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Fordham Road

‘Betrayal’: Adams Caves to Opposition, Abandons Bus Improvement Plan on Fordham Road

The capitulation on Fordham Road is the latest episode in which the mayor has delayed or watered down a transportation project in deference to powerful interests.

Fordham Road in the Bronx.

The Adams administration is abandoning plans for major improvements to bus infrastructure in the Bronx because of opposition from local business interests and elected officials, four officials told Streetsblog.

City Hall made the decision on Thursday to scrap the upgrades on Fordham Road — a crucial east-west corridor where bus speeds as low as four miles per hour cause non-stop misery for some 85,000 daily riders.

The Department of Transportation said in May that it would create offset bus lanes along the route, but now the city will merely repaint existing bus lanes and consider adding additional traffic enforcement cameras, officials told Streetsblog. (The route already has traffic enforcement cameras.)

If bus speeds do not improve by next summer, the city will consider further interventions, sources said.

The decision represents a major capitulation by the mayor to opponents of the plan, who were led primarily by Council Member Oswald Feliz and Belmont Business Improvement District Chairman Peter Madonia. Rep. Adriano Espaillat also privately leaned on local lawmakers to oppose the project, Streetsblog reported.

Other opponents included local economic and cultural institutions, including Fordham University, Monroe College, St. Barnabas Hospital and even the New York Botanical Garden and the Bronx Zoo — two institutions that pitch themselves as leaders in the fight against climate change.

The coalition has argued that prioritizing buses along the route would increase traffic and create "economical, safety, health, and environmental concerns," citing city traffic studies showing some spillover onto local side streets.

One official familiar with City Hall's decision to forego the improvements characterized it as a political calculation by Mayor Adams — one that will hurt public transit riders.

"It's sickening to know that politicking is going to keep blue-collar people from having the transit system that they deserve," the official said.

"The mayor's realized that supporting this won't help his cause, because the people who want this aren't necessarily his supporters and backers, whereas the people who don't want this are the people who are going to finance his reelection."

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation confirmed that the Adams administration was backing down.

"In response to feedback from community leaders, we are repainting curbside bus lanes and continuing automated bus lane enforcement," said DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno. "After painting is completed, NYPD will conduct heightened bus lane enforcement. Next summer, we will review the results of these measures and evaluate whether additional treatments are necessary."

Fordham Road's existing bus lanes run along the curb and are frequently blocked by cars. DOT said its plan to shift buses off the curb into offset lanes would have increased bus speeds by 20 percent while creating only a handful of traffic "hot spots." That plan was itself a compromise from an earlier proposal for a car-free busway.

DOT surveys of shoppers and visitors to Fordham Road and the surrounding areas, including Little Italy in Belmont, consistently found support for enhanced bus lanes or busways and that the overwhelming majority of pedestrians on Fordham Road got there via transit or on foot.

The offset bus lane design would have reflected the reality of curb demand in 2023, freeing up the lane right next to the sidewalk and allowing buses to run, pick up and drop off passengers in the center lanes on the street.

Fordham Road is well trod territory for business interests opposed to putting bus riders ahead of motorists on busy streets.

When the Bloomberg administration picked Fordham Road for the city's first Select Bus Service treatment in 2008, merchants made similar claims that they would have to close up shop if the bus lanes were installed. One car stereo store owner told the New York Times at the time that the loss of parking spaces would be the end of his business; his store is still around in 2023.

DOT's recent effort to expand bus priority on the strip began in 2019. Sources familiar with the project expressed exhaustion with the whimpering end to the four-year effort to speed up buses on the congested thoroughfare.

"It's a huge waste of resources, energy, effort across the board, from the DOT, from the advocacy community, it's insane," said one official.

MTA New York City Transit President Rich Davey said he was “disappointed” in the decision but declined to criticize the mayor directly.

“I am perplexed at the opposition, because there were gonna be 120 to 150 parking spaces added with this project. I thought what the DOT had come up with, what the city had come up with was a win for all constituencies,” Davey said. “Apparently the opposition decided they wanted what they wanted, at the detriment of 85,000 customers.”

Asked whether he was frustrated by the slow churn of bus lanes and busways since Adams took office, the Boston transplant demurred.

“I take the mayor at his word — he committed to 150 miles of bus lanes,” Davey said. “We’re gonna do everything we can to help them achieve achieve that goal. The politics, I can’t speak to that. But I’m a guy from Boston. I find it a little curious that a Bostonian is fighting hard for folks in the Bronx.”

Davey previously called out Fordham University for opposing the project, saying the school's position betrayed its Jesuit values. Davey and MTA Chairman and CEO Janno Lieber both urged Mayor Adams to support the project during an MTA Board meeting this summer.

"We can't deemphasize and under-prioritize the lives of people of the Bronx and also Upper Manhattan who are trying to get east and west across this incredibly busy corridor," Lieber said in July.

The capitulation on Fordham Road is the latest episode of the Adams administration delaying or watering down transportation projects across the city in deference to local businesses or politicians.

A similar project on Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn, for instance, has failed to materialize despite the mayor's personal pledge to bring "faster, more efficient, and more convenient" bus service to the route. City insiders expressed pessimism about that project's prospects in light of the administration's handling of Fordham Road.

"Going forward, I think you'd like to have a better understanding of what the political appetite is to do projects so we don't waste our time, even though that's bad policy,” one source said.

“There's no policy vision. It's not like, 'Well, we can't do Fordham, but we can do Flatbush.' That's not what's happening. Do nothing, and if someone is slightly annoyed we can't do it.”

Riders Alliance Executive Director Betsy Plum called the city's capitulation to opponents on Fordham Road a "betrayal."

"Letting influential suburbanites dictate policy for the Bronx when 70 percent of people on Fordham support a busway and 86 percent of Fordham shoppers arrive by walking, bus, or train is a disgrace," Plum said in a statement. "Worse than blocking New York's most important bus project, the mayor cries poverty and demands austerity yet will squander tax money on what planning experts know is a useless paint job for old bus lanes just to assuage the guilt of the wealthy few who put out the hit, mocking riders' efforts to win transformative improvements and adding insult to injury.

"If bus riders can't trust Mayor Adams to improve miserable service on Fordham, the busiest bus route in New York's most bus-dependent borough, what good are any of his promises to speed up the slowest buses in the country?" she added.

Adams pledged to complete the Fordham Road plan and a host of other bus projects at a 2022 policy summit with the MTA.

“We will work closely with communities every step of the way to take these much-needed, bold steps together,” Adams said after the summit.

The Adams administration was required under city law to install 20 miles of new bus lanes last year — a goal the city missed. This year, the benchmark is 30 miles.

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