City to install half-mile busway on Jay Street in August: Mayor

Straphangers board a B54 bus on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn.
File photo by Kevin Duggan

The city plans to install a roughly half-mile busway on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn in August, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday.

The 0.6-mile stretch between the Fulton Mall and Tillary Street is part of a 20-mile bus lane expansion project Hizzoner announced on June 8 to help commuters move around faster and safer as the city starts to reopen and ease coronavirus-related restrictions.

“These 20 new miles of busways and bus lanes are going to help over three quarters of a million New Yorkers get around more easily,” said de Blasio at his daily briefing at the Brooklyn Navy Yard. “Look, more service equals less crowding, equals more health and safety, that’s what we want to achieve.”

City transit gurus will open 16.5 miles of bus lanes and 3.5 miles of busways between June and October, starting this month with two lanes in Manhattan and the Bronx, and a new short busway in Queens.

On busways, the city bans through-traffic on the street for most of the day, seven days a week. Vehicles can still make pick-ups, drop-offs, and deliveries, but have to turn off the street after a block or two.

The Fulton Mall — the original busway which dates back to the 1980s — only allows buses and deliveries, while private cars can traverse the commercial corridor on cross streets. Bus lanes reserve a lane or two of a street for buses, usually during the day on weekdays, but still allow car traffic on other lanes at all times.

The announcement follows the successful pilot of the 1.1-mile 14th Street busway on the distant isle of Manhattan last year and the 20 miles of new red-painted lanes will make traveling faster for almost 750,000 daily riders, including 35,000 straphangers on the Kings County thoroughfare, according to Hizzoner.

The busy downtown roadway suffers from rampant placard abuse along with frequently-blocked bike and bus lanes — often by police and other city agency vehicles — which will make it challenging to convert into a busway, according to one transit advocate.

“Jay Street is very much a contested space,” said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Joe Cutrufo. “They’ll have their work cut out for them there.”

The mayor’s citywide scheme included no other lanes in Brooklyn and fell well short of demands by both the Metropolitan Transportation Authority — whose officials demanded the city add 60 miles of bus lanes — and four out of the five borough presidents, who together with transit advocates demanded City Hall add 40 miles, as bus ridership has become more popular than the subway during the pandemic.

“It’s a step in the right direction, but it’s been clear for the last weeks that the mayor was underprepared for this moment,” Cutrufo said.

The newly-announced lanes also don’t match the proposals transit advocates put out in the last months for busways, and Cutrufo said that like with de Blasio’s Open Streets initiative, he was going for roads that were easiest first.

“Given how this city has approached reclaiming open streets, they tend to go with the lowest hanging fruit first, and that may be the safest way to approach this politically,” he said.