Southern Brooklyn drivers bemoan SBS impactBy
As the New York City Department of Transportation and the MTA continue the painfully slow Select Bus Service rollout, the agencies are expanding the pilot to include areas of the outer boroughs underserved by the city’s subway service. In Brooklyn, the targeted corridors would bring the innovations of SBS to the Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue corridors. But motorists and small business owners in the area are presenting a united front against the better bus service, and a DOT open house last night drove that point home.
Nostrand Ave. is one of the sad stories of the subway system. Long on the list for subway extension plans, the city never built a Nostrand Ave. line due first to the outspoken community opposition against a new elevated line and later concerns over cost. Over the years, then, the area is developed into a car-heavy one that views itself more as a suburban outpost within New York City than as part of the urban landscape.
Now that the MTA and DOT want to improve transit in the area, these motorists are having none of it. Alex Rush from the Courier-Life filed a report from the meeting last night:
All of these [SBS improvements] are meant to ease congestion on Nostrand Avenue, which is the fourth busiest bus route in the city with 13.6 million riders, according to MTA reports. However, local drivers say that the service will increase traffic, take away parking spaces and make turning dangerous for cars. “I think it’s a terrible idea,” said Jay Schneider, who drives down Nostrand Avenue to get to work. “The street is already congested and difficult to park on, and the extra bus lane will just make things worse.”
Schneider was one of dozens of people who attended the city’s presentation about the service on Nov. 15 at Brooklyn College. Nostrand Avenue business owners also expressed their concerns about the service. “Right now, it’s convenient for customers to park in front of our liquor store,” said John Tam, whose shop is between Lefferts Avenue and Sterling Street. “But if we lose parking spaces on that road, our business could decrease.”
Spokespeople for the city and the MTA spent most of the meeting telling residents that only a handful of parking spaces would be lost because the bus lane would likely replace a traffic lane, not a parking lane. But residents remain convinced that other aspects of the service, such as expanding the sidewalks for bus stations and running buses that are twice the length of current B44 buses, will make parking more difficult. They are also skeptical that an exclusive bus lane will reduce traffic. “The plan will definitely be a problem in Sheepshead Bay,” said Carl Romali. “Nostrand Avenue is already overcrowded with people trying to park and trying to drive around cars that are double-parked.”
This isn’t, of course, the first time that this area has expressed its displeasure with the plan. Community Board 15 voted against it in April for similar reasons. “The select bus service will steal away parking spaces,” Theresa Scavo, chair of CB 15, said. “And the service’s traffic signal priority system could lead to speeding buses, which would make the roads more dangerous for cars who are also trying to reach green lights.”
As much as I want to dismiss the windshield perspective out of hand as being wrong-handed and misguided, if the city and MTA are serious about bringing transit improvements, they’ll have to be responsive to the concerns of the community. How do you convince people so accustomed to driving that the bus improvements will truly be better for their lives and neighborhood? Paternalistically, it would be easy for the city to simply mandate the SBS routes for Nostrand and Rogers Avenues, but drivers must be willing to change their transit behavior and understand how and why the bus is preferable to streets that are “difficult to park on.”
Ultimately, the city needs to expand and improve its bus offerings, but if it is faced with communities that do not want Select Bus Service, the answer is easy: Award it somewhere else. If those along Nostrand Ave. and Rogers Ave. truly do not want better bus service, I’m sure the communities along Flatbush Ave. would gladly accept it instead. Only by showing instead of telling, the MTA and DOT can convert the driving skeptics.