THE COMMUTE: My article about traffic congestion last week sparked a lot of criticism, specifically on SubChat, from those accusing me of being an automobile lover and bicycle hater. Of course, those advocating that we dedicate more street space to bicycles and pedestrians, and who do everything possible to discourage automobile use, misinterpreted my comments.
There is nothing wrong with accommodating pedestrians and bicycles, but you shouldn’t greatly inconvenience motorists just because you hate cars. I’ve written extensively about my thoughts regarding Select Bus Service (SBS). Reducing car use is also an admirable goal, but if you do that, you must give people other viable choices to make their trips. Until we improve our mass transit system, we should not deliberately make automobile travel more difficult because all we will succeed in further doing is drive the middle class out of the city.
The fact is that, in an area such as ours, unless you are willing to put up with mass transit commutes of 45 minutes for short trips and between two and three hours for long ones, a car is a necessity. That is what most Manhattancentric readers cannot understand. They believe that mass transit travel from Southern Brooklyn is just as convenient as it is from Park Slope or Chelsea, for example. A map from WNYC, in which you see how long subway trips take from each part of the city, shows that most trips from Sheepshead Bay to boroughs other than Manhattan take at least two hours. A small portion takes 90 minutes, probably at least twice as long as by car. A short trip to neighboring Canarsie also shows up as a two-hour trip, although parts of Canarsie probably could be reached in 75 to 90 minutes if bus trips were shown on the map. It is still up to six times the time required by car.
Why I Am Not A Fan Of Proposed B44 SBS Service
The B44 SBS would cut some north/south cross-Brooklyn trips by 15 minutes. Sounds nice in theory, but the route, like other proposed SBS routes, would not be accessible for many who would still need their car. So to say we are reducing road space to help you only applies if you can readily access the route, not to those who are using the street to cut across Brooklyn without their origin and / or destination near Nostrand Avenue.
Take, for example, a specific trip I make to visit a friend in Clinton Hill from my home near Sheepshead Bay. In other boroughs that have more highways, a trip of similar length would take 15 to 20 minutes by car. In Brooklyn, it takes about 45 minutes, whether I use direct local streets or an indirect highway. So what would my mass transit options be? I would need a bus to the Brighton Line to Downtown Brooklyn and then a bus or train at the other end for a second fare. The second fare could be avoided if I were willing to take three extra trains underground by changing to the R, and then take the F to the G — a total of four trains and a bus. I wouldn’t even venture to guess how long that trip would take, but two hours during off-peak hours with all that transferring would not be a bad estimate. I could probably accomplish the trip in 75 to 90 minutes with the bus-train-bus option, which is still quite a long for a trip that does not even involve leaving one’s own home borough.
So what if I took the B44 SBS instead when it starts operation? Well, it would take me two buses to access the SBS, then the B25 at the other end — a total of four buses, also at two fares. The 10 minutes the SBS would save me over the current local (or less, if I compared it to the Limited) would still take longer than by subway and bus or by two local buses.
That’s not to say that some riders living near the SBS route would not benefit somewhat. All I am saying is that those who believe that many will now choose SBS over taking their car are wrong because unless you vastly improve connecting travel, the usefulness of SBS is limited. It mostly benefits the MTA by reducing operating costs, while benefits to the passenger are overly exaggerated. When timesavings are quoted for SBS, numbers are always quoted for passengers riding from end to end, something practically no one does. Timesavings for the average passenger are rarely mentioned.
Everything sounds good in theory. It’s only when you look at specific examples, you can see how something works in practice. It would be great if we could replace car travel with bike travel, but as long as New York City remains the city with the longest commuting time, as I pointed out last week, New York will never be Amsterdam.
Although the study in the Huffington Post appears to refer to automobile commutes, I doubt it if mass transit commutes are any shorter. People are willing to put up with long commutes only because of what New York City offers in terms of jobs.
We must improve our mass transit system. Adding a few new bus routes at 30-minute headways, and a few SBS routes is in no way sufficient. We need to expand the rail system, correct bus routing deficiencies, add new inter-city express bus routes at reasonable fares where drivers have routing discretion to minimize traffic delays, and build off-street bus terminals for local and intercity travel and by other methods that do not cause real inconvenience to cars. Even small changes, such as reopening station entrances, can help by cutting five or six minutes off someone’s commute, as much as what SBS will do for the average passenger. So why is it not done? Until we take the necessary steps to improve mass transit, in many areas of the city where commute times are great, the automobile will still be a necessity for many.
We also need to get a national effort underway to increase mass transit funding. Just as there are many national environmental groups, we need have them for mass transit. We need to get the political support for increased funding that helps shorten commutes, not only funding that helps the large corporations during the construction phase of megaprojects. Mayoral candidate Sal Albanese pledged that, if elected, he would form a coalition of the mayors from the largest cities to pressure Washington for increased mass transit funding. That would be a start.
The other candidates should follow his lead.
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).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at] sheepsheadbites [dot] com.