El-Yateem: MTA Capital Projects Harmful to Small Business & Commuters

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This past week Sal Sakman, the owner of Sakman Deli on the corner of Bay Ridge Avenue and 4th Avenue, walked into my campaign office holding two receipts: one from the month before the Bay Ridge Avenue station closed down, and the other from the month after the closing.

Sal’s sales dropped from $57,000 to $29,000, nearly cutting his business in half. Sal has had his business for 36 years – he has seen his ups and downs and has weathered all kinds of storms, but this, he says, is unprecedented. Sal admitted to me that this is the worst position his business has been in, and that he is worried he won’t be able to keep up with payments to his vendors.

Sal Sakman’s Deli has lost thousands of dollars due to the closure of this R Train Subway Stop. Photo from Google maps.

Sal is not alone. I went to speak with other business owners around the train station. Emphasis Diner saw a nearly 30% drop in business. Another deli on the block says business has dropped around 40% as well. Some of these businesses have had to lay off workers, too.

Had the Bay Ridge Avenue station needed to be closed for critical repairs, improving accessibility, or improving train performance, then Sal admitted the lost business would be an unfortunate, but necessary consequence in order to maintain our subways for working families. But that’s not the case. The closure was purely cosmetic, and is absolutely a waste of time and money for all of us.

When you see incidents of train derailments like the one on the A train this morning, or when you’re waiting for the R train for 20 minutes, do you ever think about where all of the money from our MetroCard swipes is going?

Rev. Khader El-Yateem, the Democratic candidate for the 43rd District City Council seat, is calling for Southern Brooklyn mass transit community impact assessment and action plan, which involves business owners, commuters, and neighbors.

The Bay Ridge Avenue station is just one example of the MTA and the state’s wasteful spending on cosmetic capital projects within our transportation system that do NOTHING to improve train performance, upgrade the ancient equipment that still runs our subways, or make our stations more accessible.

I am thinking, for instance, of how we just spent $4 billion of public money on the Oculus Mall, billions on the Second Ave Subway, and of course $72 million to give facelifts to the Prospect Ave, 53rd Street, and Bay Ridge Avenue stations. The money to truly fix our subway system is there, it’s just not being allocated properly, because our leadership – from Gov. Andrew Cuomo to Senator Marty Golden – are not putting working New Yorkers, and our needs, first. And this lack of leadership is affecting both commuters and small business owners.

We need to take a hard look at who is making decisions that affect our neighborhoods. Before projects like these waste the money and time of Southern Brooklyn residents, there should be a thorough community impact assessment and action plan, which involves business owners, commuters, and neighbors.

The MTA needs to come to Southern Brooklyn (and take the train to get here) to hear about the commuting nightmares that our residents face. In addition, Senator Golden, Councilman Gentile, and other elected officials should be tasked with defining and fully funding alternative travel options, and looking into subsidies or support for affected businesses, BEFORE giving the go ahead. Because if it were up to us, we wouldn’t be wasting millions of dollars in public money. We’d be using the money to fix the performance of our trains.

Why are our elected officials lining the pockets of developers before taking care of their own constituents? All I know is, the Bay Ridge Avenue closure, and the wasteful and expensive capital projects taking place throughout the city, are one major cause of why you’re standing on the train platform for 20 minutes. Clearly, our priorities are off. And we should be asking ourselves why we didn’t have a say in the first place.

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