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NOT JUST DELAYED: The Fifth Avenue Busway Looks Completely Dead

12:01 AM EDT on August 27, 2020

Fifth Avenue. Photo: Google Maps

The now-delayed Fifth Avenue busway appears to have been killed altogether, Streetsblog has learned.

Department of Transportation reps told Community Board 5’s Transportation Committee on Monday night that plans to turn the avenue into a car-free bus-only corridor won’t begin until this fall, or even winter, despite Mayor de Blasio's promise of a summer launch. But on Wednesday, the agency provided Streetsblog with new diagrams that reveal that the promised busway, which would help make commutes easier and faster for about 110,000 people a day, may not happen at all.

The original presentation, titled "Better Buses Restart: 5th Avenue Busway Pilot," made in late July to the so-called Community Advisory Board — which is made up of local stakeholders, elected officials, business-improvement districts, other local business, and organizations — shows a completely redesigned Fifth Avenue from 57th to 34th streets with the current three southbound travel lanes swapped out for a new dedicated bus lane, a pick-up and drop-off lane, and a protected bike lane and expanded pedestrian space. (The two existing dedicated bus lanes on Fifth Avenue remain in all the diagrams.)

But the latest presentation — only shared with Streetsblog after Wednesday's publication of the busway’s delay — now shows no busway at all; what was supposed to be a designated lane for some of the 60 to 160 buses an hour that traverse the corridor daily is instead just a regular travel lane for private vehicles. And it was entirely renamed to take out reference to a busway, so now it's just called: "Fifth Avenue Complete Street."

DOT's original plans for Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th Streets. Source: DOT
DOT's original plans for Fifth Avenue between 57th and 34th streets showed three lanes of Fifth Avenue being converted to a bus-only lane, a drop-off lane, and a protected bike lane. Source: DOT

Spot the difference:

The DOT quietly edited out its plans for a busway in its August presentation to the local community board. Source: DOT
The DOT quietly edited its plans for a busway in its August presentation to the local community board. Source: DOT

DOT reps say retail owners along what’s considered one of the world’s most expensive streets expressed concern over the city’s original proposal because of the “signage clutter" that would come along with alerting drivers in private cars they must turn off the busway, and their desire to maintain southbound thru traffic despite already restricted parking on that stretch of the avenue.

“The feedback that we received from the Community Advisory Board included concerns about business needs, especially during city recovery, the ability to do direct pick-up and drop-offs, southbound thru travel, and also the amount of signage that would be required. We are continuing to evaluate this feedback,” said a DOT rep during the presentation on Monday night.

So in deference to legendary mom-and-pops like Armani, Dolce and Gabbana, Tiffany and Co, Coach, and Rolex, DOT may nix the busway altogether, and move ahead with a much-watered down version of a Fifth Avenue redesign that bike advocates and elected officials already derided as not going far enough.

“Even though we are still evaluating all of the possible traffic restrictions in this area, we know we want to move forward with the safety elements including the protected bike lane, and added pedestrian space,” the rep said.

DOT is expected to present to the advisory board again in early September, and to Community Board 5 again on Sept. 21, with an updated design.

The mayor announced in June that the city would install five busways in commercial districts, including the one on Fifth Avenue, pledging to install them as soon as possible to help essential workers and the buses’ predominately low-income, minority riders.

“There will be five new busways in New York City. They will be launching on an urgent basis. I want to see this happen as quickly as possible because we need the help now given the crisis we’re in. We have to make it easier for people to get around,” de Blasio said then.

Now, as of Aug. 27, none of the busways has materialized (although the one on Jay Street in Brooklyn is set to start at the end of the month). The first was slated to start two months ago on Main Street in Flushing, but it’s now delayed indefinitely because of pushback from local elected officials and business owners, who say that eliminating private vehicles on the corridor will hurt their bottom lines.

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