Monday, February 28, 2011

Why the 34th Street Transitway matters

The Post has gone all-out against the 34th Street Transitway this week. On Tuesday, Steve Cuozzo spewed another of his rants about Commissioner Sadik-Khan, focusing on the pedestrian plaza planned as part of the Transitway. Today, the paper published an editorial entitled "Save 34th Street!" -as if there were anything lovable about the current state of the road.

Right after pointing out that the city plans to allow buses the entire length of the street, the Post editors write, "34th Street is to run eastbound only from Fifth Avenue, and westward from Sixth Avenue, rendering the road useless as a thoroughfare." It won't be useless as a thoroughfare, because buses and pedestrians will still be able to move in both directions. Here's a handy chart provided by the DOT:

That's right, private car and taxi drivers and passengers are less than ten percent of the users of 34th Street. I don't think the bus riders and pedestrians - the other ninety percent - would feel that the street was "severely degraded" by expanded sidewalks, a pedestrian plaza, slower car traffic and a protected busway.

The editorial continues: "Sadik-Khan came to the Department of Transportation from a nonprofit do-goodnik shop hell-bent on “reducing car dependency” — that is, giving automobiles the old heave-ho from Manhattan." They are clearly not talking about Sadik-Khan's former employer, Parsons Brinckerhoff, a for-profit engineering firm that builds bridges as well as transit facilities. It's not exactly a fair characterization of the Federal Transit Administration or the Dinkins Administration either.

The best I can think of is that for two years prior to becoming Transportation Commissioner she was on the Board of Trustees of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. You might call Tri-State "a nonprofit do-goodnik shop hell-bent on reducing car dependency," but they're certainly not hell-bent enough for me, and in any case, she was one of sixteen board members, and probably too involved with her paying work for Parsons to do much for Tri-State. The Post might be confusing her with her Director of Policy, Jon Orcutt, who has been Executive Director of both Tri-State and Transportation Alternatives. Clearly, Tri-State and T.A. have influence at DOT, but they don't run the entire place.

The Post then calls on the City Council to essentially harass Sadik-Khan and do what they can to shut down the project. This could be a disaster, because it could train the Council to react this way to any plan to speed buses. They already have a Pavlovian reaction to any opportunity to pander to drivers about parking; we don't want to see them doing this with buses.

This is a good opportunity to review the many reasons why we want this project to succeed:
  • Calming car traffic on 34th Street will almost certainly save several lives and prevent a host of injuries.
  • It will make getting around much easier, saving 5-10 minutes on every trip for the people who already use the 34th Street buses, either to homes or workplaces along 34th Street, or to the Port Authority, the Javits Center, Waterside Plaza, or Brooklyn, Queens and New Jersey.
  • By making it easier to travel across 34th Street, it will invite more people to use these buses, some of whom will probably switch from cars. It will also invite people to live and work in places that are convenient to get to by bus from 34th Street.
  • Many of these people will identify as pedestrians and transit riders, and support pedestrian and transit improvements.
  • There will be capacity in the busway for more buses, and bus lines throughout Manhattan can be rerouted through it, simplifying the network.
  • It will serve as a flagship for bus improvements in the city in a way that Fordham Road can't, because there are a lot of people who won't go to Fordham Road. They don't know what they're missing, but they still won't go.
  • A defeat on this issue will be symbolic, showing drivers that Sadik-Khan is vulnerable. Politicians and bureaucrats who see this getting killed will avoid doing anything like it in the future. Residents who see it getting killed will get discouraged and not ask for any new transit.

For all these reasons, you should come out and fight for the Transitway. Blog about it! Tweet about it! Write letters to the editor! Tell your friends! Go to meetings! Contact Transportation Alternatives to find out how you can be involved!

But most importantly, contact your City Council member. Tell them that you want the 34th Street project to succeed, both as a Transitway and as a pedestrian project. Remind them how many of their constituents use transit. Tell them not to be intimidated by anti-pedestrian and anti-transit editorials in the Post. Tell them not to cave, and not to pander!


George K said...

Just one question: Is it possible to complete half of the busway? From what I’ve heard, the residents in West Midtown aren’t opposed to the busway. If opposition from East Side residents is that strong, the busway could run as planned from 9th Avenue (or 12th Avenue or wherever the busway is supposed to start from) to Madison Avenue, and then leave the portion east of Madison Avenue as a regular street. At least it would benefit riders from West Midtown, as well as Staten Island express bus riders.

christine said...

The transitway will return 1.4 miles of curb side delivery space to residents and businesses. If 34th Street remains the current way , businesses and residents have ZERO access to curbside during the day.
That ought to make the locals happy... but no they scream anyway against progress...

Cap'n Transit said...

It's possible, George, but it would be a really bad idea. It's just a handful of people that are kvetching.

nathan_h said...

Done, and thanks for the nudge.

George K said...

If they do it in stages, maybe they can show the people on the East Side that the busway has worked on the West Side.

But you never know if they'll even do that, so the West Side residents could suffer because they can't convince the East Side residents. Like you said, if they really want this project to go through, they should put up signs on the buses that pass through the area (both local and express), as well as the subway stations on 34th Street.