Community Board 4 in Manhattan has been raising the alarm about bus traffic on residential Chelsea side streets since December, with an emphasis on a stretch of West 26th Street less than a block from where 36-year-old Dan Hanegby was killed by a Hudson Transit Lines commuter bus driver while riding a Citi Bike on Monday.
"The life of this man was taken and his family is in disarray, and unfortunately these are the events that crystalize the political will," predicted Christine Berthet, co-chair of CB4's Transportation Committee, on Friday.
The community board sent a letter to the Department of Transportation's acting Manhattan commissioner, Luis Sanchez, on December 29th of last year, focusing on tour bus traffic between 10th and 8th Avenues.
"The Office of Manhattan Community Board 4 writes in regard to the number of residents contacting the board's Transportation Committee regarding a recent significant increase in tour buses using West 24th, West 26th, and West 28th Street," the letter reads.
The letter offers an explanation for the increased traffic, pointing out that the installation of M23 Select Bus Service last November barred the majority of left turns off of West 23rd Street, a truck route. As a result, "Tour buses coming from the High Line or Chelsea Piers are now using residential side streets from Tenth Avenue to Eighth Avenue to reach Eighth Avenue."
Hanegby (via Facebook)
Hanegby was fatally struck on West 26th Street between 8th and 7th Avenues. While initial statements from the NYPD said that Hanegby swerved into the side of the bus, Gothamist's review of security camera footage contradicts that preliminary narrative. The footage shows the bus driver approaching Hanegby from behind on the one-way street, and entering a narrow channel between two parked cars alongside the cyclist, who then falls.
The installation of Select bus service on 23rd Street would not necessarily account for the presence of an interstate bus on the block between 8th and 7th, Berthet said. However, she added, tour buses, charter buses, and interstate buses are all common on 26th Street, which has similar conditions form block to block—a narrow, one-way corridor. Transit advocates have also pointed out that the street is a popular cycling route across town from the West Side Greenway.
"To me, there is clearly the need for protected crosstown bike lanes," Berthet said. "The second thing is that buses need to be where they belong on 34th Street and 42nd Street."
NYC traffic rules state that most non-MTA buses must adhere to truck routes, except for the "purpose of arriving at his/her destination" by "leaving a designated truck route or bus route at the intersection that is nearest to his/her destination." West 23rd through West 30th Streets are not truck routes.
Yet Community Board 5, which covers central Manhattan between 14th Street and Central Park, confirmed to Gothamist that interstate buses are a constant presence in their jurisdiction—on narrow and wide streets. (CB5 has not fielded complaints specific to the block of 26th Street where Hanegby was killed, a spokesman said.)
Sean Hughes, a spokesman for the bus company that operates the bus involved in Monday's crash, has declined to comment on that bus's route. Weekday Hudson Transit Lines buses terminate at 41st and 8th Avenue, according to online schedules.
City and State officials have also yet to comment on whether the driver who killed Hanegby was traveling on a designated route. A spokeswoman for the State DOT said Wednesday that, "NYSDOT's Public Transportation Safety Board is investigating the incident." A spokesman for City DOT said only that the agency would assist the NYPD as needed in its ongoing investigation into the crash.
A stretch of West 26th Street in Chelsea that residents say sees frequent bus traffic. (Google Maps)
CB4 sent two more letters regarding bus traffic between 10th and 8th Avenues on February 8th: one to Sanchez of DOT and Consumer Affairs Commissioner Lorelei Salas, and a second to Detective Inspector Michael Pilecki of the Traffic Enforcement Division.
The Sanchez/Salas letter states, "We would... appreciate you reaching out to the bus companies and notifying them that W26, W24 and W28 streets are very residential and not appropriate for bus traffic."
"West 26th Street has a playground, a school and a recreation center used by many seniors," the letter states. "Commercial bus traffic on such a busy street is putting all these parents, children and seniors in danger."
The letter to the NYPD requests "a focused enforcement effort on West 26th Street between 8th and 10th Avenue to deter buses from using this route."
Neither NYPD, nor Consumer Affairs have replied to CB4's letters in writing, according to CB4, though some locals have recently noticed cops ticketing buses. The NYPD did not reply to a Gothamist inquiry on Friday, and DCA deferred to DOT. CB4 initially thought that DOT had not replied to its letters, but a DOT spokesperson alerted them to a March 20th letter after we began inquiring for this story. DOT sent the same letter to Gothamist. It does not detail any plan to reduce bus traffic.
"Bus operators are to follow the designated Local Truck Routes, although diversions of greater lengths through local streets may sometimes be necessary in order [for] such operator to access the nearest available Local Truck Route," the DOT letter states.
A solution to the bus congestion might be the creation of a dedicated terminal for interstate buses as part of the planned Port Authority redesign, Berthet of CB4 told Gothamist. A lot near the Javits Center is close to the Lincoln Tunnel and could discourage bus drivers from traveling east. CB4 sent a letter [PDF] on the subject to the Port Authority in May.
"There hasn't been much feedback," Berthet said. "We are early in the process with the Port Authority."
Mayor de Blasio addressed Hanegby's death on WNYC's Brian Lehrer Show Friday.
"We have to keep looking at every way to protect pedestrians and cyclists," he said. "And every time there's an incident we have to look and see if it's something that we have to change in the approach in the particular street or intersection. And we are certainly going to do that here."