Op-Ed: Fordham Road is the Busway We Need Next

In the city's third-largest shopping district, buses crawl, drivers kill and fumes endanger people and the environment. Time for a new busway.

Fordham Road looking west from the southeast corner of Webster Avenue. The packed road and bollixed buses are typical of the morning, evening and midday rush. File photo: Eve Kessler
Fordham Road looking west from the southeast corner of Webster Avenue. The packed road and bollixed buses are typical of the morning, evening and midday rush. File photo: Eve Kessler

The success of the 14th Street Busway in Manhattan this month has proved that prohibiting private vehicles from a street raises bus speeds — empowering tens of thousands of riders who rely on public transit without spawning gridlock on neighboring thoroughfares, as opponents have claimed. This evidence shows why the city should create its next busway — on Fordham Road in the Bronx. 

The cars choking Fordham Road are a threat to the health and safety of Bronxites — not to mention a huge inconvenience to bus riders and pedestrians who comprise most road users. Drivers routinely ignore the dedicated bus lanes on the six-lane road.  

An arterial route (like 14th Street), Fordham Road is a gem of New York’s northernmost borough, drawing millions of visitors annually with its local fashion outlets, cheap food, and a famous university. The Fordham Shopping District is the city’s third-busiest, boasting more than 300 stores. Some 80,000 pedestrians arrive daily, with 88 percent coming by foot or public transit. In recognition of Fordham’s importance as a shopping and transit hub, the city spent $34 million remaking Fordham Plaza in a splashy project that it unveiled in 2016.

Yet the constant congestion, a danger to life and limb, hurts the plaza’s economic potential. From 2014 through 2018, the Fordham neighborhood experienced 6,549 reported crashes (an average of four per day!) that killed four pedestrians and a motorist and injured 2,009 people total, according to city data, with the Fordham Road corridor shouldering most crashes. This year through the end of October, the corridor has produced 886 crashes injuring 312. Basically, someone is injured in a crash there every day.

And the traffic is killing transit. The Bx12 local and SBS routes, which run from Inwood in the Manhattan to Pelham Park in the East Bronx, carried 13.7 million passengers in 2018 — the Bronx’s busiest bus line and the second-most-used in the city. And no wonder: The Fordham Road portion of the route intersects the Harlem and Hudson lines of Metro North and the 4, B, D, 2, and 5 subway lines. 

But owing to Bronx bus speeds that average only 7.2 miles per hour — slower than the 7.8 mph city average — ridership on the Bx12 local/SBS lines fell by more than 1.1 million passengers in 2018, nearly 8 percent from 2017, and it is down nearly 14 percent from 2015. Many riders may be switching to cars in hopes of navigating the city more quickly. Others may be taking routes that are longer but provide more reliability. 

On a sweltering evening this summer, a group of Transportation Alternatives activists led a walk-through to assess pedestrian safety on Fordham Road. In the half mile stretch between Grand Concourse and Webster Avenue, we marched through an obstacle course of speeding cars, red-light violations, illegal parking in bus-only lanes, and parents pushing strollers across six lanes as cars belched fumes and honked angrily. The many irregular intersections dumping traffic into Fordham Road would boggle those accustomed to Manhattan’s orderly street grid.

We do not have to settle for this. 

Fordham Road is the city in microcosm: thousands risking their livelihoods on buses that cannot get them to work on time; parents forced to spend scarce funds on extra childcare because of long commutes; kids with special needs who cannot get to school on time because their buses are caught in heavy traffic, as The City recently reported. 

The worst indictment of car culture is how it diminishes the well-being of our youth — and the planet’s health  — for the selfish desires of a minority who to demands door-to-door trips in 3,000-pound carbon-spewing metal cages in a transit-dense city. 

Our elected leaders, who haven’t stood up for the transit-riding majority over the small minority of outspoken drivers, should keep our children in mind. 

Mayor de Blasio, City Council members, and Transportation Commissioner Trottenberg: We demand the transformation of Fordham Road into a busway. When the backlash comes, tell the reactionaries that vehicle pollution causes 4 million cases of childhood asthma globally each year, and that New York ranked in the top 10 worst of 125 cities. Tell them that that asthma-related hospital visits among kids in Fordham and University Heights are almost double the citywide rate.

Tell the drivers that black carbon, a fossil-fuel byproduct, can harm pregnancies and promote high blood pressure in children. Tell them that being struck by a vehicle is the leading cause of unintentional injury-related death for children under 13 in our city. And tell them that by the time today’s babies reach 80, sea levels in New York could rise 18 to 75 inches. Our choices on emissions may determine whether our children will be able to call the city home for life. 

A busway isn’t hard to defend when you frame it around the needs of our kids and their hard-working families. Let’s make our streets work for them, not cars, and let’s get moving with a safer Fordham Road. 

Cecil Brooks is chairman of Transportation Alternatives Bronx committee. John Halpin is a committee member.