Brooklyn Bus Stop Draws Bigger Crowd Than Thompson Anti-BRT “Rally”

thompson_exits_truck.jpgBill Thompson hops off his campaign truck at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand in Bed Stuy. Also pictured: Council Member Tish James, Comptroller favorite John Liu, and the frontrunner for Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio (facing away from camera).

With extremely low turnout expected for tomorrow’s mayoral election, Bill Thompson and Mike Bloomberg canvassed the city over the weekend trying to drum up some enthusiasm for their candidacies. For Thompson, the itinerary included a stop in Bedford Stuyvesant this Saturday to protest plans for improving bus service along Nostrand Avenue.

Hopping off the campaign truck at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand, Thompson and the entire citywide Democratic ticket joined local council rep Tish James for a quick show of solidarity with Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association president Lindiwe Kamau. Kamau takes issue with bus improvements planned for Nostrand because, she claims, dedicated bus lanes will eliminate curbside parking along the corridor. Here’s the thing: The most recent renderings of Select Bus Service on Nostrand [PDF] depict buses operating in an existing travel lane. The curbside parking lane would still be there.

That didn’t stop Thompson, James, John Liu, and Bill de Blasio from lending their support for a few minutes, standing beside Kamau and repeating stock phrases about "protecting small businesses." The biggest constituency they addressed appeared to be the press. About four reporters were on hand, outnumbering Nostrand Avenue merchants by approximately four-to-one. After a light cycle or two, the pols hopped back on the truck and were driven away.

If the Democratic ticket had walked over to the B44 stop around the corner, they would have found a much larger and more captive audience to address. Their message might not have gone over very well though.

boarding_b44.jpgAround the corner: Waiting to board the B44.

On a typical weekday, more than 40,000 people ride the B44 on the Nostrand corridor. On Saturdays, average ridership is about 29,000. B44 riders can definitely use some relief: They currently depend on the second-most unreliable bus route in the city, according to the Straphangers Campaign. The improvements promised by Select Bus Service — pre-paid boarding, dedicated travel
lanes, signal priority — would speed trips and enable buses to stick
to their schedules.

Around the corner from Saturday’s presser, dozens of people were waiting for the next B44, many carrying shopping bags on a warm fall afternoon. Henrietta David, one of the older women waiting at the stop, told me that she doesn’t bother glancing at the posted schedule to find out when the next bus will arrive; the bus comes when it comes. There was nowhere for her to sit as she waited. After a bus pulled up, it took a good two minutes for everyone to board.

When I had asked Kamau why she opposed plans for BRT on Nostrand, the indignities and inconveniences of riding the bus weren’t foremost in her thoughts, nor were her own customers’ transportation needs. She said merchants already get ticketed for parking their cars on this
stretch of Nostrand during the p.m. rush, when the west side of the
street is a no-standing zone. "We already have problems with parking," she said. "Our merchants get tickets constantly."

  • Nice post, Ben! I’d really have loved to see Thomspon stumping his anti-BRT gospel at that bus stop . . .

  • Shemp

    Idiots! Vote for Bloomberg.

  • Bloomberg should have a rally in favor of bus improvements at that bus stop and show who’s the real elitist.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    OK. So let me get this straight. The Democrats make a huge effort to pander to a single merchant who, essentially, wants nothing more than to be able to park her own car in front of her shop. Meanwhile, a huge crowd of beleagured bus-riding voters are completely ignored right around the corner. Good job, Dems! That’s the way to bring in the votes.

    This great little story really sums it all when it comes to the NYC Democratic leadership these days: All in one spot you’ve got the political class’s obsession with parking perks and free motoring, their misguided and ham-handed efforts at populism, and their total lack of ideas and disinterest in good urban policy like Bus Rapid Transit.

    For the first time in my life I will be voting for someone on the Republican line. We really can’t afford to have people like this running the city.

  • J

    Well said, Marty. Since Bloomberg has succeeded with progressive transportation policies, Thompson has no choice but to react by pandering to small groups with regressive, reactionary policies. Not a great strategy, in my opinion, especially in a liberal, bus-riding city like NYC. Bloomberg’s got my vote.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Thompson is for the “middle class,” drivers by definition. The people getting on the bus aren’t middle class. Again, by definition.

  • BRT Lover

    If Thompson is elected, we are all gonna have to leave the city.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    The shame here is that Thompson and the Democrats aren’t smart enough to realize that they ought to be criticizing Bloomberg and the MTA for not going far enough or fast enough in implementing a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network. If I’m the Democratic candidate I’m lashing out at Bloomberg for focusing on developer-oriented projects like the 7 extension and suburban commuter boondoggles like Eastside Access while allowing BRT to languish, by comparison. The Democrats should be making the argument that BRT is true economic development for ALL five boroughs. This issue is just sitting there waiting for them to pick it up…

  • BRT Lover

    Maybe Bill should ride some subways for a change.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Best piece on Transportation Politics this year, send it to Joe Rappaport.

  • Pretty close to speechless.

    I ride that bus from Flatbush to Williamsburg every workday that I don’t bike. It’s crying out for BRT. (Just as Nostrand is crying out for someone to police double-parking on it from one end to the other. It’s hell in a bus, hell in a car, and, I don’t know, hell-squared on a bike.)

    Introducing BRT on it would be a boon to tens of thousands of working people. Tens of thousands.

    And given how many people take advantage of the overcrowding to enter at the back of the bus (and thus not pay anything), there might be more money in it too.

    How do you oppose this, of all things, on your final push for mayor? How?

    I’m stunned.

  • mitch

    Thompson’s anti-transit and anti-bicycle positions are atrocious, no doubt about it, but that doesn’t mean you actually have to vote for the billionaire autocrat. You might consider voting for one the several independent parties running a candidate tomorrow.

  • mitch

    But, yeah, opposing transit upgrades in Bed-Stuy is really something…

  • That’s right, Mitch. Rev Billy has earned my livable streets vote.

  • fdr

    Interesting anti-Bloomberg item on Gawker:

    Gawker Endorsement: Don’t Vote for Bloomberg

  • Great post, Ben.

  • Why Bill Talen (“Reverend Billy”) won’t be getting my vote: he railed against parking enforcement right out of the gate.

  • Shemp

    Yeah, Reverend Billy is really well-positioned to keep adding bike lanes where cars now rule, and to get some decent BRT on our streets. That vote will really send a message!

  • JK

    Did either candidate ride the bus during the campaign? Would have been smart for both for different reasons. Thompson could have run on something more than motorist resentment and called for more faster, and Bloomberg could have used it to highlight what his administration is already doing with Select Bus/BRT.

  • P

    I understand the broader point but calling this an ‘anti-BRT rally’ is likely a mischaracterization of Thompson’s campaign stop.

  • Moser

    Is Joe R. really Thompson’s transportation advisor?

  • pher

    Actually, P, this was EXACTLY the point of the rally: I quote from the press release:

    Subject: Elected Officials and Nostrand Avenue Merchants Protest MTA & DOT Tomorrow – Oct. 31, at 11:30am

    Comptroller Bill Thompson set to hold press conference about the MTA
    New York City Transit & NYC Department of Transportation’s Proposed Bus Rapid Transit Plan for Nostrand Avenue

    Tomorrow, members of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, along with elected officials will stage a protest regarding the DOT & MTA’s plan to implement a Bus Rapid Transit System along Nostrand Avenue.

    The Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association strongly believes this plan will negatively impact Nostrand Avenue businesses. They are appalled that despite consistent requests, the DOT has refused to meet with the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association for discussions.

    THE PLAN: The conversion of one entire curb lane along Nostrand Avenue and Rogers Avenue will be dedicated a bus lane, according to the MTA & DOT.

    THE RESULT: No parking and no standing in that lane at any time, 24 hours a day 7 days a week.

  • JK

    Re: Joe R yes. Bill should read his own, often very good transportation platform.

    A Thompson administration will:

    Expand Bus Rapid Transit and other initiatives to improve transit use in underserved communities.

    Support placing cameras on the fronts of NYC Transit buses, not only to take pictures of licenses plates of cars blocking bus-only lanes so the owners can be sent tickets, but of cars blocking bus stops.

  • Glenn

    I will also be pulling the lever tomorrow for Bloomberg, because he really does have the greater good in mind, he’s not just trying to satisfy narrow interests of various constituency groups. His installation of JSK put him over the top on issues that I care deeply about. If Thompson had been smart, he would have tried to out-green Bloomberg. I hope Weiner, or whoever is the heir apparent in 2013 will try to extend these gains in sustainable transportation and basic quality of life improvements, not seek to destroy them as Thompson has done.

    Side question: If those were not politicians on the flatbed truck, wouldn’t they all be cited for violation of traffic safety laws?

  • EDG

    “If I’m the Democratic candidate I’m lashing out at Bloomberg for focusing on developer-oriented projects like the 7 extension and suburban commuter boondoggles like Eastside Access while allowing BRT to languish, by comparison. The Democrats should be making the argument that BRT is true economic development for ALL five boroughs.”

    You must be forgetting that when Bloomberg proposed a way to get $354 million up-front, plus a dedicated revenue stream in perpetuity for BRT (congestion pricing), the corrupt, self-serving party boss Sheldon Silver and his Democratic party machine shot the whole deal down.

    What kind of idiots/crooks turn down a $354 million down payment for their city from the federal government?

  • Personally I think the predictions are wrong about turnout. More likely the democrats simply didn’t generate enough interest for the primaries but once it comes down to the real thing, where people have the opportunity to vote for or against Bloomberg, they’ll come out.

    Rev Billy won’t be getting my vote simply because he doesn’t have a rat’s chance in hell. Sure you could vote for Rev Billy to “send a message” just like so many voters “sent a message” by voting for Ralph Nader. Remember where that got us?

    Vote wisely. Use it where it counts.

  • This is just lunacy. According to the NYU Furman Center’s study, 69.9 percent of Bed-Stuy residents use public transit, and these guys are campaigning for one person’s parking spot. This is why Bill Thompson is not getting my vote tomorrow. What a fool.

  • Voter

    Good post and photos.

  • EDG: “What kind of idiots/crooks turn down a $354 million down payment for their city from the federal government?” Excellent question.

    The kind who look at their constituents through a windshield.

    The kind who dehumanize their constituents by seeing only those in cars. The others might as well not exist.

  • JK

    Two of the guys on the Thompson truck may run in 2013, DiBlasio for sure, maybe Liu. But they are both about to be elected to citywide office. As such,they should be asked to regularly ride the bus — not just “transit” — the humble local bus. They should then be asked how they are going to help bus riders: not reform the MTA, not fight fare hikes, just specific things they can do to help improve bus service. As comptroller and public advocate they can provide important political support for bus enforcement cameras and BRT.

  • JK: “As such,they should be asked to regularly ride the bus…”

    Good idea. Here’s a chance for advocacy organizations to confront candidates with their transit-riding constituency. Invite them to events staged on moving buses (I would add subway and commuter trains). Get the media there too. Confront the candidates in public, as the cameras roll, and hold their feet to the fire. And if they won’t participate, use their failure as the fulcrum of an excoriating media blitz that would shame them into participating. Make them speak to us on our buses, at our bus stops, on our trains, in our subway stations. Don’t let them ignore us. Make them fear us.

  • So who should we support at the polls, aside from Bloomberg?

  • Ian Turner


    My endorsements as an interested citizen with no particular agenda are available here.



  • Marty Barfowitz

    Wow, Ian, I love your decision-making criteria. I bet it’s a real treat to watch you order food in a restaurant.

  • pher: Thanks for posting that press release.

    It’s amazing that (all caps) result of the BRT lane would be that people would have to obey the law. It’s such a spine-shivering outcome they don’t even have to explain why. Of course, we know the laws wouldn’t actually be enforced–that’s just hyped up threat. But still . . .

    Can anyone imagine how the local news would’ve reacted if, say, Bloomberg had joined up with some bike advocates riding to protest the enforcement of traffic violations for bikes?

  • Erin

    Ian Turner:

    Thanks for your analysis of the candidates for the current election. I was already leaning toward several of your choices, but now I feel more confident about my decisions.

    – Erin

  • you can’t win the mayorship of new york by riding around in a truck as ugly as that.

  • mike

    Well, look at who probably contributes money to their campaigns — business owners or bus riders?

  • Adam L

    This doesn’t make sense to me. In all of his campaign literature Thompson speaks IN FAVOR of BRT!?! Where did this come from? Check out his own election website, and you’ll find this passage in the “transportation” pdf:

    • Expanded Bus Rapid Transit and

  • Adam L
  • Platforms are designed to placate as many constituencies as possible. What matters more is what comes out of the candidate’s mouth when someone sticks a microphone in front of it. Thompson spoke loud and clear with his physical presence and his sound bites.

  • Thompson spoke loud and clear with his physical presence and his sound bites.

    So did Liu, deBlasio and James, and they’re going to be in office in January.

  • Ian Turner

    Cap’n, they weren’t opposed by Bloomberg. 🙂

  • Adam L

    Which is what makes this even stranger. Wasn’t Liu the chair of the transportation committee? Didn’t he stand on the steps of City Hall alongside advocates for more than a couple pro-BRT rallies?

  • @dporpentine I feel your pain, I took this bus from Williamsburg all the way to Avenue X. That bus is hell on wheels, and I’m not sure why they aren’t any bus priority lanes and then I look at this and my questions have been answered.


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