Robert Sullivan’s recent article in New York magazine, “Subway on the Street,” is a welcome addition to transportation discussions in New York City. New Yorkers are currently faced with seemingly paradoxical transportation plans that call for subway and bus service cuts, while relatively short and exceedingly expensive underground subways are being built (Sullivan discusses both). However, also at the same time, a monumental partnership between the city’s transit agency (MTA) and the DOT is taking root. The result is a new bus rapid transit line in the Bronx – Bx12 SBS, short for “select bus service” – the focus of Sullivan’s article. To be clear, bus rapid transit is not a New York innovation. For planning enthusiasts (yes, they exist) this is not new. Cities throughout the world, and in the United States, have experimented with bus rapid transit lines, with general, albeit not absolute, success. But, it is nonetheless refreshing to see the largest city in the United States accept buses as potential congestion tools.
Jay Walder, a New Yorker named head of the MTA after holding a similar position in London, brought the same urban sensibilities and promise of a more fully integrated bus and rail system to his home city. And, Janette Sadik-Khan, the DOT commissioner, has been making a big name for herself in city-building circles as a smart, real urbanist who thinks more like a publically-motivated entrepreneur than a bureaucrat. The tag team of Walder and Sadik-Khan are poised to change the landscape (and hardscape) of New York City in a way that has broad implications for mobility, livability and sustainability – environmental, social and economic.
As my friend Andrea Learned, currently focusing on the overlaps between sustainability and systems thinking, said, “In the general sustainability realm, it is the partnerships and collaborations that are forming that keep being the surprises. And, that ideas that are not all that new can finally be put into play.”
Encouraging innovation, expanding applicability and increasing efficiency are not the exclusive domains of the private sector, despite often feeling that way. New York is showing, as cities repeatedly do, the potential for public-sponsored reinvention as a result of resilience.