Testimony by Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager, Transportation Alternatives
Thursday, October 6th, 2016
Thank you for convening this hearing. I am Julia Kite, Policy and Research Manager of Transportation Alternatives. We are a 43-year old non-profit with more than 150,000 New Yorkers in our network, dedicated to biking, walking, and public transportation as city-friendly alternatives to private automobile use in New York City. We advocate on behalf of all of New York City’s pedestrians, cyclists, and transit users for safer and more livable streets.
New York City’s streets are its largest and most valuable public space, and there is no more equitable, practical, or innovative use of this public space than the provision of world-class public transportation. Unfortunately, compared to other major American and world cities, New York City’s bus service is slow, inefficient, and leaves riders feeling like second-class citizens. In parts of the City, average bus speeds are barely quicker than walking, and so it is no wonder that bus ridership has declined by 16% since 2002 despite growth in population. Improving service is also a matter of equity: riders tend to be older and have lower incomes than the city average. We all know that New York City cannot build endless new subway lines, and so as the demands on our transit network grow along with the city, we must invest in bus service that is more efficient, fair, and appealing. Today we present to you some of our priorities for improvement, which we view as essential steps to ensure better service. We also would like to express support for the testimony of The Riders Alliance.
In summary, we support:
- Dedicated bus lanes
- Bus traffic signal priority
- Major new investments to arterial streets
- Bus bulbs, neckdowns, and other street engineering enhancements
- A bus rapid transit-focused “PeopleWay” on 14th Street
- Expansion of Bike-and-Ride (bike racks on MTA buses)
- Improvements to bus design for safety
The Arterial Street Redesign Challenge
Improvements to bus service go hand-in-hand with improvements to New York City’s arterial streets. One cannot be made better without the other. For the past two fiscal years, Transportation Alternatives and this Council have urged the City to drastically increase funding for the redesign of arterial streets, recognizing that in order to be both safe and at optimum functionality, they will require a $2.4 billion investment over the course of a decade. Unfortunately, capital funding allocations remain only a fraction of what is necessary to maintain a state of good repair.
Dedicated bus lanes are the most vital improvement necessary for better service on arterial streets. New York City’s buses are among the slowest in the nation in large part due to the amount of weaving in and out of traffic and dodging of double-parked vehicles that drivers must do as they travel along routes with closely-spaced stops, on streets without dedicated infrastructure. Select Bus Service has created, in parts, exclusive bus lanes that help to reduce travel time. For example, on the B44, which travels along Brooklyn’s third-busiest bus corridor, buses used to spend approximately 20 minutes stopped in traffic on each run. After conversion to SBS, that number dropped to 12.5 minutes. The DOT wrote in its evaluation, “The B44 SBS spends less time stopped in traffic or at red lights because of bus lanes that keep the bus separate from general traffic queues, and signal changes that increase the amount of green time available to the bus and improve the coordination between intersections.” Bus lanes were also created for a portion of the nearby B49 bus route, which had no service changes; travel times in the bus lane section decreased by 7% in the AM peak and 11% in the PM peak. The evidence is clear: dedicated bus lanes improve service, even when a route is not SBS. The city does not need to go through the long process of planning and consulting that precedes designation of SBS routes in order to improve bus service - all it needs is a modest investment in red asphalt, signage, and camera enforcement.
Creating more dedicated bus lanes is a relatively inexpensive but highly beneficial intervention. Even better, when bus lanes are added as part of a “complete street” redesign, an arterial road can become much safer for all road users, not just bus riders. For example, bus bulbs or neckdowns - areas where a sidewalk is widened by reclaiming a traffic lane as space for people waiting to get on or off the bus - shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians. Where they were implemented along Nostrand Avenue as part of the B44 SBS, traffic injuries fell by 37%. These sidewalk enhancements also allow for public amenities and improvements to the public realm, while narrowing the street has a traffic calming effect - a win all around. This autumn, Transportation Alternatives will be releasing the Vision Zero Street Design Standard, a guide for how to redesign arterial streets for safety and public transit enhancement.
A PeopleWay for 14th Street
We agree with Commissioner Trottenberg in that the upcoming L train shutdown is a crisis not to waste. In fact, we think the shutdown could present the City with an opportunity to prove that true bus rapid transit is an effective, economical, achievable transportation option that will enhance mobility in New York City. To keep the City moving during the shutdown, Transportation Alternatives proposes the creation of a “PeopleWay” on 14th Street, which would involve closing the street to private automobile traffic and creating a true bus rapid transit service alongside bike lanes and expanded sidewalks. Using Brooklyn’s Fulton Mall as a model for how a commercial district can thrive with bus- and pedestrian-oriented streets, we envision the PeopleWay as benefitting commuters, local residents, and tourists alike.
The PeopleWay is a chance to prove to New Yorkers that bus rapid transit can work here just as well as it has worked in other major cities. We do not have to settle for a status quo of congested streets and slow service that leaves bus riders feeling neglected.
Bus Service Improvements
We hope to see an expansion of the Bike and Ride program that has been trialled on the S53 and S93 services over the Verrazzano Bridge. All buses in Los Angeles, Chicago, Seattle, Portland, Minneapolis, Vancouver, and Washington, D.C. are equipped with bike racks. It is time for New York City to embrace multi-modal transportation and join them.
We also believe that better bus design can improve service, accessibility, and safety. Lower-floor buses ease boarding and enhance accessibility. Wider doors help to reduce time spent at bus stops. There are a variety of innovative windshield designs that eliminate visual obstructions, which would help to prevent pedestrian crashes. Finally, we encourage the council to pass Resolution 621-2015, introduced by Council Member Reynoso, which calls upon the MTA to install rear wheel guards on all buses. This Tuesday, 73-year-old Anna Colon was killed crossing Houston Street, crushed by the rear wheels of an MTA bus. The type of guards that this legislation would require could have potentially saved her life.
Thank you for your time and consideration.
 TransitCenter (2016). “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses.” http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/Turnaround_Fixing-NYCs-Buses-20July2016.pdf
 New York City Department of Transportation and MTA New York City Transit. “B44 SBS on Nostrand Avenue Progress Report.” http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/brt-nostrand-progress-report-june2016.pdf