Home Brooklyn In DUMBO, the way we share the streets

In DUMBO, the way we share the streets

by Benjamin Kabak

Photos from DUMBO seem to suggest that buses aren't creating traffic problems. (Photo by flickr user katebriquelet)

In his 1981 book The Highway and the City, Lewis Mumford wrote on the relationship between cars and urban life. “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city,” he said. Perhaps Mumford was overreaching a bit, but as we’ve seen over the last few years, New Yorkers go to crazy extremes to defend what they believe is their inalienable right to curbside access.

The most famous example of curbside NIMBYism came along 34th St. as residents decried the way a dedicated bus lane would — GASP — require them to walk from the corner or cross a street to get to their apartment buildings. They could not unload their cars! They could not get direct door-to-door taxi service! It was an urban NIMBY nightmare.

Recently, a similar situation long brewing in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood came to a head. Some local residents along Main St. have complained about the way the B25 ambles down Main St. as it turns around to head back toward Fulton St. on its way to East New York. Here’s how The Brooklyn Paper summed up the dispute:

Residents on Main Street in DUMBO are demanding that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority re-route a bus that they claim causes traffic jams and road rage on their already cramped street — saying it’s only a matter of time before someone gets run over by the B25. “We’ve been petitioning the MTA for years,” said Ethan Goldman, a vocal opponent of the B25 bus route. “This is a huge problem that could easily be fixed, but they refuse to listen.”

For decades, the B25 bus has run from Downtown to DUMBO via Cadman Plaza West before heading east on Front Street to Main Street.But that was before the neighborhood became a hotspot for families and art houses including Galapagos Art Space and powerHouse Arena.

Now during the morning rush, DUMBO residents complain that one or more buses get stuck between illegally parked delivery trucks and cars — creating a din of perpetual honking and screeching tires in a neighborhood that is already among the noisiest in the city.

Re-read that last paragraph and revel in its logic. The bus is a problem because it gets stuck behind illegally parked trucks and cars. It’s not the cars and trucks that are problematic; it’s the city bus. “If the enforcement is only way that this bus route is going to work, that’s a sign that this isn’t a good plan,” Rob Perris, district manager for Community Board 2, said.

The comments from DUMBO residents, gathered at the bottom of a post on Brownstoner and torn apart by Brooklyn Spoke are just as illuminating. Here’ s a gem:

Main Street is now a major destination in New York City, and on Saturday and Sunday there is asteady stream of limos coming down Main Street dropping off their parties on the street to takephotos in the park and to go to various restaurants in the neighborhood. The limos and the busesare engaged in a weekend-long battle for access to Main Street and wedding parties and guestsare regularly dodging the never-ending on-coming buses that always seem to travel in pairs.

In the same group of letters, inconsistencies abound. Some residents claim delivery fleets and illegally parked cars are a problem while others say the street is simply too narrow and too congested with children — who somehow navigate the delivery trucks and parked cars? — to support buses. The valid concerns of speeding bus drivers who aren’t respectful or careful enough of pedestrians are lost in the din of a group of people who just don’t like buses. (Although how the buses could be speeding that dangerously with the streets clogged with illegally parked cars is another conundrum here.)

DUMBO residents are seemingly alleging that buses are responsible for the traffic on their block, and their solution isn’t to enforce traffic laws or rethink the placement of loading areas. It is to ban buses. Let’s make it someone else’s problem so our idyllic little streets can be restored to their proper dignity, fit for cars and front-door deliveries. In any city, cars have a place; deliver vehicles have a place; limos and taxis have a place. But they do not have unfettered access to the streets at the expense of anything else. “Sharing” is a lesson we should have learned in kindergarten, but it is often lost on people battling over street space.

I believe Doug Gordon at Brooklyn Spoke summarizes it best: “New York is in a strange place right now. We have visionary leadership transforming our streets every day. We are home to some of the most innovative thinkers, business people, artists, and techies. But when it comes to thinking our way out of the traffic hell that engulfs so many neighborhoods–and the climate change that will come to swallow low-lying neighborhoods like DUMBO–it’s all too easy for the narrow-minded and loud to win out over the nuanced and creative.”

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Brooklynite March 19, 2012 - 12:22 am

Rob Perris at CB2 could hardly be any bigger of a tool bag. Seems like he is consistently on the wrong side of these issues.

Alex C March 19, 2012 - 1:42 am

It really is a shame that such a “progressive” city as New York is filled with such regressive tools and whiners. Hoping the MTA points out the little tidbit about illegally parked cars to these folks. Notice that as usual, “we live here now so everybody do as we say” yuppies are the culprit.

John-2 March 19, 2012 - 6:52 am

There’s a certain cachet among the trendies for being in Brooklyn for the name, but their hearts (and attitude) still lie in Manhattan, which is a place the B-25 does not go. They don’t use it, even if other people in the neighborhood do, so by default it’s an interloper.

If the bus route through their neighborhood could somehow magically transport them to at least the lower midtown area in a decent amount of time, my guess is the useless bus would suddenly have more appeal for the new arrivals. As it is, just be glad they didn’t find out about the MTA’s possible V train to Church Ave. option before the midtown M train was instituted, or they would have been whining all over the place to boost their York Street subway service to the same levels as the local tracks on Sixth Avenue.

TP March 19, 2012 - 9:25 am

…and “the new arrivals” probably aren’t elderly or disabled, so even if they really wanted to go Bed-Stuy, they’d take the A/C train instead of the bus? The B52 roughly follows the A/C down Fulton plus the little loop around DUMBO, and it’s a small enough neighborhood that any able bodied person would probably prefer to just walk over to the train.

But if I’m understanding these kooks’ suggestion to instead have it loop around at York and Washington, that’d make the route even more duplicative of the train. Then you basically have a bus that’s running along the A/C that I can’t see why anyone would take unless they’re disabled.

ajedrez June 5, 2013 - 1:57 am

Only a small percentage of the B25 usage (like 1-2%) comes from DUMBO. Although it does parallel the (A) & (C), it does see a lot of usage from people making shorter trips (for instance, Ralph Avenue to Kingston Avenue) where it’s not worth climbing up and down stairs (even for an able-bodied person) just to go a few stops, because the few minutes you save on the subway train, you lose with the extra walking. Plus, I believe the B25 is a little more frequent than the (C) train.

Larry Littlefield March 19, 2012 - 9:39 am

“It’s all too easy for the narrow-minded and loud to win out over the nuanced and creative.”

What is the dominant philosphy of New York politics?

It isn’t capitalism, where what you get is what you earn, at least in theory. And it isn’t socialism, under which what you get is what you need, at least in theory.

It is feudalism, under which those who manipulate the system to get privileges continue to get what they have gotten, or perhaps a little more, whether they deserve it or not, need it or not. For those with greater needs or who make greater contributions, it’s tough luck.

Hence the oppostion to change in every issue, not just street space and climate change. And why more privileges for the organized selfish accumulate in every economic upturn, with the associated costs shifted to younger generations as the better off are exempted in every economic downturn.

Doug March 19, 2012 - 9:49 am

Thanks for the link, Ben.

One easy way to see how the absurdity of the “buses cause traffic” crowd is to take Rob Perris’ quote and switch it around in a sort of NIMBY Mad Libs.

“If the enforcement is only way that [allowing private vehicles] is going to work, that’s a sign that this isn’t a good plan.”

A 180 degree switch and suddenly it makes sense.

Stu Sutcliffe March 19, 2012 - 10:10 am

An old sports writer’s line: “it’s like blaming the Johnstown Flood on a leaking toilet in Altoona.”

William M. March 19, 2012 - 11:04 am

Why don’t you just make the streets a BRT, mark them with signs, and close off the streets except for pedestrians? That would stop the problem.

BrooklynBus March 19, 2012 - 11:13 am

These people seem to live in their own little world. My favorite is the line “Main Street is now a major destination in New York City”. You would think they are talking about Main Street in Queens not the three block street in DUMBO that most people don’t even know exists.

For generations the bus just made a U turn and that was fine. I guess with the increased traffic, the MTA believed it was no longer safe to do so and rerouted the bus. Just another example of NIMBYs at work. Make it better for us and screw the rest of the world.

Alex C March 19, 2012 - 2:44 pm

That area is a major destination? Explains why the York St station on the F is always empty. These people are full of it. NIMBY’s never go away.

Bolwerk March 19, 2012 - 2:51 pm

I don’t think it’s a trivial destination. The area around York is quieter than the area around the Brooklyn Bridge Park though.

Quinn Raymond March 19, 2012 - 12:16 pm

Thanks for picking this up Ben.

Every single one of the people opposed to the bus admitted to driving a car at the meeting. It was very frustrating because they don’t realize that the traffic will only get worse and more dangerous if they eliminate the bus.

Al D March 19, 2012 - 4:54 pm

What the hell were they thinking running a bus here? We need room for those limos! How else could they call us limosine liberals in good conscience, and by the way, it’s our neighborhood now.

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[…] of an especially bloody weekend on the city’s streets (and even sometimes near the roads). Second Avenue Sagas uses street shots in New York City’s DUMBO neighborhood to illustrate how traffic problems […]

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jj.macjohnson March 27, 2012 - 12:17 pm

As a resident and business owner in the neighborhood since the 1990s. I have yet to see streets too congested with children. There are children most young and in strollers but they are not playing stick ball in the street! I don’t think the parents of the children would let there kids do that.

New B25 Bus Routes Proposed | Fulton Ferry Landing Association April 27, 2012 - 1:47 pm

[…] Our neighbors in DUMBO have carried out an aggressive campaign to eliminate the B-25 from running down Main St.  This campaign was heightened by the DOT Fulton Ferry traffic calming effort because it has increased the number of buses traveling on Main Street. You may have  seen articles in the press about DUMBO’s issues:   http://www.brownstoner.com/blog/2012/03/dumbo-residents-bemoan-dangerous-b25-bus-route/ and http://bkabak.wpengine.com/2012/03/19/the-way-we-share-the-streets/ […]


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