Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/2282 Sat, 24 Aug 2019 04:41:58 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) ‘Breaking Car Culture’ in New York City Likely Dependent on Expanded Mass Transit https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8732-breaking-car-culture-in-new-york-city-likely-dependent-on-expanded-mass-transit https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8732-breaking-car-culture-in-new-york-city-likely-dependent-on-expanded-mass-transit subway construction

(photo: City Council)


If City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, like-minded lawmakers, and a chorus of transit advocates get their way, New York City will become far less dominated by cars over the next few years.

Talk of “breaking car culture” by increasing options and protections for bikes, buses, and pedestrians while reducing how use of public space and rules of the road favor cars has increased, spurred largely by well-organized activists and Johnson. The speaker has championed the phrase, credited to Council Member Antonio Reynoso, that now symbolizes a growing movement, and introduced legislation to create a “master plan for city streets” with many more bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian plazas required.

But as Johnson has pushed a public transit agenda and breaking the car culture that he and others say unfairly and dangerously dominates New York City, they’ve been met with a few refrains, one of which is that you can only push so many New Yorkers out of their cars without significantly expanding public transit options across the five boroughs, especially in areas currently unserved by the subway. (That thinking also extends to areas without good bike lane networking and access to Citi Bike bike-sharing or to speedy and reliable bus service.) More than one-third of New York City's 8.5 million residents live more than one-third of a mile from a subway stop, according to the Regional Plan Association. 

People will not leave their cars, or abandon the use of for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, without a more robust public transit ecosystem. That challenge is on top of that of making sure that the subways and buses perform well where they already provide extensive options, and installing more bike lanes and pedestrian options in those areas, not to mention the coming influx of electric scooters, recently legalized in New York State.

Despite ongoing, launched, or expected improvements to the subways and buses, many of which are included in the up-in-the-air MTA "Fast Forward" plan to modernize public transit over 10 years, many of the city’s neighborhoods will still be inaccessible by public transportation.

The notion of adding to the city’s current mass transit system has been around a long time, of course, with recent manifestations in the opening of the first phase of the Upper East Side's Second Avenue Subway, the extension of the 7 line to the far west side of Manhattan, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Ferry NYC system and planned Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar along the two boroughs’ waterfront.

There have also been a variety of ideas put on the table for additional subway stops, new rail lines, and other enhancements to the grid -- including light-rail reinvigorating abandoned train tracks in Brooklyn and Queens, a train shuttle from a central point in Manhattan to each of the city’s airports, a revamped tristate commuter rail, and more.

“We know our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate for our current needs, let alone for future population growth and the challenges that will come with climate change,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, when asked about the relationship between breaking the car culture and building out the transit network.

Defending the large subsidies involved in his signature ferry system, de Blasio in March said that the prospering and growing city needs more mass transit.

“8.6 million people today,” he said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We’ve added half a million people over the last 15-20 years. We’re going to add another half million people over the next 15 to 20 years ahead. Anyone who thinks our existing transit system can handle all of that is someone who thinks marijuana is already been legalized in New York State and is smoking some. The fact is it is impossible to do what we have to do with the city if we don’t expand mass transit options.”

He continued: “So we have had a four-pronged attack. More bike options; more select bus service, which is those faster dedicated bus routes; more light rail, that’s going to be the BQX, Brooklyn and Queens; and for the first time ever, a citywide ferry system.”

“We’re investing in the future,” de Blasio said. It is worth noting that the ferry system is projected to carry about 9 million annual riders, according to the mayor in May, which is less than two days of typical weekday subway ridership.

For her part, de Blasio’s Department of Transportation Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, also spoke earlier this year about the need to improve transit options to account for the city’s success and growth.

“Given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year...if not faster,” she said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “The biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now is we have stopped building out our subway network. That gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA, of the governance, of the funding challenges there.”

“Nothing carries people like subways,” Trottenberg said.

The MTA doesn’t “have the funds right now to be in the subway line-building game -- and we should get them back in that game” like big cities in other countries, she said.

Proposals and Plans to Expand Public Transit
In its enormous “Fourth Regional Plan” for the tri-state region released in 2017, the Regional Plan association calls for a massive extension of the subway and rail system in and around New York City. This includes bridging unconnected or underconnected areas of the city to each other, adding new subway stops in "high density and low income neighborhoods," and expanding rail options into areas of the city that are "transit deserts."

"Building new subway lines or line extensions in the South Bronx, southeast Brooklyn. and eastern Queens would reduce travel times and fully connect these communities to the city’s transit system—and thereby job opportunities," the RPA plan reads. Too many New Yorkers simply don't have access to the subway system, the association says, particularly "in Queens, where fewer than four in 10 residents can walk to the subway," meaning a distance of one-third of a mile or less from home.

Hiding behind trees and below street level are 24 miles of abandoned railway tracks stretching from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Co-op City in the Bronx. A proposal by the RPA would see the conversion of those tracks to a functioning commuter rail, covering 80 square miles and intersecting with 17 subway lines.

RPA estimates the line would serve upwards of 100,000 people a day, and cost under $2 billion to make usable. (Phase one of the Second Avenue subway extension, completed in January 2017, was estimated to cost nearly $4.5 billion.)

The so-called “triboro line” that would include Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx could be implemented at a lower cost because the right of way and tracks are already in place, RPA Senior Vice President for State Programs & Advocacy Kate Slevin said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. The line would bring benefits to the outer boroughs, where 50 percent of the city’s job growth has occurred in the last 15 years, according to the RPA proposal. Transit advocates, business owners and employees, elected officials and others regularly point out that the city’s recent economic and residential patterns do not match well with its Manhattan-centric public transit network.

Along with new rail options where they don't exist, the RPA also calls for things like extending the 7 line from the new far west side 34th Street stop down the west side into "underserved areas of Chelsea and Meatpacking."

The RPA plan notes that nearly 60 percent of residents of the Bronx and Brooklyn, and 36 percent of residents of Queens, do not own a car.

“I don’t think cars will be going away anytime soon but if you’re a growing city you only have a certain amount of street space to work with,” Slevin said. “New York needs to be moving at a faster clip to prioritize high efficiency transportation options.”

RPA also envisions a re-worked commuter rail system, with a united NJ Transit, Metro North, and LIRR, entitled Trans-Regional Express (T-REX). Rather than having each entity individually operate to and from Manhattan, T-REX would see the introduction of new freight-rail corridors directly connecting each of the regions currently serviced by commuter rail, Slevin said. The plan aims to increase ridership by 1 million by 2040.

“This is not just a system to bring people from the suburbs to Manhattan,” Slevin said. The plan would bring “paramount benefits in the city and smaller cities outside the five boroughs that have not benefited the same way Manhattan has,” she said.

A revamped commuter rail system has the potential to influence “car culture” not only in the city, but also in the suburbs, said Sarah Kaufman, Associate Director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

“Additional tracks that would provide more frequent service and that would include allowing people in the farther reaches of the city to use commuter rail as an alternative to the subway” would have an impact, Kaufman said.

“A well-functioning public transportation system is key to reducing reliance on cars,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, at a recent Riders Alliance rally to call on the MTA to ensure that its next five-year capital plan focuses on fixing the subways.

Perhaps as a harbinger of RPA’s vision, in 2023 the MTA will begin construction on East Side Access, an eight track terminal and concourse for LIRR trains at Grand Central Station. Penn Station is currently the only Manhattan stop on the LIRR. Another plan, entitled Penn Station Access, would bring Metro North trains to Penn Station in addition to Grand Central, where they currently stop.

“I’m hopeful that East Side Access and Metro North access to Penn Station will help influence people who may otherwise feel like they don’t have a choice but to drive,” Kaufman said.

Many of these plans are just and only that - without support from elected officials.

Another factor in upcoming decisions is the imminent implementation of congestion pricing, which will charge drivers a fee for entering Manhattan below 61st Street. Like with calls to “break the car culture,” congestion pricing led to pushback from some saying that better mass transit is needed in conjunction.

De Blasio announced a plan for the BQX streetcar during his 2016 State of the City speech, but the proposal has been criticized from the start for mostly replicating the G subway line and existing bus routes, especially given de Blasio’s minimal attention to the subways and buses for most of his time as mayor (he’s recently paid more mind to the buses, which he has more control over based on city control of the streets).

It has also been seen as more of a boon to real estate interests than the riding public, though some potential riders have expressed excitement about a new way to move between certain neighborhoods, especially as residential and commercial growth in Queens and Brooklyn have grown.

Unlike when it was first announced, the BQX plan is now said to require significant federal funding in order to move toward completion, though interim steps are being taken by the city. Its fate is unclear.

“Speaker Johnson is open to creative ideas on how to improve our transportation network,” said Jennifer Fermino, Speaker Johnson’s communications director, in a statement to Gotham Gazette following a Council hearing on the proposed BQX earlier this year. Sentiment among Council members appears mixed, and Johnson appears to be holding out on giving an opinion.

MTA Efforts
This fall the MTA will put out its new five-year capital plan, which will set the organization’s construction and major upgrade project agenda for 2020 through 2024. It is unlikely to include any new expansion plans for the subway system, but is expected to focus heavily on upgrading the existing tracks, signals, cars, and stations -- including by increasingly accessibility for those living with disabilities -- all of which should help to encourage more people to take public mass transit over cars.

The MTA did announce in April a new phase of the stalled study of transportation along the Utica Avenue corridor in Brooklyn. While the study, performed jointly by the MTA and city DOT, will examine a variety of transit aspects, including bus service, it will also look at “extending the existing subway on Eastern Parkway or Fulton Street south along Utica Avenue. The extension could be either underground or as an elevated rail line.”

It’s unclear where the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway will factor into the new MTA capital plan.

Advocates are encouraging the MTA to adopt accessibility as a key issue, which could reduce some reliance on cars. According to the Elevator Action Group at Rise and Resist, the MTA counts 118 of its 472, or 25 percent, of its subway stations as accessible, while the MTA counts 118 of its 472 stations as accessible. “The lack of elevator accessibility continues to deny access to disabled New Yorkers and elderly,” Assemblymember Deborah Glick said at the Riders Alliance rally.

The MTA already has a bus route redesign process underway, having completed Staten Island and working on the Bronx, to be followed by other boroughs. Modernizing bus routes, along with other efforts like installing more dedicated bus lanes (which is more under the purview of New York City government), is aimed at improving the city’s terribly slow bus speeds and reversing the trend of dipping bus ridership.

When earlier this year he announced a crackdown on illegal parking in bus lanes in order to get the city’s buses moving more quickly, de Blasio got at the heart of the matter with regard to the current system that does exist, but needs to perform better.

“So for drivers – help your fellow New Yorkers by not parking in the bus lanes, and with this effort to speed up the buses, more and more New Yorkers will be able to choose mass transit and they can get out of their cars and that's going to take cars off the road and reduce congestion also,” the mayor said in January. “So we could have a virtuous circle here if we get it right. That's what we intend to do.”

Some city officials want to figure out ways to work with the MTA to expand the subway system to add new stops and lines. The MTA recently adopted a “transformation plan” with goals including to improve service across the different branches of the authority and to bring construction costs down. For now, de Blasio has announced several new bus-related plans, a large Citi Bike expansion, and additional planned stops for the ferry program, though he does not seem particularly interested in a major cultural shift or pursuing an expansion of railway possibilities; and he has done little about parking placard abuse by public employees despite multiple announcements saying the city is cracking down on the practice. Parking in general has become a key issue within the street-use reform converation, and whether the city devotes too much public space allowing people to store their cars, and to do so free of charge in many places throughout the five boroughs. Johnson and Trottenberg are among those who've said there are too many parking spots in New York City.

Speaker Johnson is looking to move ahead with his "master plan" legislation that would attempt to shift the balance of power on city streets by devoting more space to bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Johnson and others have pushed for municipal control of the MTA, in part as a way to get those astronomical construction costs under control. Until then, no major additions will be possible, Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“Adding a single mile of subway track in New York City costs the same as sending a rover to Mars,” Johnson said in the statement. “Meaningful mass transit expansion is not happening until we get in line with rest of the world and bring down costs. That won’t happen without real accountability and it’s clear it certainly won’t happen with the subway until we have municipal control.”

[Read: Corey Johnson Wants to 'Break the Car Culture' in New York City. What Does That Mean?]

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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‘Breaking Car Culture’ in New York City Likely Dependent on Expanded Mass Transit Sun, 11 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Slowing Down 14th Street Bus Plan is Anything But Progress, or Progressive https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8721-slowing-down-14-street-bus-not-progressive https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8721-slowing-down-14-street-bus-not-progressive mta bus electric

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA New York City Transit)


One of the most frustrating things about local New York City politics is that many people who believe in progressive ideas on the national stage do an about-face when it comes to progressive change on the local level, often when that change might actually touch their day-to-day lives in some way.

This phenomenon has been captured perfectly by the current debate around the 14th Street busway -- a pilot program approved by the mayor, which would prioritize public transit and trucks over private cars on one of the city’s busiest corridors -- and the troubling last-minute temporary restraining order against its implementation.

Just about everyone talks about how we need to make transit better for working New Yorkers, and that moving New Yorkers by bus, train, and bikes is more efficient and environmentally-friendly than by car, and yet, progress has been ground to a halt in the name of “environmentalism” by a few local residents using their connections and resources to jam up a groundbreaking transit project.

The lawsuit that led to the restraining order comes from a few wealthy, car-driving “progressive” West Side residents who claim that the 14th Street bus plan, as well as the protected bike lanes on 12th and 13th streets, should be subject to an environmental review. (Funny, the car lanes and free parking weren’t subject to an environmental review.)

The cynicism being displayed here by some of my West Side neighbors is far from universal. In fact, support for a busway on 14th Street in our community is overwhelming.

Community Board 6 Manhattan, of which I am a member, represents 147,000 New Yorkers on the East Side, covers half of the 14th Street corridor, and has been on the record supporting bus priority for almost a year. We first voted in favor last September, and then just reiterated our support in a second resolution in February.

Our position has been informed by the testimony of dozens of people at multiple meetings, including meetings hosted by us, by the city Department of Transportation, by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA), by our elected officials, and others.

Our support for bus priority on 14th Street is informed by our own experience. Because there’s no area north-south subway east of Union Square, we depend on MTA buses more than people in other parts of Manhattan. We rely on the M15-SBS almost like a subway. We use existing upgraded crosstown bus service like the M23-SBS and M34-SBS to connect to the subway system. And we absolutely depend on 14th Street bus service, which (as everyone knows) is unreliable even after recent MTA upgrades.

In our neighborhood, we need and we deserve world-class transportation, and the transit and truck priority corridor the DOT planned would give it to us. It was planning to launch last month — until West Side attorney Arthur Schwartz, who is leading the lawsuit, somehow convinced a judge to put it on hold.

It’s rich to have Schwartz attack the busway with the baseless claim that the community is united in opposition to it. I am here to tell you that that claim is false; the support of Community Board 6 is emphatic and broad-based and it’s on the record. It shouldn’t surprise us that this same attorney has been cluelessly quoted that he doesn’t take the bus when he’s in a hurry.

But some New Yorkers don’t have much of a choice; people like me and 27,000 of our neighbors ride the M14A -- the city's slowest bus -- and M14D every day. Collectively we've lost out on about a year's worth of time while our buses idle in mixed traffic. Our voices matter.

The benefits of faster and more reliable bus service disproportionately accrue to people with lower incomes (that’s the definition of progressive). That reality isn’t lost on most of us invested in the fight to improve transportation in New York City, and we aren’t going to let people like Schwartz wear a mantle that he hasn’t earned, no matter how much they like to call themselves progressive.

I hope the baselessness of this lawsuit is exposed at Tuesday’s hearing where a New York State Supreme Court judge will hear arguments on both sides. I’m optimistic we can get the busway back on track as soon as possible. It will be a game-changer for tens of thousands of working New Yorkers, saving us thousands of hours a year otherwise sitting in traffic or standing in the rain. That’s a progressive step forward that everyone should support.

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Rich Mintz is a member of Manhattan Community Board 6. On Twitter @richmintz.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Slowing Down 14th Street Bus Plan is Anything But Progress, or Progressive Mon, 05 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Everyone Agrees City Buses are in Crisis. What's Being Done? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8664-everyone-agrees-city-buses-are-in-crisis-what-s-being-done https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8664-everyone-agrees-city-buses-are-in-crisis-what-s-being-done bx6 select bus inter ave

Mayor de Blasio rides the bus (photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayor's Office)


Elected officials, advocates, and especially riders agree: the city’s bus system is broken.

That consensus was reached in recent years as bus speeds slowed to a crawl and the system hemorrhaged ridership. Various advocacy groups and elected officials have put forth studies and plans, and the entities with actual control -- the state-run Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) and the New York City Mayor’s Office -- have taken steps toward improving the situation, though many questions around commitment and implementation remain.

Even as the city boasts 2.5 times more bus riders than any of its counterparts across the country, its buses are the slowest in the United States, according to data from the mayor’s office. In the past four years, city bus ridership has decreased by 13 percent; from an annual total ridership of 677,569,432 in 2013 to 602,620,356 in 2017. Buses average a speed of just 8 miles per hour, with speeds at about the pace of a brisk walk in some of the city’s busiest corridors. The slowest city bus route, the M42, runs across Manhattan’s 42nd Street at an average speed of just 3.9 miles per hour, according to data from the city comptroller’s office.

Fixing the buses is a transit issue and a socioeconomic issue; 75 percent of bus riders are people of color, and 50 percent are immigrants, said Danny Pearlstein, policy and communications director for Riders Alliance, an advocacy group.

“Better bus service is really about uplifting the portions of our population that need it the most,” Pearlstein said.

Pearlstein said buses spend 20 percent of their time at bus stops, 20 percent of their time at red lights, and 60 percent in slow traffic.

Both the MTA, which has say over bus routes and personnel, and the office of Mayor Bill de Blasio, which controls the city Department of Transportation and use of the roadways, street designs, and more, have been criticized for doing little to attend to the buses as ridership plummeted. Asleep at the wheel, both have recently reacted to the bus crisis.

To try to fix the bus system and reverse the ridership trend, the MTA and the Mayor’s Office have implemented or announced, at times with partners, a series of plans and laws to improve bus speeds. They’ve recently been aided by legislation passed by the state Legislature to allow for mounted bus cameras that can ticket drivers parked in bus lanes.

According to experts, including advocates and elected and appointed government officials, the keys to speeding up city buses include: improving Select Bus Service, which is a form of express bus; increasing the number of buses with all-door boarding; eliminating inefficient bus stops; implementing transit signal priority (TSP) so buses can move through traffic lights more quickly; creating more bus-only lanes; and enforcing bus lanes. Much of this work has started or been promised, but results are few given that most responses to the crisis are recent.

MTA and the Bus Route Redesigns
This year, the MTA began a bus route redesign effort as part of a plan from Andy Byford, president of MTA New York City Transit, called Fast Forward, which aims to modernize New York City’s subways and buses. While the full go-ahead, including funding, for Fast Forward is still in limbo, moving ahead with bus route redesigns is among the lesser expensive overhauls. New bus routes are essential, Byford and many others agree, to react to changing residential, commuter, and traffic patterns.

The effort saw a complete redesign of the Staten Island bus network in 2018 and is now focusing on the Bronx. Following the redesign, bus speeds on Staten Island increased on average by 8.6 percent and trip reliability improved by 20 percent, according to data from Transit Center, a foundation that seeks to improve public transit. The bus routes in the remaining three boroughs will be redesigned over the next three years, according to Byford’s plans.

Upon completion of the Bronx plan, the MTA will have redesigned 27 of the 60 bus routes in the Bronx, and proposed frequency changes on an additional four routes. The plan will also implement 150 audio-capable “next-bus signs,” improving accessibility. Through expanding the use of queue jumps, which let buses bypass other traffic at intersections, and TSP, which holds green lights longer or turns lights green sooner for buses, the MTA aims to improve speeds significantly.

The MTA also expects to expand Select Bus Service, which allows riders to purchase a fare before boarding the bus to encourage all-door boarding and skips “local” stops in express fashion.

By modernizing fare payment, the MTA has committed to fully switching to all-door bus boarding by 2021, “but that process should be expedited to capitalize on the redesigns before congestion pricing comes into place,” Transit Center spokesperson Ashley Pryce said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, referring to the upcoming 2021 institution of new tolls on driving cars and other private vehicles into Manhattan below 61st Street.

In addition to the MTA’s current plans, some buses could become faster by stopping every four or five blocks instead of every two, Pearlstein said.

Whether it’s redesigning bus routes or eliminating bus stops, the MTA will of course have local battles. The Bronx redesign plan has been met with some opposition from those who believe it will be too disruptive. In Co-op City, the redesign plan will eliminate certain routes and stops that have upset residents. The new system will require many of the neighborhood’s residents to transfer two or three times to get where they are going, said City Council Member Andy King, who represents Co-op City, in an interview with Gotham Gazette. King said that Byford and the MTA proposed a redesign without consulting Co-op City residents.

On June 27, King and Co-op City residents met with the MTA.

“Public feedback is a critical part of our efforts to reimagine the borough’s bus network,” an MTA spokesperson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We are currently in the process of reviewing the feedback we received before moving forward with any final decisions about the location of stops or changes to routes.”

The MTA declined to comment further on the number of bus routes that the plan would eliminate or the number of transfers it would require for trips in question.

“The transfer problem causes an issue. People in Co-op City would rather have convenience than timing. If I can get around Co-op City and it takes me 25 minutes, I will make sure I have enough time,” King said.

King and other community leaders met with Byford last week to discuss the problems they say the proposed redesign will cause for the neighborhood. Byford was receptive to King and the residents’ suggestions, King said.

“Any proposed bus plan for Co-op City must include conversation with the residents. If they’re not included in the conversation nothing will ever make sense. It might make sense for the MTA, but it won’t make sense for Co-op City,” King said, expressing fairly universal sentiments applicable around the city.

“If ridership in Co-op City has not dwindled that means you are still getting the same kind of fares in Co-op City. If numbers aren’t down, don’t punish them because you have low numbers somewhere else,” King said, taking issue with a “cookie-cutter” approach to redesigns.

However, some view slight inconvenience as necessary for the bus system to be more efficient.

“It may take time for some riders to adjust to new routes and bus stop patterns, but if the MTA and DOT implement their plans well, riders will get faster overall trips and a better experience waiting for the bus,” Pryce said. “While some riders may be asked to walk further to a stop, those remaining stops should be equipped with amenities like shelters and benches that can improve the experience for riders.”

Better Buses Action Plan
In April, Mayor BIll de Blasio and his Department of Transportation (DOT), which has a lot of control over the streets, bus lanes, and related decisions, released the Better Buses Action Plan. The plan aims to see bus speeds increase by 25 percent citywide by the end of 2020 -- a goal de Blasio first announced in his February State of the City speech.

The plan calls for the improvement (through painting lanes, adding all-door boarding, and other measures) of five miles of existing bus lanes each year, the installation of 10-15 miles of new bus lanes per year, and the piloting of physically separated bus lanes by the end of this year. From 2013 through early this year, the DOT has built 111 miles of bus lanes across the city, according to the Better Buses Action Plan. The plan also includes an additional 300 TSP intersections and the implementation of bus camera enforcement.

“Our buses have some of the highest ridership numbers in the country, yet we see that our buses are limited when it comes to their reliability and frequency,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, in a statement accompanying announcement of the Better Buses Advisory Group, convened by the mayor's office.

Bus lane cameras are currently limited to 16 of the city’s bus routes. They serve to enforce rules against parking in a bus lane, so as to take pressure off the police for finding violators and issuing tickets with fines for cars that park in or otherwise obstruct the bus lane. The program aims to improve bus speeds by making it clear to drivers not to block bus lanes.

At the end of the legislative session in Albany, lawmakers passed legislation to expand the number of automated cameras enforcing bus lanes. Owners of cars that block bus lanes will be fined $50 for the first offense, $100 for the second, $200 for third, and $250 for any additional offense.

In June, de Blasio announced the creation of the Better Buses Advisory Group, which will help implement the Better Buses Action Plan. The group includes the public advocate, state senators, Assembly members, City Council members, and representatives of advocacy groups.

“We are taking action to get New Yorkers moving and saving them time for the things that matter,” de Blasio said in a press release announcing the formation of the group. “With guidance from riders, our new Better Buses advisory group will come up with innovative solutions to get our bus routes up to speed,” he said.

2017 Stringer Report, De Blasio Announcement
The push to revamp the bus network got a shot in the arm in October 2017, following a report detailing the system’s ineffectiveness by Comptroller Scott Stringer.

Stringer advocated for “major upgrades to our bus system, like better integrated, enforced and designed bus lanes, more bus shelters, all-door boarding, and Transit Signal Priority at traffic lights,” he said in a 2017 press release accompanying the report.

Also in October 2017, de Blasio announced a plan to introduce 21 new Select Bus Service routes across the city. As of that time, according to the city, SBS accounted for 12 percent of the city’s bus ridership, but de Blasio said he expected that number to go up to 30 percent, according to comments during a press conference announcing the plan. Select bus routes average speeds 27 percent higher than local routes.

If the buses are faster, “more and more people will use them. If they are easier to use, more and more people will get out of their cars. But if they’re not moving fast enough, it doesn’t encourage anyone to come and take the bus,” de Blasio said.

From 2013 to 2017, the number of SBS routes increased from six to 13. De Blasio expects increased select buses to improve service to areas that currently do not have regular bus service.

“The bottom line is we have to reach every single neighborhood. No neighborhood should be neglected. No one should have a problem getting around because of the ZIP code they live in. Select Bus Service is a difference maker,” de Blasio said in the announcement.

Car Culture and the Buses
Calls to improve bus service are coming in conjunction with broader efforts to improve pedestrian safety, reduce congestion, and decrease the city’s reliance on and deference to cars. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently introduced his “master plan for city streets” legislation, which includes a sweeping set of planks to “break car culture” by adding many more bus and bike lanes, and pedestrian plazas.

“A progressive city must do better for bus drivers and must deliver for bus riders,” Pearlstein said at the June City Council hearing on the bill. “This is powerful legislation to look forward to while we’re still unfortunately stuck on the bus.”

Johnson’s plan goes further than de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan, calling for 30 miles of new bus lanes each year along with TSP, compared to 5-10 miles under de Blasio’s plan.

“We need much better bus and commuter rail service,” Nicole Gelinas, a Manhattan Institute fellow, told Gotham Gazette. “We need a better bus network to take pressure off the subway as we decrease reliance on cars.”

Other major global cities have bus networks that are bigger and faster than New York’s. In 2010, London boasted a higher bus ridership than New York’s subway ridership.

If New York does not improve its bus system and regain riders, bus service will have to be cut, Pearlstein said, reflecting MTA Board discussions. “If we allow bus service to further deteriorate ridership will continue to fall and service will be cut. There is no leaving it the same,” Pearlstein said. “If you leave it the same it will get worse.”

“There do need to be faster trips, and more service, and they need to meet those lofty goals,” Pearlstein said of the MTA’s redesign efforts. “Otherwise it looks like a service cut.”

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Everyone Agrees City Buses are in Crisis. What's Being Done? Wed, 10 Jul 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Corey Johnson Wants to ‘Break the Car Culture’ in New York City. What Does That Mean? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8626-corey-johnson-want-to-break-the-car-culture-in-new-york-city-subway city council cojo work train

Speaker Johnson on the train (photo: City Council's office)


Imagine a New York where cars no longer rule the road, and pedestrians and cyclists reclaim dominance of the city’s public space. While a New York where cars don’t dominate the streets may seem like a fantasy, to City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, it is the future.

In recent months, Johnson -- a Manhattan Democrat in his second year leading the 51-member City Council -- has gone full bore touting the idea of “breaking car culture,” or prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit in public policy rather than private automobiles. But what, exactly, would that look like?

Johnson, who says he’s never owned a car and rides the subway all the time, has become a darling of transit advocates and experts, from his focus on the health of the subway system (and call for municipal control of it) to his pushes for congestion pricing and the “Fair Fares” Metrocard program to help low-income New Yorkers.

He’s been seen as a polar opposite to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who has shown much more of a “windshield perspective” as a former everyday driver who now gets chauffeured around the city, opposed Fair Fares until Johnson prevailed in city budget negotiations, and has had reluctant overall interest in the subways and buses, not to mention biking.

Mainly, de Blasio’s vision for changing the city streetscape has been aspects of his Vision Zero program to redesign intersections, reduce speed limits, and protect people from traffic crashes. While the program has been successful, helping to continue a reduction in fatalities, the mayor has not shown an interest in creative uses of the city’s public space or the type of more radical thinking Johnson has professed.

Breaking the car culture is at the center of Johnson’s proposed “master plan for city streets,” new legislation that would require the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to improve pedestrian and cyclist access and safety by establishing benchmarks and, in five-year increments, aggressively building out a network of bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian plazas that transform the city.

By 2024, the master plan would institute a connected bike network across the city, install many miles of protected bus lanes, install accessible pedestrian signals at all intersections with a pedestrian signal, redesign all intersections with a pedestrian signal according to a checklist of street design elements designed to enhance safety, and complete all these improvements within the standards for accessible design held by the Americans with Disabilities Act. The CIty Council held a hearing on the bill recently, its fate is unknown at this time.

But beyond the elements in Johnson’s legislation and the policy-making lens it represents, the speaker and others looking to break the car culture in the city also point to changing the decision-making process to give DOT authority over community boards when it comes to specifics of implementation, like getting rid of parking spots and installing bike lanes.

Others advocate for expanding the subway, bus and bicycle networks, building more pedestrian plazas and parks, pedestrianizing certain streets and neighborhoods, rethinking car-focused bridges, aggressively fighting parking placard abuse, and more.

Johnson’s bill comes as the city has seen an increase in traffic fatalities this year over last, despite Vision Zero and its progress over several years. During the first five months of the year, fatalities of pedestrians, bikers, and those in cars were up 21 percent over the first five months of last year.

The number of cyclist fatalities is up 66 percent over the same period, and this year has already surpassed last year’s 12-month total in terms of the number of cyclists killed.

Since its launch in 2014, Vision Zero has helped decrease the number of traffic deaths in every subsequent year, but this year is on pace for an alarming regression, adding to the calls for a much more ambitious approach to street safety and undoing deference to cars.

De Blasio and his administration have been reluctant to support Johnson’s “master plan,” citing the improvements already made and in the works, and what it would require in terms of DOT workload and budget. But Johnson is not satisfied with the pace or scope of the city’s efforts. He wants to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and bus riders, ultimately reducing a reliance on cars in the city -- in large part by making the alternatives more attractive.

From 2005 to 2017, the number of cars in the city increased by 15%, or 250,283 cars, to a total of 1,923,041, according to the summary of Johnson’s bill.

Meanwhile, in 2017 the subways had an average weekday ridership of 5,580,845 people a day, while average weekday bus ridership that year was 1,923,993, according to MTA statistics. Bus ridership has declined every year since 2012 and subway ridership hit a four-year low in 2017, as both public transportation systems have been mired in failure. However, there have been recent attempts to reinvent the bus system and fix the subways, and the work on both is ongoing.

“Breaking the car culture means not prioritizing public policy as it relates to private automobile use and doing what we can to reprioritize pedestrians and cyclists and buses and mass transit users,” Johnson told Gotham Gazette just after the Council’s first hearing on his master plan legislation, held on June 12.

The City Council hearing featured testimony from DOT and advocacy groups. Johnson again touted the importance of breaking “car culture,” and questioned DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg for nearly an hour on what the DOT could do to better manage the city’s streets. Johnson lauded the DOT for the improvements it has made, but said that it could do more, especially on bike lanes, improved bus service, and accessibility.

“What this bill is about is shifting away from car culture, breaking the car culture, prioritizing people not in cars, prioritizing pedestrians, cyclists, and mass transit,” Johnson said at the hearing.

He was critical of DOT for not putting enough effort into doing the same.

However, Trottenberg maintained that DOT has been prioritizing those not in cars and is moving ahead on bike lanes and bus improvements at a solid rate.

“In our designs we have tried to change that priority,” Trottenberg said at the hearing. Through increasing the amount of resources dedicated to public transport, bicycles, and other alternatives, “we absolutely could accommodate people by getting rid of cars.”

According to Rosalie Singerman Ray, a PhD student at Columbia University studying institutions in transportation planning, breaking car culture has two components. First, politicians and activists must name cars as the problem and come up with feasible solutions to make people less dependent on cars. Second is increasing the capacity of local agencies to enforce the new solutions, such as improving public transport and getting rid of parking spaces, among other proposals.

“That's where we're struggling,” Ray said in an email to Gotham Gazette. “Unenforced, unplanned streets don't work well for anyone,” she said.

Breaking the car culture in the city would not be an easy task even if it was the stated goal. Johnson’s bill outlines concrete steps to make people less reliant on cars, and he tasks DOT with many of the improvements necessary to do so. While DOT is eager to continue to make improvements, it does not currently have the resources to accomplish all the initiatives in the bill, Trottenberg said. DOT is “aggressively growing,” but it would need to “aggressively grow some more” to make all the changes in the bill, she said.

“I think we are a piece of it, but I don’t think it's fair to say that DOT is the sole entity that is going to break the car culture in New York. To break the car culture in New York you need an incredibly robust functioning and expanding mass transit system, you need to build political consensus with players above and beyond this agency,” Trottenberg said.

In an interview earlier this year on the What’s The [Data] Point? podcast from Gotham Gazette and Citizens Budget Commission, Trottenberg said that the MTA, a state-run authority that controls the subways and buses with city representatives on its board, should be in the subway-building game, expanding the network like other cities are doing around the globe.

Many of the initiatives in Johnson’s bill must be implemented by DOT in conjunction with the MTA and community boards, creating bureaucratic speed bumps in the bill’s feasibility.

To implement a bike corral, or curbside bike storage, a private business or individual must petition DOT, which in turn must file an application before the community board, before the corral is voted on. Often these bike corrals will take the place of a parking spot.

“My feeling is that DOT regulates the curb and they should have the ability to say that parking spot for one car is going to be changed now,” activist Doug Gordon said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. Gordon is a co-host of The War on Cars podcast, examining transit issues. Eliminating the process by which the city litigates every single parking spot could make the DOT more efficient and encourage biking, Gordon said.

Gordon, like many transit advocates, including Speaker Johnson, is active on Twitter and posts a lot about mobility around the city. He recently celebrated a new protected bike lane painted along 4th Avenue in Brooklyn. However, building protected bike lanes can be difficult, because they require the approval of a community board, which often boosts the voices of local residents who drive, Gordon said.

Last year, DOT constructed 21.9 miles of new protected bike lanes, falling short of its goal of 30. Johnson’s plan would require the construction of 50 miles of new protected bike lanes a year. The DOT defines protected bike lanes as a lane separated from traffic by vertical delineations or a physical barrier, including parked cars.

Increasing the number of protected bike lanes can have the potential to increase ridership. According to a 2014 report by City Lab, protected bike lanes increase ridership 21 to 171 percent, with about ten percent of new rides drawn from other modes of transportation.

To build so many miles of protected bike lanes, many of the city’s free public parking spots would have to be removed. For example, in its resolution to build a protected bike lane on the east side of Central Park West, Manhattan’s community board 7 eliminated parking on the east side of the avenue, and with it 400 parking spots. The community pushed for the protected bike lane following the death of a 23-year-old cyclist in the current bike lane, which is unprotected.

The DOT estimates that there are 3 million free public parking spots in the city. “We have too much free parking in New York City,” Trottenberg said at the Council hearing. She also agreed with Johnson that there are “too many” cars in the city.

Three million free parking spots is “an astronomical number,” Johnson said. “If you tried to calculate the amount of cubic square footage that is and the amount of people and bike lanes and bus lanes that could fit in that area, you could potentially have a transformative effect on New York City if you started prioritizing breaking the car culture,” he said.

De Blasio has demonstrated a reluctance to remove parking spaces, though he has backed the expansion of CitiBike bike-share, the docks for which often take away a few spots.

“There is a little bit of fear that pervades the development of these plans because there is the sense that if parking is taken there will be community pushback,” Gordon said.

“We all as New Yorkers understand how to maximize the least amount of space for the most amount of good,” Gordon said. “I think we need to extend that very New York point of view to the curbside,” he said.

When the city repurposes parking spots, DOT considers the parking needs of the neighborhood and tries to redesign streets in a way that works for everyone, DOT official Sean Quinn said at the hearing.

Gordon and others want not only parking spaces turned over to other public uses, but also some of the land currently used for driving, such as a lane on the Brooklyn Bridge, which could be given to cyclists, thus alleviating some of the at-times dangerous overcrowding that happens on the pedestrian and bike pathway across the bridge. Gordon and others have also called for pedestrianizing Broadway from Union Square to Times Square, if not beyond, as well as much of downtown Manhattan.

“Making provisions for individuals to be allowed to drive and park wherever and whenever they want makes pretty much everything harder in New York,” Ray of Columbia said in an email to Gotham Gazette.

In London and Paris, both cities that have been cited by Johnson as examples of how to break car culture, the push against car dominance began with parking and public transit investment. Both cities cleared street parking off of major avenues.

London instituted congestion pricing in February 2003, built bus lanes and invested in its bus network, and its bus system boasted a higher ridership than New York’s subway system in 2010. Paris built tramways and bus lanes, putting them on the street to take the place of cars. Paris has since raised the cost of parking on the street, with parking fees higher outside of one’s home neighborhood.

At the same time, both London and Paris kept costs relatively low while they implemented alternatives.

New Yorkers “don't actually know what it looks like to break car culture wallet-first,” Ray said, meaning that New York’s infrastructure costs are often astronomical, and the state is set to institute congestion pricing while investments in the subway and bus systems have not been clearly planned and funded, much less implemented -- though some investments have been made through the emergency Subway Action Plan and initial re-signaling of the 7-line. Still, the MTA must soon perform an authority reorganization while also designing a new five-year capital plan to outline roughly $30-60 billion in planned investments.

Part of Johnson’s master plan includes getting people to rely on cars less by improving the mass transit system, especially buses.

“If the subways and buses are more reliable, if the buses are faster, if there are dedicated bus lanes, if there are more pedestrian spaces, I’m going to rely on something that is cheaper, that is more reliable, that is better for the environment, that is more affordable,” Johnson told Gotham Gazette just after the hearing. There are indeed elements of public transit and space that the city has a great deal of control over, including establishment and enforcement of bus and bike lanes.

Johnson’s plan calls for 30 miles of new bus lanes each year and the implementation of transit signal priority, a method used to coordinate vehicles and traffic signals to reduce the time buses are stopped at traffic lights along a corridor and therefore improve bus travel times, according to DOT.

“We need much better bus and commuter rail service,” Nicole Gelinas, a Manhattan Institute fellow, said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “We need a better bus network to take pressure off the subway as we decrease reliance on cars.”

Improvements to the bus system would come at a time of decreasing ridership, as more and more New Yorkers get around in for-hire vehicle services, like Uber and Lyft. In January 2016, taxis and for-hire vehicles combined to provide 680,000 rides, according to statistics released by the city’s Taxi and Limousine Commission and DOT. Today, they combine to provide over one million daily rides. From 2012 to 2017, bus ridership decreased by 12.75 percent.

To break car culture, the city would have to address the increasing number of New Yorkers who are reliant on taxis and app-based for-hire vehicles. The city recently announced a plan to extend the existing cap on fire-hire vehicle licenses another year and introduced another regulation to limit the amount of time drivers cruise, or drive without a passenger. The state also recently passed a congestion pricing program, which will begin in 2021 and charge a fee for entering Manhattan’s central business district, which will add a cost on top of the other new fee recently assessed to for-hire vehicles.

Johnson said that congestion pricing is another part of breaking the car culture. Congestion pricing “will at least below 60th street reduce the number of cars that come in every day,” he said.

Congestion pricing may also eliminate some effects of pollution, which could have environmental and public health benefits. Breaking the car culture could be beneficial to the health of New Yorkers and the globe. High density of cars has been linked to noise and air pollution problems, so creating an environment with fewer cars would make the area less polluted, Ray said.

“Congestion pricing in NYC can do more than address congestion—it can open the city’s streets to better transportation choices and new economic prospects,” former DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan wrote on Twitter. “Cities need people-friendly mobility options that reclaim streets from the damage caused by cars. Sadik-Khan spearheaded the Times Square pedestrian plaza, and under her leadership in the Bloomberg administration, the city began implementing CitiBike terminals and the transformation of approximately 180 acres of road space into pedestrian and cyclist zones.

Some advocates have called for even more pedestrian plazas and spaces in the city, such as the idea of turning Broadway into a pedestrian-only park between the Times Square pedestrian plaza and Union Square.

Breaking car culture will also require the city to become more accessible, Johnson said. The plan calls for the introduction of accessible pedestrian signals (APS), or devices fixed to pedestrian signal poles to assist the blind or low vision pedestrians crossing the street. The devices emit a sound that tells the pedestrian when to cross.

“Cities that have broken their car culture have more public space to talk and play and eat and breathe, and paradoxically, roads that work better for more people,” Ray said.

Johnson noted that there are some parts of New York City that are “transit deserts,” and people who live in those areas will not give up their cars unless the city provides them with an alternative. Eastern Queens and South Brooklyn both lack significant transit options, for example.

“You’re never going to eradicate cars in New York City. That’s just not possible. But it’s about reprioritizing, giving people better options, making significant investments in things that don’t relate to private automobile use,” Johnson said.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Corey Johnson Wants to ‘Break the Car Culture’ in New York City. What Does That Mean? Sun, 30 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
For the Earth's Sake, Enforce Bus Lanes with Cameras https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8605-climate-change-enforce-bus-lanes-with-cameras https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8605-climate-change-enforce-bus-lanes-with-cameras mta usb wifi

(photo: MTA/Patrick Cashin)


Transit policy is climate policy. In New York, transportation emits 30% of the city’s carbon pollution and 34% of the state’s. Since it’s easier to drive less in a city than in suburban and rural areas, much of that is carbon we can easily spare. When shrinking New York’s carbon footprint, transportation emissions are low-hanging fruit.

Granted, the challenge is stiff. Car registrations in the city are rising, up 9% in the past four years. The city’s own government vehicle fleet has grown 19% in size and 25% in miles traveled in the past five years. City agencies hand out an estimated 150,000 placards that privilege public employees to park their personal cars on our streets, encouraging them to drive rather than ride transit.

Car culture is resilient throughout the city. In many communities, a car is a status symbol. Many immigrants, low-income New Yorkers, and New Yorkers of color drive for a living. Taxi drivers protested the recent enactment of congestion pricing. Even progressives in Greenwich Village and Chelsea objected to shuttle bus service for L train riders displaced by construction.

To their credit, our leaders have made major commitments to transit. Governor Cuomo and the Legislature passed congestion pricing to fund major subway upgrades. Both Mayor de Blasio and the MTA made historic promises and have begun to improve bus service. City Council Speaker Corey Johnson successfully championed reduced transit fares for low-income riders in the city budget and made a public pledge to “break the car culture.” Comptroller Scott Stringer has produced game-changing reports on bus service and commuter rail.

But there’s a lot more to do. Shifting decisively away from cars and toward transit will require major policy change. If done right, it will make the city more equitable, enhance the quality of life for millions of New Yorkers, and help save everyone on the planet from out-of-control climate change.

First, it’s crucial that the governor fully implement congestion pricing. Congestion pricing has the potential to directly cut citywide carbon emissions by nearly one million tons annually. By cutting congestion, congestion pricing will also indirectly cut emissions even further by making it easier for families and businesses to locate or stay in the city rather than leave for more carbon-intensive lifestyles in the suburbs or beyond.

Second, congestion pricing revenue must be dedicated to fixing the subway. Despite recent improvements in performance, our subway system remains in crisis. While jobs, population, and tourism numbers hit record highs, our subways have been losing riders for three years running, a longer decline than any since the fiscal crisis of the 1970s. The system desperately needs modern signals, new subway cars, and elevators that will provide access to New Yorkers with disabilities.

Third, the city and the MTA must deliver on the promise of better bus service in every neighborhood. Today, our buses are the slowest in the nation, mired in traffic, and bogged down with countless stops along convoluted routes. Bus ridership has been falling for over a decade, along with average speeds.

The mayor needs to build out a robust bus lane network in tandem with the MTA’s redesign of each borough’s bus map. Truly turning bus service and ridership around will require prioritizing buses and riders along crowded commercial streets. It will also mean changing the spacing of bus stops so that buses can get up to speed and keep moving, delivering faster and more reliable service. Properly spaced bus stops should be upgraded with amenities like shelters, benches, legible maps, and countdown clocks.

These commitments will take years to be achieved. Meanwhile, there’s one transit policy item on this session’s Albany legislative agenda that can make a real difference, really soon. Assemblymember Nily Rozic and Senator Liz Krueger are sponsoring legislation (A6777/S1925) that would reauthorize and expand the bus lane camera program citywide.

Dedicated lanes are essential to quality bus service but are only as good as they are enforced.

To effectively prioritize bus riders on busy city streets, bus lanes must be kept clear of obstructions. The NYPD has only so many officers and myriad other responsibilities. Enforcement cameras nudge drivers to steer clear and leave bus lanes to bus riders.

Curbing climate change requires a broad range of policy tools. Many of them involve better transit. Before the end of the session this month, the state Legislature and governor have an important opportunity to put bus riders and the climate first. They should take it.

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Danny Pearlstein is Policy and Communications Director of the Riders Alliance. On Twitter @RidersNY.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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For the Earth's Sake, Enforce Bus Lanes with Cameras Sun, 16 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
City Council Hears Speaker’s Bill Requiring ‘Master Plan for City Streets’ https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8590-city-council-to-hear-speaker-s-bill-requiring-master-plan-for-city-streets https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8590-city-council-to-hear-speaker-s-bill-requiring-master-plan-for-city-streets corey jo public

(photo: Emil Cohen/City Council)


[Note: this hearing was indeed held on Wednesday June 12; this article is a preview of the hearing]

On Wednesday, the New York City Council transportation committee will hold a hearing on a bill sponsored by Council Speaker Corey Johnson that would mandate the creation of a five-year “master plan” for city streets with a variety of specifications aimed at making the city more friendly to bikers and pedestrians, and less deferential to cars. If passed and implemented, the legislation would have a major impact on the physical landscape of the city and how New Yorkers, as well as visitors to the city, get around and utilize public space.

The plan, which Johnson first announced during his State of the City speech earlier this year, in which he called for municipal control of subways and buses and for ‘breaking the car culture’ in New York, is widely seen as a response, and complement of sorts, to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero street safety program. It calls for substantial increases in the number of new bike and bus lanes created each year, as well as additional pedestrian plazas, and more.

De Blasio launched Vision Zeroed in his first year as mayor, 2014, with the goal of bringing the number of traffic-related fatalities to zero by 2024. While it has been successful, some, including Johnson, believe de Blasio is not moving quickly enough to make city streets safer and more welcoming to those who get around by bus, bike, and foot.

While the city has seen a significant reduction in traffic-related fatalities since the inception of Vision Zero, there’s been a spike in fatalities so far this year compared to the same period last year. The uptick has prompted intensifying calls for de Blasio to do more for the initiative.

Johnson will preside over Wednesday’s hearing on his bill along with City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee. The committee will also hear a bill from Council Member Carlos Menchaca that would allow bicyclists to obey traffic signs and signals as if they were pedestrians instead of cars.

The speaker’s master plan legislation would require the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) to issue and implement a master plan for the use of streets, sidewalks, and pedestrian spaces every five years.

“The way we plan our streets now makes no sense and New Yorkers pay the price every day, stuck on slow buses or risking their own safety cycling without protected bike lanes,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “That’s why I said in my State of the City speech that I want to completely revolutionize how we share our street space, and that’s what this bill does. This is a roadmap to breaking the car culture in a thoughtful, comprehensive way.”

Representatives from the DOT are expected to testify at the hearing, along with others from transit advocacy groups and members of the public.

“This last few months have been really tough and we – it’s painful because we have had five years of steady decreases in traffic fatalities,” de Blasio said during a May 10 appearance on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. In 2013, the year before de Blasio took office, there were 297 traffic fatalities (among those in cars, on bikes, and on foot) in New York City. That number has fallen virtually each year since to 202 in 2018.

Under de Blasio’s approach to Vision Zero, “projects are too often planned on a one-off basis, leaving the fate of their actual implementation up to the inscrutable push and pull of local politics,” Families for Safe Streets co-founder Amy Cohen said in a Transportation Alternatives press release about Vision Zero. “In each case, the final outcome is too often determined by who yells the loudest, and not by what will save the most lives.”

Families for Safe Streets is an advocacy group of victims of traffic violence and families whose loved ones have been killed or severely injured by aggressive or reckless driving.

“We need to think seriously about how we share space on our streets,” Johnson, who does not own a car himself, said in March. “Cars cannot continue to rule the road.”

Ten cyclists have been killed in crashes so far in 2019, matching the total number for all of 2018. Johnson’s legislation champions cyclist and pedestrian safety, prioritizing their safety over the convenience of cars. It includes provisions to improve public transportation, especially buses, to incentivize its use.

“Giving our streets back to people is good for business, good for the environment, and good for all New Yorkers,” Johnson said in March, referencing his call for more pedestrian plazas, which often shut off some ground previously open to cars.

Over the course of de Blasio’s five-plus years in office, Vision Zero has continued to evolve, including several announcements this year. De Blasio and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a new “Vision Zero action plan” in February to “target the next wave of streets and intersections the City will make safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers,” using crash data to target some of the most dangerous streets and intersections for alterations, including different signal timing to give pedestrians a head start before cars are able to move.

“Over the last four years, DOT’s groundbreaking Borough Pedestrian Safety Plans have enabled us to target our resources where they will save the most lives,” Trottenberg said in the February press release. “In these updated plans, we have used the freshest data to identify new crash-prone corridors and intersections most in need of our full menu of safety interventions.”

More recently, thanks in part to new legislation in Albany, the city announced its plans to add hundreds more speed cameras near schools across the five boroughs. And on Monday, de Blasio and Trottenberg announced the formation of the “Better Buses Advisory Group,” which will help the administration plan and execute the “Better Buses Action Plan” “to increase bus speeds by 25% across the five boroughs by the end of 2020.” The action plan includes 300 more “Transit Signal Priority” intersections, automated camera and NYPD enforcement of bus lanes, improvement of five miles of existing bus lanes per year, installation of 10 to 15 miles of new bus lanes per year, piloting “up to two miles of physically separated bus lanes in 2019,” and working with the MTA on bus network redesigns that are underway.

The Johnson bill would require DOT, which oversees Vision Zero, to achieve specific benchmarks for street redesigns, protected bus lanes, protected bicycle lanes, bicycle parking, pedestrian spaces, commercial loading zones, truck routes, and parking. DOT would be held accountable for the status of the implementation of each benchmark on an annual basis.

“Smart street design saves lives. We need to make our streets safer. We need to break the car culture. When we make our streets safer, we make our streets better. We know this, but we’re moving way too slowly,” Johnson said in March.

Breaking “car culture” does not mean completely stopping people from driving, said Marco Conner, interim executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group in support of the bill. However, “the extent to which our streets are saturated with cars and trucks is not something that we need,” Conner said during an appearance last week on the Max & Murphy podcast. “And so the ideal New York City that I imagine is one where everyone in New York can get around without a car if they have to.”

Mayor de Blasio has not yet expressed approval of Johnson’s plan, instead expressing concerns about some of the bill’s “specifics.” He declined to mention what specifics he found concerning.

“Now we have aggressive plans in our budget to keep changing street designs to make them safer. So I think there’s a lot of agreement on the basics, some of the specifics we have to work through,” de Blasio said on May 10’s Brian Lehrer Show.

“We have a plan out already to aggressively continue to build out bikes lanes, and it’s a very costly plan, but it’s the right thing to do,” de Blasio said during a question and answer session following a press conference on crime statistics. “It also takes time to do these things. So, I think the plan we have now is the right plan.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Transportation declined to provide insights into how the DOT will testify at the hearing, saying the tesimony was still in process.

City Council Member Menchaca’s legislation will also be heard at the hearing. His bill would establish that “bicyclists crossing a roadway at an intersection must follow pedestrian control signals when local law, rule or regulation provides that those signals supersede traffic control signals.” The hearing follows a pilot run by DOT that showed significant reductions in fatalities on some of the city’s most historically dangerous streets.

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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City Council Hears Speaker’s Bill Requiring ‘Master Plan for City Streets’ Tue, 11 Jun 2019 04:00:00 +0000
The Route to Cleaner Air for Communities of Color and Low Income: Electric Buses and Congestion Pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8366-the-route-to-cleaner-air-for-communities-of-color-and-low-income-electric-buses-and-congestion-pricing https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8366-the-route-to-cleaner-air-for-communities-of-color-and-low-income-electric-buses-and-congestion-pricing gov cuomo sign upgrade mta

(photo: governor's office)


Your zip code and how much money you make can determine your health and quality of life in New York City – including the quality of the air you breathe.

Recent data from The New York City Community Air Survey shows that certain neighborhoods have more particulate matter and black carbon than others. It should come as no surprise that many of these areas – like East Harlem, Washington Heights, or the South Bronx – are largely inhabited by people of color or people with lower incomes, who historically bear a disproportionate burden of the effects of environmental pollution.

Poor air quality leads to increased lung disease and asthma, especially for kids and older people. It can result in higher doctor bills and more missed days of work or school, and cut months or even years off of our lives.

The city and the state should do everything possible to improve air quality in pollution hot-spots. Yet, in the neighborhoods where air quality is poorest, MTA New York City Transit buses are also the oldest – and thus most-polluting. The depots where the buses are stored are disproportionately located in these areas, resulting in more idling and frequent in-and-out trip movements, all adding to poorer air quality.

That’s why there is a pressing need to electrify the city’s buses, reducing exhaust and cleaning the air. New York City knows bus electrification is important: the city set a goal for an all-electric bus fleet by 2040 “to improve air quality and reduce greenhouse gas emissions." New electric buses should first be deployed in neighborhoods with the worst air quality.

But there’s still a question of funding the transition to an electric citywide bus fleet. In his draft budget for next state fiscal year, Governor Cuomo focuses on congestion pricing as a key source of capital.

Congestion pricing asks drivers to pay a surcharge when they enter Manhattan south of 60th Street and north of Battery Park. The revenue generated would then be put toward other transportation infrastructure repairs—e.g., our broken mass transit system.

The city’s public transit system is deeply intertwined with New Yorkers’ quality of life. People rely on the buses and trains to get to their jobs, schools, and families in a timely and affordable way. They should be able to do so without dirtying the air in local communities and contributing to the environmental burden they already face. New York needs congestion pricing to begin transitioning the city’s buses to clean, electric vehicles.

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Cecil D. Corbin-Mark is deputy director of WE ACT for Environmental Justice. On Twitter @CecilCorbinMark & @weact4ej.

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The Route to Cleaner Air for Communities of Color and Low Income: Electric Buses and Congestion Pricing Tue, 19 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Johnson Calls for Municipal Control of Subways and Buses, Pledges Congestion Pricing and 'Master Plan for City Streets' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8328-johnson-calls-for-municipal-control-of-subways-and-buses-pledges-congestion-pricing-and-master-plan-for-city-streets https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8328-johnson-calls-for-municipal-control-of-subways-and-buses-pledges-congestion-pricing-and-master-plan-for-city-streets citycouncil r bay

Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled an ambitious proposal for municipal control of the city’s mass transit system on Tuesday at his first State of the City speech at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

“I am not here to be typical,” Johnson, who is considering a run for mayor in 2021, promised early on as he delivered a speech focused on nothing but transit, including a forceful push for replacing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state entity that controls the city’s subways and buses, with a new entity called Big Apple Transit (BAT), under the control of the mayor. While the complex proposal would need approval from state lawmakers and likely faces a challenging path to passage, something Johnson acknowledged, he also outlined various plans and ideas for city transit and use of public space that are under the control of the city.

The speaker, who just began his second year leading the 51-member Council, also revealed that he intends to introduce legislation to require the city produce a “master plan for city streets” in order to improve surface transportation and street safety infrastructure, make the city more hospitable to bikers and pedestrians, and reduce the number of cars on city streets. He also made a number of suggestions to speed buses up that the city can execute, and Johnson also proposed a new deputy mayor position to oversee transportation policy and programs.  

Johnson’s speech was accompanied by the release of a 101-page report titled “Let’s Go” that dives deep into the issues plaguing the city’s mass transit system, the history of the current bureaucratic system that control it, and a soup-to-nuts vision for transforming it over the next few decades.

“This is a ticking time bomb,” Johnson said, bemoaning the decline in subway and bus ridership in the last few years. “If we can’t move people around, New York City can’t function.” In many ways, the city’s mass transit system is the engine of its economy. In October 2017, City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that subway delays cost the city about $389 million every year in lost productivity and wages. Johnson emphasized that point on Tuesday as he criticized recent efforts to improve the MTA as “Band-Aid solutions to mortal wounds.”

Johnson pitched his own bold vision in direct contrast to what he said was insufficient new plans from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, though he did not name them. The two recently released a ten-point plan to “transform and fund the MTA” that includes implementation of a congestion pricing scheme. Johnson said he was presenting his plan because no one was doing “anything real” to save the city’s lifeblood transit network.

Johnson said his proposed new transit agency would be funded through several dedicated streams including local congestion tolls if the state Legislature and governor fail to pass a comprehensive congestion pricing program this year. He indicated he had the votes in the City Council to make it happen. He also called on the state to give the city the authority to raise taxes on corporations that are fully deductible at the federal level.

The BAT would also not suffer from the issues that currently plague the bloated bureaucracy of the MTA, he said. “Right now, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of transit subsidiaries with a 3,000 person headquarters layered on top,” he said of the state authority, run by a board with representatives of several officials, where the governor has a plurality of appointees and names the chair. The BAT, on the other hand, would be leaner, more efficient, and with clear lines of accountability with the mayor on top. “Under municipal control, we will do a full audit of every part of the MTA we take over,” he said.

Municipal control would also allow the city to better control the costs of subway construction, which are exponentially higher than other developed nations with similar transit needs, Johnson said. “Adding a single mile of subway track in New York City costs the same as sending a rover to Mars,” he quipped.

Though the city does not control the subways and buses, Johnson does plan to flex the Council’s authority to mandate improvements to streets and sidewalks through the proposed “master plan,” to be required every five years. Among its top-line mandates would be the creation of 50 miles of protected bike lanes every year with a "fully connected bike network covering the city by 2030"; installing transit signal priority at all of the city’s 325 bus routes by 2030, up from the 12 where it is currently in place; making all intersections with pedestrian signals accessible by 2030; and expanding accessibility for disabled New Yorkers to all 472 subway stations, of which only 118 are currently accessible.

He said the Council will develop a zoning proposal to facilitate those subway accessibility improvements at 300 stations located adjacent to underdeveloped land and offer a “density bonus” to developers for other station improvements.

“Let’s break the car culture. We have been living in Robert Moses’ New York for almost a century, and it is time to move on,” Johnson declared, taking aim at the infamous public official who was responsible for building a transit infrastructure network that favored wealthier car-owning residents and sidelined lower-income New Yorkers who relied on mass transit. Johnson also suggested that the city’s plan to rebuild a mile-and-a-half section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), a Moses legacy item, at a cost of $4 billion was misguided. “That’s almost two Mars rovers,” he joked, going on to say that there has to be a better way that isn’t so car-focused.

Johnson’s speech repeatedly appeared as a rebuke to Cuomo and de Blasio, who have feuded over subway funding for years but recently came together to support a congestion pricing program with few details. Cuomo has repeatedly tried to distance himself from the subway crisis, claiming that he does not control the MTA even though he appoints a plurality of its board members and its senior leadership and the board has never gone against Cuomo’s wishes. Cuomo is also fond of invoking Robert Moses when talking of his own infrastructure record. The mayor, in turn, has tried to wash his hands of the MTA’s troubles by blaming the governor, though de Blasio appoints four MTA board members and the city has more control over the buses than the subways, by virtue of its powers over the streets. De Blasio has taken little interest in reducing congestion and speeding buses, though he announced during his own recent State of the City speech several plans to address the bus crisis facing the city. Johnson’s go further.

And though de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities through street redesigns and other projects has been successful, the mayor continues to face criticism for not going far enough and for being an avid proponent of car culture. Case in point, he rarely rides the subways unless it is to promote a transit-related announcement and he drives 12 miles to the gym.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo's offices were quick to throw cold water on Johnson's announcement. "A City takeover of the subways is a worthy discussion that in a best-case scenario would take years to achieve," de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips said in a statement. "While he appreciates the Speaker’s transit vision and contribution, the Mayor is focused on immediate actions to fix the broken subway system. Our subways are in the middle of a crisis that needs an immediate solution. The Mayor stands with millions of riders depending on action right now. We have four weeks to deliver sustainable revenue sources capable of turning this crisis around."

Dani Lever, a spokesperson for the governor, tweeted, "A few facts -- NYC owns the NYC transit system and can cancel the MTA lease with one year's notice; the City's civil service staffs the system; and the Mayor has total veto over the State and City funded NYCT capital plan." 

Johnson made clear in his speech on Tuesday that his focus on mass transit was more than just about reducing train delays or traffic deaths. “This is a progressive issue. It always has been,” he said, as he spoke of the low-income New Yorkers who are most affected by failing transit and the heavy cost on the environment of the city’s car culture. “We need to change the way we think about big problems,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with statements from spokespeople for Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.

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Johnson Calls for Municipal Control of Subways and Buses, Pledges Congestion Pricing and 'Master Plan for City Streets' Tue, 05 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8099-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-3 bus line

(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)


The first two parts of this series discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline, a plan that worked: the southwest Brooklyn changes, and MTA studies that did not achieve their desired results. Read part 1 and part 2. This third and final part discusses Brooklyn bus route changes needed now and larger conclusions about bus planning that should inform redesigns to come.

Brooklyn Bus Route Changes Needed Now

1. Routes need to be straightened so that a direct north-south bus route serves Maimonides Medical Center.

2. Service on 16th Avenue discontinued in 2010 needs to be restored using better routings serving additional areas so that it does not merely duplicate a nearby route with better service. 

3. Improved east-west access is needed across Bensonhurst and Marine Park and Gerritsen Beach.

4. New shopping centers have been built in Spring Creek and in Canarsie that remain largely inaccessible by public transit. A 20-minute car trip from southern Brooklyn to Spring Creek should not take between 90 minutes and two hours by bus.

5. Service gaps on Empire Boulevard, Clarkson, and Albany Avenue require indirect travel to make simple trips accounting for the huge numbers of cabs outside Kings County Medical Center. 

6. Several new routes are needed to serve JFK Airport for employees as well as visitors. A single route from Bedford Stuyvesant is grossly inadequate and converting it to SBS is not a solution. 

7. Improved access is needed between Sheepshead Bay and the Rockaways, also a 20-minute trip by car, but up to a two-hour trip by bus.

8. The B44 SBS should have a branch to Kingsborough Community College when school is in session, operating non-stop from Avenue X.

9. Routing problems also exist in northern Brooklyn, but to a lesser extent. One example is the service gap caused by the elimination of the B71 on Union Street in 2010; residents and elected officials have been asking for its return in an extended fashion to also serve lower Manhattan, with no response from the MTA.

Most of these changes are described in greater detail on my website. All the proposals there with the exception of the B83 extension were rejected by the MTA in 2004, but are now under reconsideration. The fare also needs to be addressed to completely eliminate double fares by changing to a time-based fare instead of vehicle-based fare as described here.

None of these improvements will happen with the MTA's bus redesign plan unless the MTA starts thinking about its customers as people, not merely regarding them as numbers, and is less focused on operating costs.

Conclusions

1. The MTA must care more about its passengers and stop penny pinching. Service for the recent Staten Island express bus redesign, which went into effect this past summer was inadequately planned, leaving hundreds of riders stranded without enough buses and has been called a disaster by commuters. The MTA, in its concern to keep operating costs low, underestimated demand in terms of scheduling and spans of service. It has been tweaking the new system to satisfy numerous complaints. 

2. Reducing operating costs by eliminating bus stops and so-called duplicative routes must not be the highest priority. Nearby routes are often serving different destinations and are not duplicative at all, but only appear so if your analysis is limited to studying a bus route map.

3. Efficiency must be increased, for example, by better integration of New York City Transit and the MTA Bus Company so that each company can use each other’s depots reducing the number of deadhead or non-revenue service miles and centralizing administrative functions such as planning and scheduling. Presently, the MTA regards non-revenue miles as more productive than miles where passengers are carried, rather than as wasted mileage. That is because service levels are planned assuming all buses run on time; labor cost savings can be achieved when partial trips to and from the depot are made without passengers and in less time. Wasteful scheduling practices whereby buses can travel up to ten miles while not in service must end.

4. Increased efficiency must not be at the expense of the passenger, like when eliminating bus stops on a massive scale. Bus stops should only be removed on a case-by-case basis, not by increasing the walking standard so that it will be necessary for some to walk up to three-quarters of a mile to or from a bus.

5. Planning should not be done by only considering able-bodied riders on good weather days. Increased walking to and from bus stops is especially burdensome on the elderly, handicapped, those with temporary health issues, and those with packages or strollers whose needs must also be considered.

6. Passengers want buses that are not overcrowded so they can board the first bus that arrives. They also want buses to arrive on time. Increasing reliability was passengers’ number one concern 40 years ago, as it is today.

7. Cooperation is needed among all relevant agencies. The MTA cannot continue to claim reliability is solely caused by traffic conditions, which is out of its control because traffic is the responsibility of DOT. What was the point of putting DOT’s commissioner on the MTA board if the two agencies will not work cooperatively? The city claimed it was not involved in the MTA’s recent decision to halt the introduction of new SBS routes until 2021. As long as the NYPD, charged with keeping bus lanes clear, continues to block the lanes with its own vehicles, and as long as the MTA bus schedules do not reflect realistic running times, and each agency blames another one, with little cooperation, reliability will not improve.

8. The emphasis must be on reducing total trip time for passengers, which is a greater passenger concern than increasing bus speeds or time spent on the bus; impacts on other traffic should not be ignored. Connections must be made easier, and routes straightened where possible.

9. Investments must be made in additional service within budget constraints, to reduce service gaps and improve passenger convenience. Shuttle routes at 30-minute scheduled intervals should not be the wave of the future in developing areas.

10. Service planning should not be designed only for existing customers. Total demand including those who use services such as Uber because the routing system is inconvenient and unreliable must be considered. If the MTA continues to assume that increased service will not result in increased ridership and revenue, and that only operating costs matter, ridership will continue to decline. 

After 40 years, it is time to reflect on those 1978 southwest Brooklyn bus route changes, so the same type of successful changes that converted low-usage routes into highly-patronized routes can be duplicated. Simply providing straighter wider-spaced bus routes with fewer stops with little concern for serving destinations that are presently difficult to reach will not reverse the decline in bus ridership. Byford claims the bus route redesign will be customer driven. Let's hold him to his word. “Community consultation” does not mean that the community is merely informed of MTA changes they may not want.

This is part 3 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 and part 2.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 3) Mon, 26 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000
Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 2) https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8096-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-two https://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8096-designing-bus-routes-to-attract-passengers-and-reverse-declining-ridership-part-two department trans

(photo via NYC Department of Transportation)


This is the second part of a 3-part series. Part 1 discussed the causes for bus ridership decline, the Fast Forward Plan as it relates to buses and why its focus needs to be changed to reverse this decline. In this part: measures that have worked in the past.

The Southwest Brooklyn Changes of 1978
No other group of bus route improvements were that comprehensive. The 1978 changes also differed from others in that they were not initiated by the MTA, but by the New York City Department of City Planning (DCP). It was the only time another agency suggested bus route changes to the MTA; all other route changes originated in-house. I authored the DCP route changes and headed the study, which took four years due to the MTA throwing up roadblocks. First, MTA reps suggested we expand the study’s scope; then they claimed the scope was too large, making the changes infeasible. 

In the end, about 25 percent of the proposals became reality after a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council included a provision requiring the MTA to take actions in southern Brooklyn to alter bus routes to improve air quality in Manhattan per the 1970 Clean Air Act. 

DCP met with community boards before and during the study to solicit bus problems and to describe both the positives and negatives of the proposal. That approach resulted in approval by three boards with the other three boards, which were least-affected, taking a neutral position. No board objected.

By contrast, all presentations of MTA studies provide limited facts, omit the negatives, and community recommendations are only considered when massive numbers support or oppose a change. That results in opposition to all MTA bus changes. The southwest Brooklyn changes went virtually unnoticed by the media because the last citywide newspaper strike occurred in the autumn of 1978.

What the Southwest Brooklyn Changes Did Not Accomplish
As complex and successful as it was, three-quarters of the proposal was rejected. It also recommended the meandering B16 serving Fort Hamilton Parkway and 13th Avenue be split into two direct routes along each of those streets to better serve Maimonides Medical Center and make bus transferring more direct. This important traffic generator has only one east-west bus route serving it and an elevated line over a quarter-mile away. The B16 would have passed directly in front of the hospital, greatly improving accessibility.

Outdated bus routes are a problem throughout the city.

Some routes were never properly designed when they were created. According to The New York Times, when the U shaped B21 was created in 1946 (then named the 21) from the combination of two other routes, there was a protest outside Coney Island Hospital that the route did not meet the needs of the community. Yet it remained in place for over 30 years until it was discontinued as part of the 1978 southwest Brooklyn changes.

Comparison with MTA-Led Studies
Unwillingness to compromise has characterized several MTA bus studies, such as the northeast Bronx study circa 1993 that resulted in no route changes. A Staten Island study in the early 1980s resulted in only two route changes and an early 1980s Brooklyn study and early 1990s study resulted in no changes at all. That is why the 1978 study stands out for its accomplishments.

It proved that comprehensive studies can work, something the MTA refuted, because its studies failed, until a few years ago when it undertook a northeastern Queens bus study at the insistence of local elected officials. Recent support of comprehensive studies by the Bus Turnaround Coalition also led the MTA to rethink its piecemeal rerouting approach. 

The DCP southwest Brooklyn study cost only $250,000. The MTA spent well over $20 million on its bus route studies and has little to show for them. Only a Bronx study in the mid-1980s and the northeast Queens study resulted in a few meaningful bus route changes. The MTA also mixes good and bad ideas in its plans with too much of a focus on reducing operating costs and too little emphasis on improving service.

Examples are a service extension in Brooklyn around 2001 to the Gateway shopping center, which was combined with a route cutback in Ridgewood in order to save a single bus. Similarly, an improvement combining service on the two portions of Ralph Avenue also was coupled with a cutback in service on St. John's Place to keep costs neutral. That created a new service gap and reduced accessibility. The approach to mix good with bad ensures opposition to MTA plans.

Unwillingness to invest in providing additional bus miles to attract new patronage has partially been the reason for ridership declines. The MTA has long-insisted that bus route changes be cost neutral with the exception of the SBS program. In recent years, service in developing neighborhoods has been addressed by the creation of shuttle routes or extensions operating every 30 minutes without consideration of the rest of the bus system; those routes have not performed well. A B67 extension caused additional routing problems by terminating a few blocks from a major transportation terminal, hindering transferring, also to save a single bus. 

In other words, if you make sensible proposals that do not needlessly hurt communities and are honest with them by telling them the entire story — the positives as well as the negatives, as DCP did — they will support your plan. Conflicting and partial information, refusing to compromise as in the northeast Bronx study, and refusing to respond to questions, as with the SBS program, will result in opposition.

This is part 2 of a 3-part series. Read part 1 here. The final part discusses routing changes that are still needed in Brooklyn and what needs to be changed in the Fast Forward plan.

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Allan Rosen is former Director of Bus Planning, MTA NYC Transit. On Twitter @BrooklynBus.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Designing Bus Routes to Attract Passengers and Reverse Declining Ridership (Part 2) Sun, 25 Nov 2018 05:00:00 +0000