Mayor Adams Must Do More to Speed Up Buses, Advocates Say

Mayor Eric Adams is all-in on free buses, but needs to get more red paint on the ground.
Mayor Eric Adams is all-in on free buses, but needs to get more red paint on the ground.

The city must do more to get cars out of the way of buses in order to speed up commute times for thousands of long-suffering riders, advocates said on Thursday, one day after Mayor Adams claimed that New York City has “the best transit system on the globe.”

The new mayor boasted about the city’s massive, yet beleaguered, transit system during a somewhat unrelated press conference about street safety and NYPD enforcement of failure-to-yield violations. And while advocates agree with the superlative, they say Adams needs to commit to three areas of improvement: better-quality bus lanes, more dedicated bus lane mileage, and a reduction in car congestion on roadways with buses. The recommendations were contained in the Bus Turnaround Coalition’s report, “Let’s Get Stuff Done for Bus Riders.”

“Bus lanes work, but the traffic situation is deteriorating on the rest of the street network so much that it negates these gains we’ve seen from bus lanes,” said the TransitCenter’s Ben Fried outside City Hall on Thursday.

The Coalition — comprised of advocacy groups Riders Alliance, Straphangers Campaign, TransitCenter, and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign — analyzed bus speeds on four routes (Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, 14th Street in Manhattan, and Main Street and Merrick Boulevard in Queens) and found that speeds did increase on parts with dedicated car-free stretches, but speeds along the entire route remained unchanged due to congestion caused by placard abuse, double parking, and just too many cars in the way.

And the average citywide bus speed dipped back to its pre-pandemic pace of 7.9 miles per hour. Lethargic bus speeds overall didn’t budge under Mayor de Blasio.

“The quality of the bus intervention matters a lot. The busway projects that have the biggest traffic restrictions produce the biggest increase in speeds between 14 and 65 percent in our sample,” said Fried.

Specifically, on the B26 that traverses the Jay Street busway, bus speeds during the evening rush hour rose to 5.1 miles per hour in October, 2021— an increase of 29 percent from the 3.9 mph before the busway went into effect. And the same patterns hold true on the Q44 on Main Street, and the Q85 on Merrick Boulevard, where bus speeds increased more on its car-free stretches: On just half a mile of the Main Street busway, the Q44 sped up 14 percent, from 4.7 mph to 5.3 mph. But the speed of the same bus on the full length of its route barely nudged, only increasing two percent, from 8.3 mph to 8.5 mph, according to the coalition.

“After decades sitting in gridlock, millions of bus riders are pumped for much faster commutes and more reliable service,” said Riders Alliance Senior Organizer Jolyse Race. “Busways and bus lanes are already getting results from 14th Street to Main Street to Merrick Boulevard. Now it’s time to scale up and speed up our buses citywide.”

As a candidate, Mayor Adams had pledged to build 150 miles of new bus lanes and busways in four years — a valiant proposal, but one that won’t make a difference if the other issues are not addressed, according to advocates.

The coalition outlined three recommendations: improve the quality of bus priority treatments with better physical barriers to keep cars out of the red paint; increase the length of busways and regular dedicated bus lanes; and reduce the congestion and parking dysfunction that bring the entire bus network to a standstill.

“What we’re looking for is a plan in the first 100 days of the administration to clearly identify the bus interventions they are going to do and to show how they’re going to devote the staffing and resources to make that happen,” said Fried.

The recommendations come just days after Gov. Hochul took aim at bus lane blockers, proposing hiking the fines for drivers caught on camera in the red paint from the current $50 ticket to $125 for a first offense, Streetsblog reported earlier this week.