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Bus Lanes and Faster Boarding Come to Flushing and Jamaica

Sunday marked the first day of service for Q44 Select Bus Service linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the southeast Bronx, so I headed over to Sutphin Boulevard and Main Street during the p.m. rush yesterday to check it out.

Photo: David Meyer

The new bus lane on Main Street in Flushing. Photo: David Meyer

The Q44 SBS features the standard package of improvements that DOT and the MTA have employed to cut travel times on several other routes since 2008 — off-board fare payment, dedicated bus lanes, and priority for buses at traffic signals. State legislation enacted this year will enable camera enforcement of the bus lanes. The bus lanes don’t cover the whole route, since eastern Queens pols threw a fit about them in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills, but they do enable riders to bypass traffic on the most congested sections in Flushing and Jamaica.

Bus riders make more than 28,000 daily trips on the Q44. It’s the first bus route in Queens to be upgraded to SBS that doesn’t serve LaGuardia.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people were still getting used to the new fare payment system yesterday. Whereas riders on the old Q44 paid one-by-one entering the bus, the new system allows them to do so before they get on and board at any door, speeding the process significantly.

DOT and MTA reps standing by each station to guide riders through it said people are settling into the new and improved Q44. “Most of the people, after they use it a few times, they understand the system,” said DOT’s Artenio Angeles, who was assisting passengers at a stop on Main Street.

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Rukhsana Khan, 41, Third Pedestrian Killed by MTA Bus Driver in November

MTA bus drivers killed three people walking in November. The most recent victim was Rukhsana Khan, a 41-year-old mother of six. Image: News 12

MTA bus drivers killed three people walking in November. The most recent victim was Rukhsana Khan, a 41-year-old mother of six, struck on Thanksgiving eve. Image: News 12

New York City motorists killed three people walking over the holiday break.

At around 6 p.m. last Wednesday, November 25, an MTA express bus driver hit 41-year-old Rukhsana Khan on Ocean Avenue between Avenue J and Avenue K.

Rukhsana Khan. Photo via Daily News

Rukhsana Khan. Photo via Daily News

From the Daily News:

“The lady was in the middle of the street crossing,” said William Bizaldi, 64, who later discovered he had lived in the same building with the victim. “I heard like a boom and she looked like a plastic doll when she got hit.”

Albert Britton, 45, was onboard the bus at the time, and said the impact sounded like the bus “hitting a pothole.”

Khan, who had six children, was pronounced dead at New York Community Hospital.

Ocean Avenue is a wide, flat street, with four lanes for motor vehicle through-traffic at the location where Khan was struck. Video of the crash published by News 12 shows the bus driver traveling at a high rate of speed at the moment of impact. Video and photos taken at the scene showed that the bus was damaged on the front driver’s side.

In a second report, the Daily News spoke with people who said the bus driver was speeding, and that reckless driving is common on Ocean Avenue.

Neighbors implored the city to crack down on fast drivers. Witnesses said the bus was speeding, and urged officials to install speed bumps near the site.

“This area right here, they come speeding, 60 or 65,” said Wanda Bizaldi, 52, a neighbor. “Whether she was right or wrong, that’s too fast. It’s a shame that she died right here in front of the building.”

Drivers have injured dozens of people on Ocean Avenue this year, according to DOT crash data. The 70th Precinct, where the crash occurred, issues an average of between one and two speeding tickets a day.

NYPD filed no charges against the bus driver who killed Rukhsana Khan. MTA bus drivers have killed five pedestrians and one cyclist in 2015, including three pedestrians in November, according to crash data tracked by Streetsblog.

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Trucker Who Killed Woman Admits Negligence, NYPD Still Blames Victim

stopped_truck

Footage from the scene shows Floria Burton walking around a stopped truck blocking an unmarked crosswalk before the driver accelerated and ran her over. Still via Daily News

Update: The Daily News identified the Queens hit-and-run victim as Agalia Gounaris, 84, of Flushing. Police said the bus was located in Connecticut, en route to a casino, and that by that time evidence was lost due to rain. The driver was being questioned, the News reported.

Motorists took the lives of two people walking yesterday, bringing to eight the number of pedestrians killed by New York City drivers in the last week.

Floria Burton, 55, known locally as “Ms. Pat,” was pushing a laundry cart across Seneca Avenue at Bryant Avenue in Hunts Point at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when a dump truck driver ran her over.

There are no traffic signals at Seneca and Bryant avenues. Video published by the Daily News shows Burton approach the corner and pause before walking around the front of the truck, which appears to be blocking an unmarked crosswalk. When she is directly in front of the truck, the driver accelerates into her.

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Burton’s friend Maritza DeJesus, who saw what happened, spoke with the News:

“He backed up and went over her again,” she said. Burton was alive, but fading fast, DeJesus said, tears streaming down her face.

“I was talking to her. I was saying, ‘Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on!’ When she looked at me she didn’t even recognize me. She was already gone.”

Despite video evidence indicating otherwise, unnamed police sources gave the impression that an oblivious Burton stepped into the driver’s path as the truck approached. In a story with the headline “Woman talking on cell phone killed by dump truck,” the Post reported that Burton was “chatting on her cell phone when she was struck.”

“Witnesses said she was on the phone and did not see the truck coming when she was hit, according to police,” reported DNAinfo, which posted video that clearly indicates Burton was hit as she tried to walk around the stopped truck.

It is not clear from the video if Burton was talking on a phone, but she wasn’t holding one to her head. Meanwhile, NYPD filed no charges despite the driver’s admission that he wasn’t paying attention when he hit Burton. From the DNAinfo story:

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MTA Bus Drivers Killed Two People With the Right-of-Way This Week

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The intersection where a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed 59-year-old Leila Enukasvili Sunday morning. Image via Google Maps

An MTA bus driver making a left turn struck and killed a woman crossing a Queens street Sunday morning. The victim, Leila Enukasvili, 59, was in the crosswalk and likely had the right of way at the time she was struck, based on available information.

The investigation is ongoing and charges have not been filed “as of yet,” according to NYPD’s public information office (DCPI). (Another NYPD spokesperson, however, told Gothamist, “Pursuant to the investigation, there were no charges applied to the driver.”)

The driver of a Q23 bus turning left from northbound 71st Avenue to westbound Kessel Street struck Enukasvili as she crossed Kessel from north to south, said DCPI. When officers from the 112th Precinct responded to the scene at 7:40 a.m., Enukasvili was lying on the ground with head trauma. She died later that day at Jamaica Hospital.

Enukasvili was the first of two women struck and killed by turning MTA bus drivers in the span of three days. On Tuesday, Paul Roper drove an out-of-service bus into 70-year-old Carol Bell in an unmarked crosswalk, killing her, and left the scene. Roper is facing a felony hit-and-run charge, as well as charges for careless driving and failure to yield.

In 2014, eight MTA bus drivers hit and killed pedestrians with the right-of-way. Some of these collisions led to misdemeanor charges under the city’s new Right of Way Law, sparking a campaign by TWU Local 100 to exempt bus drivers. While the TWU was agitating against the law by telling bus drivers to wait until crosswalks were clear before proceeding with turns, no one in New York City lost their life to an MTA bus operator who failed to yield.

In September, City Hall reached an agreement with TWU over the Right of Way Law. The text of the settlement clarified the law’s intent without changing it, but the union took it to mean that its drivers had been wrongly charged in the past.

The two fatal failure-to-yield crashes this week involving MTA bus drivers were the first of 2015 and the first since the settlement. So far, only the driver who fled the scene is facing any consequences for taking someone’s life.

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Joe Addabbo Tells Voters to Fight Bus Lanes on Street Where He Drives Daily

The overhaul of Woodhaven Boulevard in southeast Queens promises to make buses faster and more reliable while preventing injuries and deaths on one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Naturally, State Senator Joseph Addabbo is mobilizing constituents to oppose the project and keep Woodhaven the way it is.

Joe Addabbo, Jr.

Addabbo has been agitating against the project most of the year, writing in the Queens Chronicle this April that “[r]ush-hour traffic would suffer significantly and, as someone who sits on that roadway every day during those times, I shudder to think it could get worse.”

In an email to constituents yesterday, Addabbo rattled off the typical litany of horrors you hear any time the city proposes repurposing street space from cars to other modes of travel: intolerable congestion, traffic diverted to other streets, plummeting sales for local business, and, somehow, even more danger for people on foot.

Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard have such a high rate of traffic injuries and fatalities because the current design is geared only toward moving as many cars as possible. On some stretches, the street is wider than 150 feet. As a result, speeding is rampant and people get hurt on a daily basis. From July 2012 to December 2014, eight people were killed in crashes along the proposed BRT route, and 1,432 were injured, according to city stats compiled by Transportation Alternatives.

The Woodhaven BRT design concept calls for pedestrian islands to shorten crossing distances. The reduction in general traffic lanes and left turns to make room for dedicated bus lanes, spun as a negative by Addabbo, is expected to yield substantial safety benefits, as fewer drivers weave dangerously across lanes and try to shoot through gaps in oncoming traffic to turn left.

For the 30,000 passengers who ride the bus on Woodhaven and Cross Bay daily, trips are projected to get 25 to 35 percent faster, according to DOT and the MTA. Prior experience with SBS projects suggests this will be good for local businesses. On Fordham Road in the Bronx, bus ridership increased 10 percent and retail sales shot up 71 percent after the implementation of SBS.

In opposing the Woodhaven project, Addabbo is bucking the political consensus on the City Council. Earlier this year, seven council members called on DOT and the MTA to consider “full-featured BRT” on Woodhaven and Cross Bay. Among the signatories was Eric Ulrich, who holds the council seat that Addabbo vacated.

DOT and the MTA have been hosting workshops about the project since last year and will be launching a fresh round of public meetings this fall. Construction is currently scheduled to begin in 2017.

Here’s the full message from Addabbo’s office telling his constituents to oppose the project:

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NYPD: “No Criminality” When MTA Bus Driver Kills Senior and Leaves Scene

An MTA bus driver killed a senior at a Brooklyn intersection. The red arrow represents the approximate path of the bus, and the white arrow the approximate path of the victim, according to NYPD’s account of the crash. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver killed a senior at a Brooklyn intersection. The red arrow represents the approximate path of the bus, and the white arrow the approximate path of the victim, according to NYPD’s account of the crash. Image: Google Maps

Update: Bus driver Paul Roper was charged with felony leaving the scene, failure to yield, and careless driving, according to NY1.

An MTA bus driver struck and killed a senior with a walker at a Brooklyn intersection and left the scene this morning. Though it was a hit-and-run crash and it appears likely the victim had the right of way, NYPD declared “no criminality” before investigators even located the driver.

According to reports and photos of the scene, the 70-year-old victim was crossing Fulton Street at Sackman Street south to north in or near an unmarked crosswalk, and the driver, traveling south on Sackman, turned east — left — onto Fulton, striking her with the rear wheels of the bus.

“(The bus driver) never stopped, just was just going,” witness Ramon Garcia told the Daily News. “He never realized what had happened. It’s a big machine. I guess you don’t feel something like that.”

The victim died at the scene. Her name has yet to be released. The woman lived in a nearby shelter and went by the nickname “Freckles,” according to DNAinfo. Update: The Times identified the victim as Carol Bell.

DNAinfo reported that police found the bus, which was out of service, at the East New York Bus Depot a short distance away. The Post said the driver was being questioned. Witnesses told DNAinfo the bus driver “stopped briefly and then continued driving.” To secure a conviction for leaving the scene, New York State law requires prosecutors to prove a driver knew or had reason to know a collision occurred.

There are no traffic signals at Fulton and Sackman. According to attorney Steve Vaccaro, based on information released by NYPD the bus driver would have had to stop for a stop sign and yield to any traffic in the intersection that was already there. If the victim was in an unmarked crosswalk at the intersection, she would have had “an absolute right of way over any motor vehicle,” Vaccaro told Streetsblog.

If the woman was determined to be outside the unmarked crosswalk, mid-block crossings of Fulton are permitted on the block where the crash occurred, since the intersection with Sackman is not signalized, Vaccaro said.

Though the driver left the scene and may have violated the Right of Way Law, NYPD told DNAinfo police “did not immediately suspect criminality.” The Right of Way Law, also known as Section 19-190, makes it a misdemeanor for a driver to injure or kill someone who is walking or biking with the right of way. NYPD has applied the law only a few dozen times since it took effect in 2014.

This morning’s crash is the first reported incident this year in which an MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian with the right of way. There were eight such fatalities in 2014. The crash comes after City Hall reached a settlement in a suit filed by the Transport Workers Union, which spent much of the year trying to gut the Right of Way Law. The settlement amounted to a clarification of the law, but the TWU trumpeted it as proof that bus drivers were wrongly arrested for killing people who were following traffic rules.

Today’s crash occurred in the 73rd Precinct, in Community Board District 16, and in the City Council district represented by Rafael Espinal.

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Next Up for SBS: 23rd Street in Manhattan, Canarsie to Gravesend in Brooklyn

What people are saying about the B6 and B82

What people are saying about the B82. Image via NYC DOT

Two more enhanced bus routes are entering the project pipeline in NYC, one along a busy Manhattan crosstown street and the other snaking across a transit-hungry stretch of Brooklyn.

The Manhattan project will run across 23rd Street. The Brooklyn project would tackle a long route following the B6 and B82 between East New York and Gravesend, which carried a combined 69,586 riders on an average weekday last year, according to the MTA.

The general sweep of the southern Brooklyn route was first identified in the 2009 SBS “phase two” expansion plan. A more fine-grained map emerged in the de Blasio administration’s OneNYC environmental and equity plan, released in April.

DOT and the MTA have already gotten started on the southern Brooklyn route. The project website includes reports from the field, where staffers set up tables at busy bus stops in August and September to find out what riders want. The top complaints: Buses are too slow, too crowded, and not running frequently enough.

There are also online maps — one for the B6, another for the B82 — so riders can pinpoint areas in need of improvement.

The B82 seems to offer the best opportunity for bus lanes, especially along Flatlands Avenue and Kings Highway. Getting these changes might take some effort: The route crosses City Council and community board districts where representatives don’t have a great record on reallocating street space.

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The Port Authority Bus Terminal and Our Glaring Lack of Transit Leadership

This plan, known as Concept 3, was supported by the Port Authority's bus terminal working group but not endorsed by the full board of commissioners today. Image: Port Authority

This proposal, known as Concept 3, was supported by the Port Authority’s bus terminal working group but not endorsed by the full board of commissioners today. Image: Port Authority

The effort to replace the aging and overcrowded Port Authority Bus Terminal continues to suffer from the New York region’s inability to coordinate its transit mega-projects.

The bus terminal already handles more than 225,000 passengers per weekday and cannot accommodate all the bus traffic that crosses the Hudson in Midtown. Demand is expected to increase about 50 percent by 2040, but there is no plan in place to build a new terminal.

A working group of four Port Authority commissioners has been considering five concepts to replace the bus terminal with a modern facility that can handle many more passengers. Today they recommended a plan to the full board, but the full board didn’t endorse the working group’s proposal, putting off a vote until a later date, pending further study.

The almost-recommended-plan, known as Concept 3, would move the bus terminal one block west. It appealed to the working group for a variety of reasons, including the fact that unlike the other four options, the Port Authority would not have to build a temporary terminal to handle passengers while the new terminal is under construction.

“It doesn’t require an alternate facility and the complete disruption of the passenger experience for a decade,” said Commissioner Kenneth Lipper. “It’s less expensive, and it opens up billions of dollars in real estate.” Selling off development rights could help finance the project, which has been estimated to cost as much as $10.5 billion.

But moving the bus terminal west poses serious problems, due in part to the mistakes of past projects.

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Cuomo Signs Bill Allowing NYC to Expand Bus Lane Camera Program

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a bill on Saturday that will speed up bus trips by expanding the number of bus lanes where the city can deploy camera enforcement. The law now enables New York City to use cameras to keep car drivers out of exclusive bus lanes on up to 16 routes, an increase from just six today.

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

34th Street before cameras were added. Video still: Robin Urban Smith/Streetfilms

Under the bill, which passed the Senate and the Assembly in June, the city can choose the 10 additional bus routes that will receive camera enforcement. That’s a change from the state legislation that first authorized bus lane cameras in 2010, which spelled out which routes could get cameras.

The city and the MTA have expanded Select Bus Service — the enhanced routes that usually include dedicated transit lanes — beyond the limitations of the previous bus lane camera legislation. As a result, bus lanes on Webster Avenue operate without camera enforcement. Absent this new legislation, planned bus lanes on Utica Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard, and along the Q44 in Flushing and Jamaica would have also gone without cameras.

The new legislation allows the city to install cameras on non-SBS bus lanes, like on Fifth Avenue and Fulton Street, as well. It also enables the city to operate the cameras on weekends, but continues to limit camera enforcement to between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., when most bus lanes are in effect. The fine would stay at $115.

While the law is a very basic step to ensure the city’s bus lanes can operate as intended, there was some doubt as to whether Governor Cuomo would go along with a de Blasio administration legislative priority. In a statement, however, the governor enthusiastically endorsed the bus lane camera expansion.

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Bike Racks Debut on Buses Across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge

New Yorkers are finally getting to try out a multi-modal transportation option that’s old hat to residents of other major American cities — bike racks on buses. Sunday marked the debut of front-mounted bike racks on the S53 and S93 buses across the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge.

One of the first bikes to cross the Verrazano Narrows by bus. Photo: Meredith Sladek

One of the first bikes to cross the Verrazano-Narrows by bus. Photo: Meredith Sladek

The MTA purchased 38 bike racks at a cost of $42,000 and installed them on 31 buses as part of a one-year pilot program. The agency will evaluate three different models: Byk-Rak 2 Position, Sportworks Veloporter 2, and Sportworks DL2. If successful, the MTA may expand the program, starting with other bus routes across bridges.

The racks have carried bikes on 12 trips so far, including two this morning, the MTA said.

Streetsblog reader Meredith Sladek used the racks on a Sunday trip to Bay Ridge from Staten Island. It was a cinch, even for a newbie, she says.

“I have never used a bus rack before — hard to believe but true — and it took me about five seconds, tops. The instructions were printed on the rack itself,” she wrote in an email. “The drivers were great ambassadors: Both were really genial, helpful, patient, and informative.”

The MTA has also released an instructional video on how to use the racks. Sadly, it does not feature lyrics by Mr. Theo — but Stephen Colbert’s smiling face does make an appearance.