Jay Street most popular city busway proposal, says DOT commissioner

DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn on Aug. 27.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Downtown Brooklyn loves the busway!

The city’s scheme to install a 0.4-mile busway on Jay Street Aug. 31 will be a breeze compared to planned bus-only lanes in other boroughs, because the Downtown Brooklyn proposal was well received by local business leaders and community stakeholders, according to the city’s chief transit guru.

“We were laughing that we’ve never had a bus project that was liked as much as this one,” said Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg at an Aug. 27 press conference at the downtown thoroughfare across the street from MetroTech. “Compared to some of the other projects, they’re going to take a little longer, we’re going to work through some more contentious politics.”

The five-block-long stretch of the roadway, from Livingston to Tillary streets, will be closed to through traffic for cars on weekdays from 7 am to 7 pm, starting Monday, and a local neighborhood booster said the bus-priority corridor will be a boon for the central business district.

“Jay Street is really our front door in Downtown Brooklyn,” said president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Regina Myer. “Everybody wants to use Jay Street, whether it be a biker, a pedestrian, a bus, a drop off — having this busway will start to really rationalize traffic for everyone and we’re really looking forward to the rollout and a continued advocacy for a great Jay Street.”

The proposal would clear the way for the seven bus lines that shuttle 46,000 straphangers along the roadway every weekday, according to DOT data. 

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

Jay Street is the only one of five busway pilots Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in June to meet its target opening date, with the first one — which was supposed to open in June on Main Street in Flushing, Queens — delayed indefinitely after pushback from area businesses and another proposal on Midtown Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue watered down to again include a lane for private car traffic, Streetsblog reported.

Even the successful and more expansive 14th Street busway in Manhattan, which inspired this year’s new batch of bus projects, initially hit a roadblock when a group of neighborhood block association unsuccessfully sued the city to stall those plans.

Downtown Brooklyn’s embrace of the busway should come as no surprise though, given the central business district has been home to the city’s original busway along the Fulton Mall since the 1980s, when the officials installed the bus-only throughway to spur redevelopment and lure back consumers to the area, which has since become the third-most successful shopping strip in the city, after Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue in Manhattan.

But Trottenberg acknowledged that Jay Street will also have its challenges, especially with illegal parking and rampant abuse of government-issued parking placards in an area packed with government headquarters — an issue that street safety advocates have documented at length on the roadway over the years.

“Here in Downtown Brooklyn, there’s no doubt it is a very big challenge, between the courts and all the institutional players here,” she said. “We recognize that for this street to work, we gotta deal with the placards.”

The agency’s Brooklyn borough commissioner added that he has instructed all the local players about the incoming changes, including the schools and universities, the courts, and emergency services like the Fire Department that are headquartered there.

“We’ve talked about the bus lane with them, we’re working with them on compliance so our idea is to make sure once it’s in place to make sure they have their people out and we’ll be checking with them and NYPD to make sure they’re not in the way of the bus,” said Keith Bray.

The street planners are eager to reduce parking along the busy through-way — where they’re also building out the bike lane network this summer — and replace them with bike corrals, according to the Jay Street busway’s project manager, although the official didn’t provide any additional details on those plans.

“We do think there is a need for some level of parking here, there is placard parking that does happen legally here, so we’re not at the point now where we can take away all parking, but I would venture to say that we’re definitely sort of headed in that direction,” said Chris Hrones. “Part of the busway plan is, we’ve been chipping away at the parking that’s on here, we’ll be installing more bicycle corrals where parking now is.”