While celebrating Washington Heights busway, de Blasio promises to get buses moving even faster

Mayor Bill de Blasio rides the bus along the 181st Street busway in Washington Heights on April 30, 2021.
NYC Mayoral Photography Unit

Along with taking a ride on the new 181st Street busway in Washington Heights on Friday, Mayor Bill de Blasio promised that the city is ready to do more to speed up buses and encourage more New Yorkers to ride them.

The 181st Street busway officially opened on Monday, but de Blasio, Transportation Commissioner Hank Gutman and MTA officials celebrated its opening on April 30 as a big step forward in addressing long-ignored public transportation issues in the Upper Manhattan neighborhood.

“We’re making these buses move. We’re going to make sure that people who, for years and years said, ‘we need something better,’ see today that their voices were heard,” de Blasio said Friday. “We’re bringing this community — and, yes, a community has been hard hit by the pandemic — we’re bringing hope that things really can change. You’re going to see it with your very eyes today.”

But for de Blasio, the new busway is only the beginning for a mass transit resurrection coinciding with the full reopening of New York City — which, the mayor said Thursday, he’s hoping will happen on July 1.

“And we’re not just doing this in one part of New York City. We’re going all over to bring equity, to make sure that buses work better for all New Yorkers,” de Blasio added.

The mayor sees buses as critical a component as subways in getting the city moving again, and he stressed that “we’ve got to get it right in this city.”

Buses along the 181st Street busway on April 30, 2021.NYC Mayoral Photography Unit

“Sometimes subways get a little more of the attention, but for millions of New Yorkers, buses are part of their lives, every day,” de Blasio said. “It’s more and more mass transit, help people get out of their cars. We only do that with putting more and more investment into buses and making them go faster.”

Like the 14th Street busway inaugurated in Manhattan in October 2019, the 181st Street busway devotes much of the entire corridor exclusively to bus traffic. On an ordinary day, more than 66,000 people ride the buses along 181st Street — and Gutman projects that they will see their commute times slashed, and bus speeds increased, by at least 30%.

“That’s a lot of time for a lot of people,” Gutman said. “That’s a major impact, and we have a lot more that we plan to do. So stay tuned for future announcements and future developments.”

The city DOT has been working in close partnership with the MTA on creating busways and finding other methods toward speeding up bus traffic, such as transit signal priority systems for buses. MTA Bus President Craig Cipriano said the authority is all too happy to work with the city on expanding busways and creating a faster, more efficient bus system citywide. 

“There’s no debating that a high performing transit system is the key to New York’s recovery as we continue to welcome back customers,” Cipriano said.

Expanding the city’s bus lane network continues to be a priority for the Riders Alliance, which this month has held two City Hall events urging the mayor to fulfill a promise to build 30 more bus lane miles before the end of his term in December.

“Mayor Bill de Blasio should crown his legacy for bus riders with 30 miles of new busways and bus lanes this year. He is exactly right that better buses are integral to ending the tale of two cities — that is why he should complete 30 new busway or bus lane miles by the time he leaves office,” said Riders Alliance Senior Organizer Jolyse Race said. “The DOT set a record for new bus priority projects last year even at the height of a global pandemic with New York at its epicenter. Clearly, the mayor can and should get 30 miles done in 2021.”

Later on Friday, when asked by a caller on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show if he would fulfill the Riders Alliance’s wish, de Blasio didn’t specifically say so — but hinted that many more bus improvements are on the horizon. 

“We obviously are moving busways and new bus lanes all over the city. Last year was a record year, even amidst the pandemic for expanding bus lane capacity. We’re going to be doing a lot more this year and we’ll have announcements in the coming weeks as part of the budget process,” de Blasio said. “So, I think better than words, actions that we’ve proven, I’ve proven how much I’m committed to this. And you’re about to see a substantial amount more.”

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