Monday, March 11, 2013

The difference a lane (or toll) makes

Stephen Smith has a great piece in the Observer showing how the Bloomberg administration has adapted its development strategy to avoid clashing with long-term residents, many of whom live near subway stations. The resulting disconnect between housing capacity and transit has encouraged high-rise towers near the Williamsburg waterfront, far from the overcrowded Bedford Avenue L station and even further from the Marcy Avenue J/M/Z station.

In the long term, NIMBY fears of "overdevelopment" are primarily based on fears of competition for scarce car space. To overcome it, we need to allow developers to build without encouraging people to keep cars, and we need to as convince the long-term residents that parking spillover is not as likely as they think, especially now when everyone is driving less.

In the short term, many of these highrises are already built, and more are in the works, so we need to improve their transit access to keep their residents driving as little as possible. Everyone wants to run ferries because hey, waterfront, but the ferries require large subsidies to compete with free bridges. It's hard to build subway stations right by the waterfront: the fabled South Fourth Street station is still five blocks from the river at Driggs Avenue. You could build an elevated subway or a streetcar, if you could convince people to build something that hasn't been built in this city in at least eighty years. You could also run buses.

Four years ago I mapped out some possible destinations that a Midtown Tunnel bus could get to from Penn Station in ten or fifteen minutes without traffic. The idea was that the tolls keep traffic from getting too congested in the Midtown Tunnel, and the 34th Street bus lane would give the buses priority. The way the 34th Street bus lanes have been executed leaves a lot to be desired, but the principle is sound.

What if we put an Exclusive Bus Lane on the Williamsburg Bridge and down Delancey and Chrystie/Forsyth streets to the Grand Street station? We could run the Nostrand Avenue Select Bus across it, and the Chinatown vans would be significantly faster.

But you could also run buses down Broadway to the waterfront. I agree with Jarrett Walker that loops are generally a bad idea, but Kent Avenue is now one-way, so you could have a South Kent Avenue loop going down to Flushing Avenue, and a North Kent loop going up to Greenpoint. In ten minutes (without traffic) from Grand Street in Manhattan, you could get to Morgan Avenue in East Williamsburg, either along the BQE or along Grand Street. You could go down Broadway to Flushing Avenue, or down Bedford and up Nostrand as far as Myrtle Avenue. And in fifteen minutes you could go further.

This is no longer serving existing high-rises, but rather improving service to long-established neighborhoods. That in turn could lead to people in those neighborhoods no longer thinking that cars are the only route out of poverty. But its usefulness lies in the dedicated lane for buses on the Wiliamsburg Bridge. That's what allows these buses to be competitive with driving.

1 comment:

jazumah said...

It is too easy to implement an outer lane priority bus lane. The city wants to make every transit improvement a process. It is how they get the federal government to quietly stuff their budget.