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Bus Lanes to Quicken Commute on NYC’s East Side

Buses in New York are as slow as snails. It is as sure a thing as Yankees wearing pinstripes and congestion on the Cross Bronx Expressway.

But an ambitious $10 million project to bring European-style rapid-transit buses to First and Second Avenues — among the most highly used and heavily congested bus routes in the nation — is aiming to turn that truism on its head.

Starting in October, buses will be granted an exclusive lane to speed up travel on those avenues from Houston Street to 125th Street, a trip that can last an hour and a half — the length of an Amtrak ride from Pennsylvania Station to Philadelphia.

Tickets will be sold at sidewalk kiosks, allowing passengers to board without stopping to fumble for change or a MetroCard.

Riders will be on the honor system: passengers will not have to produce a ticket unless asked. (A $100 fine awaits the dishonest.) And the buses will be equipped with three doors for quicker boarding and exiting.

The plan, to be announced on Monday, represents the latest move by the Bloomberg administration to siphon away space from private automobiles in favor of other forms of transport. Once dominated by trucks, cars and taxicabs, First and Second Avenues will now gain cycling lanes and concrete pedestrian islands, as well as a bus route meant to function more like a subway.

The city’s Department of Transportation and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority hope that bus travel times will improve by about 20 percent.

That could benefit more than 50,000 riders on Manhattan’s transit-starved far East Side, still waiting for its subway line after 80 years.

“New Yorkers are tired of waiting years and decades for changes to make their streets work better,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner. “We want to give buses the red carpet.”

In fact, the new lanes will be painted a shade of terra-cotta brown. And they will not physically separate buses from other vehicles, unlike the bus lanes planned for the city’s overhaul of 34th Street.

Bus-only lanes have been tried in the city before, with mixed results: They often fall prey to double-parkers and other vehicular scofflaws.

This time, the city has promised stepped-up police enforcement and security cameras to spot lanes blocked by taxicabs, an offense that carries a $150 fine. Albany lawmakers would have to pass statewide legislation before the city could use the cameras to enforce those restrictions against private drivers.

A similar program along Fordham Road in the Bronx raised bus ridership there by 30 percent. Still, the buses will face some challenges. On about half of the route, the bus lane will run along the curb, and other vehicles will be allowed to use the lane for deliveries from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on weekdays. (Other portions will place a parking lane between the buses and the curb.)

Cars making right-hand turns can merge into the bus lane at intersections, and taxis will be permitted to pick up and drop off passengers. The dedicated lane on Second Avenue will cease between 70th and 100th Streets, stymied by construction of the Second Avenue subway.

And the buses will not be capable of extending green traffic lights, an advanced feature used by other cities to help lollygagging buses make it through intersections. Officials say they hope to introduce this technology later, but could not say when that would be.

Bicycle lanes will be added to a portion of the route. The lanes will be physically separated from cars by concrete pedestrian islands, similar to those on Ninth Avenue.

No separated bicycle lanes will be built above 34th Street, where traffic is heaviest, particularly near the Queensboro Bridge, a decision that may disappoint some cyclists.

Still, the new streetscape is “the prototypical 21st century avenue,” said Paul Steely White, the executive director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group.

“For the first time, it recognizes that at least as many New Yorkers are walking and taking the bus and biking on the corridor” as driving, Mr. White said.

(Source: NY Times)

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