Brooklyn CB 15 Asks Whether Safer Streets Are Worth 100,000 Sneezes

If you ever need a laugh but don’t feel like shelling out for the two-drink minimum, you could do worse than head over to a Brooklyn CB 15 meeting. At an info session last night about plans for Brooklyn’s inaugural rapid bus line, the first question out of the audience was, "How many parking spots are we going to lose in Community Board 15?" The evening spiraled into absurdity from there.

shpelfogel.jpgCB 15 member Mitchell Shpelfogel questions why pedestrian refuges should be installed to make streets safer for seniors to cross, instead of dedicated left-turn signals.

A few pieces of background before I go any further. CB 15 occupies the southeastern corner of Brooklyn — Lew Fidler territory. Their idea of congestion relief is double-decking the Belt Parkway. At last night’s info session, representatives from New York City Transit and NYCDOT explained the basics of Select Bus Service on the Nostrand Avenue corridor. As it happens, the project leaves the streets of CB 15 pretty much alone, with the service enhancements on this segment coming mainly from pre-paid fares, new low-floor buses, and signal priority for transit. Few, if any, parking spaces will be touched.

But that didn’t stop the members of CB 15 from proving that real authority should be kept far, far away from the appointees who serve indefinite tenures on community boards. After the Q&A on Select Bus Service, they sank their teeth into a DOT presentation about a Safe Streets for Seniors project which promises to deliver safety enhancements like longer crossing times, sidewalk extensions, and pedestrian refuges to several intersections with histories of injury-causing crashes. Below are a few typical concerns raised by board members after each presentation.

You might think some, if not all, of these objections to safer streets and better transit were offered in a spirit of jest. I honestly can’t tell whether that’s the case. Read on and judge for yourself — sincere NIMBYism, or one community board’s idea of a cruel joke?

From the Q&A on Select Bus Service:

  • Sure, SBS is successful and popular in the Bronx, but you can’t compare the Bronx to Brooklyn. 
  • "With Mayor Bloomberg aiming to go green," said one participant, "the thought of hundreds of thousands of paper receipts worries me."
  • "Why would you even take the bus?" (Editor’s note: 42,000 people ride the B44 every weekday.)

From the Q&A on DOT’s Safe Streets for Seniors project:

  • Pedestrian refuges with tree pits are bad because "trees make about 100,000 people in New York sneeze." Also, when the trees shed their leaves in the fall, the refuges will be rendered virtually invisible to unsuspecting motorists.
  • "People who drive cars are idiots," so just forget about traffic calming devices like pedestrian refuges, which might get in the way of the idiots who drive cars.
  • An elderly gentleman complained that when he’s driving and turns his car, pedestrians in the crosswalk are sometimes in his way. When asked to elaborate, he said, "They’re confused, I’m confused. I just pray they’re aware of what’s happening around them."
  • A refuge that’s already been constructed at Coney Island Avenue and Brighton Beach Avenue has been a disaster, according to CB member Mitchell Shpelfogel. "Maybe there’s a sense of seniors feeling more comfortable," he said, "but the damage to cars has increased."
  • Doug

    And people wonder why JSK and Bloomberg occasionally make decisions seemingly by fiat? I know that people need to have their voices heard, but if we took each of these concerns seriously, nothing would ever get done. Sidewalks should be eliminated because seniors occasionally trip on cracks! Traffic lights should be eliminated because they’re unfair to the color blind! The response to each of these ridiculous concerns – too many paper reciepts? – should be a resounding, “So?”

    The democratic process is important, but sometimes things just need to get decided, built or implemented for people to see how effective they are. These people would stand in the way of Central Park getting built if it wasn’t already there.

  • MtotheI

    I actually agree with the comment about paper receipts as proof of fare payment. Obviously, changing the metrocard to a smartcard will take some time and money. But issuing 42,000 paper receipts a day for people to board the bus is crazy. Metrocards can hold a certain amount of info on them. Can’t they give fare inspectors a hand held machine to read metrocards to determine when and where they were swiped and print out that info if needed for proof.

    Of course, I wouldn’t stop the implementation of SBS over it but it is an issue.

  • If transit was free, the receipts wouldn’t be necessary. And more people would use it.

    Brooklyn CB15 might take the cake for stupidity, though they sadly have plenty of rivals. The true shame of this is that the nonsense these people spew makes Bloomberg’s unsavory attempts to undermine local governance appear justifiable.

  • By the way, Ben, my head would’ve exploded had I sat through that meeting. You’re to be commended for your fortitude.

  • pher

    This SBS will cut through Community Board 8, and although we haven’t had the benefit of a formal presentation, I have already heard rumbling on the topic of “fare jumpers” in the Bronx – people who hop on without paying.

    While I do not condone getting on a bus without paying your fare,
    a) it is already done, especially for school kids, daily on every bus in the system, and condoned by the drivers, so how would this be any worse?

    b) the lost revenue to the MTA from fare jumping has to be statistically insignificant in the face of the cost savings, no?

    Unfortunately, the straw man of ‘free riders’ has already blacked the eye of SBS in Brooklyn.

    Also, people in CB8 simply do not understand why Nostrand Avenue is the chosen route…

  • “The democratic process is important, but sometimes things just need to get decided, built or implemented for people to see how effective they are. These people would stand in the way of Central Park getting built if it wasn’t already there.”

    Yes, like that term-limits thing Bloomberg rammed through while not bothering to ask the voters about.

    Ah, but they’re dopes, anyway.

  • Meh. A lot of the objections raised have some basis in fact, but are phrased really poorly and ignorantly. For examples:

    – Fare collection on SBS in the Bronx is not a success. The Bx12 has to sit still while the inspectors check everyone’s fares. Roving inspectors, checking tickets while the bus is on the move, have been globally standard for decades, but New York’s inspectors think they’re too good to ride the bus. This slows down the bus, raises fare collection costs to prohibitive levels, and is a general indicator of stupidity.

    – Nostrand isn’t the best route for SBS in Brooklyn. Utica is. It complements the subway better, it has higher ridership, and it’s two-way. That said, Nostrand is an important route as well; it’s not 34th.

  • On another note: Kevin, you’re quite wrong. Bloomberg did ask the voters about term limits – he just ignored their answer.

  • Emily Litella

    They are saying dumb things because they are expected to say something, yet they have no awareness of transportation issues or much of the world outside their own community.

  • Thanks, Alon, for repeating my point that fare collection on SBS is idiotic, but you’re missing my follow-up:

    If you believe Markowitz, the MTA lost money by converting the Bx12 Limited to Select Bus Service, and will lose even more with the B44 and any future Select lines. If his concern for MTA financing were genuine, Markowitz might be surprised to know that the Bx12 is New York City Transit’s second most profitable route, with fares covering 123% of operating costs and 64% of total costs. We don’t have pre-Select data to compare it to, but it’s likely that the Select service has contributed to this success.

    The B44 is currently covering 80% of its operating costs and 48% of its total costs. Even with its moronic fare collection procedure, SBS could attract lots more fare-paying customers on Nostrand and boost those ratios to the current level of the Bx12, saving the MTA over a million dollars a year.

  • Abolish Community Boards

    Hey Kevin #6. None of these goddamn dopes in CB 15 were elected. So much for democracy. In a democracy voters have at least a slight chance to get rid of morons. The community boards should be abolished. They are a circus for city council to hide behind. So what if they were gone. Would anything really change for the worse? At least your city council member would have to stand up and be counted.

  • vnm

    “who rides the bus anyway.”

    Who indeed? It’s too slow to be useful. You turn it into a Select Bus Service and suddenly people who currently mock it will actually gravitate toward it. And there’s less car traffic so the people who still want to drive will have less traffic to contend with. This is a win for everyone.

  • Boris

    When decisions are made in the business world, people look at the numbers; some difficult situations like mergers even get evaluated by an outside “devil’s advocate” to get the most objective view.

    In court, the judge asks the jury to be as objective as possible; jurors even self-select to not serve if they believe they can’t deliver a fair verdict.

    Neither of these approaches are used in Community Boards, which are narrow-minded and self-serving pretty much by definition. Certainly, the locals “know best” about certain quality of life issues, but transportation is a numbers game. A survey or some other comprehensive method is needed to get the true opinion of the community. It is not about NIMBYism vs the big bad city; it is about how decisions are made.

    At every CB meeting, an announcement, or even better, oath, should be administered – that CB members will make objective decisions, that follow logically from the data gathered, and that benefit the majority of their community, not themselves.

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