MIDTOWN — Select Buses will begin rolling down 34th Street beginning next month as part of a larger plan that hopes to transform gridlocked 34th Street into an efficient transitway.
The Metropolitan Transportation Authority has set Sunday, Nov. 13 as its goal date for introducing the new system, which uses off-board fare collection machines instead of on-board payments, Department of Transportation officials said at a community meeting Tuesday.
The system, which is already in operation on First and Second avenues, is expected to significantly speed up buses, which sometimes creep slower than pedestrians can walk, officials said.
“We think that there’s going to be a tremendous improvement in terms of time,” said Eric Beaton, the DOT’s director of transit development, following the meeting.
But not everyone is pleased with the rollout of the new bus system, which marks the first of many dramatic changes planned for the stretch.
While officials have scrapped several unpopular proposals, including the construction of a new pedestrian plaza in the middle of the street, other major changes are in the works, including limiting westbound traffic to just one lane from Madison Avenue to Ninth Avenue, moving buses away from curbs, and adding 20,000 square feet of new pedestrian space with sidewalk-extending "bus bulbs" that jut into the street.
"It's a waste of money," complained Peter Waldman, 73, who has lived at 34th Street and Third Avenue since 1965, and said reducing four lanes to three will be a disaster.
"How do you expect that to improve traffic? It's not going to work. That street's a jam now... This is all baloney,” he said, arguing that the best solution would be to increase the number of buses operating on 34th Street to reduce wait times.
According to a DOT traffic analysis presented at the meeting, the changes are not expected to have a major impact on car traffic on area roads.
Other residents said they were pleased to see the latest plan incorporate suggestions from several rounds of community meetings that included block-by-block brainstorming sessions about where loading zones and parking spaces should be placed.
“They’ve listened to the public. I’m impressed,” said Frank Carson, 71, who has lived between Ninth and Tenth avenues for the past 12 years and said the DOT has made tremendous improvements over the past few months, including removing planned physical separations between car and bus lanes and adding a new loading zone on his block.
“We consider that a major plus,” agreed neighbor John Lyon, 46, who moved into the neighborhood in May and said his only concern now is extra honking horns if the traffic doesn’t improve.
Mary Ann Caliri, who has lived at Lexington Avenue and East 35th Street for the past 30 years, also welcomed the attempt at intervention and said she had "high hopes" that traffic would improve.
"The traffic is horrendous,” she said, complaining that it can take up to 20 minutes just to travel west from First Avenue to Lexington.
But Barbara Guinan, 61, a resident on Lexington and East 35th Street for the past year and a half, said she was disappointed by the fact that the public input process appears to be over.
“Everything they’ve presented has already been decided. There’s no recourse,” she said, adding that her biggest concern is the planned elimination of bus stops at Lexington and Madison avenues, which she said will be a problem for older members of the community who can't travel so far.
“There was no mention of that,” she said.
And while she supports the idea of trying to make buses faster with increased enforcement and dedicated bus lanes, she wondered if the rest of the project was necessary, especially while the city is in such a budget crunch.
“The rest of it, I think is overkill and it’s going to be expensive,” she said.
In addition to the new payment system, the West 34th Street buses will also be getting new names. The M34 will become the M34 SBS and the M16 will become the M34A SBS.