Tuesday, May 18, 2010

I Came, I Saw, I Waited

"Si Ves Algo, Di Algo"

37-Minute Wait for M31,

The M72 That Glided By

By Henry J. Stern
May 18, 2010

There are numerous signs throughout the New York City transit system advising, "If you see something, say something." The slogan was coined by advertising guru Allen Kay, who is noted for public service commercials. It is far pithier in Spanish, "Si ves algo, di algo."

The message encourages riders to alert the authorities to potential terrorist acts. But the words should also apply to conditions in the transit system which are created internally.

In that spirit, I relate the following events which took place this weekend. They are not tragedies; no one was injured or killed. But they highlight the inconveniences to which many people are subjected every day.

At 4:15 pm on Saturday, May 15, I arrived at the bus stop on the southeast corner of 57th Street and Madison Avenue, intending to take the M31 bus to my apartment on the Upper East Side. The Saturday schedule, posted on a pole at the bus stop, indicated that buses would arrive at 4:18, 4:28, 4:38 and 4:50. I waited, along with a growing number of other would-be riders. Time passed. The view of the Fuller Building across the street was pleasant, but that was not the reason we were there. Eventually, at 4:40, two M57 buses arrived. The M57 is a crosstown bus, which goes east/west on 57th Street, and north/south from Eleventh Avenue to West End Avenue to 72nd Street. I asked one driver when the M31 bus would arrive and she said the bus was coming soon. They always say that.

When an M31 bus finally arrived at 4:52, thirty-seven minutes after I had reached the bus stop, I asked the driver why the bus was so late. He politely explained that there was a large street fair on Ninth Avenue, and that crosstown traffic on 57th Street was seriously delayed. Vehicles going south on Columbus/Ninth Avenues could not proceed beyond 57th Street, and were diverted to the east or west. In either case, they caused substantial congestion on 57th Street, and the MTA buses were trapped by the overload of cars and trucks.

The normal route of the M57 is west on 57th Street to Eleventh Avenue, then south to 54th Street, and west to the middle of the block, which is the end of the line. The bus then proceeds on 54th Street to Tenth Avenue, north to 57th Street, and then east for the crosstown trip to First Avenue. The M57 does not take you to the Upper East Side, although I suppose one could change at Third Avenue or First Avenue, which both have northbound bus routes. The M57 that arrived last Saturday afternoon was at least 25 minutes late.

The city's Street Activity Permit Office, located in the Office of the Mayor, posts street fair notices in advance on a city website, and the MTA is presumably aware of such events, and has the opportunity to make adjustments in routes and schedules when circumstances warrant.

The Ninth Avenue Fair, specializing in food, is one of the city's major street festivals, and attracts substantial crowds in May of each year. The necessary two-day closure of Ninth Avenue for the fair creates substantial traffic congestion, aggravated by the fact that both Eighth and Tenth Avenues are one-way northbound, and consequently there is no southbound route between Seventh and Eleventh Avenues.

The M31 bus that arrived at Madison Avenue at 4:52 was the one that was due at 4:38. It was 14 minutes late, not bad considering the congestion. But what about the buses that were due at 4:18 and 4:28? They could not have been running ahead of schedule, so where were they? And how could they have been delayed by congestion that much longer than the bus due at 4:38? We ask the MTA to tell us what happened.


We can suggest two ways that this particular situation could have been avoided, or at least alleviated, without interfering with the popular street fair.

One is to route the westbound M31 and M57 northbound on Eighth Avenue and Broadway to 66th Street, and then westbound to West End Avenue. The M57 would then proceed northbound as it now does, and the M31 would proceed southbound to 54th Street, east to Tenth or Eighth Avenue, north to 57th Street, and then resume its eastbound route to Sutton Place. This should be done during the times that 57th Street is seriously congested.

The second is to turn the M31 buses around at Eighth Avenue, going north to 58th Street, east to Broadway, south to 57th Street, and then east to Sutton Place. The M57 line would either provide westbound service on 57th Street to Eleventh Avenue, where it turns north to 72nd Street and West End Avenue, or it could be routed north on Eighth Avenue/Broadway to 66th Street and west to West End.

A dispatcher located at Eighth Avenue and 57th Street could make routing decisions during the day based on the degree of congestion and delay.

We will publish the MTA's response to these suggestions. It is likely that similar adjustments in route would ease congestion problems caused by other street fairs.


On Sunday, May 16, at 3:30 pm, I set forth to visit my son and his wife and children, who live on the west side. I took the M31 bus south on York Avenue, which reached 72nd Street at 3:42, where it stopped for a traffic light. After the bus stopped, we saw an MTA bus on the M72 crosstown route. The southeast corner of 72nd and York is the customary resting place of the M72, the end of the line eastbound and the start of the route westbound. Northbound or southbound passengers on the M31 transfer to the M72 if they want to go crosstown.

What happened Sunday is that, with the southbound M31 in plain sight, waiting at the light, the M72 bus took off and made the right turn on York Avenue, making it impossible for M31 passengers to transfer. The headway on the M72 at that time is fifteen minutes, so the passengers traveling west had to wait around for that time.

Although it may be difficult to ask one bus to wait until another arrives so passengers can transfer, in a case like this where the bus is waiting at the light for the intersection, it is simply wrong not to allow passengers one light cycle so they can get off one bus, walk a few feet, and get on the next.

One feels that the conscious disregard by the M72 driver for the comfort and convenience of the M31 passengers should not be tolerated. Although the weather was warm and the wait bearable, it was simply not right for the driver to do what he did. We wonder whether he violated any MTA regulation, or whether there should be a regulation requiring him to wait in these circumstances. Or are these matters best not handled by rules, because they are issues of common courtesy?

This case describes a situation which no doubt occurs on other routes at other times. We will ask the MTA to respond, and publish whatever they say.


The MTA is a large organization, whose employees do many things right and some things wrong. We believe that citizen vigilance is one way to see that more things are done right and fewer things are done wrong. We invite your suggestions on other ways to stimulate the MTA to perform better, given the limitations on its resources.

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