Bus Bulbs Useless Without Enforcement

bus_bulbs.jpgA story about the new bus bulbs on Lower Broadway in the New York Times highlights the role that enforcement will have to play if DOT’s plan to make the boulevard more bus-friendly is to work. (Bus Rapid Transit, of course, will face similar issues when it rolls out later this year.) The story points out that Broadway’s current bus lane — bus bulbs or no — is often blocked by double-parked delivery and placarded vehicles.

Note that at least one of the bus drivers quoted seems to see the virtues of eliminating cars entirely from this heavily trafficked area: 

David Woloch, a deputy transportation commissioner for the city, said that by early July the city will mark the lane that runs beside the bus bulbs as a bus-only lane, from Houston Street to Ann and Vesey Streets. And, he said, the Police Department will enforce the bus-only restriction by ticketing cars that encroach on the lane.

Bus drivers were skeptical.

"I think it’s a waste," the driver of the M1 bus that was blocked by the cab and the double-parked truck said of the bus bulbs. He would not give his name because he said he did not want to draw the attention of his superiors at the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. "It’s not going to do anything. Get rid of the cars and that’ll do something."

On another day this week, a driver on another M1 bus was also skeptical. He said that the police do not do enough to enforce bus lanes elsewhere in the city. "That’s never worked," said the driver, who also asked that his name not be used. "It doesn’t work on Madison. It doesn’t work on Fifth Avenue because people park in the lane. Or cabs drop off in the lane."

Paul J. Browne, a deputy police commissioner, said 1,862 tickets
were issued last year to drivers for using a bus lane. In addition,
4,205 tickets were issued for parking in a bus lane and 2,669 tickets
were issued for parking at a bus stop.

That works out to just
under 24 tickets a day in the three categories of tickets combined. He
said the tickets were primarily issued in Manhattan.

So far this year, he said, 3,537 tickets have been issued for bus lane or bus stop violations.

"It
may be a perception among some drivers, but in fact there is
enforcement," Mr. Browne said of the bus drivers’ complaints. "It may
not be at the level they want or in an ideal world the level we want,
but the fact remains we do enforce it every day."

Photo: Cary Conover for the New York Times

  • Whatever happened to enforcement by licence-plate cameras mounted on the fronts of buses?

  • ddartley

    Tangential, but starts out ON topic:

    1,862 tickets, 4,205 tickets, 2,669 tickets, and 3,537 tickets: Drops in the bucket–the violations occur everywhere, round the clock, year round. A few thousand tickets ain’t _____.

    So a lack of real enforcement renders a design useless. How familiar… (class II bike lanes–buffered and not).

    Here are things that would be lovely, but that a realist knows may not come any time soon, for many reasons, both lousy and understandable:
    1. meaningful enforcement
    2. designs of lanes (for bikes and/or buses, etc.) that are physically self-enforcing, perhaps physically separated.

    Since those things indeed may be a bit unrealistic, even in this PlaNYC era, how about this idea, that I think circumvents the “unrealistic” obstacle, at least for bikes/human powered vehicles:

    a lane in or near the middle of a one-way avenue (not on the side), colored and marked very visibly so that it’s clear to motorists that at all times, it’s only for emergency vehicles and human powered vehicles (HPVs).* Motorists may cross it when needed, but not travel in it.** (If people worry that THAT’s unrealistic as far as self-enforcement, just look at the ONE good thing about Class II lanes–yes, motorists abuse them 99 different ways, but generally, they know not to DRIVE in them. And that’s with just dinky little white lines.) To allow HPVs time to get into or out of the lane (from or to cross streets), at every side of every intersection, HPVs would have their own green light that would go green several seconds before the green for cars (both in the Ave. and on side streets).

    To get back ON topic, if the dream I just described is itself unrealistic, then how about mixing it with a design for a self-enforcing bus lane? How about a bus, emergency, AND HPV-only lane that follows some of the specs above? MAN I need to learn some graphics software.

    I know, I’ve posted this idea before.

    * bikes, etc. can get out of the way of an ambulance behind them MUCH more easily than cars—one of many reasons to give them privilege to this “fire lane.”

    ** think of how a broken yellow line on a two-way, one-lane-each-way-street allows cars to pass slower cars by temporarily going into the oncoming lane, when the road ahead is safe. Unfortunately there are few examples in NYC–this happens mostly on country roads.

  • mfs

    what’s the deal with the fences between the sidewalk and the bus bulbs? they are really annoying, especially if you’re trying to run to catch a bus.

  • Dan

    I think the point is that the bulbs cannot and should not be appropriated for other uses(venddors, walking etc…) that way people waiting for the bus have an area that doesn’t clog the sidewalk and makes loading of the bus easier.

    As for enforcement, it’s unrealistic to think that police will be everywhere at once. In a circumstance like this I think increasing the AMOUNT of the ticket would do wonders. How many tickets would you get if the ticket was $100 for the first violation and $250 after that? I think having a $25-$50 ticket does nothing for enforcement, it’s so little that contractors, and delivery people just treat it as the cost of doing business in the city. If you really want people to obey traffic laws, you’ll have to make the punishment much more severe.

    Also, the more complex issue is that the city has been ignoring stuff like this for years and has created a culture of casual lawlessness among motorists to the point where ANY enforcement is seen as a huge affront to drivers. You’re not going to change that. What needs to develop is a sense of civic togetherness(I hate the word too) that makes people think about blocking the bus lane as negative thing for other people. Obviously, the city can’t mandate empathy, but it can try to create an environment in which thinking about your fellow citizens is more than just a bizarre custom practiced by out of towners.

  • crzwdjk

    With double parking, it’s not really a matter of tougher enforcement or “civic togetherness”. It’s a matter of taking a good hard look at what curb space is actually needed for, besides the storage of people’s personal vehicles. Drop-off and pickup by taxis and private cars is important. Giving space to delivery vehicles to make their deliveries is important too, after all, you wouldn’t want them circling the block for half an hour until a space frees up. Not only would it greatly increase pollution, it would also increase the cost of delivering the cargo, whatever it may be, and make living in New York even more expensive than it already is. First, make some regulations that make sense, and only then start enforcing them.

  • lee

    dan, parking in a bus stop is currently a $115 fine. granted an escalating schedule might make a difference, but $115 is already much more than $25-$50

  • Charlie D.

    What about putting the parking lane on the inside of the bus lane, like this?

    ——————-
    travel lane
    ——————-
    parking
    =================== curb
    bus lane
    =================== curb
    sidewalk

  • Get Going

    This discussion highlights that the same problems that affect bicycles on NYC streets and avenues are also affecting buses. The solutions are also the same, physically separate lanes.

    Most Midtown Manhattan avenues are one-way and 6 lanes wide. Numbering the lanes from 1-6, with 1 being on the left and 6 on the right, we have the following typical layout:

    (1) Parking – (2-5) Travel – (6) Parking

    But as anybody who has spent any time in Manhattan can tell you, lanes 2 and 5 aren’t full travel lanes, since many cars and trucks block those lanes by double parking so only lanes 3 and 4 are full travel lanes for long distances.

    Let’s say DOT wanted to add a bus lane. In some cases, lane 6 is converted to bus lane when parking is prohibited. But lane 6 can still be blocked with non-bus traffic for parking/loading (illegal) and right turns (usually legal).

    In some cases, lane 5 is converted to a bus lane, but you still would have the problem of double parking blocking the lane (illegal), cars using the lane to park in lane 6 (legal, depending on signs), and right turns (usually legal).

    The solution is to implement a physically separate bus lane. Lane 6 will be buses only. It will be separated from the other lanes by a small curb. Lane 5 will be the new parking lane. In other words:

    (1)Parking-(2,3,4)Travel-(5)Parking || (6) Bus.

    The new layout is basically similar to Lexington Avenue (5 lanes wide) + a bus lane that is on the curb side of the parking lane. Parking would never use the lane (they have lane 5), Double parkers would use lanes 2 and 4. The only problem that the above design would face is the conflict between a bus traveling straight in lane 6 is situated to the right of (and therefore in conflict with) right turning traffic in lane 5.

    There are two solutions to this problem: (1) Prohibit right turns [this is done along Madison Avenue bus lanes] or (2) Provide separate traffic signal phases for the buses and right turn vehicles.

    Imagine an intersection between a northbound avenue and an eastbound street. The traffic signal can be something like this:

    (1) 50 sec: Northbound avenue traffic and peds
    (2) 30 sec: Eastbound street traffic and peds

    [During phase 1, peds on the western sidewalk of the avenue face no conflict, and right turning cars from the avenue to the street are to yield to peds on the eastern sidewalk of the avenue. During phase 2, peds on the southern sidewalk of the street face no conflict, and left turning cars from the street to the avenue are to yield to peds on the northern side of the street.]

    Now implement a bus lane and provide a separate phase for the right turns as follows:

    (1) 20 sec: Northbound avenue and right turns
    (2) 30 sec: Northbound avene, bus, and peds
    (3) 30 sec: Eastbound street traffic and peds

    [During phase 1 and 2, peds on the western sidewalk of the avenue face no conflict and are given the walk signal. During phase 1, buses and peds on the eastern sidewalk are given red lights/don’t walk signals, since right turns have the right of way. During phase 2, right turning cars may not turn (they face a red arrow) and buses and pedestrians on the eastern sidewalk of the avenue are given a protected signal phase. Northbound thru traffic has the green for both phases 1 and 2. During phase 3, peds on the southern sidewalk of the street face no conflict, and left turning cars from the street to the avenue are to yield to peds on the northern side of the street.]

    A bike only lane could operate in a similar way on either the left or the right side of an avenue.

    My dream is that physically separate bus lanes operate along 1st/2nd avenues and 9th/10th avenues to provide fast bus service along the edges of Manhattan where the subway is not so close and to provide physically separate bike lanes along 6th/7th avenues since those avenues connect directly to the Central Park drives.

  • ddartley

    This is it–THIS is where the city should use retractable bollards!!

    Have some bollards in the bus stopping spot that are always up, and that only a radio signal from a bus (and street sweeper) can bring down!

  • JF

    Mmmm…. retractable bollards!

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