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Mayor Admits Many Promised Bus Lanes May Not Happen This Year — If Ever 

11:06 PM EDT on October 23, 2020

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg during a press conference over the summer. Photo: Dave Colon

Mayor de Blasio admitted on Friday that the Department of Transportation won't meet its target of installing 20 miles of dedicated bus lanes and car-free busways this year — itself a far-less-ambitious goal than the 60 miles of bus lanes the MTA wanted the city to install to speed the recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Two times in as many weeks, fed-up straphangers have asked the mayor about the busways he promised back in June — and both times, de Blasio's answers were embarrassing. Last week, a bus rider named Natasha called in to Brian Lehrer’s “Ask The Mayor" segment on WNYC and asked if all 20 miles would indeed be painted by Nov. 1, the end of the striping season. The mayor admitted he had not followed up on his own proposal and needed to be briefed before he could answer.

Sure enough, one week later, it seems Hizzoner did get that update — and revealed that he won't complete the 20 miles this year, or even ever.

“We wanted to do 20 miles by the end of the year. It looks like it’ll be closer to 17, which is a good achievement," de Blasio said during his weekly segment. He attributed the missing three miles to "that issue in Flushing with community organizations and leaders and businesses that we’re addressing," a reference to the administration's months-long delay in completing just a .3-mile stretch of car-free busway on Main Street in Queens after local Council Member Peter Koo led a racially insensitive campaign against it.

But the mayor was ill-informed; the .3-mile busway in Flushing will be completed this year, the Department of Transportation quietly announced shortly after the mayor's comments.

"After completing some additional reviews and outreach, NYC DOT plans to start implementation in the next two weeks for the Main Street Busway. This work will include street marking changes, sign installations as well as parking mitigation," Andrew Arcese, a planner in DOT's Queens Borough Commissioner’s Office, said in an email to a Streetsblog source who shared it with the city's top transportation outlet.

So what is the mayor talking about? We're not even sure if he knows (and DOT did not respond to a request for comment), but here's Streetsblog's breakdown of the original 16.5 miles bus lanes and 3.5 miles of car-free busways that the city promised:

    • The bus lane on Hylan Boulevard on Staten Island, which was installed in September, was chopped from 6.6 miles to 4.7 miles this summer — a loss of 1.9 miles.
    • The proposed 1.1-mile Fifth Avenue busway was redesigned from a car-free busway to merely a nicely designed street.

So that's the missing three miles right there. Except for one problem: It's not clear that the city will finish all of the remaining 17 miles by the end of the year. Of the five original busway projects, only one — on Jay Street in Brooklyn — has been implemented. If Fifth Avenue is nixed and Flushing gets done in the next two weeks, that still leaves Jamaica Avenue from Sutphin Boulevard to 168th Street, which is delayed after local elected officials called on DOT to instead install one on Archer Avenue; and 181st Street from Amsterdam Avenue to Broadway, which is slated to be installed in November, one month behind schedule. 

And the remaining 14.6 miles of dedicated bus lanes include:

    • 14th Street between First Avenue and Avenue C, which was installed in July 
    • 149th Street in the Bronx from Southern Boulevard to River Avenue, which was installed this month 
    • Merrick Boulevard in Queens from Hillside Avenue to Springfield Boulevard, which is delayed
    • Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island from Lincoln Avenue and Guyon avenues, which was cut from its original proposal, but was installed in September

But despite all of the delays, one bus advocate says that the city finally pushing through the Main Street busway in the face of intense opposition is a good sign, and could pave the way for future bus improvement projects — ones that could hopefully match the MTA's ambitious goal of 60 miles.

"It's a sign that bus rider prevailed over local opposition. Next year even more is possible, the mayor has a real opportunity to cement a legacy for major improvements for bus riders," said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance. "What this year proves is that DOT does not need time and money to make a big difference, it just need political will. It could point the way towards a  real progressive legacy if he doubles down on bus lanes and matches his 20 miles by about 40 next year."

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