The plan was proposed in 2008 by the department, but the drive to put it into effect has recently accelerated. The city completed a study of the proposal in February, and is now preparing the environmental and design reviews.It might mean that drivers will seek out driving crosstown on the narrow side streets above and below 34th street, but bus rapid transit is coming to 34th Street in the form of dedicated traffic lanes and a new traffic pattern.
The final design for the plaza and traffic changes is expected in fall 2011, with the street ready for use by the end of 2012. The redesign is expected to cost a minimum of $30 million, and officials said they would continue to tweak the plan based on public reaction and in-house studies.
“It’s going to improve the mobility along the corridor,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the city’s transportation commissioner. “We expect the bus travel times to improve by up to 35 percent, which is something that up to 33,000 passengers that currently travel crosstown will appreciate.”
Ms. Sadik-Khan said a city study showed that only one in 10 people travel along 34th Street by car, including taxis; the rest walk or use mass transit. Faster buses would benefit “the majority of the people who are actually using the street,” she said.
With the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center, tourist attractions like Macy’s, and major transit hubs (including a ferry terminal and helipad), 34th Street has some of the highest transportation demands in the city — and it does not benefit from crosstown subway lines as 42nd Street does.
Officials have long viewed the street as a prime candidate for an experimental bus lane that would be separated from regular car traffic. Bus lanes would bisect the pedestrian plaza and carry tourist buses and some private lines as well as those operated by New York City Transit. Buses would run in both directions along the entire length of 34th.
Transit buses using the lane would also benefit from other new initiatives: passengers will be able to pay for bus tickets at sidewalk kiosks before boarding, and electronic devices on buses could signal traffic lights to remain green as the buses approach intersections.
This will help out those who want to get across town much faster by foot or using mass transit, and it's a model transplanted from other cities around the world where there are dedicated bus lanes that allow mass transit to move much more effectively since car traffic is diverted away. Bus rapid transit is a far cheaper alternative to building subways, though the capacity is far lower. A subway project would run into the billions of dollars, whereas a bus rapid transit setup such as this would run about $30 million and doesn't require the kind of upkeep that a subway system would require.
Now, if you're a driver trying to get across Manhattan, that's a different story and you'll find yourself in a whole lot more traffic. Yet, some observers have noted, this isn't exactly a bad thing since it might convince those people to give up on their cars and take mass transit instead.