DOT to Streetsblog: There is No Red Paint Shortage — We’re Just Overwhelmed Right Now

Red paint (seen here on E. 97th Street in Manhattan) works. File photo.
Red paint (seen here on E. 97th Street in Manhattan) works. File photo.

Relax, America, the New York City Department of Transportation is not out of red “bus lane” paint — though the agency is way too overwhelmed to get several long-overdue bus lane projects done on schedule.

First, a little context: On Tuesday, Twitter user @union_tpke mentioned that a DOT bus official Kyle Gebhart had said at Monday’s forum that the agency could not use red paint on the proposed (and delayed) Flushing busway because of a “limited amount of paint.”

That had tongues wagging all day that the city had run out of the most vital resource for its “Better Buses Restart” plan — which had been announced with much fanfare by the mayor in June. The plan called for five car-free busways to be installed this summer (only one has been created), plus 16.5 miles of dedicated, red-painted bus lanes (at least one of which has already been truncated).

But DOT put the rumors to rest in a statement to Streetsblog: “To clarify, there is not a red paint shortage.”

But the statement did suggest a larger problem: the $1-billon agency claims it is still devastated by the coronavirus outbreak, which it has long blamed for delayed projects.

“We are actively implementing a series of bus projects as part of the Better Buses Restart plan and, unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 health crisis, our normal implementation season was limited,” the statement continued, referring to the agency’s painting season, which must be completed by the time the weather dips into the 50s. “The resource constraint [i.e. the rumors that projects are delayed because of paint shortage] is more related to the shortened implementation season.”

So it’s not a shortage of paint that’s causing bus lane delays. It’s a shortage of …? What? Insert whatever word you choose: agency manpower, will, agenda-setting ability or just the mayor promising way too much back in June.

In any event, the DOT’s apparent predicament was the delight of the Twittersphere all day:

To date, no one has started that GoFundMe page.

Joking aside, red paint is seen as essential for the success of bus lanes because they deter drivers from entering the space. San Francisco’s SFMTA found in 2017 [PDF] that bus lane violations on Third Street fell 51 percent after the lane was painted red. And Baltimore reported that same year that red paint improved travel times on nearly all bus routes.

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