NYPD Traffic Agents Wave Drivers Into 34th Street Bus Lane — It’s Official City Policy

The practice undermines the purpose of transit-only lanes, and the city has loosened bus lane camera enforcement to accommodate it.

An NYPD traffic control agent directs a commercial truck driver into the eastbound bus lane on 34th Street at Fifth Avenue this morning. Photo: David Meyer
An NYPD traffic control agent directs a commercial truck driver into the eastbound bus lane on 34th Street at Fifth Avenue this morning. Photo: David Meyer

NYPD traffic control agents routinely direct private cars and taxis into the bus lanes on 34th Street.

NYC DOT painted terra cotta bus lanes on 34th Street nine years ago so transit riders wouldn’t get bogged down in traffic. Crosstown bus routes are among the most intensively used in NYC — there aren’t many crosstown subways. They’re also notoriously sluggish, regularly topping the list of the city’s slowest buses. The red lanes are supposed to speed up trips for transit riders by letting buses bypass congestion.

Keeping the 34th Street bus lanes clear of other vehicles has been a constant challenge, not least because NYPD personnel feel entitled to use it as a parking lot.

But it’s not just the occasional “cop mass” that clogs the bus lane. NYPD’s official traffic control practice is to wave drivers into the bus lane when 34th Street is congested.

This morning, I watched a traffic agent direct eastbound motorists crossing Fifth Avenue on 34th Street to use the bus lane once the general traffic lane reached capacity. A source who works in the area says this is now routine.

The bus lanes on 34th Street are legally in effect between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., and they’re enforced with cameras. Won’t the drivers waved into the bus lane by NYPD get an automated fine?

Nope.

“Bus lane cameras on 34th Street are operational,” said a DOT spokesperson. “If vehicles are seen on camera being directed into the bus lane by NYPD, DOT will not issue a violation.”

When I posted a photo of the scene this morning on Twitter, one user said NYPD routinely directs him into the bus lane when driving on 34th Street, and he has never received a ticket.

So bus lane operations on 34th Street are entirely up to the discretion of NYPD and its traffic agents. This clearly undermines the purpose of the bus lanes — to provide transit riders with travel unimpeded by other vehicles. And by prompting drivers to merge back and forth between different lanes, it might not even pump more cars through the system.

DOT says that it does not issue bus lane violations if a driver is seen following a police order or moving out of the way of an emergency vehicle. Streetsblog has a query in with NYPD about the extent of this practice on other bus lanes, and how long the city has been doing it. We’ll update the post if we hear back.

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