NYC DOT’s proposed Select Bus Service plan for Rogers Ave. in Brooklyn includes bulbs for BRT, inset stops for local service and fewer parking spaces. (Rendering via the MTA/DOT SBS Presentation from Dec. 2009)
When it comes to purely local government in New York City, nothing stands in the way of progress more than the Community Boards. These glorified neighborhood associations are generally stocked with people who aren’t representative of their constituents and have not embraced a pro-transit, pro-biking, pro-pedestrian livable streets/livable city agenda. They vote against protected bike lanes and true rapid transit bus lanes because their cars need valuable on-street real estate for below-market parking spots. In a sense, the community boards are a mockery of democracy.
Late last week, in a move that would surprise no one, Community Board 15 out in Sheepshead Bay voted against Select Bus Service along the B44. The DOT and MTA — two organizations that will probably not heed the non-binding CB15 vote — have been planning to unveil a Select Bus Service route from Sheepshead Bay itself to Williamsburg with subway connections to the B, Q, 2, 5, A, C, J, M and Z trains. Already, 42,000 people ride the B44, and the SBS route should increase that total.
The Community Board though doesn’t want it. In car-heavy CB15 where only 50 percent of residents rely on mass transit, its representatives say the elimination of parking spots hurts “the little guy.” “I might start riding the bus more often,” Tom Bowers, a senior who no longer uses his car, said to a reporter. “But most of the time, things like this hurt the little guy.”
Others claimed the new bus route would “inconvenience” the neighborhood while at an April Community Board meeting, members decried the lost parking spaces. Comparing the long Brooklyn route to the Bronx’s Bx12 service, CB15’s chair cast a skeptical eye on the whole thing. “For all this money they’re putting out during a time when they’re cutting service, how much time are they really saving?” Theresa Scavo said. “I dont think six minutes is worth all of this disruption.” If my commute were six minutes faster each way every day, I’d save an hour a week and over two full days in commuting per year.
Of course, these Community Board vote comes as no surprise. As Ben Fried from Streetsblog meticulously detailed in May, CB15 is opposed to safer streets for seniors and feels that SBS pre-boarding receipts would lead to an immeasurable increase in paper trash on the floor. But, hey, more car emissions. I sometimes wonder if these Community Boards are simply parodies of government.
The real problem with this Brooklyn Select Bus Service route isn’t its impact on parking or the supposed cost of painting some lines on the ground and building out some bus bulbs. It’s the route selection. The B44 already serves its purpose; it gets riders to the nearest subway line while passing through some business corridors. Few, if any, people ride from Sheepshead Bay to Williamsburg, and that probably won’t change much with the introduction of Select Bus Service. A Flatbush or Utica Ave. route would have been preferable choices over the Nostrand/Rogers Ave. combination for both the traffic-calming impact and ridership levels.
When time comes to evaluate the bus lanes, NYC DOT and the MTA aren’t bound by the Community Board 15 vote. They can disregard it as the bitter rantings of an auto-centric neighborhood that can’t stand to lose some lane and parking space for the good of everyone else. While Tom Bowers may think better transit service will “hurt the little guy,” he’s completely wrong. Community Board vote or not, the little guy will win when buses move faster.