The Newtown Pentacle

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fundamentally suspicious

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Thought experiment day…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Suppose that the subways ran at street level, in lanes shared with motor vehicles. Said motor vehicles behave in familiar fashion, pulling over to deliver parcels and people, breaking down, getting into “accidentals” and acting in the sort of erratic fashion that non tracked vehicles do. You’ve also got human powered vehicles scooting all over the place, bicycles and skateboards and so on. Then there’s pedestrians, people walking dogs, all of the things you see on a daily basis in New York City and “tune out.” The subway would have to constantly stop short and “dwell” in between stops and there would be a ton of vehicular accidents, including the trains themselves getting struck by cars and trucks and also smashing into errant pedestrians. That would necessitate NYPD activity, which would further increase “dwell” or delay time for the train. The designers of the system, a century ago, foresaw all of this and went to the expense of creating both “cut and cover” tunnels and “elevated” trackways. This gives the subway a “dedicated lane” wherein a lot of the random things that used to happen to the streetcar or trolley lines would be avoided.

This is why the BQX is a stupid idea, incidentally, since the folks pushing for it aren’t planning on dedicated lanes. The bicycle fanatics demand dedicated lanes, as a note, with “protected” border indicators made of concrete. Now, the Subway is the primary form of conveyance for the vast majority of working New Yorkers, but for most it’s only a part of their daily grind. Something like 75% of all Subway riders have a bus figure into their commute, and particularly so in Queens, the Bronx, Staten Island, and Brooklyn.

Ok, now transpose the word “subway” with “bus” and reread the first paragraph.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

As mentioned in recent posts, I’ve been “getting smart” about the MTA’s NYCTA Bus system. One of the most common complaints which bus riders will offer, after crowding, is that the published bus schedules are theoretical at best. You actually can’t blame MTA for this one, as their “on time” surface transportation statistics are vulnerable to weather and traffic conditions. There’s all sorts of pundits out there – including the Union Representatives of the Bus Drivers – who have offered ways to reduce trip time, including novel ideas like two door fare control entrances. I’ve come to believe that what we really need to be discussing are dedicated bus lanes.

The Mayor is willing to commit a significant amount of our black top street pavement to the Bicycle Fanatics, but in terms of numbers… there’s a fairly limited number of people whom these bike lanes actually serve in terms of the traveling and commuting masses. MTA’s buses serve so many more people than the bike lanes do that the comparison wouldn’t even qualify as a rounding error. So, here’s my thought experiment:

Why not create dedicated bus and bike shared lanes, which the bike riders can use in the twenty minute or so intervals in between bus passages? Obviously, you couldn’t do this on every bus line since many of them wind through narrow one way streets, but for the “big boulevard and avenue street lines” – like the Q53 from Rockaway via Cross Bay Blvd. (ridership of about 21,000 per week or 1,092,000 annually) or the Q19 on Astoria Blvd. (ridership of about 4,000 per week or 208,000 annually) or the Q60 on Queens Blvd. (ridership of about 14,000 per week or 728,000 annually) for example?

I know, I’m using logic in DeBlasio’s NYC… In comparison, btw, the entire NYC Ferry system carried about 2.1 million people in 2017. The fare is the same as riding the bus ($2.75), but the City underwrites each fare to the tune of about $6.60 (combined $8.96 according to official sources), which means that the tax payer is kicking close to $14 million bucks into that particular mode of getting around per annum. I’m certainly not suggesting we get rid of the service, as I’m a big fan of it, but I think it’s important to know what things actually cost when talking about transit matters. I wonder what a mile of bike lanes costs, versus what a mile of dedicated bus lane would cost.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

There’s actually quite a bit of room available for novel forms of transit like street car trolleys through the densest sections of the City, believe it or not, as evinced by the shot above which was gathered a block or two west of Queens Plaza. The NYC DOT uses this space to store their trucks and other equipment, which they also do under the 7 line viaduct on Queens Blvd. and in lots of other spots around the City. Eliminate a lot of this municipal storage, and it frees up a lot of land. Why do you think they want to close Rikers? What, mercy? Kindness? You need to put these facilities somewhere.

I know there’s nothing more fun than a wonky post about transit infrastructure to warm the cockles, but again – numbers matter when it comes to City Planning and spending. I understand and know that under our current Mayor, it’s about “feeling groovy” and “sounding good” but it seems to me that if a bus line – such as the Q53 with its roughly one million annual riders – carries the equivalent of one eighth of the entire population of NYC, we should be talking about creating dedicated bus lanes which can also serve bicyclists. This dedicated lane would also fit nicely into the “Vision Zero” traffic calming policies currently in vogue better than the “single task” bike lanes serving a statistically irrelevant number of commuters.

“follow” me on Twitter- @newtownpentacle

Written by Mitch Waxman

February 14, 2019 at 11:00 am

2 Responses

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  1. There’s a reason the trolleys were abandoned in the late 1940s through early 1950s and no, it wasn’t a conspiracy involving GM, Firestone, National City Lines (which never operated in NY). All that is nonsense. Among other things, it was cheaper to run buses which not being limited to rails can be re-routed on the fly when there’s some kind of obstruction on the route. I have to wonder at this progressive liberal obsession with old, obsolete technologies.

    This whole vision zero thing is ridiculous. If people are not obeying the first set of laws, then why would they be any more inclined to obey even more laws added. The problem is first, people are not perfect and will make mistakes. You cannot legislate perfect humans. The second problem is a general decline in manners and courtesy across the board. Blaming one group, say motorists, and demonizing them isn’t helping. Marginalizing and antagonizing other people never helps.

    It’s the human element at fault here, motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians all acting like pompous, entitled, assholes. Not a dearth of laws, dedicated bicycle and bus lanes or such.

    Donald Cavaioli


    February 14, 2019 at 12:32 pm

  2. I agree. Thoughts: 1. Pittsburgh had an extensive streetcar system until the city went broke with the demise of domestic steel production. Eventually they pulled up all the rails and cordoned off the major routes into dedicated bus lanes. 2. The High Line: Originally built by NY Central to get the freight deliveries out from under the street-level horse’s feet. Left abandoned for a century then turned into a very expensive yuppie park. Idiocy — that right of way should have been extended above 34th St. and dedicated to busses. 3. Bicyclists: Screw them.

    Jon Fabian

    February 14, 2019 at 5:11 pm

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