LIVE FROM THE BUSWAY: Car Drivers Surrender on Day 1

On Day 1 of the 14th Street "busway," buses had plenty of room. This view is looking east from Third Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon
On Day 1 of the 14th Street "busway," buses had plenty of room. This view is looking east from Third Avenue. Photo: Dave Colon

The buses appear to be winning on B-Day.

On the first day of the 14th Street Busway, the transit priority route that the city launched Thursday to speed up the slow and rider-hemorrhaging M14, private cars seemed to all but abandon the crosstown roadway, at least during the morning rush. It’s almost as if they didn’t bother to show up for this supposed war on cars.

An M14D SBS bus, packed with commuters when it pulled up to First Avenue and 14th Street, made it all the way to 10th Avenue in just 17 minutes and 58 seconds — or roughly 5 mph. OK, it’s not like a Ferrari, as Gov. Cuomo once called the high-tech bus, but it was a huge improvement compared to the 3.84 mile per hour slog during a Streetsblog test during the relatively traffic-light summer.

The busway-eye view: From an M14 looking west through Union Square. Photo: Dave Colon
The busway-eye view: From an M14 looking west through Union Square. Photo: Dave Colon

“It was better, it was a nicer ride,” Nadia Mays said as she stepped off at Sixth Avenue. She said there were definitely fewer cars blocking the path of the bus — the perennial bane of transit riders.

The city is even ensuring its own employees are following the rules. One area resident gave Engine Company 5 props for … not parking in the bus lane. “For 1st time ever in its 24/7/365 history, bus lane outside Engine 5 isn’t 100% full of personal vehicles!” tweeted David Dartley. “Indeed there’s none!”

When Streetsblog rang the firehouse bell, a friendly smoke-eater confirmed that the bucket brigaders understood they couldn’t park on 14th any more. He also said that the city had given the firehouse some parking on First Avenue and 15th Street in order to make sure the firehouse wouldn’t go back to treating the curb like a personal driveway.

On the enforcement front, intersections from Third Avenue to Ninth Avenue were manned with multiple traffic agents, fighting their part of the battle. But the agents didn’t have that much to do because drivers appear to be in retreat after running roughshod over 14th Street for years.

Drivers who did take 14th Street seemed to get it for the most part, and didn’t try to use the street for a personal joyride, as seen here at the corner of 14th and Third Avenue:

One traffic officer taking a break in a nearby coffee shop said the traffic work was somewhat wearying.

busway day 1 — truck parking rules
Trucks can park legally for 30 minutes on 14th Street as they load or unload. There is a chance that this could lead to backups, but that didn’t happen on Thursday, at least.

“It’s hard, drivers don’t want to always listen,” he said about rerouting people behind the wheel of a car. “But I tell them, ‘If you don’t listen to me, someone will just be waiting for you with a summons on the next block.'”

The Battle for Beleaguered Buses was certainly joined by a massive show of force by the NYPD. Police cars were a common sight up and down the strip. And, naturally, police sometimes got in the way; one NYPD officer parked a squad car on 14th Street so that it blocked drivers from efficiently making their mandated right turn off the roadway from Third Avenue — forcing drivers to pull in front of the bus in the travel lane.

Even people who claimed not to be fans of the Busway noted its effects. Stepping off an M14 on Fifth Avenue, Bob Van Encken said that he noticed that the bus traveled “a lot faster.”

“Usually it’s slow, there’s a lot of traffic,” added Von Encken, who was only on the bus so he could get his car in a neaby garage. He griped that drivers exiting area garages should be exempt from the “first-right-turn” rule to exit 14th Street because such drivers are not responsible for traffic, he claimed.

“How many cars are coming out of garages?” he asked. “One every 10 minutes?”

Other critics of the busway had predicted that side streets would become inundated with cars, as drivers found routes around the car-free transit route. But on Thursday, it was all quiet on the side street front. Streetsblog walked on 12th Street from Avenue C to Broadway and encountered only a minor back-up caused by a cabbie who blocked the roadway between Third and Fourth avenues for several minutes — but thanks to the bike lane, drivers could merely pull around the cabbie.