Dear NYC Transit

Riding downhill on the 9th Street bicycle lane in Brooklyn today around 12:30, I was traveling about the same speed as the B61, about a block ahead of it. I noticed that the bus driver was honking, over and over, once or twice a block all the way down the hill. Eventually I understood that the driver was blowing the horn each time he or she passed, and passed again, the same cyclists in the same bicycle lane. Finally, the bus driver passed and honked at me. Oh look, a bus! It was bus 5686.

While I’m sure your driver’s intentions are good, it is not helpful or safety-enhancing to “warn” cyclists with a horn honk when passing safely—quite the opposite. A seasoned cyclist will shrug off the piercing noise and do nothing, and that is the best case scenario. An inexperienced cyclist may be startled and look left—inadvertently moving into the vehicle’s path. Or they may retreat to the right—directly into an opening car door, which throws them left into the path of the bus. That’s what happened in Queens to Tskaka Cooke in June of this year, as I’m sure you’ll recall.

Please ask your drivers not to honk at cyclists and anyone else just going about their business on the street. Blasting the horn in routine situations makes them tense and dangerous, renders the horn useless as a signal of unusual danger, and surely isn’t appreciated by anyone who lives along your bus routes.

As you can see, I’ve tried mightily to make sense of this. I probably spent a lot more time on it than it deserves. And I’m pretty damn sure that I put more time and thought into it than Sam Schwartz or anyone who’s working for him on this plan. A dollar reduction in fares in “neighborhoods without subways” is hard to implement, would accomplish very little, would probably be counterproductive, and would take money from more worthy uses.

Private transit is a very good sign. If you follow transit advocates from the hinterlands like Sheryl Gross-Glaser or Helen Bushnell, they have a hard enough time trying to convince governments to provide transit to their citizens as a public service, as opposed to some charity for the desperately poor and disabled. The idea that it might ever be a profitable business is completely off their radar. But here in New York City we have so many people who want to ride buses that private operators are flooding in. Isn’t that great?

It surely is. I’ve taken these buses a dozen times in the past few years, as have most people around here. It is a better experience all around than domestic air travel, which isn’t saying much but I’ll take what humane travel options I can get.

Go ahead and “regulate” away the noise, ugliness, death, and destruction caused by all autos if it’s as easy as that. Don’t single out the most efficient, most publicly accessible vehicles on the streets—unless it’s to give them more space to do their work better.

Hand in hand with this concern are complaints over enforcement. Twenty respondents were ticketed when SBS payment machines failed to produce receipts, and riders complained that buses were stopped during fare inspections, thus defeating the purpose of a faster commute. One East Sider’s tale highlights these concerns. “Last September I received a $100 summons even though the SBS ticket machine wasn’t working,”

None of that is over-enforcement, it is bad enforcement and bad maintenance. Ticket checkers should board buses and do their checking while it’s moving, like every other proof-of-payment system in the world. It should never be the case that all ticket machines at a stop are out of order, but if it happens, enforcement should be regular enough that people choose not to take the risk of riding without their proof of payment. When all machines aren’t working the bus stop is effectively closed, and the MTA needs to be smarter about making sure that never happens if they want SBS to succeed.

Dialing back enforcement would be the worst possible move, and the first step towards collapse of the whole effort. If New York government is too dumb and corrupt to make a simple proof-of-payment system work fairly on city buses, like so many other cities have done for decades, it may as well just give up.

So imagine if UPS or Fresh Direct set up a fleet of cargo bikes on York Street or Front Street, ending the need for big delivery trucks to barrel down to the water. Or imagine if the city instituted residential parking permits, limiting the number of people who choose to drive to work because they can park on the street for free. You have to imagine it, because you won’t find any creative solutions proposed by the people who just want the bus rerouted.

No, because keeping out the bus is the whole point. The artists and bankers of DUMBO are exercising their creativity to make up problems they can blame on buses.

This may be my favorite quote, a true example of ignoring the bull: “…on Saturday and Sunday there is a steady stream of limos coming down Main Street dropping off their parties on the street to take photos in the park and to go to various restaurants in the neighborhood.” The letter writer’s solution, like all of the others, is not to reroute limos carrying privileged passengers on discretionary trips, but the bus.

DUMBO a shitty neighborhood, when you get down to it.

The other expert who turns up at the tail end of Dwyer’s piece is an anonymous state official who, “as it happens,” was pulled over for driving in the bus lane and “managed to wiggle out of the ticket.” A member of the placarded class who got busted but didn’t have to pay. Exactly the type of credible source Times readers should trust to render judgment on transportation policy. The official says of the Broadway lane: “It goes against the intent of bus lanes because it causes congestion.”

And here I thought the intent of bus lanes was to help bus passengers reach their destinations quicker. But who needs transit planners, bus drivers, and bus riders to weigh in on a bus lane when cops and anonymous state officials who drive in the bus lane are so generous with their expertise?

It’s 2012, and The New York Times is still crap at reporting on local policy issues of the gravest importance. Blogs of all stripes have been putting them to shame for a decade. I’m not sure what else there is to do, but let media succession take its course.