Miracles Are for Movies: No World-Class Bus Service for 34th Street

Image: NYCDOT

Three years ago, when Streetsblog first wrote up NYC DOT’s proposal for a transitway and pedestrian plaza on 34th Street, we called it a “transit miracle.” For this story, however, there will be no Hollywood ending.

The city will undoubtedly tout the latest design, expected to be unveiled today, as an improvement for pedestrians and bus riders — and rightly so, in all probability. But the bustling pedestrian plazas that have been such a success on Broadway, most notably in Times Square, won’t be replicated on 34th Street. More important, with physically separated bus lanes also off the table, transit users will continue to jockey for space with taxis, trucks and private cars.

New Yorkers will again be left waiting for world-class bus service. While cities around the globe are prioritizing people over cars by setting aside separated lanes exclusively for bus riders — who far outnumber car drivers on 34th Street — New York’s potential entrée into the world of 21st century bus transit fell victim to a small number of critics whose primary interest is maintaining drive-up access to their front doors. Paris, Bogotá, Johannesburg, and Guangzhou can do it, but so far, not New York.

Adding insult to injury, the media chorus is already spinning the severely stripped-down plan as one that will put the “squeeze” on drivers.

While the new 34th Street will most likely be an improvement, all indications point to a lost opportunity. Auto traffic will continue to dictate how space is allocated on one of New York’s most iconic thoroughfares, a sad statement reflecting the lack of will to enact changes that bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of New Yorkers.