NYC's Bus System Takes a Hint from South America

Read more

As a native of Santo Domingo, in the Dominican Republic, I always prayed for two things when it came to public transportation: One, the demise of the unholy mess known as AMET, the transportation authority that requires a -40 IQ of its traffic conductors. And two, that Enrique Peñalosa, the Colombian urban planning mastermind, would somehow get to be our mayor. Peñalosa is often canonized for his outstanding overhaul of Bogota’s public transportation system, and one of his go-to strategies was the cost-friendly dedicated bus lane system called Transmilenio.

My prayers have  been half-answered. The AMET is still the lion pack of Santo Domingo’s concrete jungle, but a Peñalosa-influenced system is now making its way to my current home, New York City: The Department Of Transportation announced yesterday that the Transitway, a dedicated bus lane system will soon be in place on a 34th St crosstown route. According to Streetsblog, the plan “adds full separation from traffic, with two-way bus service operating on one side of the street.” It also includes a pedestrian plaza between Fifth and Sixth avenues, and it’s projected to “improve [bus speeds] 35 percent, cutting river-to-river travel time to 20 minutes.”

Color me shocked. Is America The Mighty actually importing ideas from its southern neighbors? For a nation that aims to see itself as a green think tank, it must be humbling to be fishing for ideas in Colombia, of all places. If anything, even I would have expected the ideas to come from (fingers crossed) future world superpower Brazil.

But wait! The dedicated bus lane idea did come from Brazil, after all: Peñalosa’s direct inspiration hails from the fast-flowing streets of Curitiba, Brazil’s own green think tank.  The city’s URBS lines have offered dedicated express lines since the early 90’s, and the tube-shaped street-level stations work the same way a subway platform would, enabling pre-boarding payment and line transfers. I remember being marveled at the nearly seamless and comparatively inexpensive system when I visited South Brazil, and became a full-on devotee when I made use of  its Mexican offspring, the Mexico City Metrobus.

But I’m confused now. Does this mean that America could partially downgrade to developing status (after all, Saint Peñalosa opted for Transmilenio after the subway option was deemed to expensive), or that Brazil, Mexico and Colombia are getting closer to development? There might be a silver lining to the economic downturn in the urban planning sector: This might just be the decade of truly, not-just-for-show cost-effective solutions, regardless of their origin. All I know is that somewhere in the world, Julia Sweig is having a laugh.

VIA: Fast Company

Image: DOT