By Gabriela Resto-Montero
MURRAY HILL — A coalition of neighbors and elected officials resoundingly rejected the Department of Transportation's plan to create separate bus lanes along East 34th Street at a community hall town meeting Thursday.
Neighbors delivered a petition signed by 2,000 residents asking the department to scrap the 34th Street Transitway plan, which calls for two protected bus lanes to be built along East 34th Street from the FDR Drive to 12th Avenue.
The DOT says the Transitway, which is designed to serve the M16 and M34 bus routes, would "improve service on both crosstown and commuter buses, make 34th Street safer and more pleasant for pedestrians."
However, residents claim the dedicated bus lanes would divert traffic to smaller streets, causing a traffic gridlock during the rush hour.
"It's going to be like the U.N. is in session every single day," said Marisa Bulzone, a member of the Murray Hill Neighborhood Association, which hosted Thursday's forum at the Armenian Evangelical Church on East 34th Street.
Neighbors are also worried about the bus lanes blocking the entrances to their front doors and limiting curb access for children or residents with disabilities on 34th Street. Residents also expressed concern Thursday over a possible increase in noise and pollution from directing traffic from the FDR onto residential streets like East 35th Street.
"Here I am a citizen of New York City and a bus is more important," said Diane Bartow, president of the neighborhood association.
"No concern at all has been given to residents," said Bartow, who lives on Fifth Avenue.
The DOT said that between 82 and 85 percent of Murray Hill neighbors use the bus transportation system and the Transitway will improve travel times and increase pedestrian safety with wider sidewalks.
Improving public transportation along the busy street is part of the department's plan to decrease congestion around the city, said Eric Beaton, a project manager for the DOT.
"The truth is, we do need on 34th Street to get a face lift for traffic," said Scott Stringer, Manhattan borough president.
"But you can't just be top down, you have to organize from the ground up," Stringer added.
Representatives from DOT said the plan is still in its preliminary stages and the agency will continue to meet with community members to discuss issues of access and congestion.
The DOT will next conduct a traffic study of the plan before meeting again with neighbors.
"We don't have a design that we're ready to put on the street tomorrow," Beaton said.
"If we can't answer these questions then, frankly, this project isn't a good project."