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Manhattan BP wants busways in Harlem, Washington Heights

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One pol is calling for “forward-thinking” busways in northern Manhattan

The 14th Street busway has virtually banned cars from the typically congested thoroughfare.
MTA New York City Transit

The city’s first-ever busway has transformed 14th Street from a congested nightmare into a virtually car-free utopia for bus riders—and one local politician is eager to see the pilot program roll out to other parts of Manhattan.

Borough President Gale Brewer sent a letter to Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg last week, requesting that the agency explore implementing the bus-centric street redesign on Harlem’s 125th Street and Washington Height’s West 181st Street.

“It is vital that we not only apply proven methods for bus service at a time when ridership continues to fall, but that we ensure equity as we do it,” Brewer wrote in the November 21 letter. “Northern Manhattan bus riders deserve to reap the same potential benefits that riders in lower Manhattan have seen.”

Under the pilot, private through-traffic is banned between 6 a.m. and 10 p.m. on 14th Street between Third and Ninth avenues. Cars are still able to make pick-ups and drop-offs, as well as access area garages on the street.

Since the pilot’s launch, service on the M14 SBS has seen a 20 percent jump in ridership, and travel times on the corridor have dropped from an average of 17 minutes to just over 10 minutes compared to this time last year, according to the MTA. Preliminary data conducted by Inrix, a firm that analyzes traffic data, also shows that car speeds on neighboring roads are essentially unchanged.

Brewer aims to bring such changes to northern Manhattan where the nine bus routes that serve 125th and W. 181st streets have a combined daily ridership of more than 140,000 people; that’s more than four times the bus riders per day who travel along 14th Street, according to MTA ridership data.

DOT spokesperson Brian Zumhagen says the city is exploring where other busways could be rolled out, but did not commit to the two northern Manhattan streets.

“We’re consistently looking for ways to reduce New Yorkers’ reliance on cars and make it easier to get around the city,” said Zumhagen. “However, transforming any major street is not a decision the City takes lightly. We plan to make decisions on next steps sometime next year after reviewing more concrete data, including whether to create additional busways.”

Transportation experts also have some ideas on where the city could implement more busways.