SBS Nostrand Ave Service: Speak Up Now Or Forever Hold Your Peace

THE COMMUTE: No one is getting married, but if you want the MTA to make any changes to the proposed Select Bus Service (SBS) route on Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue planned for early 2013, now is the time to let them know and they will listen to you. At least that is what they told me last week at their Open House at Brooklyn College. Your opportunity to speak up will be on October 25 at Community Board 15’s monthly meeting.

I went to the Open House with a list of questions to ask of the MTA regarding their plan, and I promised to tell you their answers this week. I was able to ask most of the questions but not all. Don’t let this plan hit you by surprise. Learn now what they are planning and, better yet, read between the lines to learn what they are not telling you. I hope to help you with that.

If you currently use the B44 Limited at Avenue R, you will now have to use the local because the SBS will not be stopping there. If enough passengers request that a stop be added there or anywhere else along the route, they will add it. If you say nothing, do not complain later. Don’t blame the MTA. That is why it is important for you to attend Community Board 15’s October meeting. If there is anything you do not understand about this plan and want clarification, you should also attend.

SBS to Sheepshead Bay Station Proposal

Earlier this year, a friend of mine suggested that the SBS operate to the Sheepshead Bay subway station, rather than to Knapp Street. Originally I thought that it would not be possible to find a turnaround at Sheepshead Bay station to turn the articulated (accordion-style) buses there, so in an earlier article I suggested that the B44 local, which will be using regular length buses, terminate there and the SBS make all stops below Avenue Z.

Sending some B44 service along the B36 route would relieve overcrowding on the B36 during rush hours and at school dismissal time. Years ago, the MTA operated additional rush hour B36 service between Avenue U and the subway station. When that service was discontinued, some riders switched to car services or asked relatives to drop them off or pick them up at the station. Providing additional service would return some of that lost clientele.

Later I realized that such a plan would require the MTA install fare machines at about a half dozen additional bus stops south of Avenue Z, increasing the project’s cost and making that proposal somewhat impractical.

Taking a closer look at the intersection of East 14th Street and Avenue Z, I believe with some modifications to the intersection, it could be feasible for the SBS to turn around there. Further study would be needed to find out for sure.

I tossed out this idea to the MTA at the Open House and they did not dismiss it out of hand. They promised to look into it and return an answer within three months outlining the following possible scenarios. 1) They would not do it (for whatever reason); 2) They like the idea but they are too far along in the planning process to make the change; 3) They like the idea and will change their plans to incorporate it but only if enough people from the area indicate that they prefer it to what is now proposed, i.e. both SBS and local buses terminating at Knapp Street with the SBS making stops south of Avenue U only at Avenue X, Emmons Avenue and Nostrand Avenue, and at Knapp Street and Emmons Avenue.

I do not believe that the current light B44 ridership south of Avenue U merits doubling of service there, especially when the MTA will not provide weekday afternoon or weekend B4 service east of Coney Island Hospital to service the Sheepshead Bay Station. In my opinion they are hoping that B44 riders south of the Belt Parkway will choose to ride to the Junction instead of Sheepshead Bay Station via the B4 by providing three to four times as much service on the B44 than on the B4 when it operates. If B4 ridership then further erodes, the MTA will seek to eliminate it entirely east of Sheepshead Bay Station, as they proposed in 2009.

A B44 SBS terminating at Sheepshead Bay Station would make it usable by Kingsborough Community College students in the off-peak direction, where there would be much excess capacity available for them, greatly shortening their trip time since many students travel long distances. I overheard one student on her cell phone the other day repeating a conversation she had with her teacher who marked her late. She told her friend that she gets up at 7:30 each morning to attend an 11:30 class and wasn’t responsible for the public transportation system, so being late was not her fault. (Aren’t cell phones great?)

Nostrand Avenue Traffic (Sheepshead Bay)

The SBS plan calls for an exclusive bus lane between Avenue X and Emmons Avenue, northbound from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m. and southbound from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. This means that through-traffic and cars making left turns will have to share a single traffic lane. If the car in front of you wants to make a left turn at the Shore Parkway Service Road, Voorhies Avenue, Avenue Z, Avenue Y, or at Avenue X, you will have to wait for it to find a gap in oncoming traffic even if you are going straight and do not wish to turn – possibly causing you to miss several green signals.

According to Department of Transportation representative Eric Beaton, DOT does not anticipate problems because “not that many cars are making left turns, and there are gaps in traffic.” He further stated that if there are problems they will make changes.

I asked Beaton if they will be monitoring before and after traffic on neighboring parallel streets. All he would tell me is that they have “before” counts, but would not elaborate for which streets they have “before” counts or how old those counts are or provide any further information. It is up to the community to suggest which streets should be monitored before the exclusive lanes go into effect and when those counts should be taken to accurately determine the traffic impact.

My Predictions Regarding Traffic in Sheepshead Bay

Drivers that are too impatient will illegally enter the bus lane at each of the above corners to get around the car waiting in front of them. Drivers that do wait who do not have their left signal on will be honked to encourage them to pass in the bus lane. Occasionally police will issue summonses to violators. If red light cameras are installed, all violators will be ticketed and drivers will learn to obey. If that happens, it will take you 15 minutes to travel the few blocks between Avenue X and Emmons Avenue by car when the exclusive lane is in effect. Motorists will soon tire of this delay and will seek alternatives such as switching to Bedford Avenue, slowing traffic there. Those going only a few blocks will divert to residential East 29th Street or Haring Street. When a lane was reduced on Gerritsen Avenue, many cars just switched from Gerritsen to neighboring residential Stuart Street, so you can assume something similar will happen here.

After several months of viewing the traffic situation, and hearing complaints from businesses that they are losing customers because of changing shopping patterns due to the increased traffic, DOT will then make changes, but only if traffic is really bad or the outcry is great. They will most probably ban left turns at the corners in Sheepshead Bay where the exclusive lane exists or reduce the hours the exclusive lane is in effect easing the problems somewhat.

The other alternative is that we will just live with slower traffic in the neighborhood and more traffic delays. If you weren’t happy with DOT’s changes on Emmons Avenue, which will only get worse in the summertime, you will not be happy with the changes on Nostrand Avenue between Avenue X and Emmons Avenue.

Tomorrow: The Benefits of SBS and Other Considerations

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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