clearly the point of a bus lane so that buses are not stuck in congestion, not to avoid congestion in the other lanes. My guess is Dwyer got ticked there.

  • Persecuted Motorist

    @ce04061b594359a15da01156e28a7a61:disqus if you think drivers would be happier with the Broadway bus lane if only it were more visible to them, a bit more like SBS, or even separated like BRT, you’re kidding yourself.

  • chuck

    Here’s another piece of NYT gold: 
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/05/realestate/developers-eye-garages-and-parking-lots.htmlOh, pity the poor private car driver, with the city removing parking spots, and developers converting garages. But wait! There’s hope! Some visionaries are pushing for new garages in neighborhoods that rely on commuters – like Times Square! Maybe the NYT is going after the Marcia Kramer crowd. God knows more and more people are getting their news elsewhere (and more reliably).C:

  • Matt Killmoto

    Wait a minute Chuck-

    I read somewhere recently that there’s a whole bunch of underutilized parking up in the Bronx

  • J

    Does no one at the newspapers take the bus ever? I think that’s the real problem here. Good money says that Dwyer has a press pass or placard that allows him free parking in the city. Is it any wonder why the press has such a windshield perspective?

  • Anonymous

    I only wish they enforced the “yield to bikes” signs on the 1st ave bike lane.  Quite a few hair-raising situations where the car will “lean” into the bike lane to turn left while waiting for peds to cross . . . and at that point, I’m like, should I go to the left?  Should I go around to the right and expose myself to traffic.   And it’s like, WTF, they’re the one’s breaking the law here.

    I’m sorry, but cars have it way too easy.  You can’t expect suburban level of driving in a densely populated city.  There are rules and they’re hardly enforced against drivers anyway. 

    I’d like to see once, just one time, a driver get a ticket for failure to yield to bikes in the bike lane while turning left on 1st ave.  I’ve seen so many close calls.  Another failure of police and traffic enforcement that I’d attribute to the “windshield perspective.”  Like, riding a bike isn’t a f—ing hobby.  It’s my “car”.  And so don’t nudge your into my space when the law says you should yield.

    And crime me a river over cars in the bus lane.  $130 is harsh for a first time offense, but, if it’s a first time offense then most judge’s will be lenient.

  • J

    Has anyone written a letter to the editor calling them out on this “reporting”. This kvetching, with unsubstantiated claims based on a paltry amount of research is simply beneath the Times. Stories like this keep me from giving them my money.

  • Anonymous

    $130 for blocking the bus lane sounds like a pretty light penalty.  I think it’s a $230 ticket if you proceed through a red light on a bicycle.

    There are plenty of regulations in NYC that are purposely obscure in order to extract revenue via fees and fines, but keeping the bus lane clear for buses isn’t one of them.

  • Glenn

    Fines are punative to deter bad behavior. Period. If they were revenue enhancing, you could probably lower fines to smaller levels and with the expectation that a lot more people are willing to pay. Like the $8 parking tickets my roommates bragged about getting on my college campus for parking without placard instead of paying $10 for all day parking at the lot that was further away…

  • Regular Streetsblog Reader

    J:

    I don’t know if Jim Dwyer has a parking placard but I do know that he sometimes commutes to work by bike…

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2007/12/06/new-york-times-employees-say-renzo-forgot-the-bike-parking/

  • Matt Killmoto

    JarekAF:
    What I do when that happens is I smack the car, or for the particularly egregious ones, smack (not smash) the mirror.  Now before everybody chimes in saying I’m making motorists angry as cyclists, my attire and particular obnoxious arrangements of lights makes me **very** distinctive, so if a motorist should blame ME for THEIR transgression, they know who to aim their bumper at. 

  • CHEKPEDS

    Asking a traffic agent to opine on street design is a PPWesque move. Hey NYT can I really trust your reporting on Uganda? These are the agents who happily wave cars into pedestrians while they cross the street…

    However there is a real problem on this stretch of Broadway. There are two moving lanes and when cars are turning left and right at Chambers street no traffic can go through on Brodway. DOT should bar one of the turns if not both.

    NYT could have said that but indeed we would not be blogging about it !

  • Ian Turner

    @c44dc01f8107c1b33104b538f33b734d:disqus : You might want to reconsider, based on this story: http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/08/13/nypd-arrests-pedestrian-after-near-death-brush-with-raging-motorist/

  • Dues are punative to discourage bad conduct. If they were income improving, you could probably reduced fines to lesser stages and hoping that a lot more individuals are willing to pay.

  • The other professional who changes up at the end end of Dwyer’s item is an unknown condition formal who as it happens was drawn over for generating in the bus isle and “managed to shake out of the admission..

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