The City’s Shuttle Bus Plan for the L Train Shutdown Is a Recipe for Gridlock
Bill De Blasio BRT Bus Rapid Transit Fashion J.P. Patafio L Train Shutdown NYC Department of Transportation Select Bus Services The Front Transit Williamsburg Bridge

The City’s Shuttle Bus Plan for the L Train Shutdown Is a Recipe for Gridlock

The view out of your L practice shuttle bus, beginning subsequent yr
Victor J. Blue/Bloomberg by way of Getty Photographs

On any given weekday, the Williamsburg Bridge is clogged with visitors. As one among simply two toll-free East River crossings — together with the Manhattan Bridge — that present business automobiles with direct entry to Decrease Manhattan from Brooklyn and Lengthy Island, the Williamsburg Bridge is a essential route for vans and enormous vans. Throughout rush hours, bridge visitors not solely makes the span itself a mess, however packs streets on both finish for dozens of blocks.

It’s into this gridlock that the MTA and DOT plan on sending as much as 80 buses per hour throughout the L practice shutdown to shuttle displaced L practice riders throughout the river. 4 Choose Bus Service routes created simply for the shutdown will take commuters from Williamsburg to subway stops in decrease Manhattan and vice versa.

“Buses will be an important piece of the puzzle,” DOT commissioner Polly Trottenberg informed the Metropolis Council throughout a listening to on the shutdown plans final month. The MTA predicts roughly 17 % of displaced L riders, or as much as four,200 riders per hour and greater than 30,000 per day, will use these shuttle buses, whereas the relaxation will take to different subway strains, and to a lesser extent bicycles or ferries.

But DOT has opted to not put a devoted bus lane on the bridge itself — which means buses should compete with present business visitors. Additional, the metropolis plans to institute solely restricted bus lanes on the approaches, which transit specialists warn might doom the whole shuttle bus system.

J.P. Patafio, vice chairman of the floor transit division of Transit Staff Union Native 100, which represents the metropolis’s bus drivers, says forcing buses to compete with business automobiles for area on a slender bridge is a recipe for catastrophe. “The Williamsburg Bridge is a particularly tricky bridge because it isn’t a modern bridge with wide lanes,” he says. “If you don’t give a bus a dedicated lane, I don’t care what they say, you’re gonna have traffic backing up in Manhattan because it’s going to be backing up on the bridge” in the afternoon rush; throughout the morning rush, in the meantime, Brooklyn “is going to be a mess.”

Walter Hook, a New York Metropolis–based mostly city planner for BRTPlan, which focuses on implementing Bus Speedy Transit routes, tells the Voice that the danger is “very high” that the Williamsburg Bridge will probably be “totally clogged” throughout the shutdown.

“We met with DOT and we walked them through it,” Hook recollects. “And we said that these buses are gonna go two miles per hour.”

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When the L practice stops operating underneath the East River subsequent yr, the solely car restriction Mayor de Blasio’s DOT plans to put on the Williamsburg Bridge is an HOV-Three rule: All automobiles should have a minimum of three individuals in them. Business automobiles and journey shares — that are anticipated to soar in reputation throughout the shutdown — will nonetheless be permitted always, even throughout peak commuting hours. (Journey shares should abide by the HOV-Three restriction.) These restrictions are far much less stringent than the ones being put in place on 14th Road between Third and Eighth avenues, the place DOT is making the whole street bus-only from 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week.

Each facet of the mitigation plan — from the additional subway service to the shuttle buses to the ferries — has to run easily as a result of even the slightest hitch might throw the entire plan into disarray. To wit: DOT discovered that if solely three % of projected 14th Road bus riders opted for For-Rent Automobiles as an alternative, the whole advantage of the busway can be negated by elevated congestion on the surrounding streets.

“DOT’s traffic studies show that the HOV 3+ lane will provide an adequate flow of buses over the bridge,” a DOT spokesperson informed the Voice in an e mail. “If any adjustments are needed during the shutdown, we will make them accordingly.”

Transit activists have been sounding the alarm about the visitors on the bridge since earlier than DOT’s plan was even introduced in December. Whereas the MTA and DOT have held dozens of public conferences about the shutdown over the final a number of years, together with two highly-publicized city corridor conferences in Might that largely targeted on the Manhattan bike lanes and 14th Road busway hours, some specialists have continued to warn that the largest flaw is the lack of a bus-only lane on the bridge and its approaches. But transit authorities have by no means publicly mentioned a bus lane on the bridge in any element.

“We don’t believe [DOT has] done a sufficiently rigorous study that that road won’t be totally congested,” Hook tells the Voice. In January, Hook co-authored a research on the mitigation plan, which was launched in partnership with Transportation Options. The evaluation concluded there are vital gaps: Though DOT will put in some type of bus lanes on key bridge approaches, the bus lanes owill not have turning restrictions for different automobiles, which can clog the lane as they wait for pedestrians to cross. Additionally, the two bus routes from the Bedford Avenue L practice cease should hook up with the bridge by way of Roebling Road and Bedford Avenue, which could have no bus-only lanes.

“In my view, they’re trying to come up with a proposal with middle ground,” Hook surmises relating to DOT’s mitigation plan. He provides that DOT’s evaluation didn’t formally mannequin extra aggressive plans, comparable to a longer busway in Manhattan extending alongside most of the 14th Road bus route as an alternative of simply from Third to Eighth avenues. “They should approach it from a technical perspective. How are they going to do this?”

Painfully sluggish bus speeds can be a worst-case state of affairs for everyone concerned. Annoyed commuters would abandon the buses for different modes of transit, similar to close by subways or ferries — that are already projected to be at or above capability throughout the shutdown. Much more catastrophically, others might resort to app-based providers reminiscent of UberPool, Lyft Line, and Chariot to satisfy the HOV-Three restriction, which can solely exacerbate the visitors issues on the bridge.

The visitors mess is additional difficult the Williamsburg Bridge’s peculiar format. The bridge has eight lanes of visitors, 4 in every course. Above the river, these 4 lanes cut up into inside and outer two-lane segments. The lanes on the bridge are slender, so buses might want to straddle a number of lanes (as some business automobiles already do). Additional, due to peak and weight restrictions on the internal segments, buses and vans (together with automobiles making proper turns after the bridge) can be directed to the outer lanes throughout the shutdown. If the lanes are too slender for business automobiles and buses to coexist aspect by aspect, the outer segments might primarily turn into one-lane roads, whereas ride-share automobiles and small business vans would have the internal lanes all to themselves.

DOT officers point out that the slender bridge lanes are one purpose devoted bus lanes have been rejected: If buses take up double lanes, that may imply eradicating automobiles from half of the bridge. However Hook says the solely locations the lanes are too slender are at a pair of “choke points” by the towers, and the lanes might safely merge there to permit buses precedence with out utterly stopping automotive visitors in the adjoining lane.

Patafio emphasised the needn’t solely for devoted bus lanes on the bridge, however for turn-restricted lanes main as much as the bridge itself. This may hold buses shifting in in any other case congested areas whereas additionally making enforcement simpler, as police might pull any automobiles that aren’t buses out of these lanes earlier than they get on the bridge. (It stays an open query precisely how enforcement of the HOV-Three restriction will work beneath the DOT plan.)

This is able to even be a reasonable answer. Patafio, a former Brooklyn bus operator, cited a current profitable trial in Boston that transformed a parking lane into a 1.2-mile bus lane utilizing solely visitors cones and a few indicators. A run time that would beforehand take as much as a half-hour for buses to traverse was shaved down to 10 minutes or fewer. (The metropolis has since made the lane everlasting.) He sees a comparable mannequin working properly throughout the shutdown, particularly since it may be deployed shortly if and when all events concerned agree that it’s essential.

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As with when the metropolis launched its visitors evaluation for 14th Road, the HOV-Three answer seems to be an try at a center floor between Doing Every little thing and Doing Nothing — when the L practice shutdown is such a nightmare state of affairs that we have to do the whole lot, or near it, to make it remotely manageable.

Patafio is aware of that extra bus-only lanes would end in uproar from drivers, in addition to from companies which may not have the ability to get deliveries as conveniently. However he views this as a mandatory evil throughout the largest transit problem the metropolis has confronted in years.

When many subways have been shut down following Hurricane Sandy, he notes, the MTA carried out free shuttle bus service from Brooklyn to Manhattan. The strains for the buses stretched for blocks, however DOT established devoted bus lanes on the Williamsburg and Manhattan bridges to maintain them shifting.

Patafio believes a comparable all-in effort is important for the L shutdown: “If they don’t give us what they got in Manhattan on 14th Street and they don’t put it in Brooklyn and make some hard decisions, then I think you’re gonna have a whole shitload of traffic.”

Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents Williamsburg and Bushwick, recollects that a bus-only lane throughout the bridge was “one of the first things we asked” DOT about the shutdown plan. He says DOT assured him the HOV-Three restriction would scale back visitors sufficient that a busway gained’t be crucial. He’s trusting DOT on that, at the very least till the shutdown begins and he can see for himself. However, he provides, DOT informed him there are contingencies in place in case issues don’t go based on plan, and one such contingency could also be a bus lane.

However, Reynoso is reminding himself to be calm and work with the powers that be to create the greatest plan for his group and the metropolis as a entire. “The first week, maybe a month, are going to be a disaster,” Reynoso cautions, as everyone adjusts to their L practice–much less actuality. “I don’t think any of us are prepared for how significant this is going to be.”

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