NYC Transit Boss: City Has To Speed Up Bus Lane Installation

The DOT and MTA agree: It's time to paint bus lanes like there's no tomorrow.
The DOT and MTA agree: It's time to paint bus lanes like there's no tomorrow.

We’ll never paint the town red at this rate.

New York City Transit head honcho Sarah Feinberg said that she agrees with DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg’s assessment this week that the city’s system for building bus lanes moves too slowly to be effective.

“We’re in a moment where we should be breaking some china, and so I agree with Polly that the approach is not ideal,” Feinberg said at a press conference on Wednesday. “Look, there are all kinds of extremely bureaucratic processes set up within our agencies, at the state level and the city level and folks have to fight through those all the time. Some of them make tremendous amount of sense and it’s important to go through them and some of them while you’re in the middle of them you realize they’re probably unnecessary, particularly in a moment of crisis. So I agree with Polly.”

Feinberg’s support for the DOT chief came one day after Trottenberg told City Council Member Andrew Cohen that the current way of doing things wasn’t working, putting a capper on seven years of de Blasio administration transportation policy that allows for things like DOT officials to nervously promise they aren’t taking any parking spots from Bay Ridge community boards.

The rare moment of comity between city and MTA thought comes as the de Blasio administration has recently come under fire for failing to meet its own bus lane goals for 2020, goals that were much smaller than the MTA sought. In June, Feinberg asked the city for 60 miles of bus lanes and busways for Phase One of the post-lockdown era. The city later countered with 20 miles, but that smaller goal also won’t be achieved in 2020. Last Friday, the mayor admitted that the total mileage of bus lanes installed in 2020 would be closer to 17 miles, with 9.1 miles built so far.

Of the promised bus lane and busway mileage, community opposition has sunk or impacted three projects. In Staten Island, the 6.6-mile bus lane on Hylan Boulevard became 4.7 miles instead. In Midtown Manhattan, luxury retailers were able to get a travel lane added back to a plan to put a 1.1-mile busway on Fifth Avenue. A busway in Jamaica has gone back to the drawing board after local officials asked for it to be moved from Jamaica Avenue to Archer Avenue (interestingly, the MTA letter from June identified Archer Avenue as the preferred stretch for a busway in that neighborhood).

Two other busways have yet to be installed, due to either opposition or unspecified delays. A busway for 181st Street in Washington Heights is supposed to be installed in November, but the city has not given a presentation to the project’s community advisory board since mid-September. And the much-delayed Main Street Busway in Flushing is finally being installed soon after months of delays caused by City Council Member Peter “Business Lives Matter” Koo.

The only busway to go off without a hitch has been the Jay Street Busway in Downtown Brooklyn. A bus lane on 14th Street extending that block’s bus lane to Avenue C was completed in July and a bus lane on 149th Street in the Bronx was completed in October, but a bus lane on Merrick Boulevard in Queens has not been completed yet.

Despite the many delays and the smaller vision than was originally asked for, activists are using the carrot with Mayor de Blasio instead of the stick (baseball season is over after all, so it’s time to put down the bats). Riders Alliance spokesman Danny Pearlstein urged on the mayor on Wednesday, tweeting that the city “had a banner year for bus lanes” and that the mayor could still leave a positive legacy for the city’s millions of bus riders by pressing ahead with more ambitious bus priority projects in 2021.