The city’s plan to implement drastic B35 bus changes along the busy east/west Church Avenue corridor running through the center of Brooklyn was met with impassioned voices for and against the move at a town hall meeting last night.
City Council Member Mathie Eugene‘s (D-Flatbush, East Flatbush, Prospect Lefferts Gardens) hosted the event at Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple, 83 Marlborough Road in Flatbush with city Department of Transportation (DOT) officials in tow.
The plan, which was announced in April and is expected to be implemented starting next month [August], calls for designated bus lanes along Church Avenue between 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Mondays through Saturdays. The bus lanes will see 113 parking spaces taken away during these hours. Those would be mitigated, however, with 59 new metered spaces around the corner and additional loading zones being created to accommodate deliveries.
As part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s “Better Bus Action Plan,” the B35 is getting the upgrade as it has a reported daily ridership of 45,000 and average speed of less than 5 miles an hour. Additionally, DOT surveys show that only 7% of people use a car to go to Church Avenue, while 55% use a bus.
During the Q&A portion of the meeting, the audience interrupted DOT officials multiple times with concerns about parking. Much of the focus of those concerns was on the bus lane being active on Saturdays. Although observant Jews are not permitted to drive on Saturday mornings, Reform Jewish congregations such as ones where the town hall was held, do not normally adhere to such standards. Because of this, many members were concerned about losing parking for their trips to Saturday morning services.
“A lot of the congregants that come to this temple don’t live within this community and they have to travel to get here,” said Blake Morris, a nearby resident and former candidate for State Senate. “They’re going with groups of people. So not having on-street parking means they’re going to have to rearrange not just their transportation mode but they might have to rearrange their whole social connections with people.”
The number of people frustrated with the DOT’s responses became enough to form a rallying cry during the questioning.
“You’re talking about an August implementation. Today is July 30. Is this a done deal?” shouted one audience member. Others later joined in on a chant of “Is this a done deal?”.
At one point, Eugene interrupted the event to try to ease tensions.
“Listen, listen, listen,” said Eugene in the middle of uncontrolled chatter in the audience. “Let them answer the questions.”
Although DOT officials had trouble reading and answering questions due to interruptions, they didn’t seem to be bothered too much by it. DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray remained largely calm and with a smile while he reiterated multiple times that the agency did indeed plan to move forward with the plan, but maybe open to negotiations.
“We plan on moving forward with this project,” said Bray, explaining that ridership is shown to be high on Saturday, which is why bus lanes are planned to be active on that day. “We are listening to you and if there’s any adjustments we think about making, we will let you know. But in general, are we moving with the bus improvements on Church Avenue? Yes, we are.”
Andrew Inglesby, the Assistant Director for Government and Community Relations at MTA NYC Transit however, who only spoke once due to the street redesign being a DOT issue, appeared slightly frustrated after a heckler asked him where he was born.
“I was born in New York State,” he replied. “I don’t see how that’s relevant,” he said as he returned to his seat. Ironically, one of the audience members had concerns about a loss in parking making it difficult for people to arrive to the synagogue from outside of the community.
“I could have predicted what went down,” said Nina Sabghir, a member of Community Board 14. “It’s unfortunate that people here felt the need to scream, cry, whine and be downright rude rather than say ‘We would like the DOT to address this and find a solution’”.
Although a majority of the attendees opposed the parking repurposing, there were multiple members of the local Community Board in the room who disagreed and favored improvements to the B35.
“I’m a bus rider and I don’t use this bus as much as I would like to because the fact is the bus barely moves,” said Earl Figeueroa, a local resident. “There are people that commute by bus and it’s not a very pleasant commute given the amount of double parking. I’m definitely in favor of the plan and I think anything that improves the bus and makes it faster is better for the majority of Brooklynites.”
“I think there were folks who were very frustrated and I think sometimes the loudest and most extreme voices in the room dominate the conversation,“ said Billy Richling, a member of Community Board 14 and volunteer for the pro-public transportation advocacy organization, Riders Alliance. “The majority of people who live in this neighborhood and who use Church Avenue use the bus or they walk. They don’t use private cars. I use the bus all the time.”
Previously, similar plans used to be dubbed “Select Bus Service” or “SBS” routes, but that label does not apply here. However, as with SBS improvements, this change involves multiple bus lanes that would repurpose parking spaces among the route.
“This is a standalone improvement. It will not become a Select Bus route at this time, but the bus lanes by themselves will help to improve bus service,” said one of the DOT presenters at the meeting.
Although the bus lanes are likely to go forward, it’s not unreasonable to expect some tweaks to the plan as seen with the B82 SBS along Kings Highway, which similarly faced much local opposition but ended up being implemented in a reformed package after negotiations with local elected officials.
Eugene plans to continue talks with DOT officials and ask them to consider people’s concerns.
“What I think that should be done right now is for DOT to go and to reflect on the issues raised by my constituents and to figure out how to address them,” said Eugene.