Mayor Finally Takes His Busway Victory Lap, Highlighting Need for More Car-Free Transit Routes

The busway is a miracle. Photo: Dave Colon
The busway is a miracle. Photo: Dave Colon

Gridlock Sam to Mayor de Blasio: Your busway really is working.

Bus ridership along 14th Street is way up, bus speeds are way up, use of bicycles in the area is way up and car drivers are being inconvenienced in virtually no appreciable way as a result of auto restrictions along the crosstown street between Third and Ninth avenues, City Hall said on Wednesday, trumpeting the first official analysis of the transit-priority project by Sam Schwartz Engineering.

And all the positives have been achieved “with minimal effect on area traffic,” City Hall added in a statement.

“We are getting New Yorkers moving and saving them time for the things that matter,” Hizzoner said in a statement. “The early results show that this pilot is speeding up buses while allowing for the car drop-offs and deliveries the neighborhood requires. Under our Better Buses plan, we are making changes citywide to fight congestion and to give people faster and more reliable transit.”

The Sam Schwartz Engineering report, which will be presented in full to Manhattan Community Board 4 on Wednesday night, covers not only the busway, which launched on Oct. 3, but also the debut of Select Bus Service on 14th Street, which began in July. City Hall highlighted these statistics:

  • Bus travel times improved by 22 to 47 percent.
  • Time savings for bus riders are much as 9.7 minutes end-to-end in the eastbound direction.
  • Ridership on the M14 A/D by 24 percent during the week and 30 percent on weekends. (This had previously been reported by Streetsblog.)
  • Citi Bike claims a 17-percent increase in weekday usage on 14th Street and surrounding streets during the morning rush.
  • Cycling in general is way up on the protected lanes on 12th and 13th streets, which the city installed in preparation for the L-train shutdown that never happened. Riding has increased by as much as 234 percent at some times.

Meanwhile, drivers are not suffering in the ways predicted in a community lawsuit filed earlier this year to stop the busway. The suit had predicted car restrictions on 14th Street would “cause horrific traffic jams” on all the side streets. Schwartz’s data argue that the busway truly is a Miracle on 14th Street, as transit writer Aaron Gordon apparently first called it:

  • Travel times for cars on 12th through 19th streets increased by zero to two minutes during weekday peak hours, though 17th Street seems to be a congested mess, with a 3.4-minute increase in travel time for a driver going from Third Avenue to Ninth Avenue during rush hour. (This had also been previously reported.)
  • Vehicle volume on 12th Street was virtually unchanged and actually decreased on 13th Street. (Again, previously reported.)
  • Travel times on most nearby avenues increased by less than 1 minute or even improved — though travel times on Third Avenue increased by 1.6 minutes.

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the city would now make minor adjustments “as needed.”

She added that she thanks “all the New Yorkers who have shared their enthusiasm for a new and improved 14th Street.”

That enthusiasm will come with political pressure for more busways. Already, advocates on Fordham Road, Main Street Flushing, 23rd and 34th streets in Manhattan, and many other slow-moving strips have demanded their own car-free transit improvements. For now, the mayor has said he will reveal additional busways next year. He’ll also be under pressure from the MTA itself to do the hard work of clearing streets of impediments like cars.

“The 14 Street Busway is wildly popular … and should be replicated throughout the city,” New York City Transit President Andy Byford said in a statement.

To be clear, cars are not actually banned on 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues as long as their drivers are making pickups or drop-offs. Those drivers do have to leave the busway by the next available right turn or risk getting a ticket from either mounted cameras or those on board M14 buses. So far, the on-bus tickets have been warnings. Real tickets will be issued starting in January, joining the stationary cameras that are already nabbing scofflaws.