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.

  • disqus_LZIICK7sZY

    Well, on the bright side, at least it’s an instance of NYPD traffic control agents actually doing *something*, which I admit I’ve never seen before

  • disqus_LZIICK7sZY

    I’m sorry, that wasn’t fair. I have on occasion seen them wave traffic into pedestrians with the right of way.

  • Wilfried84

    I see this every morning on my way to work, and all day long at 34th and Madison. And they make me and pedestrians wait as they wave traffic through for half the light cycle. And they wave cars directly into me, and my bicycle.

  • Reader

    If only there were some sort of “mayor” who could appoint a “transportation commissioner” to come up with a comprehensive traffic management plan, especially during annual events such as the UN General Assembly or the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

    Alas, I guess nobody can do anything about this.

  • 1ifbyrain2ifbytrain

    I’ve seen traffic agents wave vehicles into pedestrians with the right of way on 34th and 7th.

  • Such as at the approach to the Queensboro Bridge at the beginning of Queens Plaza.

  • BAMstutz

    The streets are for Cars & Trucks!! They must keep moving!! Pedestrians, transit riders, and cyclists can wait!

  • Zack Rules

    If those lanes received federal funds, that is a violation of a grant agreement and FTA is required by law to be paid back.

  • Elizabeth F

    Sounds like the apparently permanent closure by NYPD of the bike lanes in Time Square.

  • Paul Benson

    Yesterday, on 39th street heading west of 2nd Ave, they waved cars into the bike lane and told me on a bike I couldn’t go straight and had to go south on 2nd Ave. Ugh

  • JarekFA

    TEA waive cars through the red, which causes the cars behind you to freak out if you’re on a bike. https://twitter.com/JarekFA/status/910266953561985024

  • Simon Phearson

    The agents’ behavior at that series of intersections illustrates just how little they seem to understand traffic flow.

  • Simon Phearson

    In a similar vein, the NYPD seems to have commandeered the Second Avenue bike lane in midtown for purposes of escorting diplomatic traffic.

  • You know, I have to wonder, who’s actually running the city of NYC. This type of thing makes it sound like one of those countries which has a Prime Minister, but who doesn’t get to command the military.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    No, you haven’t. The directions of a live traffic agent in the intersection entirely supersede the indications of any mechanical device. Unfortunately, there are brainless clods who think that because they see a green light, they have the “right of way”, and can disregard the directions of the agent. In fact, they don’t, and they can’t.

  • Adrian Horczak

    It seems that traffic agents make going through an intersection worse sometimes. There should be people at intersections ready to give tickets to people breaking the law rather than directing traffic.

  • Simon Phearson

    You might have a point if traffic agents bothered to communicate to cyclists and pedestrians that they needed to wait. The fact that an agent is waving at drivers some forty feet away is not necessarily going to mean anything to someone who’s more focused on (say) crossing in the narrow window the traffic signals officially provide them.

    If that’s not satisfactory, then consider it merely a point about competence: whose interests are traffic agents serving, when they wave drivers through red lights? If pedestrians and cyclists are obliged to wait, when will the agents specifically wave them through? (The correct answer being: never, actually.)

    At the intersections where I most frequently see them – and doing something other than simply standing around – the role of the traffic agent should be: directing drivers to actually stop at yellow and red lights, so as to give traffic ahead a chance to clear the intersection. The geniuses posted at these intersections aren’t going to come up with some plan for directing traffic flow that more optimally allocates street space, when they are surrounded on all sides by traffic signals operating on their own timers. Their only function in normal rush hour traffic is to get drivers to comply with traffic timing designed by experts at the DOT.

    The primary purpose of the law that says that agents’ directions supersede signals is to account for the extraordinary cases – accidents, processions, emergencies, etc. It’s not because it somehow makes systemic sense to place agents at rush-hour crammed intersections in order to improvise a traffic plan.

  • John C.

    Trucks use 34th St to avoid the VZ toll – Hudson river tunnels are toll-free to NJ. We need to fix the systemic incentives that create this mess: Level the tolls, congestion price Manhattan, keep bus lanes for buses.

  • It’s true that the traffic agent’s instructions take precedence over the traffic signal.

    But that doesn’t address the deadly issue at the beginning of Queens Plaza.

    Consider the bicyclist pictured here.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8eb1010d30c269165bec37f37d479e94b0ea7a8f1e3a55196d51f77ad533b1b8.jpg

  • It’s true that the traffic agent’s instructions take precedence over the traffic signal.

    But that doesn’t address the deadly issue at the beginning of Queens Plaza.

    Consider the bicyclist pictured here.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/8eb1010d30c269165bec37f37d479e94b0ea7a8f1e3a55196d51f77ad533b1b8.jpg

  • jbmnd93

    Transportation planners are smarter than cops when it comes to transportation. That’s common sense. The cops need to know their place and stay in it.

  • Plunkitt_of_Tammany_Hall

    “The primary purpose of the law that says that agents’ directions supersede signals is to account for the extraordinary cases – accidents, processions, emergencies, etc. It’s not because it somehow makes systemic sense to place agents at rush-hour crammed intersections in order to improvise a traffic plan.”

    You know, it’s never a good idea to comment on a subject about which you know absolutely nothing, as you have shown here. In case you did not notice, human beings can observe and respond to changes in traffic conditions, while mechanical traffic lights cannot. As a result, it really does make systematic sense to have human traffic controllers at rush-hour intersections who are able to supersede the mindless, and often inappropriate, signals given by mechanical lights.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s true that humans respond to stimuli, and mechanical traffic lights cannot! Very observant! I am in awe of your perspicacity! But in case you didn’t notice, I am questioning not humans’ ability to respond to stimuli, but rather traffic agents’ expertise and ability in assessing normal rush-hour traffic conditions and deciding to override traffic signals that are already timed for typical rush-hour traffic, across multiple intersections and streets.

    As far as I’ve ever observed, the agents who indulge drivers’ me-first behavior during rush hour – turning from the wrong lanes, running reds, etc. – just end up creating more frustrating and confusing congestion. The reason for this is obvious – they are enabling a kind of behavior that the streets and signals were not designed to accommodate. Meanwhile, the agents who keep intersections clear and traffic flowing – if slowly – are the ones who tell drivers to stop for their lights, when they should stop.

    Again, traffic agents make the most sense in truly extraordinary circumstances, as has been the case with the recent traffic meltdown in midtown due to the UN meetings. Biking through that traffic, I saw agents waving drivers through lights, away from streets that were fully congested, and otherwise coordinating the behavior of multiple drivers who personally don’t have a sense of the bigger picture of what’s going on. That’s when you’d want officers making decisions instead of traffic signal automation. But saying that the system was designed to work with individual traffic agents making judgment calls they can’t possibly make well is a little like saying that subway operators should feel entitled to disregard the automated signals that enforce too much space between trains. They’re humans, after all!

    Anyway, if you’re going to condescend to me, please at least learn the difference between “systemic” and “systematic.”

  • neroden

    This is illegal. Completely illegal.

    Arrest the cops Get together a posse and arrest them. If the cops pull their guns, obviously, they’re resisting arrest — kill them.

  • neroden

    Yep. It’s time to elect a mayor specifically on the platform of destroying the criminal NYPD. If necessary, organize posses to disarm them. I don’t think there’s another good option.

  • Andrew

    That’s correct if a traffic agent is directing pedestrians to wait, despite the walk signal.

    It’s not correct if the traffic agent is merely directing motorists into the crosswalk, perhaps not even standing where pedestrians can see him or have any reason to look.

  • vbtwo31984

    Every time I see traffic agents directing traffic at 5th Ave in the lower 60s, the traffic is always worse off than without them. I don’t even know what the point of them is when we have these things called traffic lights that let cars know when to go and when to stop.
    I had them waive a car to go on red right in front of me as I was crossing with the light – at least the driver was aware enough to see me and not drive blindly.

  • Robert Nin

    It’s a disaster!

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