Unless Albany Acts, NYC Bus Lanes Are About to Get Clogged With Cars

bmw_bus_lane
Get ready for more Beemers blocking bus lanes unless Albany renews the automated enforcement program for NYC. Video still of 34th Street before bus lane cams: Streetfilms/Robin Urban Smith

Five years ago, the state passed a bill allowing the city to install cameras that catch drivers who illegally use bus lanes on six Select Bus Service routes. Unless Albany acts soon, that legislation will expire and the cameras will have to be turned off at the end of this summer.

There’s a fix waiting to be voted on in the state legislature — and it would expand the cameras to more bus lanes. A bill sponsored in the Assembly by Nily Rozic and in the State Senate by Martin Golden would extend the bus lane cameras for another five years. Otherwise, the 2010 law would expire on September 20.

An earlier version of Rozic’s bill, which was submitted at the request of the de Blasio administration, asked for the power to install bus lane cameras on up to 20 additional routes of the city’s choosing [PDF]. That’s since been negotiated down. The bill now asks for up to 10 additional bus routes of the city’s choice, on top of the six specific SBS routes that qualified for cameras under the 2010 law.

The bill would also eliminate the weekend prohibition on bus lane cams, but continue to allow them only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. The fine would remain at $115.

Rozic has also submitted a bill that offers a straight five-year extension of the existing, limited camera program. “It was just put in as a safety mechanism,” said Meagan Molina, Rozic’s legislative and communications director.

The city has maxed out its bus lane camera allowance in the current state law, installing them on routes along Fordham Road, First and Second Avenues, Nostrand and Rogers Avenues, 34th Street, Hylan Boulevard, and 125th Street. Other bus-only lanes, including on Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, Fulton Street, Utica Avenue, Broadway, 181st Street, and Webster Avenue, operate without camera enforcement.

Bus lane cameras have been a key component in speeding bus trips. On 125th Street, for example, camera-enforced bus lanes have sped local service by up to 20 percent. The M60, which also received off-board fare collection as part of its SBS upgrade, is now up to 34 percent faster on 125th Street.

Violations at each camera location have dropped over time, meaning that the bus lanes are consistently more clear and drivers are incurring fewer fines. For example, tickets on First Avenue at E. 86th Street between August and March fell by 84 percent from 2013 to 2014, according to an analysis by AAA New York of city data.

City Hall, the MTA [PDF], and transit advocates have lined up in support of the expansion bill, which might still face a tough battle in the final days of the legislative session this week.

“We do hope it will pass. Since the cameras have been in effect, they have made a significant difference in bus speeds,” Vanterpool said. “We’re seeing a decrease in the violations, which is great, and we know that bus lane cameras are one of the key reasons why bus trips have sped up.”

“Bus lanes are helping literally hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers spend less time commuting and more time at home with their families,” said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. “They are particularly important for low-income workers who often have to commute the farthest. We need to expand enforcement authority so we can improve bus service for more people in the coming years.”

Rozic’s office is hopeful. “We are optimistic. Given the time constraints, we feel good,” Molina said of the expansion bill. “We’re facing a sunset, so we have to do something.”

This post has been corrected to properly identify the source of violation data on First Avenue at 86th Street. It is an an analysis of NYC Department of Finance data by AAA New York, not DOT data as previously reported.

  • How do any of these exceptions and rules make sense? No cameras after 7pm? Whats the logic? Only 10 routes? It just seems like children saying no because they can.

  • c2check

    If we want good bus lanes (and we do—we need them, even), the lanes need to be enforced. The current enforcement, even with some cameras, is not enough.

    We need one or more of the following:
    (1) cameras, and lots of ’em, to enforce lanes;
    (2) an NYPD that enforces lanes consistently;
    (3) a clear message sent that bus lanes are for buses, and cars entering them make this city worse;
    (4) drivers who will agree not to break the law by entering bus lanes; and/or
    (5) physical separation of dedicated bus lanes to keep people from entering.

    (And more dedicated bus lanes!)

  • Bobberooni

    If it were up to me, I’d put the cameras on the buses. Every time the driver has to deal with a car blocking the lane… just push a button, and a video clip gets sent to the appropriate enforcement department.

  • Kevin Love

    And why not make them permanent? There already has been a five year trial.

  • Reader

    And New York’s steady descent into Third World status continues…

  • millerstephen

    Bus-mounted cameras are already a feature of the existing bus lane enforcement program. http://www.nyc.gov/html/records/pdf/govpub/68522012_bus_lane_camera_update_report.pdf

  • red_greenlight1

    If there Is one thing we should know by now it is we are totally screwed if Albany needs to do something for us.

  • Matt R

    It seems like we spend a lot of effort, money and time treating drivers like little kids. Society has simply embraced it. Why can’t we stop all this paternalistic attempts at taking from them the opportunities to be a bad driver and simply take away their ability to be a bad driver. Driving is a privilege, a potentially dangerous one at that when treated with less than required care. In a place like NYC with plenty of alternative options… spend the money on cops, ticket them and if they get caught 3 times they can’t drive for a year. Why do we chase them when all we have to do is take away the problem. We put bus lanes in Los Angeles along the Wilshire corridor and the expensive looking cars treat it like their own personal lane.

    Bobberooni’s idea is great by the way! They already have the cameras there.

  • You know, when you think about it, it doesn’t really make sense to me. The resistance to red light cameras, speed traps, and camera enforcement of bus lanes, bike lanes, whatever. I mean, there are a few valid arguments, that are not borne out by data, but when it comes down to it, most people don’t even invoke them. It seems like people have this belief they have a right to break the law without consequences. It makes no sense to me

  • Well, let’s face it…without camera enforcement, most violators get away with it. Red light running is rampant. The number of drivers who speed past school zones alone is staggering. Drivers see “the good old days” slipping away, and they want it back.

  • I’d like to see bus mounted cameras extended to catch drivers who park or stand in bus stops. I’m sick of getting on and off the bus in the middle of the street because some inconsiderate law breaker doesn’t feel like moving his car.

  • Blame timid politicians. The same ones that are responsible for speed cameras in school zones that only operate during school days, when most speed related collisions occur evenings and weekends.

    They water down the bills so the timid ones will dare to vote for them. It might be a good strategy…the slower you trot these things out, the more it keeps resistance in check. I’ve read that that’s one of the reasons NYC is so poky about installing it’s speed cameras. Nassau and Suffolk Counties put all theirs up practically overnight, and the successful resistance to them speaks for itself.

  • Albany’s legislating on behalf of NYC doesn’t operate in the realm of rational policy making. Everything is a transaction between the three men in a room and the mayor. Albany withholds things that NYC wants because it maintains leverage for Albany.

  • AlexWithAK

    That Marty Golden is a sponsor of this and Albany is STILL sitting on its hands shows you just how badly the rest of New York State holds New York City hostage. A rep from rural counties up by the Canadian border or in the Southerntier has the ability to dictate what we can and can’t do in the city and it’s absolutely absurd. They have zero understanding of how the city works and yet impose their rural ideologies on us.

  • AlexWithAK

    Because freedom or privacy or something.

  • AlexWithAK

    The Nassau/Suffolk debacle is a good point. But you’d think 5 years of a very limited bus lane camera program would be more than enough to step it way up, rather than be worrying that it may not get reauthorized at all.

  • jooltman

    That’s the art of the deal. I’ll give you one hour less camera time if you support my upstate Bobo factory, etc.

  • Joe R.

    Why does NYC need Albany’s permission to do things which only affect people who are in NYC? This stupidity needs to change. NYC should be able to enact whatever traffic laws it wants, put up any kind of enforcement it wants, toll whatever it wants, even restrict or ban some or all motor vehicles from as much of the city as it wants. Albany has been holding us hostage for far too long. We need home rule in this city on traffic matters.

  • stairbob

    Is 2nd Avenue in Manhattatn camera enforced? I rarely see buses using that lane, because there are still so many cars in it.

  • Andres Dee

    Notwithstanding the camera issue, as currently configured and run, M34 bus service is not frequent enough to justify the bus lanes. The problem is that the TA – forever skittish about labor costs – runs 60 foot articulated buses at infrequent intervals. Except at rush hours, they’re pretty empty. For crosstown routes, the TA should run 35 or 40 foot buses at 1-2 minute headways. Labor costs what labor costs. Suck it up and find the money.

  • busexplainer

    The cameras are turned off at 7PM because the bus lanes become open to cars between 7PM and 7AM, and on weekends.

  • Andrew

    Some do, some don’t. The hours of operation of any given bus lane should depend on what makes the most sense at that location. Restricting them in state law is absurd.

  • Andrew

    Notwithstanding the camera issue, as currently configured and run, M34 bus service is not frequent enough to justify the bus lanes.

    As an occasional M34 rider, I certainly wouldn’t say that.

    The problem is that the TA – forever skittish about labor costs – runs 60 foot articulated buses at infrequent intervals.

    “Forever skittish about labor costs”? You mean “cognizant of fiscal realities”?

    Except at rush hours, they’re pretty empty.

    I’ve been on plenty of crowded off-peak buses.

    For crosstown routes, the TA should run 35 or 40 foot buses at 1-2 minute headways.

    Didn’t you just say they’re pretty empty? Why would you run them even more frequently?

    Labor costs what labor costs. Suck it up and find the money.

    Really? The agency that instituted serious service cuts in 2010 and that currently has a massive hole in its capital budget should “suck it up and find the money” to run far more frequent bus service than the ridership warrants? If only.

  • walks bikes drives

    I get a kick out of the few drivers who place their busses carefully in the bus stops when a car is blocking it. The drivers who stop in a way that the car is stuck where is it until the bus is done. Especially enjoyable on the big cross town routes like the M79 or M86 where the time the bus is stopped at each stop is quite long.

    However, I do agree with you that the problem needs to be fixed. As a bus rider, I don’t care so much. I don’t see much of a difference getting off on a safe stretch of street (because blocked by the bus) or the sidewalk. As a cyxlist, it is an issue because it pushes me out into car traffic and often causes the bus to block bike lanes (which they sometimes do anyway, just for the hell of it). And as a driver, it jams up traffic. For those of you who don’t care about a drivers perspective, it causes additioanl needless pollution.

  • Eric Darcman

    All the absolutist thinking i am seeing here is just crazy! Everyone breaks the law in some small way everyday! All of you on this thread that think drivers are evil and should be ticketed and jailed into bankruptcy should seriously get a grip. If I followed any of you around with a camera all day I would catch you doing at least one illegal thing. Face it! When you choose to live in a city of millions you can’t at the same time expect to live a completely unobstructed life.

  • Bolwerk

    Yeah, everybody breaks the law. But there is a subtle distinction here. Toking a joint, torrenting a ripped studio album, selling loose cigarettes, drinking on the sidewalk, walking around without anything covering your member, and jumping turnstiles all have one thing in common: nobody is put at risk for immediate death or catastrophic injury.

  • Eric Darcman

    Seriously you need to get a grip! Statistically your more likely to die in your own house at the hands of one of your relatives than your are of being hit by a motor vehicle! You and everyone else is at risk of immediate death or catastrophic every minute of every day. There is no way to eliminate all risk from life. It’s funny I have had this same exact conversation with people who support the patriot act. If there is any risk well then any draconian law is justified. Sorry but there is more to life than simple safety. I would hate to live in your world.

  • Bolwerk

    Well, that makes sense. Except you probably spend orders of magnitude more time at home than you do driving.

    Plus you’re probably making things up. The USA has about 15,000 deliberate homicides each year and more than twice that many car fatalities. I somehow doubt accidental deaths at the hands of dumb relatives make up the difference. (Though I could snarkly point out that co-variant auto accidents may make up some of it.)

    Most pertinently, reckless driving arrests are something that happen after a specific act has been comitted. Someone is fined/arrested after they put someone else at risk based on specific criteria. If they’re arrested, they get due process rights and a trial. The Patriot Act vaguely gives government powers to erode due process and avoid accountability. It is, in fact, the exact opposite of how traffic enforcement works.

  • Eric Darcman

    Not making anything up but that’s not really the point is it? We are never going to be able regulate our way to a perfect world. The road to hell……………..! Well i think you know the rest!

  • Joe R.

    I think you’re misunderstanding things. Few here want to regulate our way to perfect safety, if indeed that’s even achievable. The end result would be having anything even remotely dangerous either highly regulated or prohibited. That’s NOT the type of society I would want to live in, nor do I believe in a nanny state which protects individuals from themselves (i.e. I’m vehemently against things like seat belt laws in cars, or helmet laws for bikes).

    What we can do is regulate the types of behaviors most likely to be dangerous to others. Note the difference here. I don’t care if someone gets high daily, or smokes their brains out, or base jumps off the Brooklyn Bridge. So long as they do these things in such a way that they can’t potentially harm me I have no issues with it.

    On the other hand, and this is how anti-smoking laws started, it becomes my business if someone smokes and I have to breath it in. It becomes my business if someone drives a motor vehicle in such a manner that they’re highly likely to crash into me. Moreover, both of these things, at least in NYC, are in general optional. You don’t have to drive to effectively get around in much of NYC (some parts of the outer boroughs are an exception, at least until they have better mass transit). As such, I’m fine with regulating driving (or smoking) to the point both are highly inconvenient if the end result is a significant improvement in safety. Arguably, banning non-essential motor vehicles altogether from large swaths of the city would be the best course of action but there’s currently little political support for that. Instead, we can and should make driving more costly, less convenient, and especially put major sanctions on drivers when they kill or injure people. It needn’t be jail time. I’m fine with permanent license revocation if you kill or injure people while driving.

    The bottom line here is you’re operating a piece of heavy equipment in a crowded area. If we were talking a crane you probably wouldn’t object to a whole slew of regulations and sanctions if you screw up. Why should motor vehicles be any different?

  • Bolwerk

    Translation: “Not making anything up, but let me try to change the subject.”

    Who said anything about a perfect world? You just want a world where you don’t risk consequences for the stupid things you obviously do.

    But, sure, I’m all for no-regulation. Get rid of cars and take the police with you. We don’t need police to regulate us, but we do need police to regulate the vehicles. Vehicles need to follow set rules. People don’t.

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