By: Dusica Sue Malesevic
October 10, 2017
For the first time since two cyclists were killed this past summer after being struck by charter buses, bus companies sat down last week with the community, elected officials, the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) and the NYPD.
Brandon Buchanan, director of regulatory affairs for the American Bus Association, said it was the first time they had been invited. The meeting, which took place on Thurs., Oct. 5 and was convened by Councilmember Corey Johnson’s office, was a good opportunity to establish a partnership, Buchanan, who attended the meeting, said by phone.
The association includes around 800 bus companies across North America as members along with tour operators and companies, Peter Pantuso, the association’s president, said by phone. About 65 percent of the motor coach companies on the road are part of the association, he said.
Representatives from the Bus Association of New York, United Motorcoach Association, Academy Bus, NJ Motor, Coach USA and Trans-Bridge Lines, Inc. also attended to the meeting, according to Johnson’s office.
One of the main issues is bus companies using appropriate routes — the same ones trucks utilize — while in New York City.
Buchanan said that in one of the incidents over the summer, the bus company was not locally based — it was from the Midwest — and that bus routes need to be “easily accessible for those who are not locally familiar.”
Christine Berthet, who attended the meeting, said bus companies need to familiarize themselves with the local laws. Berthet is the co-chair of Community Board 4’s Transportation Planning Committee and one of the founders of the pedestrian advocacy group CHEKPEDS (Clinton Hell’s Kitchen Coalition for Pedestrian Safety).
“That’s their job,” Berthet said by phone.
State Senator Brad Hoylman said, “If the bus companies are coming into New York City, they need to follow our laws and regulations.”
Berthet said the bus companies need to use proper routes to avoid fatalities in the future. Depending on a bus’ destination, there are instances they can go on streets outside those designated for trucks. For instance, if they are picking up passengers on W. 15th St., they are allowed to do so, she explained.
However, bus “drivers must leave the truck routes at the nearest intersection to their destination and return at the nearest possible location,” according to the DOT’s website. “Bus operators should always plan ahead before traveling in New York City to familiarize themselves with appropriate routes, planned construction work and traffic conditions,” according to the site.
On Mon., June 12, 36-year-old Brooklyn resident Dan Hanegby was using a Citi Bike to get to work when he was hit by a charter bus on W. 26th St., between Seventh and Eighth Aves., according to police. Five days later, on Sat., June 17, a charter bus making a right turn on W. 29th St. hit an 80-year-old Chelsea resident, Michael Mamoukakis. Both died.
“We pressed the bus companies to use GPS systems that clearly show the truck routes they are required to use, as truck companies do,” Assemblymember Richard Gottfried, who attended the meeting, said in an email statement to Chelsea Now.
Gottfried added the bus companies need to improve the education and training of their drivers. “We called on city DOT and the NYPD to join in pressing and requiring the companies to make these changes,” he said.
Pantuso, the president of the bus trade association, said by phone that “having the information available to them is a really good first step,” for out-of-town bus companies. Buchanan said that the DOT has an education campaign that they are looking to support. “We look forward to continued dialogue and being part of the solution,” he said.
“It was a good start to a longer conversation,” Hoylman said by phone. “It’s an important issue for our district.”
Hoylman, who attended the meeting along with a member of his staff, said he uses Citi Bikes frequently and that the first fatality, when Dan Hanegby was hit, happened directly in front of his office, saying “it was very unnerving.”
Some bus companies utilize a GPS tool to ensure that drivers stay on the designated routes and others are able to monitor idling, sending alerts to their drivers if they run their engines too long, Hoylman said.
Bus idling has been a concern for the community, with Berthet saying, “I raised the idling issue because our neighborhood has the third worst air quality in the city.”
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey is looking to revamp its bus terminal — on Eighth Ave. (btw. W. 40th & 42nd Sts.) — to increase capacity by 40 percent by 2040. “What we should be doing is decreasing the pollution,” she said.
Buchanan, from the American Bus Association, said there was a “good dialogue” about idling at the meeting, and, “No company wants to waste money on gas.”
Last week, the Transportation Committee supported a proposal from the business improvement district, Hudson Yards / Hell’s Kitchen Alliance, that is asking for protected bike lanes on W. 37 and 38th Sts., between Eighth and 11th Aves., Berthet said.
The community board has already asked multiple times for protected crosstown bike lanes, which would definitely help with crashes, she said.
Erik Bottcher, Councilmember Johnson’s chief of staff, said by phone the DOT plans to unveil a crosstown protected bike lane proposal late this fall or winter.
The DOT did not respond to questions about the meeting, including ones regarding a crosstown protected bike lane proposal.
Hoylman said the DOT is working on it, and that “it can’t come soon enough. As a cyclist, as a husband, as a parent, I think about this a lot. It’s a city that had been built around vehicles, and our traffic laws and infrastructure needs to be updated to reflect that we have hundreds of new cyclists on the street.”
Johnson declined requests for a phone interview, but said in an email statement, “The DOT has come forward with a number of proposals to address pedestrian and cyclist safety, and I look forward to seeing more, including protected crosstown bike lanes.”
He added, “Only by getting all stakeholders to the table will we be able to adequately address these issues. The bus companies need to be part of the solution. There needs to be better training, better communication between DOT and the bus companies [and] better enforcement.”