‘Disgraceful’: Adams Administration’s Failure to Reach Bus Lane Requirement Angers Bus Riders

The Q104 bus is one of the slowest in town. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
The Q104 bus is one of the slowest in town. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

Bus riders are livid that the Adams administration has not only failed to improve bus speeds and reduce congestion for the bus lines that carry tens of thousands of New Yorkers, but also failed to meet a City Council-mandated benchmark of 20 miles of new protected bus lanes in 2022.

As Streetsblog reported in December, the Department of Transportation only built 11.95 miles of the dedicated or camera-protected bus lanes, which is just 67 percent of the mandate in the Streets Plan passed by the council in 2019.

“The fact that they barely got over half of the way there, that’s disgraceful. To me, that means that they didn’t try,” said one passenger who gave the name Holly as she rode the Q104 between Long Island City and Sunnyside on Thursday. We chose to interview passengers on the Q104 because it is typical of a long-suffering route that has not improved under Mayor Adams; when he took office, peak service averaged 6.4 miles per hour, which has dropped to 6.3 miles per hour.

Citywide, bus speeds are also down one-tenth of a mile per hour since Mayor Adams took over — down from an average of 8.3 miles per hour in January to 8.2 in July, the last full month offered on the MTA bus dashboard.

Speeds like that encouraged the City Council to pass the Streets Plan, requiring City Hall to build 20 miles of dedicated or enhanced (with camera enforcement, for example) in 2022, and another 30 this year. Not only did the DOT miss the first legal requirement, but it has already told City Hall and the MTA that it can’t make the numbers going forward, as Streetsblog reported late last year.

“Bus speeds haven’t gone up. They keep saying they will,” said another Q104 rider, who identified himself as Frank. “This is New York. People will walk if they have to wait too long. And they walk a lot. It happens.”

The Q104. Map: Moovit
The Q104. Map: Moovit

Julius McGee blamed the political process itself for the failure. “You just never get any results that are community based, or improve the life of anyone in this community,” he said. “It’s literally whatever suits the politicians — their pockets, their agenda.”

Bus riders aren’t the only ones frustrated with the mayor. Advocates also have been calling for more dedicated bus lanes in a city choked by car traffic.

“From the Northeast Bronx to Southeast Queens to Canarsie, bus riders elected Eric Adams New York’s mayor,” said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance. “Yet two years after his victory, having promised 150 miles of bus lanes in four years, New Yorkers are still riding the slowest buses in America. No matter the obstacle, from NIMBYs to supply chains, Mayor Adams needs to put fast, reliable bus service at the top of his 2023 agenda.”

The City Council’s Streets Plan mandated the bus lane mileage, but did not include methods for enforcing the requirement. As a result, it is unclear what the Council will do now that the Mayor has failed to meet the requirement.

(We reached out to the Council, but did not receive a response; in the past, a Council spokesperson told Streetsblog, “The Council enacted critical legislation requiring the city to build bus lanes to improve commutes for riders. … It is critical for the administration to fill vital roles that ensure agencies fulfill their requirements within the law and to communities.”)

But that’s not good enough for Q104 riders, who are accustomed to disappointment from local officials.

“The role of government is to serve the people, supposed to help people, the constituents, and they’re worried about money. But there’s no money for the service, for the experience, for the actual people,” said Karen, who rides the bus three times a week. “They don’t care. It’s like, ‘Oops, we failed.’”

That sentiment was seconded by Frank. “In New York there’s always politicians talking big game. That’s all they do. Nothing ever comes to fruition.”

City Hall declined to comment for this story. In the past, the mayor’s office has touted a $904-million commitment to the Streets Plan, though that amount is billions less than then-DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said her agency would need to meet all of its myriad street safety, bus lane and public space improvements. The Council had urged Adams to put $3 billion into the Streets Plan.

Update: After initial publication of this story, City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak replied with a more general overview of the mayor’s record in 2022:

While traffic deaths are on the rise across the country, New York City is turning the tide and is moving in the opposite direction by taking action to protect pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and all road users. After reaching our goal of making 1,000 intersections safer months ahead of schedule, we have reached an even more ambitious goal of improving safety at 1,400 intersections across the five boroughs. Other critical successes like 24/7 speed cameras and groundbreaking new programs like Trick-or-Streets and the Fifth Avenue open street show that our administration is not afraid to be creative and bold in fighting for true traffic safety.

But we won’t have achieved that until we reach Vision Zero, and our administration will always continue working towards a day when no one dies from traffic violence in New York City.

— with Gersh Kuntzman