Tish James: We Need to Improve NYC’s Most Unreliable Bus, But…

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Yesterday the Straphangers Campaign awarded Brooklyn’s B44 the Schleppie Award in recognition of its status as the most unreliable bus route in the city. Over 20 percent of B44 buses, which run on the Nostrand Avenue corridor, arrive either bunched together or very far apart. About 42,000 people endure the route’s maddening inconsistency every weekday.

The Schleppie came five days after several prominent New York City Democrats lent their support to the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association at a small press event protesting plans to upgrade B44 service. Brooklyn’s first Select Bus Service corridor is slated for Nostrand and Rogers Avenue, with implementation projected for 2011. The package of improvements would alleviate exactly the problems that B44 riders put up with.

In light of the B44’s new Schleppie, I called Council Member Tish James, whose office sent out the alert for Saturday’s presser, to get her views on enhancing bus service. While James said she favors bus improvements, she made
her support for Select Bus Service conditional. "Given the poor service and
the lack of reliability I believe we need
to improve service," she said. "At the same time, we have to balance
the interests of businesses and improving mass transit."

waiting_to_board.jpgHow much longer will B44 riders have to wait for more reliable service?

"The question is the parking, and will this generate more foot traffic or less," she added. More than two thirds of households in James’s district do not own a
car, and neighboring districts are equally dependent on transit. So I
asked if she thought faster, more reliable buses might attract more
foot traffic to shops along Nostrand. James said an uptick was
plausible, but that merchants "need to hear that from DOT."

While James said DOT has informed her the Nostrand Avenue configuration would differ from Select Bus Service on Fordham Road in the Bronx — which converted a curbside parking lane to an exclusive bus lane — she wants the agency to show merchants a specific plan.

A sit-down is in the works: Her office has arranged
a meeting between business owners and DOT, which she says the agency put off until after Tuesday’s election. And James seemed to agree that apprehension about a new street configuration shouldn’t stand in the way of better service for bus riders. "I understand that people are afraid to embrace change," she said.
"That’s why we need to assuage their concerns."

James spoke most forcefully when I suggested that, judging from the comments of merchants association head Lindiwe Kamau, business owners might let their attachment to convenient personal parking spots guide their opinion of bus improvements. "I’m not concerned about
people having to walk two blocks from where they parked," she said. "We
don’t need guaranteed parking in New York."

Out of three Brooklyn City Council members Streetsblog contacted about Nostrand Avenue bus improvements, James was the only one to return phone calls. Council members Mathieu Eugene and Al Vann, whose districts are also served by the B44, have not answered requests for comment.

  • Small local retail business are the economic lifeblood of this city and nothing hurts them more than personal automobile congestion. It delays & blocks their deliveries. It creates a noisy, dangerous and polluted atmosphere on the busiest retail strips. And automobile drivers contribute fairly little to a small businesses success (aside from owners that drive to their own shops).

    In fact, the main places automobiles go is from the neighborhood to cheaper places outside that neighborhood. Instead of walking or taking mass transit to the local small business, people will drive to big box stores or suburban areas that offer more selection and better prices.

    If JSK/Bloomberg could figure out how to fix truck deliveries in retail/commercial areas, that would make small businesses more successful and lower consumer prices city-wide.

  • B44 Needs to Move Faster

    Tish James has been a pretty decent councilmember but this is one topic people frequently whisper behind her back that she just doesn’t get. Perhaps her own windshield perspective is interfering with this? Maybe Streetsblog can finally enlighten her that her participation in a rally on Nostrand was really a slap in the face to the average bus rider in her district.

  • More than two thirds of households in James’s district do not own a car, and neighboring districts are equally dependent on transit. So I asked if she thought faster, more reliable buses might attract more foot traffic to shops along Nostrand. James said an uptick was plausible, but that merchants “need to hear that from DOT.”

    Or they could hear it from you, Councilmember. You’re a leader, right? If you get enough information to convince you, then you don’t need to endorse the merchants’ specious objections.

    In this district (PDF), 66.9% of households don’t even own a car. You would think that would be enough to convince the merchants that they don’t need parking to survive. But just in case, rational parking pricing should ensure that everyone who wants to drive to those businesses can find a spot. And since the average household income for district residents with cars is $67,426, they can afford to pay a little more to park.

    I suppose we should be glad that James was even willing to talk to Ben.

  • B44 Needs to Move Faster

    Actually Cap’n Transit I meant to say that in my post too, kudos to Tish for that. Dialogue is important. Now about that bus…

  • I was stunned to find that the M96, long one of the slowest in Manhattan, had lept up to the median position at 5.3 miles per hour. But then I read the fine preint, adn learned that these are the average times at noon. wouldn’t rush hour speeds be the more relevant metric, since more people are using the buses then?

  • J:Lai

    I think a small but vocal minority of local businesses throughout NYC prioritize car parking over any transit (bus, bike lane, whatever.) It’s not so much because they think their customers are more likely to arrive by car, but because they themselves use the parking.

  • glenn

    And yeah, it’s a lame excuse that she wants DOT to explain to her local area merchants why bus improvements will not hurt them and may help them.

    If they balk, a few good follow-up questions might be: How many of them or their employees use the bus? How many of their customers? how many of them even live in her district or borough?

    In the end, she should care more about her 70% of constituents that use mass transit over the “elite” that commute by car…

  • You’ve got to wonder where the tipping point is on issues like these. You’d think it would be obvious to all parties that better transit access and better streets would be GREAT for business. How long are we going to let the interests of small business owners stand in the way of badly needed transportation improvements?

  • It’s sort of like that old quote in jounalism: “News” is what happened to your editor on the way to work.

    “Problems” are what happened to City Councilmembers on their car rides to City Hall from their district office

  • J

    Is it just me, or is this the biggest non-issue in the world. The current design doesn’t call for removing parking, except at bus stops, which are merely being extended. The overall parking loss is so minimal compared to transit gains, that it hardly warrants discussion, much less any sort of opposition. Perhaps DOT needs to go sit with electeds to make sure they understand the BRT issues, which would avoid unnecessary and premature protests.

  • J

    I’m also amused that so many of these commercial districts came into existence because they are along a transit route, yet many continue to oppose making it easier for customers to access the stores. That said, I think a lot of business understand this and support transit improvements. However, approval just doesn’t make a good news story: “Bus Improvements Liked”. or “Local Business to Mayor: Better Buses Good”.

  • I wonder if Leticia James is aware of the fact that more than 67 percent of her constituent households don’t own cars and that nearly 70 percent of them commute daily via mass transit. You would hope that’s a fact that she would perhaps, you know, research in deciding whether to support her positions.

  • Moser

    You guys haven’t been around the political process very long if you think bitching, whining, posturing and pointing fingers in total disregard for the facts isn’t just a day at the office for 99% of elected officials.

  • AlexB

    I have to agree with J, the plans do not call for the removal of parking, only the removal of a travel lane. This question has already been answered, so what’s the big deal?

    However, if the bus lane is going to have parking on the right and the other travel lane to the left, it can never be physically separated. Cars can go in and out of that lane all the time. Do you really expect me to believe that the drivers on Nostrand Ave aren’t going to use this lane? I’ve been on that street many times and it’s a free-for-all. The police can’t protect this non-separated lane for miles and miles.

  • Aren’t you guys being a little harsh on a pro-transit council member who supported congestion pricing, frequently takes the subway to City Hall, and returned Ben’s call?

    Just sayin’.

  • Well, Eric, we can’t depend on her to get an increase to transit aid in the city budget, and we can’t depend on her to stand up for bus passengers, so what makes her pro-transit?

    I do give her credit for not saying that bus lanes would be an unmitigated disaster, and for talking to Ben. What more does she deserve?

  • Lauri Schindler

    This is the kind of discussion that takes place when we don’t talk about the “big picture.” It takes introducing these ideas to the general public so that they know enough about the subject that BRT, CP and/or tolling, curbside management, bike lanes, are exciting ideas and sound like solutions, not dirty words. Having this discussion with the merchants is a real opportunity. And may I add that I’m no wonk, but I am a true believer.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    This minor case blatant pandering in the cause of Bill Thompson’s failed campaign aside, you have to ask yourself, does Tish James have greater potential to carry your banner politically. I think she does. She made Eric happy with her anti-Atlantic Yards thing and has balanced a complicated equation many times in her career. Personally, for city-wide women, I like Melissa Mark-Verito a whole lot more. They are both young and committed and will be around for a while. Hopefully, for my money, by the time it matters, both BRT and Atlantic Yards will be a fact of political life in Brooklyn and we will be wondering why anyone opposed either.

  • The B44 is so unreliable, that I gave up using it.
    It’s maddening, it ended up being faster for me to walk 8 blocks to the J train, and then take the J to the 38 bus.

    How can anyone seriously oppose this?!?
    Even just implementing the new fare collection system would speed things up immensely.

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