By Maria Rocha-Buschel
Representatives from the Department of Transportation and MTA presented results from a recent report on the 14th Street busway during Community Board 6’s most recent transportation committee on Monday. The report was conducted by Sam Schwartz Engineering, and Dan Schack, a senior associate at SSE, said that normally the agency would wait at least a year to draw any conclusions but the city committed to regular reports on the pilot program.
Schack emphasized that these are only preliminary results, with data only available from November and December, and the final report is expected to be delivered in Spring 2021, with regular reports until then as the city tracks the program’s progress.
Patrick Dougherty, a transportation planner for long-range bus planning at MTA New York City Transit, said that the agency is encouraged by the results so far, especially given how poorly the bus on 14th Street has performed in the past.
“From our perspective, which is operating safe and efficient bus service across 14th Street, the numbers have proven that this has been very successful so far,” he said. “I just want to remind everyone that [the M14] was the second slowest route in the entire city. It was losing ridership year after year, and almost immediately travel times have improved. It’s getting riders back on the bus. Gaining 6,000 riders within a month is incredible. We really support the pilot and hope it continues after the first 18 months.”
Schack highlighted travel times for vehicles attempting to get across Manhattan on adjacent side streets, noting that travel times had increased overall by an increase of one to three minutes for most of the blocks just north and south of 14th Street. One 18th Street resident said that his block, although he didn’t specify which, is much worse, making it “impossible” to get across the city now.
Schack noted that 18th Street specifically has actually slowed down by half a minute overall, but “each block could have its own problems,” he said.
Other feedback at the meeting included a comment about a lack of clarity about the new shared street configuration on University Place in Union Square and DOT transportation planner Jeff Peele said that the shared street is one of the items on their list to make improvements because they have noticed confusion as well.
Residents skeptical of the busway have expressed concern about the effect the project would have on emergency vehicles getting around because of possible increased congestion on the side streets and while DOT representatives were insistent that the results of the report were preliminary and they didn’t want to draw definitive conclusions, Peele said that emergency vehicles were now “flying” across 14th Street, and initial results seem to indicate that the pilot is helping ambulances get across the city more quickly than before.
“We will be hopefully including [specific data] in subsequent reports,” he added. “If they need to go crosstown, they are going on 14th Street. They’re much faster there, and faster even if they have to go to 17th Street.”
Another attendee at the meeting asked if seasonality is expected to affect the results of the busway and Schack noted that this is one of the reasons that the pilot is a year and a half long.
‘We expect it to change and that’s why we hesitate to draw any conclusions,” he added.
Sam Schwartz Engineering is also accepting feedback on the pilot and residents can fill out an online survey at samschwartz.com/14th-st-busway.