Are You Listening, MTA? Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign Faces Objections From Every Community

Are You Listening, MTA? Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign Faces Objections From Every Community

On March 9th, the MTA held its final virtual meeting for the draft Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign. It informed local community boards of proposed changes at incredibly poorly advertised and sparsely attended sessions, and it will be many months before the MTA issues its final plan.  

There are few reasons to be confident it will be an improvement from what we have now, especially if only 2% increases in bus speeds are achieved at the cost of massive elimination of bus stops that serve the elderly, school children, and those with mobility issues. Two-percent faster bus speeds is all that was achieved in the Bronx. More on that later.

In my last article, I focused on the reactions from Community Boards 1 through 8. Central and southern Brooklyn (Boards 9 through 18) were even more vocal in opposing the MTA's Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign. Community Board (CB) 13 protested in the streets twice regarding the proposed elimination of numerous bus stops in Coney Island, most recently on March 12th.

Very few positive statements were made about the proposals. Passengers liked the proposed B55 along Church Avenue to JFK, but not at the expense of truncating the B15, which currently goes to the airport. They also liked the new routes along Empire Boulevard and Clarkson Avenue. Similar proposals also appear in my plan.

B49 at Bedford and Tilden in Flatbush. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

The proposed flipping of the southern terminals of the B49 (Ocean Avenue) and B68 (Coney Island Avenue) routes generated the most opposition. Under the proposal, the B49 would terminate at the Stillwell-Coney Island Subway Station, and the B68 would terminate at the Kingsborough Community College (KCC).

According to the MTA, the purpose of the change is to increase bus service between the Brighton Beach subway station and KCC, promising not to eliminate existing B1 school specials between Ocean Parkway and KCC. However, this change comes at a significant cost. Manhattan Beach residents would no longer be able to reach Sheepshead Bay with a direct ten-minute bus trip. Instead, two buses would be required that would take 30 to 40 minutes.

This change worsens access to the Sheepshead Bay subway station as well as access to five houses of worship, four schools, four banks, two supermarkets, a fitness center, a dozen restaurants, and a dozen mom-and-pop establishments along Sheepshead Bay Road.

Ozzie Heymann said at the CB 15 meeting, "As CB 15 Transit Chair, I can tell you that the southern proposed changes to the B49 Route will not only negatively affect residents along the route, which runs through an area with a high concentration of senior citizens, but pose a hardship to Kingsborough students, visitors to the Menorah Nursing Home and, of course, Manhattan Beach visitors. This change and any extensions between bus stop distances will pose a problem for many of CB 15's seniors."

B68 along Coney Island Avenue would benefit from a dedicated bus lane. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

Also cited was the high number of medical offices along Ocean Avenue, which would no longer be directly accessible to seniors in Manhattan Beach. The fact that the B49 connects with bus routes that the B68 does not was also given as a reason against the change. The MTA was also asked why they would remove bus service from the Sheepshead Bay Station when it is slated to become ADA accessible. The answer to this and many other questions was that the MTA would take a second look at their proposals. The need to connect Coney Island with KCC was also mentioned.

Another hot topic was the plan to discontinue the B2 in CB 18 Marine Park, which I predicted in 2011. It was briefly mentioned in the recording describing the proposals without any rationale for why it would be discontinued. Passengers also objected that there is no proposed increase in B100 service to absorb B2 passengers who would have to walk further to the bus. The MTA insisted that according to their passenger counts, the B100 was underutilized and could absorb additional passengers despite riders' contentions that the route is already overcrowded in rush hours.

Passengers waiting for a bus on Kings Highway. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

One person suggested that the MTA is not considering passengers entering the bus without paying their fares, accounting for the MTA's undercounting. That number is considerable at the Kings Highway Station, probably because the passengers just want to get on the bus quicker, so they also use the back door. Since they already paid on the subway, revenue is not lost, but the MTA would be undercounting its passengers, not seeing the need for additional service.

Also pointed out was that there is no transfer point between the Q35 and the B100, but there is a transfer between the Q35 and B2. The MTA did not answer how former B2 riders would make this transfer using the B100. They also ignored most other questions, although these sessions were said to include time for questions and answers. A point was also made that eliminating many bus stops in Marine Park would cause unsafe conditions due to the necessity of crossing additional streets, especially near schools.

CB 18 also asked for a return of B3 service to Avenue Y in Bergen Beach, eliminated due to the 2010 service cutbacks. The walk from Avenue Y to the closest bus route is ¾ mile – the domestic accepted walking distance to a local bus route is only ¼ mile.

Other than the B49/68 proposal, CB 13 was concerned about discontinuing the X28 to parts of Coney Island and Sea Gate, the rerouting of the B64, and the shortening of the B82 as well as bus stop removals mentioned earlier. Beach Haven mid-rise housing on Avenue Z would also lose all bus access if the B4 was rerouted without it being replaced by another route. It was extended in 1978 specifically to serve these residents.

CB 9 was concerned about the rerouting of the B7 from Clarkson Avenue to Kings Highway. CB 10 opposed the elimination of X27 bus stops on Shore Rd, also proposing local bus service on Shore Road. There also was opposition to the B64 rerouting to serve NYU Langone instead of the waterfront. CB 11 noted that the B64 rerouting in 2010 severed the connection to Staten Island routes and is not addressed in this plan.

Could the slow bus speeds on Cortelyou Road be due to parking issues on a couple of blocks? Liena Zagare/Bklyner

CB 12 also opposed eliminating B103 service to Downtown Brooklyn, a major theme in the meetings I previously critiqued. It was pointed out that the B103 serves seven schools on the eliminated portion. Once again, Borough Park requested that the B16 be rerouted straight along Ft. Hamilton Parkway to pass Maimonides Hospital, as discussed here.

Despite the B16 not being straightened, the recording used at the virtual meetings introducing the proposals uses the B16 as an example of how routes are being "straightened." The MTA refused to correct that error until I filed a formal complaint with MTA Government Relations. Another error was the statement that proposed overnight frequencies are provided in the draft plan. They are not. The MTA admitted they knew of that error but also kept repeating it in subsequent meetings until a complaint was filed. They will be available in the final plan.

Rerouting the B16 as proposed also turns a two-bus trip between Borough Park and the Hasidic part of Crown Heights near Kingston Avenue into a three-bus trip. The MTA, for the first time, announced that additional three-legged transfers would be provided in instances where a third bus would be required to complete a trip as a result of bus reroutings, shortenings, or discontinuances. Traditionally, these transfers are not publicized, and few know their locations. It would make far more sense for the MTA to provide unlimited trips within a 2 or 2 ½ hour period, from first entering the system until the last transfer, than having a complicated fare structure with three-legged transfers.

There was much opposition from CB 14 to rerouting buses from Cortelyou Road to Beverley Road because of traffic congestion there. They also asked for the return of the B23, also eliminated in 2010 as part of massive bus route cutbacks. CB 17 opposed truncating the B46 from Williamsburg Bridge Plaza to Woodhull Hospital.

CB 16 opposed ending direct B15 service to JFK Airport. But even more notable was that only one person from CB 16 attended the first session. Perhaps one or two more attended the second session. I previously wrote about the MTA refusing to post notices on the windows in the buses publicizing these virtual meetings accounting for the sparse attendance. Finally, notices about the Redesign were posted on a few buses, but these signs merely directed riders to the MTA's website for further information. There was no direct reference to the meetings that were occurring. CB 18 had the most attendance, with about 80 members from the public present. Under 600 different people total, not counting MTA and DOT staff, attended the meetings held to discuss the drafts, accounting for under 0.1% of the 625,000 Brooklyn weekday passengers.

B44 Select Bus Service on Nostrand Avenue at Linden Boulevard. Liena Zagare/Bklyner

The MTA promised to investigate all suggestions, such as rerouting the B44 Select Bus Service to KCC instead of Coney Island Hospital and a new bus route connecting Sheepshead Bay Station and Rockaway. They also promised to look at a second bus route to JFK Airport.

Bus stop elimination

The MTA is obsessed with removing bus stops to speed up buses which they insist are too slow and discourage ridership. They contend that each bus stop removed was carefully analyzed. However, numerous bus stops were removed from in front of a half dozen schools, high-rise housing developments, senior centers, supermarkets, etc.

They ignore that eliminating over 2,300 bus stops in Brooklyn and Queens is a hardship to the elderly and those with mobility problems. They also ignore that buses do not stop when no one gets on or off, and eliminating them saves no time. Instead, they are explicitly targeting low-usage stops for removal. Recently, I just missed a bus because my bus stop was removed, and had to wait an extra 10 minutes, more than doubling my trip time.

So, it should be interesting to note that of the 400 bus stops removed in the Bronx due to the completed Bronx Bus Route Redesign, 150 had to be returned because of complaints, as the update on the Bronx Bus Redesign mentions. The MTA states that Bronx buses now run 2% quicker. No statistics are given for passenger trips which include walking and waiting times, so we cannot assume that bus stop removal speeded anyone's trip and did not, in fact, make trips take longer.

The MTA cites the 2% increase in bus speeds as a major improvement. Former DOT Commissioner and traffic engineer Sam Schwartz dismisses a 10% increase in auto travel times on neighboring 15th Street in Manhattan as "minimal" as a result of the 14th Street Busway banning cars. So how could a 2% decrease in travel times be significant when a 10% increase is considered minimal?

Bus passengers are beginning to realize that the MTA is wrong in proposing the elimination of so many bus stops. This is why it has been such a hot topic at the virtual meetings and why over 3,000 riders have signed the petition against massive bus stop removal. That is five times the number attending all the virtual meetings combined.

East Side Access, now called Grand Central Madison, was conceived in the 1950s. Yet when it recently went into full operation, it was met with so many complaints that we do not even know that the MTA will be able to satisfy them satisfactorily. After about 70 years of planning, they could not get it right. At least not yet. So how are we supposed to believe them when they tell us they know what is best for Brooklyn when it comes to buses?

Several weeks ago, the MTA promised that 'pop-up" sessions and a series of in-person meetings discussing the proposals with question-and-answer sessions would be held before a final report is issued. A "pop-up" session would be MTA staff appearing at selected locations like major subway stations to notify passengers about the study, hand out literature, answer questions, listen to suggestions, notify the public where to find more information and how to comment.

Of course, only computer-savvy individuals can comment on the internet. Many elderly, who make up a significant portion of the ridership, especially during the midday and cannot use a computer, would not be able to comment to the MTA directly. The MTA must also realize that stopping people on the way to work would not be the best way to publicize the Redesign since they are in a hurry and just want to get to work.

It is also essential that the information handed out contain specific highlights about each route changed or eliminated with the rationale for the proposed change, such as in the slide show here prepared by a councilwoman. "Trust us; we know what is best for you because we are the experts" must no longer be allowed to be the status quo.

To date, there is no information about these "pop-up" sessions or in-person meetings on the MTA's website. It is yet to be determined how well these meetings will be publicized if they indeed do occur, if they will only be held with elected officials, and if the MTA will start having real discussions with communities where they can explain the decisions they are making and adequately answer questions. The public deserves more than just a thank you and a promise to consider suggestions. Why are comments made on the MTA website immediately marked "closed." Why are there no statuses indicating "Open,' Pending," "Accepted," or "Rejected" if the MTA is indeed considering all comments made?

Why are those making comments on the MTA's website not allowed to see the comments made by others? Why has the MTA refused to make the audio and chats from the virtual meetings part of the public record? Why have they refused to provide basic information like how many thousands of daily B15 commuters will now incur an extra bus transfer with the B15 no longer serving the airport?

How is the public to trust them? Although the second draft of the Queens Bus Network Redesign was a vast improvement from the first, and many suggestions were heeded, the MTA still insists on the elimination of over one-third of the bus stops in Brooklyn and Queens and repeatedly proposes reroutings already rejected multiple times by Queens Community Boards.

In Brooklyn, they propose removing a bus stop that was already released in 2006 and had to be returned a few months later because the neighboring bus stop became overloaded with 100 passengers returning home from the beach. The MTA needs to learn the meaning of the word "listen."

Allan Rosen is a former director of MTA NYCT Bus Planning with three decades of experience in transportation and a Master's Degree in Urban Planning. On Twitter @BrooklynBus