Southern Brooklyn

Our Mass Transit Future – Part 2: What Happened To Democracy?

Democracy was in action at Sheepshead Bites’ Transit Town Hall last year, where the B4 and SBS were discussed. Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen every day. (Photo by Erica Sherman)

THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, I discussed what is wrong with Select Bus Service (SBS). Other than the case of Merrick Boulevard in Queens where it was defeated, SBS is being forced down our throats, whether we want it or not. As I stated last week, SBS has its place as part of a total transportation strategy, which includes the construction of new rapid transit lines and restructuring the bus system to make it more effective, neither of which the MTA is doing.

Restoring a few bus lines, adding a few new ones, and creating some SBS corridors is not a transportation strategy for future generations, nor does the overly expensive and prolonged construction of East Side Access and Fulton Transit Center — which will benefit a very small percentage of city residents and even fewer Brooklynites — encompass all needs. The MTA has stated in the past that until those projects and the Second Avenue Subway are completed, there will be no other major mass transit capital expenditures for system expansion. In other words, no new mass transit lines anywhere.

Where We Could Use SBS

SBS would be appropriate across Brooklyn along Avenue P and Flatlands Avenue where average trips are long and timesavings would be considerable. Routes could be established to the Gateway Spring Creek Shopping Center where a current bus trip from Sheepshead Bay takes at least 90 minutes, three buses and two fares, but can be made in only 10 or 15 minutes by car.

An SBS route could also use that corridor for access to JFK, which is virtually impossible to access by mass transit from Southern Brooklyn. However, instead, the MTA chooses Nostrand Avenue, although there was opposition from community boards, for the singular reason that they have abandoned plans, which go back to 1929, to extend the Nostrand Avenue subway. Once SBS is completed there, they will propose SBS for Utica Avenue also as a replacement for that proposed subway line. In other words: SBS for any location where a subway was once planned.

It Does Not End There

In Staten Island, there is a long abandoned North Shore Line. Rather than reactivating it or converting it to light rail or people mover, the MTA also proposed to convert it to SBS. The MTA biased the study by including a throw away alternative — traffic signal prioritization. That would only save one minute and cost a fraction of the other studied alternatives rather than include a viable alternative like the automated people mover in Miami. Some believe they intentionally inflated the costs of light rail. As a result of the alternatives they chose to study, SBS appears to be the moderate choice and emerges as the preferred alternative.

In Queens, the situation is even worse. Before Airtrain, the original plan to provide rapid transit access to JFK was to reactivate the abandoned Rockaway line north of Ozone Park. Instead, due to politics, Airtrain, costing at least three times as much, was constructed in the median of the Van Wyck Expressway and it does not even provide one-seat access to Manhattan that the Rockaway line reactivation would have provided. Besides serving JFK, Queens sorely needs improved north / south mass transit access.

So what is being done about that? Despite long standing cries from Queens and especially Rockaway residents to reactivate the Rockaway Line, DOT will be performing a preliminary engineering for SBS along Woodhaven Boulevard (Project X77275) that would remove a lane of traffic. An SBS along Woodhaven would add 15 to 30 minutes to automobile trips. Bus passengers would only save five or ten minutes because other than during peak hours, traffic currently moves at the 35-mph speed limit and buses already make limited stops. Even during peak hours, traffic along Woodhaven Boulevard currently moves much quicker than on Ocean Parkway.

How Does This Affect You?

Woodhaven Boulevard, for many in southern Brooklyn is the preferred route to central and northwestern Queens when the BQE and the Van Wyck are overloaded which is always the case during peak hours. I know because that is how I commuted to Woodside, Queens for nine years. My choices were: 90 minutes by subway, 90 minutes or more using the BQE, 60 to 75 minutes on the Van Wyck, or 45 to 60 minutes using Woodhaven/Cross Bay, the obvious choice.

Woodhaven would no longer be a feasible option for that trip if a lane for general traffic were removed, reducing general road capacity by at least 25 percent. Using the SBS would not be an option, either, for Brooklyn residents. Three buses or two trains and a bus through Downtown Brooklyn would be required to access the SBS, as well as another bus or two after stepping off the SBS, making the trip far longer than the existing subway alternative for many trips.

Nowhere in any of the measures of SBS’s effectiveness does the MTA or DOT consider its negative effects on automobile users. That is not surprising in light of a recent statement at a City Council hearing by the Assistant NYCDOT Commissioner. She stated that because of our excellent mass transit system, it is not necessary for anyone to own an automobile in New York City — a typical Manhattan attitude.

Next Week: The conclusion to this three-part series “Our Mass Transit Future – Part 3: What Happened to Democracy?” asks if there is a conspiracy to not improve our rail system and the need for a balanced transportation system.

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.

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  1. “Besides serving JFK, Queens sorely needs improved north / south mass transit access.”

    Once again, the Bay Ridge Extension, could be somewhat of a solution to the North/South lack of options in Queens. In Brooklyn it is next to Avenue H. Once the right of way enters Queens, it turns north and goes up through Elmhurst and Jackson Heights to Astoria. Part of it, along the side of the L.I.E.

  2. Another thought about the Bay Ridge Extension: According to the MTA, the B6 is the second busiest bus route in Brooklyn (after the busy B46) . On the Avenue J portion of the B6, it runs less than two blocks parallel to the Bay Ridge Extension.

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