Last week, exactly one week after NYLCV and partners in the environmental community held a press conference on the issue, New York City took a big first step towards reimagining street space to promote efficient and sustainable transportation. After years of advocacy, Manhattan’s 14th street busway went into effect. The busway is a pilot program that prioritizes transit and pedestrian traffic. After years of advocacy, Manhattan’s 14th street busway went into effect. The busway is a pilot program that prioritizes transit and pedestrian traffic. Only buses and trucks are allowed to drive between 3rd and 9th Avenues.
New York City currently is lagging far behind other cities and suffering from the slowest buses in America. The M14 is the city’s slowest bus route. These slow speeds affect bus ridership – between 2017 and 2018 ridership fell by almost 6%. Prioritizing transit and pedestrians over vehicles could improve bus speeds by 30% and decrease congestion from cars, which will result in better air quality for New Yorkers. Faster bus service also means New Yorkers are more likely to opt for public transportation over a private vehicle and could reduce emissions from cars. This is why bold solutions like a busway would help fight the climate crisis while also addressing bus speeds.
The busway is designed to increase M14 bus speeds and reliability, while improving traffic safety. New turning regulations will improve circulation along heavily trafficked crosswalks and help reduce pedestrian injuries. Additional bus priority lanes and traffic signal improvements will also help improve M14 service.
There is a history of successes for busways in other cities. After implementing a busway on King Street in Toronto, residents experienced an improvement in transit travel time and an increase in rush-hour ridership of 25%.
NYLCV has been advocating for the busway throughout this year, along with Transportation Alternatives, Riders Alliance, and many other partners, in-part because the busway would make travel on this busy thoroughfare quicker for straphangers during the L-train tunnel repair. Our voices were heard this winter when Mayor de Blasio included transit prioritization for the M14 as part of his Better Buses Action Plan. Then in April, the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) formally announced the busway pilot program to prioritize transit traffic and pedestrians.
Since then, progress had slowed. The program was delayed twice due to last-minute legal efforts by a coalition of Manhattan block associations. Last month, NYLCV responded by holding a Climate Week press conference. We gathered with the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, and the NYC Chapter of Climate Reality to call for the immediate implementation of the busway pilot program on 14th Street. We emphasized the pilot’s environmental benefits and called for it to serve as a model for more busways throughout the city.
Just a few days later, Appellate Division judges overturned the order that had prevented the busway from moving forward. After years of advocacy and two court delays, DOT was able to implement the busway last week.
The Climate Leadership & Community Protection Act requires economy-wide carbon neutrality by 2050, including the transportation sector. Transportation is the #1 source of greenhouse gas emissions in New York State. There is no way to effectively fight climate change without a focus on making mass transit more reliable and efficient. When public transportation is more attractive and streets are more conducive to walking or biking, it will make it easier for New Yorkers to opt-out of driving.
NYLCV is thrilled the 14th Street busway has gone into effect and will continue to advocate for policies like these, which fight climate change and improve public transportation. We hope this pilot will be the first of many.