Andy Byford Was A Hidden Hand in Mayor’s Winning 14th Street ‘Busway’ Plan

New York's 14th Street (left) could resemble Toronto's King Street (right).
New York's 14th Street (left) could resemble Toronto's King Street (right).

Andy Byford’s name was left out of Mayor de Blasio’s announcement on Wednesday of a radical experiment to improve transit on 14th Street, but the New York City Transit president could be seen as a major force behind the plan, thanks to a successful approach that he pioneered when he ran the transit system in Toronto.

The 14th Street proposal can be linked to Byford’s ongoing assault on NIMBYism here in New York and his game-changing solution to a similar transit mess on King Street in the Ontario capital. In 2017, as head of the Toronto Transit Commission, Byford removed cars on that city’s main east-west route to allow for freer-flowing transit — in that case, streetcars.

The plan allowed for dropoffs and local deliveries, but required vehicles to leave the roadway at the first right turn. The video below — featuring a younger Byford looking exactly as he does today — explains exactly what he proposed then (and, basically, what de Blasio has proposed, minus the immediate turn-off for trucks):

At the time, Byford suggested transit times would improve through this “decisive action.” But the success has been even better than predicted.

As Streetsblog reported earlier this month, data compiled at the end of the one-year pilot experiment shows the King Street corridor is moving more people than it did before the city cleared cars out to the way — mostly because ridership on the streetcar has grown 16 percent, the report shows.

“Prior to the pilot, overall customer satisfaction with King streetcar service was low on key measures such as travel time, comfort, and wait time,” city staff wrote in the report. “Through the pilot period, customer satisfaction on all these measures have significantly improved.”

Cycling rates have also increased. There are about 380 more daily cyclists on the corridor at the afternoon peak, “likely because reduced motor vehicle volumes made it more comfortable to cycle.”

Drivers weren’t duly inconvenienced, the data show. Car travel times on parallel corridors is roughly the same as before the pilot began in January, 2017.

But even though Byford’s name wasn’t mentioned in the mayor’s press release, his success in Toronto was.

“To make sure these buses move quickly and reliably, DOT studied international best practice for busy transit corridors, including along King Street in downtown Toronto,” the New York City Hall statement said. “The Toronto changes, popular with transit riders, dramatically reduced travel times and increased safety along the corridor — and have been since made permanent.”

Of course, if the mayor’s plan fails, he won’t be able to fully blame Byford, whose King Street plan did not allow trucks to use the corridor as a through street. De Blasio’s plan does: “Only buses, trucks and emergency vehicles will be able to use 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues as a through route,” the city said in a statement (emphasis Streetsblog’s).

  • HamTech87

    For more on King Street, here’s the funny Twitter account for the “Not the King Street Pilot”. “Just a Transit Pilot, standing in front of a City, asking it to love her. DISCLAIMER: Parody, obvs. No affiliation with TTC. Not licensed to operate aircraft.”

  • Every European City

    This plan is not so radical! Only by NYC standards does this seem so radical.

  • Hashtag_LGM

    Why is deBlasio allowing Trucks?

  • Sanjeev Ramchandra

    To make deliveries?

  • Altered Beast ✓ᵛᵉʳᶦᶠᶦᵉᵈ

    why is the cyclist counter on the manhattan bridge broken?

  • kevd

    i was looking forward to the number yesterday on my way home – since so many people were biking.
    maybe its a way for the DOT to claim they don’t need anymore bike lanes since the spring time count on the MB isn’t any higher?

  • the “King street report” shows a big improvement in bus reliability ( partially due to installation of stand-by buses and a supervisor at each end, a very good measure MTA should do anyway); Improvement in speed by 11% in only one out four peak periods/ directions; no improvement in wait time
    https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/04/8fb5-TS_King-Street-Annual-Dashboard_Final.pdf

  • spicygarage

    Exclusively focusing on speed excludes other benefits, namely reliability (wait times) and street capacity.

    Not only do passengers now travel faster by a few minutes, but transit vehicles are more evenly-spaced — people spend less average time waiting for their streetcar.

    And clearing the street of most cars shows just how much precious, unexpandable downtown pavement was wasted from all those 1.2-occupant vehicles. (It takes a full *kilometre* of cars to move as many rush-hour commuters as a *single* 30-metre streetcar. [0.6 mile / 100 feet]) King Street used to be clogged end-to-end with vehicles; there was no room to move tens of thousands more people in the future, and certainly not in cars. Now that the street has become spacious, not only can they build people-friendly seating, parklets and permanent restaurant patios, but King Street will be able to move all those extra people without breaking a sweat. Just add four streetcars for every 1,000 new commuters.

  • spicygarage

    On a more serious note, I would also suggest @MetroManTO, a resident whose photos and videos fact-check the lies from King Street Pilot opponents (e.g. “Wasteland! Restos are empty!”) and my own @spicygarage filled with hard data about the Pilot and transit in general.

  • 14th Street is designated as a thru trucks street. I’d not allowed they will use very residential streets with schools etc… DOT did not have a new truck toute to offer…

  • Agree on all your points. Reliability is huge and helped increased ridership.the better use of the space does not apply to 14 th street where there is no freed up space.
    The plan was sold as increasing speed but it did very little for this in Toronto. There is nothing wrong with being granular in our analysis of what are the benefits or drawbacks of a given technical solution. That is the way of making better decisions.

    The problem of two way streets is that they are too narrow for true BRT in the middle. 14th street is 52 ft wide, which is equivalent to two 26 ft wide one-way streets, which is narrower than most of one way streets. It is time we look at putting BRT on side streets in pairs as we do with bike lanes.
    This impression of “wide streets” is preventing us from getting the rapid transit we deserve.

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