By Sabina Mollot
On Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio unveiled a plan to speed up bus rides citywide by adding 21 new Select Bus Service (SBS) routes. The new routes will be in all five boroughs with Manhattan getting new crosstown routes, so far unspecified except for 14th Street.
De Blasio cheered the plan after boarding an M23 (twice the winner of the Straphangers Campaign’s Pokey award for being the slowest route) on Ninth Avenue. He was joined by local elected officials including State Senator Brad Hoylman — who noted that the bus has been nicknamed “the turtle” — as well as a gaggle of reporters. From there the pols rode to Chelsea Piers, where the mayor announced details over nearby construction noise.
Currently, de Blasio said, SBS routes currently account for just 12 percent of the bus rides taken in the city, a figure he’d like to see jump to 30 percent. The mayor said with even more people using them once the new SBS routes are in place, along with ferries, Citi Bike and the planned Lite Rail system for Brooklyn and Queens, they will help avoid further burdening the subway system.
“And we know if you can get around, if you can get around quickly everything else can work in your day,” he said. “And if you can’t get around quickly it means missing a doctor appointment or a job interview or your kid’s little league game – things that really, really matter to people. We have to do better. We have to make it faster.”
Hoylman quipped that the SBS system, which has already arrived on 23rd Street, has taken the 3.8 mile-per-hour crosstown, the aforementioned turtle, “into a rabbit.”
Meanwhile, the mayor didn’t stick around to answer questions about the mass transit proposal, instead dashing off after his statements into a waiting SUV.
However, Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg stayed behind to take questions, including about if the city will be implementing what’s been dubbed “The People Way.” That proposal from the group Transportation Alternatives would make 14th Street mostly car-free during the looming L train shutdown with beefed up bus service and protected bike lanes.
In response, Trottenberg said that while SBS was certain to be part of the solution, the city still hasn’t decided on whether the street should be car-free. She did however, say that an announcements from the DOT and MTA would be coming soon.
“We’re working on the engineering,” she said. “Fourteenth Street is a challenging corridor.”
Data shows SBS routes have been able to decrease the time spent by riders on buses by up to 30 percent, thanks to dedicated bus lanes, pre-paid fares and all-door boarding.
In a pamphlet touting the “Bus Forward” plan, the city notes that $9.4 million per year will be allocated to SBS projects, allowing for 2-3 new routes a year. This is not including DOT funds devoted to bus priority projects.
The plan got thumbs up from John Raskin, executive director of the Riders Alliance, who said unreliable and slow buses had created inequity in certain neighborhoods due to their inability to take people to school and work on time. The plan, he said, “is building a fairer city, building an inclusive economy.”
Roughly 2.5 million New Yorkers rely on a bus for their commutes.