The Thruway Authority, facing criticism that its plan for a new Tappan Zee Bridge won’t immediately add any new mass transit, announced last night that it would create designated bus lanes during rush hour.
But while several transportation advocates and experts said the move is a step in the right direction, it’s not enough to quiet the critics.
“We think it’s an important first step and a small victory to improve bus commutes for hundreds of existing daily bus riders,” said Veronica Vanterpool, the executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “We’re disappointed that the bus lane would only be in operation on the bridge itself, not within the corridor, and only during rush hour.”
The bridge is only a three-mile span, but Vanterpool said congestion goes beyond the bridge span itself.
Jeff Zupan, a senior transportation fellow with the Regional Plan Association, echoed Vanterpool’s concerns, saying the Thruway’s plan ultimately is not enough.
“If you want to encourage people to use buses, they’ve got to feel as if they can save some time as opposed to being stuck in congestion,” Zupan said. “So having the emergency lanes being used for buses is only going to help you for the three and a half miles for the new bridge. It’s not going to help you on the approaches to the bridge.”
The Cuomo administration has emphasized that the new bridge will be built to accommodate mass transit, including rail, in the future. It’s also unclear how the administration will be able to pay for the bridge, even under plans that don’t immediately include mass transit.
The Tri-State Transportation Campaign sent out the following release today:
Bus riders and drivers crossing the Tappan Zee Bridge received some encouraging news yesterday: the New York State Thruway Authority will convert an “emergency access lane” on the new bridge to a dedicated bus lane. This is an important first step, and a small victory, to improve bus commutes for hundreds of existing daily bus riders who idle in gridlock along with cars and trucks. Disappointingly, the dedicated bus lane will only be in operation on the bridge itself, not within the I-287 corridor, and only during rush hour.
Tri-State Transportation Campaign has repeatedly called on the state to convert this lane, which is exclusive of shoulders and breakdown lanes, into a lane just for buses. But, with limited hours of operation during rush hours only, the measure falls short of meeting the mobility needs of the corridor.
According to state documents, projected ridership for a bus rapid transit system in the I-287 corridor is 50,000 daily passengers—a not insignificant number for a bridge that sees 138,000 vehicles per day. Modern buses, new signal technology, off-board fare collection, and dedicated bus lanes—the key elements of a bus rapid transit system—speed bus commutes and incentivize people to ride the system. Without these combined amenities, bus riders will not benefit from an improved system, only brief congestion relief while crossing the bridge. Commuters and residents have indicated they want more. And the state should commit to doing more.
Tri-State Transportation Campaign applauds the state’s effort to be more accountable to the public process by responding to the thousands of pleas for transit on the new bridge. However, the Campaign calls on the New York State Thruway Authority to expand dedicated bus lane service beyond peak hour periods and to expand the dedicated lane into the I-287 corridor in both Westchester and Rockland Counties. Small steps such as these would not cost $5 billion, as has been recently suggested but never substantiated by the state, but a few hundred million dollars.
Other amenities for a bus rapid transit system can be developed as more funding mechanisms become available.
Tri-State thanks those that have spoken out for transit on the Tappan Zee Bridge, a group that includes Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino, Rockland County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef, numerous local partners, advocacy groups, and countless Hudson Valley residents.
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