Volume 76, Number 51 | May 16 -22, 2007

Villager photo by Jefferson Siegel

A double-decker tour bus made a stop at a new bus bulb at Broadway and Spring St. The bulbs sport signs for the tour buses, as well as M.T.A. buses.

Not all think Broadway bus bulbs are a bright idea

By Alyssa Giachino

The newest attempt to ease the flow of traffic along Broadway, by extending the sidewalk out by about 10 feet for bus stops, has been received with mixed reviews from merchants, neighborhood activists and mass transit advocates.

The plan involves pouring slabs of concrete, about 100 feet long and 9 feet wide, adjacent to the existing sidewalks so that buses don’t have to maneuver over to the curb for passenger loading.

The concrete strips, known as bus bulbs, are already in place along Broadway at Spring and Grand Sts. Two more are in mid-construction further Downtown at Walker and Franklin Sts. and should be finished in the next two weeks, according to the city’s Department of Transportation. The fifth and final bus bulb will be installed at Houston St. this summer. The project will cost $350,000 total.

The plan has been embraced by the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, whose director Paul Steely White said, “It’s a reclaiming of car space that is being given over to pedestrians and bus riders.”

White said the bus bulbs are consistent with Mayor Bloomberg’s 2030 plan for the city that emphasizes improvements in mass transit, and that the bulbs have been effective in other cities. Seattle, Portland and San Francisco each have a version of bus bulbs incorporated into their bus systems.

“The reason bus bulbs work is because the bus can maintain a straight trajectory while it’s completing its route,” White said.

In March, Community Board 1 unanimously passed a resolution opposing the project, citing a need for a comprehensive plan from D.O.T. detailing how bus bulbs would help traffic. But Community Board 2 supported the plan because it gives priority to mass transit.

Brad Hoylman, who heads C.B. 2’s Transportation Committee, said he will be seeking community input on whether the program is working.

“There may be some wrinkles that need to be ironed out in the implementation,” he said. “We felt that the positive outweighs the negative.”

Carl Rosenstein, owner of the Puffin Room Gallery on Broome St. and a 30-year Soho resident, said the bus bulbs have only compounded the existing traffic problems by narrowing the roadway and making it difficult for buses to make turns.

“It’s a disaster. It’s just complete stupidity,” he said. “They added to the chaos and mayhem in Soho.”

Sean Sweeney, director of the Soho Alliance, is also skeptical about the project, saying, “It benefits no one really, except the engineers at D.O.T.”

“Most annoying is that it was done with no community input,” he said. “How it benefits the free flow of traffic confounds me.”

The four lanes along Broadway are frequently crowded, particularly around Broome St., because of the stream of cars heading toward the Holland Tunnel. The rules for the space left in the west lane in front of the bulb vary from block to block, but usually it is intended as a loading zone.

“We expect that as construction in Lower Manhattan [at the Fulton St. Transit Center and World Trade Center sites] picks up this summer, the congestion on Broadway will get worse,” said Ted Timbers, a D.O.T. spokesperson. However, D.O.T. expects the bulbs will ease congestion once drivers adjust to the new street layout.

Markings on the street and overhead signs will be installed to distinguish the bus lane, which will be in effect on weekdays from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and will extend 2 miles down to Ann St.

“The installation of the bus bulbs is the first step in our plan to prioritize mass transit on lower Broadway, and the dedicated bus lanes will take effect in early July,” Timbers said.

In the meantime, cars and buses jostle for space. Many vehicles, including taxis and cargo trucks, stop along the east-side curb and block a through-traffic lane, which leaves two lanes that are often clogged with tour buses, city buses and cars.

Henry Chan, whose pharmacy in Tribeca at Broadway and Franklin St. has served its neighbors for 12 years, said the bus bulbs were “foolish.” He said trucks bringing deliveries to merchants will have to move to the side streets or double-park, which simply redirects the congestion without solving it.

“The traffic’s bad already on Broadway going Downtown,” he said. “The area they eliminated is not really for parking, but for loading and unloading.”

Karen Stamm, vice president of the Family Association of Tribeca East, said the community was not consulted in advance of the plan, a pattern she said is typical for D.O.T.

“I think it’s a very poorly thought-out idea,” she said. “It doesn’t take into account what’s really happening here.”

Furthermore, Chan said, much of the lane designated as a loading zone is taken up by commuters’ cars, although many display placards from city agencies.

“All these parking areas, 80 to 90 percent are occupied by cars with some kind of permit related to the city,” Chan said. “They are easily duplicated. They should really crack down on these illegal permits.”

There are complaints of abuse of city agency permits, both legal and counterfeit, throughout Manhattan. D.O.T. is working on a study of parking practices Downtown, including cars using placards, slated for release in the fall.

White, of Transportation Alternatives, agreed that the plan is incomplete without police action to enforce parking and loading regulations.

“There is a significant enforcement piece needed to make the bulbs function optimally,” he said.

D.O.T. agrees that enforcement is an important component of the plan.

“We’ve worked in conjunction with City Hall, the N.Y.P.D. and a number of groups on this plan,” Timbers said.

The bus bulbs have a ramp on the north end, located at the pedestrian crosswalk. However, Lora Tenenbaum, a Soho resident for 35 years, said the design makes it hard for people in wheelchairs or pushing strollers.

“I don’t know whether it’s accessible,” she said. “They didn’t make any clear, straight way for a disabled person to get to the bus.”

She is also concerned about trash pickup and cleanup of the gutter that lies between the bus bulb and curb.

Another part of the design is a long, continuous black fence along the sidewalk, which is convenient for passengers to lean on while they wait, but may discourage pedestrians from entering the stores located behind the fence.

Oscar Lastra, a manager at the Quicksilver store at Broadway and Spring St., said the bulb is helpful in that it opens up more sidewalk space for foot traffic, but said people may bypass his store because of the fence.

“If they’d put benches, it would have been better,” Lastra said.

Gallery owner Rosenstein sees the bus bulbs as another example of D.O.T. trampling on community interests.

“They have contributed to the physical, spiritual and cultural decline of the neighborhood with their bad policy,” he said.


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