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Eyes on the Street: Red Paint for “Queue-Jump” Bus Lanes on the M86

A new bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

A “queue-jump” bus lane next to the right-turn lane keeps buses from getting stuck at the back of the line as they exit the 86th Street Transverse at Fifth Avenue. Photo: Stephen Miller

Select Bus Service on 86th Street in Manhattan won’t be getting full bus-only lanes, but riders will benefit from short bus lanes at busy intersections. DOT has added two “queue-jump” lanes where 86th Street and 84th Street meet Fifth Avenue, to keep buses from getting stuck behind traffic waiting at lights.

The most important component of the M86 SBS upgrade is off-board fare collection. The sidewalk fare machines have been installed, but are not yet turned on for passengers.

When the upgraded service launches, the SBS vehicles will also receive flashing blue destination signs so riders can easily distinguish them from local buses. The new signs have begun rolling out on the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues.

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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. “Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake,” said Ken Bandes, Ella’s father.

That’s when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

“What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators,” said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. “The new route remedies this.”

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn’t have any problems with the change — until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties,” said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with “about seven” of his neighbors. “We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes.”

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. “When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away,” he said. “We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board.”

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Andrew Cuomo Is Failing at One of His Most Basic Tasks

Andrew Cuomo in his natural habitat.

In 1981, then-MTA Chair Richard Ravitch wrote to Governor Hugh Carey, pleading for action “to meet the increasingly desperate situation of public transit in New York.” Carey responded by moving a suite of measures through Albany that led to the MTA’s first five-year capital program. Investments made through the capital program brought the transit system back from the brink, leading to vast improvements in reliability and convenience, and the city flourished.

The problems the transit system faces today are urgent in a different way. Having absorbed nearly all the growth in travel as New York City added a million residents in about 20 years, it is bursting at the seams. Weekday subway delays related to overcrowding rose 65 percent this April compared to last April, and weekend delays are up 141 percent, the Daily News reports.

Reliable transit service matters to New Yorkers of every economic class. Without it, New York cannot grow. Other than the occasional vanity rail project and withering remark about the agency’s “bloated” capital program, Cuomo doesn’t seem to care.

Now should be the time when the governor steps in with a plan to make transit service more frequent and predictable. The MTA capital program has to be renewed, and it’s the end of the session in Albany. If not now, when?

But on Cuomo’s agenda, ensuring that New Yorkers have access to a transit system with well-maintained track, modern signals, and reliable service ranks somewhere below catching two violent felons and upstaging Bill de Blasio on housing policy.

Since Carey and Ravitch ushered in the first MTA capital program, we have 34 years of proof on the ground that the health of the transit system underpins the health of New York City. And it’s deteriorating on Cuomo’s watch.

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TWU Demands to Be Allowed to Kill People Who Have the Right of Way

The Transport Workers Union is making a great case for why the Right of Way Law should apply to all drivers.

The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists with the right of way. As part of its campaign to secure a special exemption for bus drivers, TWU Local 100 launched a work slowdown on 181st Street in Washington Heights this morning. From 7 a.m. to 9 a.m., according to the Post, drivers were instructed not to enter crosswalks if pedestrians were present and to come to a complete stop if people were crossing.

The implication: Under normal conditions, maiming and killing pedestrians is the inevitable cost of operating buses.

In a perfect illustration of its disregard for people’s right to cross the street safely, TWU tweeted a photo this morning of a bus operator waiting to turn left as a woman in the crosswalk checked her phone. “Bus waits to take a left turn as oblivious pedestrian crosses intersection,” the union tweeted. The woman had the light — and the right of way.

The union was targeting City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, who represents the area. Rodriguez himself would not comment for this story, but his spokesperson, Lucas Acosta, said he is undecided on the bus driver exemption. “The council member is exploring all of the legislation regarding the Right of Way Law and has yet to come out in support or opposition,” Acosta said. “He is reviewing the MTA regulations.”

Update 5:43 p.m.: City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez says he opposes amending the Right of Way Law to exempt bus drivers.

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MTA Finds Replacement for Flashing Lights on Select Bus Service

When Select Bus Service launched in 2008, the front of each bus featured two flashing blue lights to help passengers distinguish between SBS and local buses. Years after Staten Island lawmakers exploited a legal technicality, forcing the MTA to shut the lights off, the agency has figured out a solution.

With flashing blue lights no longer an option, the MTA is changing the destination displays at the top of each Select Bus Service vehicle. Photo: Brad Aaron

The lights are important because they help people determine whether an approaching bus is an SBS vehicle, which riders have to pay for before boarding, or if it’s a local bus with on-board fare payment. With no way to distinguish between the two, passengers take longer to board and bus trips get slowed down.

Later this summer, the MTA will change the front-facing destination displays on SBS buses to distinguish them from local buses. The new signs will likely use different colors than the MTA’s default orange or yellow signs, and they may also flash to be more visible to riders at bus stops.

The first route to receive the new lights will be the M15 SBS on First and Second avenues, according to minutes from the Manhattan Community Board 6 transportation committee [PDF]. CB 6 has been leading the charge to get the flashing SBS lights restored. The MTA will make a formal announcement about the change soon, said agency spokesperson Kevin Ortiz.

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Lawmakers Beg Cuomo to Show Some Leadership on MTA Capital Plan Gap

As the end approaches for the Albany legislative session, things are looking bleak for New York City transit riders. With no action from Governor Cuomo to close the $14 billion gap in the MTA capital program, the burden will end up falling on straphangers in the form of greater debt and higher fares.

The man in charge of the MTA has very little to say about its funding gap. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA on Flickr

The man in charge of the MTA has shown no leadership on closing the gap in the MTA capital plan. Photo: Marc A. Hermann for MTA/Flickr

A group of 25 Assembly members and 10 state senators, led by Assembly Member James Brennan, sent a plea for help to Cuomo and legislative leaders yesterday [PDF]:

Our transit agencies have experienced a decrease in federal, state, and local monies for far too long. If new sources of funding are not identified soon, agencies will be forced to raise fares and tolls or reduce service to pay for much-needed infrastructure needs — taking more money from the pockets of millions of daily riders, many of whom have no other transportation options. Viable funding options exist to support these initiatives, and the time is now to take action.

“The time is running out in this legislative session to reach consensus on how to make this happen,” Brennan said in a press release. “I hope that our Governor will help us find a solution.”

The solution staring Cuomo in the face is the congestion-busting Move NY toll reform plan. This time around, advocates recruited new allies to support an overhaul of NYC’s dysfunctional toll system, but the governor never showed any interest.

Without leadership from Cuomo, the person ultimately in charge of the MTA, there’s not much incentive for anyone else to make a move.

The likely scenario: super-sized fare hikes in a few years. When that happens, just remember that when the opportunity was there to do some good for transit riders, Cuomo did nothing.

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It Doesn’t Have to Be This Way

Broadway, New York, NY. Photo: Clarence Eckerson

Quick thought experiment…

Imagine for a moment that New York City has a toll system where there are no free rides. No reason for drivers to toll shop, clogging up the routes to free bridges. There is, effectively, a uniform fare for every car trip into the incredibly crowded center of town, revenue from which is plowed into the transit system.

Now imagine scrambling the tolls so some crossings are free and others are not, bringing about all this horrible stuff:

  • Massive traffic jams every morning and evening in some of the city’s most densely-populated neighborhoods
  • Heavy trucks barreling through neighborhood streets, killing several people every year, to avoid paying the one-way toll on the Verrazano
  • Severe and immediate slowdowns on dozens of bus lines, with hundreds of thousands of passengers losing time stewing in traffic
  • Transit fares backed by tens of billions of dollars in debt, guaranteeing future fare hikes and constraining the capacity to operate more service
  • Pressure to design streets to handle peak-hour car volumes, to the detriment of safe walking and biking

No governor in his right mind would choose to switch to this completely messed up arrangement.

End of thought experiment, back to reality: It looks like Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature are not going to plug the gap in the MTA capital plan, and by extension, they’re going to condemn New York to at least a few more years of epic traffic dysfunction.

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Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.

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Whose Job Is It to Fix the MTA? 3 Reasons to Point Your Finger at Cuomo

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Governor Cuomo on a rare subway ride with his appointee, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast. Photo: Marc A. Hermann MTA/New York City Transit via Flickr CC license 2.0

Comptroller Scott Stringer came out with a big report yesterday about how New York City contributes more to the MTA than you might think. Add up all the fares, tolls, dedicated taxes, and public funding that originate from the city, and it comes out to $10.1 billion per year.

With Governor Cuomo and Mayor de Blasio tussling over who should pony up and cover the massive hole in the MTA’s five-year capital plan, the Stringer report was taken to be a news cycle win for team de Blasio. The thing is, there are much better reasons to point your finger at Cuomo instead of the mayor.

The share of MTA revenue coming from NYC is actually about what you would expect, since, as Stringer’s report also points out, the MTA spends $9.86 billion annually on services and infrastructure benefitting New York City residents. There’s still about $270 million that flows from city sources to the commuter railroads serving the suburbs — and that’s an imbalance that should get fixed — but in general, the MTA budget isn’t broken because New York City pays more than its fair share.

It’s broken because there’s a huge hole in the capital program and the one person who can really do something about it — Cuomo — is sitting on his hands. (If the core problem was too much revenue coming from NYC, then the Move NY toll reform plan wouldn’t be much of a fix, since most of the revenue would come from New York City drivers. But Move NY is, of course, a stupendous improvement over the status quo, because it attacks the capital plan deficit while unclogging the city’s crippling traffic jams and speeding up buses.)

So yeah, lay the blame for MTA rot on Cuomo. But blame him for the right reasons…

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We’re Screwed

Promoted from my Twitter feed.

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