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Dilan, Espinal Oppose Plan to Eliminate Deadly Turn From MTA Bus Routes

11:05 AM EDT on June 26, 2015

Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop the MTA from rerouting a bus away from a deadly turn in their districts.
Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan.

After turning bus drivers twice struck and killed pedestrians at a complex intersection on the border of Bushwick and Ridgewood, the MTA proposed a change that eliminates a deadly turn from two bus routes. The plan has been under consideration for months and is set to go into effect Sunday. But Council Member Rafael Espinal and State Senator Martin Malave Dilan are trying to stop it after nearby residents complained about the prospect of buses traveling on their street.

In January 2013, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Ella Bandes as she was crossing the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street. The next year, DOT implemented safety fixes at the intersection, including five new turn restrictions, but exceptions were made for MTA bus routes.

The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click map to enlarge. Map: MTA
The plan would move buses from Wyckoff Avenue to Ridgewood Place to avoid a dangerous turn. Click to enlarge. Map: MTA

Then, in October 2014, a turning MTA bus driver struck and killed Edgar Torres at the very same intersection. "Clearly those restrictions were not adequate, or the exemptions of the bus drivers was a mistake," said Ken Bandes, Ella's father.

That's when the MTA began to examine rerouting its buses.

"What made the right turn especially difficult is that it’s an offset turn under the elevated structure that also obstructed the view of bus operators," said MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz. "The new route remedies this."

Under the plan, the Q58 and B26 would no longer turn right from westbound Wyckoff Avenue to northbound Palmetto Street. Buses would instead detour to Ridgewood Place between Putnam Avenue and Palmetto Street. DOT will remove parking spots at the intersection of Palmetto and Ridgewood and at Putnam and Wyckoff to make room for turning buses.

Notice about the change first went out to local community boards and elected officials in February and March [PDF]. The MTA says elected officials didn't have any problems with the change -- until now.

A group called the United Block Association for a Better Quality of Life formed to oppose the bus reroute, claiming it will be less safe than the existing route because it involves additional turns on narrow streets. “It’s probably gonna devalue our properties," said Flor Ramos, who has owned a house on Putnam Avenue near Ridgewood Place for 22 years and started the group with "about seven" of his neighbors. "We’re going to have to listen to these buses coming down our streets. And I don’t even want to tell you about the fumes."

Ramos, who said he usually drives and only occasionally takes the bus or subway, said the association is considering a lawsuit against the plan. "When we purchased these properties, we purchased them to be away from the transportation. It’s not that far. It’s only a block away," he said. "We convinced the councilman that our concerns are valid. We have lots of fear here. And we got him on board."

On June 5, Espinal and Dilan wrote to the MTA: "Recently, many of the residents along the proposed route contacted our offices and made it quite clear that they are united in their opposition to the MTA's plans." Their letter [PDF] asks the MTA to delay the route change and come up with alternatives.

"As part of the analysis, [New York City Transit] took a close look at several alternative routes," the MTA's Ortiz said. "The alternatives required longer travel times and distances for customers to reach the subway as well as increasing operational costs for buses."

Espinal and Dilan echoed the association's concerns that the new route will be more dangerous than the old route, but the MTA maintains its solution is safer than the status quo. While drivers will be making more turns, the agency says, its plan replaces a low-visibility angled turn across a busy crosswalk with turns at right-angled intersections with better visibility and fewer pedestrians.

Not all electeds who represent the area oppose the change. "[Council Member Antonio] Reynoso supports the proposal; in fact, our office helped initiate this change by working with the MTA and DOT after the most recent fatality," said legislative director Lacey Tauber. "Reynoso thanks the MTA and DOT for working with our office to help improve safety in this area."

Espinal has signed on to a City Council bill that would exempt MTA bus drivers from the Right of Way Law. In the State Senate, Dilan is the lead sponsor of a bill that would prevent police from detaining bus and taxi drivers who strike a pedestrian or cyclist. Transport Workers Union Local 100, which backs both bills, has suggested eliminating dangerous turns from bus routes to reduce crashes. Asked about the MTA's proposal for the Q58 and B26, TWU said it is "definitely in favor of route changes that enhance safety" but is "also sensitive to the concerns of the community, and the elected officials there." TWU representatives will be in the area Monday to observe the new route in action.

The United Block Association hosted a meeting Wednesday evening about the route change that attracted dozens of residents concerned about the plan, Ramos said. The group is planning a protest march at 10 a.m. Sunday at the corner of Putnam and Wyckoff.

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