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Select Bus Service Plan Redesign Not Good Enough, East Side Residents Say

By Mary Johnson | October 7, 2011 6:29pm
The setup of bus lanes on West 34th Street. Residents say the lack of curb access on the south side of the street is keeping them for receiving deliveries.
The setup of bus lanes on West 34th Street. Residents say the lack of curb access on the south side of the street is keeping them for receiving deliveries.
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Department of Transportation

MURRAY HILL — Transportation officials outlined a modified plan for the proposed 34th Street Select Bus Service street redesign on Thursday night — after community members raised concerns about the project earlier this year.

“We made a lot of changes over the summer,” said Eric Beaton, director of transit development for the New York City Department of Transportation. “We really do feel like we’ve incorporated a lot of feedback, and the plan is in a very good place.”

But after several hours spent poring over large-scale printouts and Powerpoint slideshows, several people who attended strongly disagreed with the changes on the East Side — mainly affecting the length and location of loading zones but leaving most of the project's features intact, they charged.

“It must be all men running the project because for two years we’ve been saying the same thing and no one’s listening,” said Lucia, an East 34th Street resident for the past 40 years who declined to give her last name.

“I’m angry,” said Roberta Licht, another East 34th Street resident, “because I think they are trying to push a square peg into a round circle.”

Officials said the plan is intended to improve efficiency for the pedestrians, vehicles and buses that travel along the bustling east-west thoroughfare every day.

The project will create dedicated bus lanes, one heading west and one heading east, to run the width of the island from the East River to the Hudson.

Doing that will force officials to limit the number of lanes open to general traffic from four to just two.

The plan also involves increasing sidewalk space and creating special bus stops to limit street crowding and promote pedestrian safety. And it will create dedicated curbside loading zones along each block, with the zones alternating between the left and right sides of the street based on the varying needs of different businesses and buildings.

After the public meetings this past spring, officials made slight changes to the overall plan, mostly to the length and location of loading zones. They also restored the eastbound left turn lane at First Avenue and shortened the bus stop in front of a residential building at 155 E. 34th St. at Third Avenue.

When the project is completed, officials said it will add 18,000 square feet of new pedestrian space from the Hudson to East rivers. It will improve bus efficiency and keep traffic delays roughly the same. For any intersections that could see increased delays, signal time will be added to limit the impact.

But none of those changes seemed to appease some members of the crowd on Thursday night.

Helen Chin, of East 34th Street, protested the removal of the left-hand turn lane at Third Avenue, which was part of the original plan.

"You’re taking away the left turn lane?” she asked of the consultant giving the presentation. “I said this last time. They didn’t pay attention.”

Glenn Grant, 50, another East 34th Street resident, said removing that turn lane will pose a huge problem for traffic in the neighborhood.

“Oh, I think that’s a bad idea,” said Grant. “That’s going to be a nightmare.”

In addition to getting rid of the turn lane, officials are also planning to remove the bus stop near Lexington Avenue.

“That’s an important bus stop,” Grant said.

The stretch of East 34th Street between Lexington and Third avenues runs on an incline as it heads west. That hill can be challenging for elderly residents and others with difficulties getting around as they walk to catch the downtown bus on Lexington Avenue, several people noted.

Eric Beaton, of the DOT, said there was still time to make adjustments to the plan, but the changes will not be made lightly.

“We think 34th Street is a critically important street for New York City,” Beaton said. “That’s why it’s so important to make sure the street works well for everyone.”

The next public meeting will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at the New Yorker Hotel on Eighth Avenue at East 34th Street.