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New York City’s big bus breakthrough

Posted by on October 4th, 2019 at 12:59 pm

No longer a dangerous traffic snarl.
(Photo: Streetsblog NYC)

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.

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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.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org

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16 Comments
  • Hello, Kitty
    Hello, Kitty October 4, 2019 at 1:49 pm

    This could have had a huge impact on Powell, for what has become the #2 Division not quite BRT project.

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    matchupancakes October 4, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    How soon until we start?

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    maccoinnich October 4, 2019 at 2:58 pm

    Does anyone know what the hold up is on getting permission to use red paint? At the recent CCIM open house I was told that NW Everett was going to go in with a red bus lane, but that didn’t happen. Meanwhile I see jurisdictions all over the US installing red bus lanes, presumably with FHWA approval.

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      Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 4, 2019 at 3:13 pm

      I’m not exactly sure either Iain. San Fran made their request in 2012 and I know that PBOT has been aware of the need to file their request for at least one year already. I haven’t confirmed if that request has been officially filed. If it has been, perhaps they’re waiting to be officially added to the list of cities doing the “experiment”? Either way, it looks worse and worse for PBOT that these other cities are doing it while we haven’t yet. If I recall, we did blue bike lanes before full FHWA approval and we did green bike boxes before FHWA approval too. Not sure why we can’t do that with red bus lanes (only hunch is that we don’t have the political champions for transportation that we used to have so there’s more fear of innovation in this realm.)

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        mh October 4, 2019 at 3:49 pm

        Do we have to wait for the feds to fund the purchase of red paint? Just do it.

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          Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 4, 2019 at 4:06 pm

          It’s really just a paperwork formality, so there’s no upside in PBOT going rogue and prematurely painting until they have official approval. I mean, SF got their approval in 2012! So it’s not like FHWA is dragging heels on this. I’m sure PBOT is in the queue and close to approval. Hoping to confirm where things stand and will report back soon.

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      JR October 6, 2019 at 7:44 am

      I’ve heard through the grapevine that the red paint use was approved by the feds in the last couple weeks. I’m not sure what the weather limitations are for installing the red “paint” though. It may have to wait til warmer and drier weather?

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        Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor) October 6, 2019 at 9:31 am

        Yep it has been approved. Will post details Monday.

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          osmill October 6, 2019 at 3:18 pm

          Hope you’re asking them about the plans for lane coverage. This exchange from the September 26 CCIM Working Group minutes concerns me (appears to be in reference to Everett). I’m concerned that people will see the red portions as off-limits, and the un-painted portions as OK, especially given the BAT segments:

          [Working group member]: How far west will the red paint go?
          Gabe [Graff]: Open to your feedback on how to apply it. Initial plan – take a less-is-more approach. Apply it to the top of the block, to give indication to drivers with [sic] lane to be in. Wouldn’t paint the entire lane, due to cost and maintenance.

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    Mike Quigley October 5, 2019 at 5:16 am

    I like the part about the court dismissing lawsuits from neighborhood groups. Does Portland have a court that can do such a thing?

    Also, the fact that spillover traffic never happened. Let’s go!

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      John Lascurettes October 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm

      And bus lines that are so efficient they have to “slow down” — no more excuses of “I don’t take the bus because it takes too long).

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    eawriste October 5, 2019 at 6:46 am

    Thanks for covering this. Keep in mind this took the –now defunct–plan to completely shut down the L train for about 2 years as its primary impetus. And then a lot of activism (and a record number of people walking and on bikes dying) to keep the idea alive. I would have likely never happened if not for the stars aligning. The second most difficult hurdle were the legal battles. Hard to believe it actually happened.

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    Andrea Capp October 5, 2019 at 10:57 am

    Oh please oh please make Glisan (to Burnside Bridge) or Burnside bus and bike only, out to Gresham and into the city.

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    John Lascurettes October 7, 2019 at 12:13 pm

    I have a question about the red paint: Is there a way to put the coloring into any future resurfacing project: that is to add a dye to the asphalt itself so the expense of having to repaint every couple of years is abated? Or would that be more expensive in itself?

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      Chris I October 7, 2019 at 2:01 pm

      It can be done, and they do it in Europe for bike lanes. I would imagine it saves in the long-run, at least if the lane is fully-painted:
      http://asphaltmagazine.com/colored-asphalt-is-decorating-paving-landscape/

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      Greg Spencer October 10, 2019 at 9:22 am

      The cycling officer in Zwolle Netherlands explained that their red bike lanes are surfaced with pigmented asphalt an inch or so deep. I reckon it is more expensive than paint, however the Dutch wouldn’t do it if it didn’t pencil out over the long run.

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