NOT JUST DELAYED: The Fifth Avenue Busway Looks Completely Dead

Fifth Avenue. Photo: Google Maps
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.


DOT Plans to Bring NYC’s First Separated Busway to 34th Street

What the 34th Street transitway might look like between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. Image: NYCDOT When DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan hinted last Tuesday that bolder ideas were on the way for bus rapid transit in New York City, she apparently meant "next week." The DOT website now displays an updated plan for the next phase […]

Bus Rapid Transit Designs for East Side Avenues Still in Flux

Earlier this week DOT and the MTA showed plans for Bus Rapid Transit on the east side of Manhattan to the Seaport/Civic Center committee of Community Board 1. With implementation scheduled for next September, the question of how to allot space on First and Second Avenues is increasingly urgent. Robust bus improvements paired with protected […]

A More Democratic Use of Space on 34th Street

Image: NYCDOT This graphic tells you all you need to know about the rationale behind DOT’s plans for 34th Street, which are getting some play today in the Times and on Gothamist. DOT displayed it prominently at Wednesday’s info session about the project. The biggest group of users — pedestrians — will get wider sidewalks […]

Eyes on the Street: NYPD Chivalry Is Dead on 34th Street

The officers who parked here apparently aren’t the type to help old ladies cross the street. Photo: ddartley/Flickr Thanks to tipster ddartley for the latest chapter in NYPD’s ongoing mistreatment of bus riders on 34th Street. Yesterday, eight cruisers from northern Queens (precincts 110, 111, 112, 114 and 115) sat parked in the bus lane […]

World-Class Avenues for the East Side: What Great BRT Looks Like

BRT + bike: East Side avenues have enough space for physically separated busways and protected bike lanes. The biggest sustainable transportation story in New York right now is how DOT and the MTA plan to design Bus Rapid Transit corridors for the East Side of Manhattan. Will we get world-class avenues that attract more riders […]