De Blasio Admin Waffles on Williamsburg Bridge Bus Lanes During L Train Shutdown

As late as last month, the city had yet to determine whether it will carve out street space for buses on the Williamsburg Bridge and its approaches, according to internal planning documents.

Bus riders will need clear paths on and around the Williamsburg Bridge during the L train shutdown, but the city may not deliver. Photo: Google Maps
Bus riders will need clear paths on and around the Williamsburg Bridge during the L train shutdown, but the city may not deliver. Photo: Google Maps

As the L train shutdown approaches and the release of a detailed plan of action from DOT and the MTA draws closer, the de Blasio administration is hesitating to take the necessary steps to prioritize buses and high-occupancy vehicles, according to internal planning documents obtained by Ben Kabak at Second Avenue Sagas.

To keep transit riders moving when the western portion of the L train is out of commission for 15 months, starting in April 2019, the MTA will need to run a lot more buses, and those buses will need priority on streets between Williamsburg and the West Side of Manhattan.

Combined with high-occupancy vehicle restrictions on East River bridges, bus priority treatments have helped keep New Yorkers moving during previous events when a significant portion of the subway network was out of commission, like the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. This requires disrupting the habits of motorists, and the big question for the L train shutdown is whether Mayor de Blasio has the political will to carry out the necessary changes.

The documents, which Kabak shared with Streetsblog, detail scenarios that DOT is considering to prioritize buses and high-occupancy vehicles during the shutdown. They do not represent final decisions made by agency staff or City Hall, but shed light on the thinking at DOT and the MTA and how far the city is willing to go to claim street space for transit. One caveat is that while the documents were produced in the past few months, they may not represent the current state of the city’s internal planning process.

On the East River bridges, the scenario with the most impact on private car travel calls for allowing only vehicles with three or more occupants on the Williamsburg Bridge all day (and maybe overnight), and for HOV3 restrictions on the other three bridges from 5 a.m. to 11 a.m.

Other scenarios include making only the Williamsburg Bridge HOV3, or designating a bus- and truck-only lane in each direction on the Williamsburg Bridge. No scenario mentions combining HOV restrictions and bus lanes on the bridge.

The draft plan for shuttle bus service calls for three routes between Williamsburg and Manhattan. Map: MTA/DOT
The draft plan for shuttle bus service calls for three routes between Williamsburg and Manhattan. Map: MTA/DOT

The MTA’s service plan, meanwhile, calls for running 60 buses per hour over the Williamsburg Bridge during peak hours. To keep those buses moving, they will need unobstructed travel not only on the bridge, but on the approaches to the bridge as well. While the documents show DOT considering bus lanes on Delancey Street (especially westbound) and other approaches, there is no indication of any firm commitment, though keep in mind that these questions may have since been resolved.

On 14th Street, where peak bus frequency would double to about one bus per minute, DOT is developing a plan for strong transit priority between Third Avenue and Eighth Avenue, with those treatments tapering off on each end.

On those five blocks, 14th Street would be exclusively for transit, except for deliveries and private vehicles getting to and from garages, which would be expected to use only the block of the busway closest to their destination.

Between Third Avenue and First Avenue, 14th Street would have standard painted bus lanes and other traffic would be allowed. And between Ninth Avenue and Eighth Avenue, eastbound buses would operate in a transit-only right-of-way, while westbound buses would have a standard bus lane. West of Ninth Avenue and east of First Avenue there would be no transit lanes.

Officials are considering substantial sidewalk expansions along 14th Street, but they are not planning for bikeways. The demand for bike travel on 14th Street isn’t going away, however, and without designated space for cycling, many people will opt to ride in the busway.

With the caveat that these are preliminary plans and may be a month or two behind the most current thinking at DOT and the MTA, they raise some red flags. Transit priority on the Williamsburg Bridge and its approaches in both Manhattan and Brooklyn, as well as the eastern portions of 14th Street, appears to be provisional at best in these documents. And while the central portion of 14th Street could be in line for strong transit-priority treatments, the agencies seem to be dodging the question of how to safely accommodate bicycling on the 14th Street corridor.

There’s not much time left to get these decisions right. DOT and the MTA are expected to reveal a plan sometime next month, after election day.

  • Vooch

    This appears to be a plan written up by a couple of consultants from Ohio.

    Did anyone actually run some numbers ?

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    There are also a lot of emergency vehicles that cross this bridge. It’s common to see them even today with lights and sirens going full blast, stuck behind traffic even when its green on Delancey. This is a dangerous situation without a bus lane for them to use.

  • honestly, the bus lanes are the best bike lanes in the city. i LOVE the 23rd street bus lane. buses are easy to see, easy to avoid generally in the context of taking the lane, and…yeah.

    inevitable NYPD crackdown on bikes in the bus lane in 3…2…1..

  • AMH

    Maybe bus lanes need to be rebranded as ‘priority access’ or something. Would love a dedicated bus/ambulance lane by my house to cut down on the amount of time emergency vehicles have to sit there blaring horns and sirens.

  • Toddster

    The question is why are emergency vehicles (I’m assuming this is primarily ambulances) using the bridge? Shouldn’t they be taking patients to the nearest hospital if it is a true emergency? In that case if you’re on either side of the bridge, the closest hospital/emergency room is not across the bridge.

    But cops too, there’s no shortage of them on either side that they’d need to cross (to another precinct, at that).

  • Knut Torkelson

    “and the big question for the L train shutdown is whether Mayor de Blasio has the political will to carry out the necessary changes.”

    Spoiler: No

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    LES fires may call in additional units from S. Williamsburg. Most of the ambulances I see are Hatzolah that probably serve both sides of the bridge.

  • It’s terrible that the relevant section in City Rules was recently amended specifically to outlaw bicycling in a bus lane. This makes riding legally very tricky in locations where a bus lane goes all the way to the curb.

  • BKbusrider

    That’s really a jerk move to slow down buses full of people like that. Cyclists and bus riders shouldn’t have to compete for space against each other, but we also should respect each other’s dedicated space. You’re part of the problem, not the solution.

  • i have never slowed down a bus just riding at average (15-20 mph) speed on those blocks. and indeed 99 percent of the time there are no buses when i’m riding anyway, it’s just a big painted lane free of NY’s worst nightmare: one person sitting in a 4000 lb vehicle.

  • BKbusrider

    Got it. So when Uber pulls into the bike lane to pick me up or UPS stops in the bike lane to drop off a delivery when 99 percent of the time there are no bikes…

  • qrt145

    It’s not the same because when you are on a bike you can easily get out of the way of the bus. An unattended UPS truck certainly can’t do that, and even a stopped taxi won’t. I still wouldn’t mind it as much on 99% empty bike lanes, if such a thing exists, but of course they block the bike lanes even when there is a nearly continuous flow of bikes.

  • AMH

    Seriously? I never know where to ride on streets with a bus lane.

  • qrt145

    If it’s a one-way avenue, I suggest the left lane. If it’s a two-way avenue, it sucks: risk a ticket on the bus lane, brave traffic on the second lane, or avoid that avenue. I do a combination of all three.

  • As of right now there is no good answer, unfortunately.

  • Avoiding Woodhaven Boulevard is not really an option.

    There are sections of that street in which the bus lane doesn’t touch the curb, thereby leaving a place to ride on the bus lane’s right. But, where it goes all the way to the curb, bicyclists just have to risk the ticket.

    Of course, the enforcement on Woodhaven Boulevard is nil, as we can tell from all the cars using the bus lane. So I guess we can say that getting a ticket is unlikely. But the upshot of the lack of enforcement is that we as bicyclists cannot complain to the police about cars in the bus lane, because they’ll just turn around and say “well, you’re not supposed to be in the bus lane, either”.

  • gustaajedrez

    They expect some people to take other subway lines, either by walking or through transfers at Myrtle/Wyckoff, Broadway Junction, or the newly-allowed Livonia/Junius.

  • Andrew


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