New York City has figured out how to speed up buses and increase ridership on a busy crosstown corridor in Manhattan by banning most personal cars for much of the day, according to early data analysis.
In October, the New York City Department of Transportation embarked on an 18-month pilot program that restricts all cars — except buses, trucks and emergency vehicles — from traveling along 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
All other cars, including personal cars and ride-hailing drivers, can go no more than a block or two to make deliveries and pick up or drop off passengers before making the next available right turn.
The new rules are intended to get more New Yorkers to take public transportation instead of driving in the congested city.
The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency also approved a $600 million plan to restrict private vehicles on a portion of the Market Street thoroughfare to improve mobility for people riding buses, streetcars and bicycles.
In our latest Traffic Lab Ask An Expert Q&A, we spoke with Eric Beaton, the deputy commissioner for transportation planning and management at the New York City Department of Transportation, who oversaw the planning, design work and implementation of the Transit & Truck Priority Pilot along Manhattan’s 14th Street.
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This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.
Question: What was the motivation for this idea?
Answer: The project was started with New York City transit officials from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on a totally different project. They had to do a big project to repair subway tunnels under the East River that were damaged during Hurricane Sandy. The initial thinking was that they would close the tunnel that carried 225,000 people per day for 18 months. It was going to be an incredibly disruptive project.
As a result, NYC DOT and MTA had to work closely to come up with a program with how to move New Yorkers around the city efficiently. Fourteenth Street is one of the most intense bus corridors even with the L train running at full service. So we moved forward with the busway project in order to serve the needs of that community better. It came at us from left field, but it developed into a project we feel proud of.
Q: What have been overall takeaways and metrics you’ve found from the project?
A: In evaluating the project, we want bus service to be faster and more reliable. The hope is that gets reflected in ridership on the corridor. The goal is to get more people to take public transportation and other carbon-light modes of transportation. We are also keeping an eye on the potential downsides, like not overburdening other streets and not causing other local disruptions. We’re finding that users on 14th Street aren’t causing problems and pushing traffic elsewhere.
Q: What have you found to be effective for enforcement?
A: It takes different things to make it work. In the first couple of months, we had NYC police on the streets making sure that people knew the rules of the road. We also have fixed cameras on the street [to ticket drivers who illegally park, load or idle in the busway]. In the long run, the right way to do enforcement is to be fair and make sure it’s evenly applied so it catches everyone. The top goal was to make sure vehicles were not driving where they were not supposed to be.
Q: How did you respond to criticism of the project?
A: It’s the nature of living in a big cosmopolitan city. We had a robust engagement process. We heard from people and were able to accommodate requests, like being able to drop people off in front of their building provided they turn at the next available street. We found ways to build those needs in. No one can say they haven’t been heard and that their concerns haven’t been taken seriously. We’ve also worked with business improvement districts. We don’t want to be harming commerce. We do interviews with businesses and will look at sales tax data.
Q: Are there locations where bus-only lanes are best placed?
A: We focus on places where bus volumes are high and speeds are slow, where they would have the most benefit.
Q: What lessons would you have for other cities considering similar types of projects?
A: Every city and every street has its own special nature. Doing good data analysis, good design and good community engagement is what’s needed to make a project successful. Make sure you look at what the community needs overall and try to address that as best you can.