Volume 19 Issue 45 | March 23 - 29, 2007

C.B. 1 flashes yellow on bus plan; city speeding through it

By Skye H. McFarlane

Plans to close off parts of lower Broadway to local traffic will be put in place only as a last resort, a Department of Transportation official told community members Monday night. Nevertheless, Downtown residents expressed concern over the so-called contingency plan, as well as the D.O.T.’s less drastic proposal to create a dedicated bus lane with “bulb-outs” from Houston St. down to Ann and Vesey Sts.

“It sounds terrible, but I’m prepared to be convinced,” said Community Board 1 member Jeff Galloway at Monday night’s World Trade Center Committee meeting. Galloway and other board members said they could not support the bus bulb idea until they had access to traffic modeling data showing that the bulbs would ease congestion both on Broadway and in Lower Manhattan in general.

The bulbs, which have been used in other cities as well as some of New York’s outer boroughs, are extensions of the sidewalk built on the spots where buses normally pull over and stop. Environmentalists and mass transit advocates promote bus bulbs because they allow buses to stay in the same lane to pick up passengers, thus speeding bus service.

Lori Ardito, the D.O.T.’s commissioner for Lower Manhattan, told board members Monday that the D.O.T.’s Downtown traffic model is not yet up and running because the city’s data is having trouble interfacing with data previously collected by the state. In response, C.B. 1 on Tuesday passed a resolution asking for the D.O.T. to hold off on implementing any traffic mitigation plans for Lower Manhattan until the plans can be analyzed by the computer system.

The lower Broadway plans were developed because of dire congestion predictions related to the construction of the Fulton Transit Hub along the stretch of Broadway between Vesey and Liberty Sts. — what Ardito called the “pinch point.” For every traffic lane that is taken over by construction, Ardito said, Broadway will lose 600 vehicles per hour in traffic capacity.

Under the primary plan, the D.O.T. hopes to prioritize mass transit and local deliveries by turning Broadway’s westernmost southbound lane into a bus-only lane from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., Monday to Friday. To complement the bus lane, the D.O.T. would construct bus bulbs at Houston, Spring, Grand, Walker and Franklin Sts.

However, C.B. 1 members argued that the transit-first philosophy could be disastrous for traffic in the short term.

“If you only have one lane for the rest of the traffic, I can see it creating big problems,” said Galloway. “Slight things can cause terrible traffic congestion if you don’t have the option to get out of [the lane].”

Residents argued that both the curbside behind the bus bulbs — which would be a loading zone on most blocks — as well as the bus lane itself could become an illegal parking lot for government cars with placards. Community members also worried that by eliminating a stretch of legal permit parking along Broadway near Duane St., the D.O.T.’s plan would actually make the parking problem worse by forcing the placard cars onto narrow side streets.

“I know placard parking has been an issue,” Ardito said, adding that she “didn’t disagree” with a board member’s suggestion to have parking permits numbered and catalogued to root out abuse. “Unfortunately, we know that the enforcers don’t enforce themselves.”

Despite the C.B. 1 concerns, Ardito said she hoped to have all of the bus bulbs installed by July, except for the bulb at Houston St., which will be put in place as a part of a different D.O.T. project. Ardito said that it would take drivers five to six weeks to adjust to the changes. As for the more drastic contingency plan, Ardito said she hoped that the D.O.T. would “never ever” have to implement it.

Under the contingency plan, only buses and construction vehicles bound for the Fulton Transit Hub site would be able to enter Broadway between Ann/Vesey and Liberty Sts. on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Other vehicles could travel on Broadway, but they would only be able to turn onto the street at T intersections such as the one at Murray St. Traffic agents would be posted at through streets like Chambers to prevent cars from turning onto Broadway. The plan would also include signage promoting alternate routes and mass transit.

Ardito said that there was no formula to determine how much congestion would trigger the contingency plan, but she said that the decision would be made with community input. The community input on Monday night made it clear that Downtown residents would not be in favor of the contingency restrictions. Board members warned that the plan would cut off the supply lines and customer flow to small businesses and force traffic onto already-congested side streets.

“The small business owners are going to get choked,” said Albert Capsouto, a C.B.1 member and restaurant owner.

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