THE COMMUTE: (Here is Part 1 from last week). The B44 is different from other Select Bus Service (SBS) routes because the SBS will not take the same route as the local. It will utilize Rogers Avenue northbound instead of New York Avenue, making it more difficult to access Kings County Hospital. It will also provide a glut of northbound bus service on Rogers Avenue while cutting New York Avenue service by 50 percent.
Another difference is that it will not use all articulated buses as the M15 and Bx12 do, or all standard length buses as the S79 and S78 do. The B44 SBS will use the longer articulated buses, but the locals will continue to use the standard length buses, as last proposed. Wouldn’t that mean there should be more locals than SBS buses on the B44? The MTA does not think so.
In fact, local service will most likely be reduced when the SBS is implemented, further overcrowding the locals. The MTA states on page 4 of this report that SBS service will be more frequent than the current Limited, but does not state how often the local will operate. Local service will most likely be reduced to every 10 or 12 minutes in the off-peak and be reduced in the peak as well. Bus bunching of only two buses could result in a wait of 25 minutes for a local. Isn’t it logical to assume that some local passengers will choose the SBS and walk much more just to avoid those long waits or to have a better chance of getting a seat on the longer buses?
Also, buses along New York Avenue will operate more slowly due to increased traffic diverted from Rogers Avenue to Bedford Avenue and New York Avenue due to the reduction of a travel lane for cars and trucks on Rogers Avenue. The result will be less reliable local bus service on New York Avenue. In its evaluation of the B44 SBS, the MTA will only concentrate on the positive changes and ignore the negative ones, as they did when evaluating the M15, thereby greatly exaggerating the success of the B44 SBS.
Other Differences Between The B44 SBS And Existing SBS Routes
Also, unlike the S79, which permits some extra bus transfers, the B44 SBS will not allow you to change between the local and SBS bus and then make a second transfer to a crosstown bus or the train for the same fare… unless you buy an unlimited pass. That means you pay more, walk more, or settle for a slower ride than you are getting now by taking the local all the way instead of the Limited, which will cease to exist.
This was not so much of an issue on the M15 since only a few of the more lightly-used Limited stops were eliminated, and it is not a feeder route to the subway, but more of an alternative to it. On the B44 SBS, however, 21 Limited stops are being eliminated in each direction. That will force many former Limited passengers onto the local unless an additional free transfer is provided. The need for additional free transfers is a major issue that should be addressed by Community Board 15 — not only the issue of the loss of parking spaces.
The MTA plan also adds unnecessary B44 service south of Avenue U — service that will be underutilized because the Sheepshead Bay Road train station is preferred to the Flatbush Nostrand Junction and SBS will not change that for many living south of Avenue U. The funds obtained from terminating the B44 SBS at Avenue X, instead of operating to the end of the line, could be used to extend the B4 via Knapp Street to Gerritsen Avenue and Avenue U.
That would improve access to the Sheepshead Bay Road station, by reducing the walking distance to a bus, shifting some passengers from the overcrowded B36 to the underutilized B4. However, the MTA does not want to improve access to the Sheepshead Bay station and instead wants to force residents to transfer at the Junction. They will do this by providing an SBS bus as often as every five minutes, and not improving service to the Sheepshead Bay station on the B4 or B36.
The SBS will be a big improvement for those who can benefit by it. It will be a disaster for those who will use it, only because local service will worsen, and for those who will have to walk distances as long as three quarters of a mile to and from an SBS stop. For many, the increased walk will cancel out the timesaving from the increased bus speed. Seniors will especially suffer, as well as anyone who has difficulty walking, because they will not be able to walk an extra quarter-to-half-mile to the closest SBS stop, which will be in addition to the blocks they are already walking.
How The B44 SBS Could Have Been Improved
It is a moot question now that the planned route is all but a certainty, except for its start date, which keeps on getting postponed. However, it is still worthy of discussion.
The glut of bus service on Rogers Avenue could have been avoided by rerouting half or all of the B49 buses to operate straight along Ocean Avenue to Empire Boulevard (renaming the route the B50).
The unnecessary excess service south of Avenue Z could have been avoided by:
- Terminating the B44 SBS at Avenue X and using the funds that are saved to extend the B4 north in Knapp Street to Avenue U and Gerritsen Avenue (Kings Plaza on weekends);
- Terminating the B44 SBS at Sheepshead Bay station, operating via Avenue Z;
- Implementing the second bullet point above, but during school hours, extending the SBS one stop to Kingsborough Community College. That would shift riders from the B49, providing much faster service to the college, making the morning B49 Limited unnecessary, saving operating costs. Buses would fill up in the off-peak direction, which would run nearly empty in that direction as the B44 SBS is currently proposed.
Other improvements that also could have been made:
- Allow transfers between the local and SBS that do not prevent a second transfer to a crosstown bus or the subway;
- Transfers could also be allowed between the B44 local, the B44 SBS, the B39, and the M15. That would allow trips from southern Brooklyn to Manhattan for a single fare increasing SBS usage for riders who would rather not use the subway or pay the express bus fare;
- Replacing the lost service on New York Avenue with a new local bus route serving other areas where there is a gap in local bus service.
None of these alternatives were considered because the MTA studied the B44 SBS in isolation, not in conjunction with the rest of the bus system. This is why it was poorly planned. The MTA only had three considerations in mind:
- Improving bus speeds;
- Reducing operating costs and;
- Providing justification why an extension to the Nostrand Avenue subway is not necessary.
Next Week in Part 3: When Will The B44 SBS Begin Operation?
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
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