Like their bold reclamation of Broadway Boulevard and Times Square Plaza a decade ago, the New York City Department of Transportation has once again changed the game.
They’ve pushed through serious opposition to create bus-only lanes on one of the busiest streets in Manhattan. Neighborhood groups filed a lawsuit to stop the project, claiming spillover traffic would choke nearby streets and the lack of auto access would doom the neighborhood. A court overruled those claims and allowed the project to go forward. Over a day in, the opposition’s fears have not come to pass (big surprise). The new service has been so successful that the Wall Street Journal reported bus drivers had to slow down to keep their schedules.
The project was made possible by a coordinated effort from local transportation advocacy groups and is part of a major strategy to improve bus service citywide in anticipation of a coming subway closure.
— Hayley Richardson (@bagatelleno12) October 4, 2019
Just like Times Square, the impact of this project transcends one street. It shifts perspectives and forces people to think differently about what streets can be.
The success of 14th Street should inspire similar projects here in Portland and/or speed up ones already planned. Our bureau of transportation has adopted two plans to improve bus service (Enhanced Transit Corridors and Central City in Motion), and our transportation commissioner is talking a big game — but so far we’ve only rolled out two small projects. The bus-only lanes on SW Madison and NW Everett only last a few blocks and they still allow drivers of cars to share the road. We also haven’t taken the step of painting lanes red, which keeps prohibited users out of the way of bus drivers. Since red lanes aren’t officially sanctioned by the all-powerful Federal Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), PBOT has to wait until the FHWA approves their request (something other cities have already received, so it should just be a formality).
Where might we see something like this in Portland? The most likely place will be Burnside, a major cross-town street that sees daily gridlock. It’s next up in PBOT’s Central City in Motion plan project queue and is supposed to begin construction later this year (once Multnomah County finishes a bridge maintenance project). The project will also come with more robust (and maybe even physically protected if we’re lucky) bike lanes.
As we saw in the disappointing work commute mode share numbers recently released by the U.S. Census Bureau, Portland needs to do much more to move the needle on how we get around.
Thanks for the inspiration NYC! Let’s get going Portland! It’s very simple: We can solve many of our transportation problems by creating more space for bikes and buses and less space for car drivers.
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