The Adams administration has been too slow to construct new bus lanes across the five boroughs, in violation of city law, say transit advocates pushing the mayor to put the pedal to the metal on their implementation.
The New York City Streets Plan — unveiled last year to comply with a 2019 law — requires the city to, among other things, implement 150 miles of protected bus lanes all over the city by 2026, including 20 miles this year and 30 miles each subsequent year. Mayor Eric Adams has already expressed support for the plan, identified key thoroughfares in need of speedier buses, and committed $900 million to the Streets Plan’s implementation.
But like the Big Apple’s buses, advocates say the mayor is woefully behind schedule on implementing dedicated lanes, with just two months to go in 2022. The city has only completed 5.4 miles of new bus lanes so far this year, according to a tracking tool from straphanger advocacy group Riders Alliance.
“We are calling on this administration to get it done,” said Queens Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas at a Tuesday rally on Northern Boulevard in Jackson Heights, where advocates called on the mayor to speed up construction. “We only have two more months left of this year. We demand to get our 20 miles of bus lanes.”
Northern Boulevard, a major arterial road stretching from western Queens out to Long Island, was one of the thoroughfares Adams announced in June would be getting a bus lane treatment, specifically 5.4 miles between Broadway and 114th Street in Jackson Heights. The boulevard is home to a bike lane west of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, but between the BQE and Grand Central Expressway is a congested car corridor with two travel lanes in each direction.
That’s to the detriment of Jackson Heights bus riders, whose commute on the Q66 bus averaged a pitiful 8.1 miles per hour as of July, according to MTA statistics. Overall, New York City is home to the slowest buses of any city in the nation.
Northern Boulevard is also ripe for a hasty redesign due to its dangerous reputation, advocates say: 10 pedestrians have been killed in the past decade on the boulevard between Broadway and 114th Street, according to NYC Crash Mapper. One of those was 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero, who in 2018 was fatally mowed down by an 86-year-old driver in a hit-and-run; the driver later told cops they didn’t realize they hit someone.
Giovanni’s father, Raul Ampuero, has since then channeled his grief into advocacy for safer streets, first and foremost Northern Boulevard.
“People are getting killed here every day. A reckless street like this is the reason why my son is not here,” Ampuero said. “If you don’t improve the street, people are going to still get killed.”
Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation said that work on Northern Boulevard should get underway later this year, and touted completed projects like the bus lane on 21st Street in Astoria and the 34th Avenue Open Street, more significant progress toward the Streets Plan’s bike lane requirements, and beating the mayor’s target of making safety improvements at 1,000 intersections.
“This administration is investing a historic $900 million to reclaim space from vehicles and support safe, sustainable, and efficient transportation options and our work in executing the Streets Plan targets is ongoing,” said DOT spokesperson Mona Bruno. “We have exceeded our commitment on improving 1,000 intersections, will meet our commitments on freight loading zones by the end of the year, and we remain on track to hit our marks on our bike lane hardening initiatives and protected bike lanes.”
“At the same time,” Bruno continued, “we are making significant progress on our bus lane goals with the completion of First Avenue on the horizon, work continuing on University and Westchester Avenues, and beginning the Northern Boulevard bus priority project later this year.”