Sunday, April 27, 2008

Another BRT Bait-and-Switch

In an earlier post, I talked about how Bus Rapid Transit ("BRT") can be used to deflect energy from rail transit: promise "a subway running above the ground on rubber tires" - but cheaper! - and some people will get behind that, while the rail transit diehards waste energy trying to win back the defectors. Well, there's another kind of bait-and-switch: highlighting a problem and then proposing a BRT "solution" that would do nothing for the problem.

I feel kinda bad singling these people out, since they're obviously dedicated transit advocates with a long history of supporting social justice, and I still think that the individual advocates, their organizations and goals are worthy of support. Still, I think this kind of tactic does nobody any favors, and I'm willing to go up against it.

You may have heard of the Pokey Awards. Every year, the Straphangers' Campaign releases a list of the slowest bus routes for each borough. Recently it has supplemented the Pokeys with Schleppie Awards for the most unreliable routes. Every year's press release includes a plug from Transportation Alternatives for BRT. So far so good: it's very important to draw attention to the slowness and unreliability of the bus system, and to get people to take action instead of just complaining.

The problem is that the BRT solutions that are pushed every year have very little to do with the routes that win the Pokeys and Schleppies. Here are the laureates for every year:


There's a lot that could be done to speed up travel on 14th, 23rd, 34th and 96th Streets, as well as the streets where the other Pokey recipients travel in the outer boroughs. But none of the Pokey Award press releases address them. Instead, each release mentions the MTA/NYCDOT BRT pilot program, which would do very little for these corridors. For Manhattan, the pilot site was First and Second Avenues, and each Pokey Award press release trumpets the potential improvements to the M15 corridor, despite the fact that the M15 is never on the list of slowest routes.

Incidentally, on April 17 Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced that the city planned to turn half of 34th Street into a dedicated busway. Now that would make sure that the M34 is never again on the Pokey list. If it works, hopefully she'll do the same for 14th, 23rd and 96th Streets.

I've written more about the Pokeys than I intended to. Like I said, both the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and Transportation Alternatives are good organizations and deserve your support. Don't withhold it on account of this. All I'm asking is that for the '08 Pokey and Schleppie awards the press release include measures that would actually speed up the award winning bus routes.

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