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STREETS WEEK! De Blasio Announces Fairly Ambitious Bike and Bus Lane Plans in Lame Duck Push

The mayor (seen on Tuesday on a Citi Bike!) says he will complete three more busways this year. Photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

It's still Streets Week!, so more details emerged yesterday about the city's post-pandemic streets plans.

Bowing to the demand of local pols, Mayor de Blasio announced that the city would be putting a busway on Archer Avenue in Jamaica, Queens.

Last summer, Southeast Queens elected officials, civic groups, and constituents asked the Department of Transportation to change its plans to turn Jamaica Avenue into a busway and instead put the transit-improving infrastructure on Archer Avenue, which they said would help a quarter-million daily riders. On Tuesday, de Blasio said he would put a busway on Archer Avenue — but that the DOT would still do the one on Jamaica Avenue, too. And he said that he would reinstate a planned busway on Fifth Avenue, which likewise had stalled over opposition of famed Mom and Pop stories like Gucci and Fendi.

The planned busways will join several other completed busways: those on Main Street in Flushing and 181st Street in Manhattan (both added in 2021), Jay Street in Brooklyn (2020), and the granddaddy of them all, the one on 14th Street in Manhattan, the original "pilot," which was completed in late 2019. The five busways the city will have added in 2021 (should it actually completed the work...) will improve service for 657,000 bus riders daily, according to a press release.

Advocates were pleased.

"Prioritizing bus riders on the street is a must for New York City's recovery,” TransitCenter Communications Director Ben Fried said in a statement. “DOT's slate of bus projects will be especially helpful to essential workers and Black and brown New Yorkers, who make most of the bus trips in the city. As traffic returns to city streets, it's extremely important to complete these projects, carve out space for transit to bypass congestion, and ensure millions of New Yorkers can rely on the bus.”

The mayor also said that the DOT would be putting in a record 30 miles of protected bike lanes this year — which, while far short of the 50 annual miles that will be required going forward as part of the Streets Master Plan nonetheless represents an improvement over the record 28.9 miles it installed last year.

The push on busways and bike lanes represents the latest installment of a long-overdue post-pandemic recovery program for the city’s transportation infrastructure. Last September, as the public shunned transit and many New Yorkers took to buying cars to get around, members of the the mayor’s hand-picked body on pandemic transportation recovery, the Surface Transportation Advisory Council, penned an open letter urging the mayor to take action on a host of issues, including buses and bikes.

The toll was tragic: Reckless motorists — many of whom became habituated to speeding during the pandemic lockdowns — contributed to soaring death and injury rates for pedestrians and cyclists last year even as overall driving rates went down. Even as the Open Streets and especially the Open Streets: Restaurants programs were liberating street space so that people could breathe and exercise more freely and eateries could survive, the city lost ground in its safety fight, regressing to fatality figures not seen since 2016. Buses and bike lanes also were heavily used by the essential workers — including health-care workers and food-delivery workers, many of the people of color — who kept the city alive and fed during the worse of the pandemic.

Yet the panoply of car-reduction strategies that the council recommended — and which were laid out in Transportation Alternatives's "NYC 25 X 25" document, which seeks to claw back 25 percent of the space now dedicated to vehicles — have yet to materialize as part of the city's calculus. Those included high-occupancy vehicle restrictions for the Central Business District, policies to curtail “the rise of personal vehicle ownership and use” and encourage “alternative modes of transportation, including taxis, for-hire vehicles, and pooled rides,” and new regulations for flexible use of the city's curbs, including an expansion of the city's woefully small residential loading-zone pilot.

Asked by Streetsblog whether the city might embrace HOV restrictions, DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman demurred.

"The first issue is the congestion-pricing program ... getting that in place," he said, referring to the CBD tolling scheme that is already more than a year overdue. Congestion pricing, Gutman said, would be the "principal tool" of car reduction.

The mayor this week pronounced the city an exception to the rule of those which have been helped by car reduction. Asked by Streetsblog why he hadn't embraced strategies that had brought traffic deaths down to zero or close to it in cities including Oslo and Copenhagen, de Blasio said: "We're not, I mean, God bless those other cities. I respect them. We're a different city than they are."

The mayor's announcement, part of his "Streets Week!" gambit, repackaged a raft of other programs that had been announced earlier, and included, for bus riders:

    • New and improved bus lanes in Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island, with projects on First and Second avenues, Battery Place and Avenues A and D (Manhattan), Merrick Boulevard (Queens), and Hylan Boulevard (Staten Island) for a total of 11.5 miles of new lanes and 16.3 miles of improved lanes.
    • For the Bronx, more bus lanes, bus boarding islands, protected bike lanes, and pedestrian-safety improvements, including dedicated bus lanes along University Avenue from Washington Bridge to Kingsbridge Road with six new bus boarding islands; and protected bike lanes to be installed along University Avenue from at least Washington Bridge to Tremont Avenue.
    • Also in the Bronx, a redesign of the notoriously bollixed Fordham Road, the site of the original Select Bus Service route, and new bus lanes along Story Avenue and Gun Hill Road. Activists have agitated for a busway on Fordham Road, but the city says it needs to consult with the community before it attempts one.

All in all, it would be 28 miles of dedicated bus lanes, a record.

The mayor also announced the vague locations of the five bike boulevards, one for each borough, that he proposed several months ago in the State of the City address (but provided no details on the design of said "boulevards" nor their length nor their ... purpose):

    • 21st Street (South Slope, Brooklyn)
    • 39th Avenue (Sunnyside, Queens)
    • Jackson Avenue (Mott Haven, Bronx)
    • University Place (Greenwich Village)
    • Netherland Avenue (Mariners Harbor, Staten Island)

The city did not not even supply information as to whether cars will be allowed on said "boulevards."

It's unclear how these segments were even chosen; 39th Avenue in Sunnyside is by most measures the city's worst open street, which car drivers treat as a speedway, despite a few haphazardly placed "5 mph" signs; University Place was earlier being discussed as a full pedestrianized zone (so much for that), and 21st Street in Park Slope is an east-west street that few cyclists use because it doesn't really go anywhere.

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Danny Harris, who was a member of the surface-transportation panel, called the city's announcement "an important step" toward ensuring that "we don’t just get back to normal, but make the new normal for our streets healthier, more equitable and less congested." But he sounded a note of caution about the city's overly cumbersome timelines and lack of follow-through, saying that he would "work with the administration and our advocacy partners to make sure that they are completed without delay and into a connected network.”

City Hall is clearly trying to parry the idea that the DOT can't get anything done. Its press release stated: "In coming weeks, DOT Borough Commissioners and planners will present proposed plans to elected officials and community boards, with the expectation that they will be completed this year."

A lot needs to get done, including all of the above initiatives, plus the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane, the Queensboro Bridge pedestrian path, and many bike lane projects associated with the launch of e-scooter rentals in The Bronx. The City Council also passed legislation (signed by the mayor on Tuesday) to formalize the permanent implementation of open streets. The DOT has said it would reveal a design for 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights — the agency's "gold standard" — in June.

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