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Meetup East Side
Meetup West Side

Some Quick Thoughts on Bus Rapid Transit

SBS Route Map

Last night I attended the Community Board 6 Transportation Committee meeting to support DOT’s newly updated plan for Select Bus Service in the district. Thanks to a hard-fought letter writing and advocacy campaign by the TA East Side Volunteer Committee (on which Upper Green Side proudly sits), DOT is now planning to implement a buffered Class 2 buffered cycle lane from approximately 49th-59th Streets (dubbed Design D), closing the only remaining non-protected gap up 1st Ave. 2nd Avenue remains a bigger issue as large swaths of un-protected, Class 3 shared lanes are being planned for much of the route from 42nd well into the 60s due to construction on the Second Avenue Subway and traffic constraints. A safe route south on the East Side is desperately needed as long as the East River Greenway continues to exist in its unfinished and paltry state. But alas, I digress…

Looking south from 59th along the East River

I attended last night’s CB6 meeting thinking that the new design would be discussed and ultimately voted on by the committee, but surprisingly that was not to be. I’m not going to go into detail about the process of the meeting here but do check out @BicycleOnly’s tweets from last night to get a sense of the frustration that went down.

UPDATE: Streetsblog has a new post up that sheds some light into the arcane nature of the meeting.

DOT did give a presentation however on the new plans for the 34th Street Transitway. Planning remains in the early stages but that didn’t stop the community from coming out in full force to share their thoughts, none of which were all too positive. Save for maybe one comment from an elderly gentleman who reminisced about a long-gone Nedick’s that once stood on the corner of 34th and Broadway in the “good old days.”

34th Street Transitway

To borrow a phrase from one of my favorite hip-hop groups: “the stakes is high.” These projects are DOT’s first foray into BRT on the island of Manhattan. True, they were able to get it done in the Bronx, but Manhattan is a bigger stage. It’s the world stage. The world looks to us to see what we’re doing on our streets. Just take Times Square for example.  Or wait, is it the other way around at this point? No matter. Hundreds of thousands of people City wide will be affected by these new improvements – transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists as well as motorists. It is immensely important to ensure that the new buffered cycle lanes in Design D come to fruition because of the current deficiencies and gap on the East River Greenway. Until we have a safe, off-street and direct cycle link up and down the east side of the island, protected lanes on streets are the next best thing. The redesign of the these wide, fast and unsafe corridors will make them more livable and complete for all users. Traffic will be calmer, pedestrians will be safer and cyclists will be given the protection and priority they deserve as equal transportation users. Furthermore, we must get the best possible design for SBS on 1st and 2nd Ave because of the uncertainty associated with funding for a full length 2nd Ave Subway. Last I heard, funding to complete the line south to the Financial District has yet to be guaranteed, if it ever will be. Implementing SBS now will help fill the void, but it shouldn’t be the end of the story. Our elected officials must continue to fight for the full buildout of the 2nd Ave Subway for it to truly be meaningful and worthy of the nearly 100 years it has taken to accomplish.

34th Street may be even more important because of the somewhat controversial concept of taking away moving traffic lanes and curb-access for 24hr fully protected bus lanes (something I believe is necessary on 1st/2nd but that’s another story…). The M34 is notoriously slow. Pokey slow. The 34th Street Transitway would truly connect the neighborhoods and people on opposite ends of the island while providing a dedicated and (much more) efficient cross-town route for the thousands of commuters who use the corridor everyday. DOT is smart to “jump the gun” and start planning for the developments that will be coming on the West Side Railyards and former ConEd site off 1st (if Solow ever gets his act together). As the City continues to grow thousands (maybe millions) of people will be added to the already choked transportation system.

You can’t blame DOT for trying to thing ahead.