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Good News: The Jay Street Busway Starts On Aug. 31

12:01 AM EDT on August 25, 2020

A Brooklyn Bad Boy parks in a bus stop on Jay Street, demonstrating why the Busway is needed there. Photo: Dave Colon

The Age of Cars on Jay Street is coming to a close. The Age of Buses is set to begin.

A helpful sign at Jay and Tillary streets reveals that the Jay Street Busway will open on Aug. 31 at 7 a.m. If it happens on that timeline, the stretch in Downtown Brooklyn would be the first place where the city has actually installed a car-free busway since Mayor de Blasio announced in June that the city would install 20 miles of busways and bus lanes. (Since then, his Flushing busway was shelved and another bus route in Staten Island greatly truncated.)

The rules on the .6-mile busway will be similar to the rules on 14th Street in Manhattan: from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., only trucks and local traffic will be allowed to access Jay Street between Livington and Tillary streets — and car drivers can only enter Jay Street from Willoughby Street, MetroTech Roadway or Johnson Street, and will have to turn off Jay at the first available opportunity.

The busway will be boon to the 47,000 daily beleaguered bus riders on five bus routes, many carrying essential workers on buses that average below five miles per hour during rush hours. An analysis by the Tri-State Transportation Center found that the busway will help improve access to 3,655 essential workplaces, like grocery stores and pharmacies, as well as six hospitals and urgent care centers.

Transit advocates celebrated the impending opening with glee, but reminded the mayor that he had more work to do.

"We’re happy to see the implementation of the Jay Street Busway project that will greatly improve the commutes of thousands of bus riders, pedestrians, and cyclists that have dealt with the congested and unsafe corridor," said Transportation Alternatives Director of Organizing Erwin Figueroa. "However, there are still other busway projects in other boroughs that are stuck in limbo. The more the city delays the implementation of these busways, the more gridlock will slow down the commutes of all New Yorkers."

As Figueroa pointed out, the pending start of the Jay Street Busway reminds that despite what the mayor himself has said about installing busways, the city is behind on its own schedule of implementing its busways and bus lanes. The DOT has a little under a month to install busways on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Jamaica Boulevard in Jamaica and Main Street in Flushing, before the equinox runs out the clock on the promised "summer 2020" implementation for the projects.

The de Blasio administration has also been willing to kowtow to local opposition from car interests instead of putting bus riders first. The Main Street Busway in Flushing has been sidelined by opposition by Council Member Peter Koo, who led protesters under the banner of "BLM stands for Business Lives Matter." And in Staten Island, City Council Members Joe Borelli and Steven Matteo got the DOT to cut 1.9 miles off a stretch of a planned 3.3-mile bus lane on the south side of Hylan Boulevard.

In addition to the busway, the Department of Transportation has also promised to do a number of road upgrades, including painted pedestrian islands on the street, adding a buffered contraflow bike lane to the north side of Johnson Street and extending the protected bike lane between Fulton Street and Johnson Street all the way north to Tillary Street and south to State Street.

Although the DOT has said that illegal placard use will be reduced by the new busway, it's also counting on "enhanced enforcement" against illegal placard users, who made up 35 percent of placard users on Jay Street according to a presentation to a local Community Advisory Board. A follow up presentation to the CAB stated that some placard parking will be maintained on Jay Street, but parts of the block will be turned into No Standing zones enforced by things like bike corrals or planter infills. According to a fact sheet on the upcoming project, the new traffic restrictions will allow the DOT to "evaluate curb regulations and adjust where appropriate."

On a visit to Jay Street on Monday, the area didn't look any different, save for a couple of signs tied to traffic poles announcing that changes would come, but the DOT said that red paint which banishes most cars will begin going in this week.

"We are starting work this week on the full scope of the project, which includes bike lane improvements, painted pedestrian islands, the reversal of Johnson Street, and red paint at the Busway gateways," a DOT spokesperson said. "We are anticipating that the busway will be fully operational on Monday, August 31 , which will entail implementing all signage. Please note, work is weather dependent and full completion of marking and paint installation may extend until after Aug. 31."

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