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

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.

  • JudenChino

    Who the fuck are these people? If you want to live in a gated community, go live in a gated community.

    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.”

    Like, why the fuck would you want to be away from transportation?

  • Jonathan R

    Well, many years ago I lived on Bergen Street near Bond St, and the noise from the buses that ran along Bergen Street was noticeably unpleasant. Lucky for me I rented, and could leave with a month’s notice. It’s been on my list since then of potential negative features of places to live, “Don’t live on a bus line.” If I was like Ramos and had bought a house, only to have MTA drop a bus line in front, I would be ticked off too,

  • This is the ultimate in NIMBY. I’d rather see people crushed under buses than have the inconvenience of the publicly owned street in front of my house used by somewhat noisier vehicles.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Yeah… the noise of the bus is bad, but the sounds of vehicles whizzing by is music to the ear. C’mon, this is a city. If you want to be away from noise and transportation, there’s plenty of suburban sprawl to call home in other parts of the country.

  • JudenChino

    You live in a city. There will be noises. I’ve lived on a bus line before as well. You hear it. Then . . . after a while, the sounds fades into the background and you get used to it.

    If they want space and silence, then they should move to Long Island instead of trying to cram suburban life into a city environment.

  • Matthias

    I live next to a bus stop, and it’s really not that noisy. Cars blaring their stereos are far worse. At any rate, a minor annoyance is more than acceptable in exchange for a significant improvement in public safety.

  • rao

    They wanted to be “away from transportation” yet bought houses a block away from Myrtle-Wyckoff? LOL. Surprised the noise of the trains doesn’t keep them up at night.

  • rao

    Also, LOL at TWU and its newfound sensitivity to the concerns of the community.

  • Jonathan R

    I am assuming that the relative absence of “vehicles whizzing by” was part of the reason these folks bought homes on a two-block long street.

    I am a confirmed city dweller, but I don’t like it when garbage trucks and tour buses drive by my building, because they are noisy. I happen to prefer quiet to noise; is that so unreasonable for me, or for the Ramos family? That’s one big benefit of bicycles, in fact, that they operate quietly in a crowded city.

    As far as the “significant improvement in public safety,” it seems to me from reading Streetsblog that the proximate cause, bus drivers’ willingness to turn blindly into crosswalks, has not yet been definitively addressed. This kind of proposed routing is just a workaround.

  • Joe R.

    I agree about the noise BUT at least on blocks with private homes one of the biggest sources of noise and pollution are those infernal gas-powered leaf blowers and trimmers gardening companies use. If NYC wants to significantly improve the quality of life for residents, it should ban commercial use of gas-powered gardening tools, and mandate maximum noise levels for electric ones. And frankly, I couldn’t care less if these regulations put some gardening companies out of business. Most of them employ illegals at sub-minimum wage. It’s a lousy job for these people which cause them to ruin their health breathing in all those fumes. Also, isn’t part of the point of owning your own home the joy of gardening? It’s not like city residents have half acre lawns. A simple push mower is really sufficient for mowing most of the lawns I see. A hedge trimmer takes care of the shrubbery. It’s not a difficult task to keep a small yard in shape.

    Another major noise source where I live, also over large tracts of Queens and Brooklyn, are airplanes. Flight paths should be diverted so planes never fly over populated areas at altitudes low enough to cause noise. Even better, shut down LaGuardia and relocate Kennedy to a man-made island maybe 10 miles out to sea. For security reasons it’s not a good idea have what are essentially flying bombs going over the largest population center in the US.

  • Joe R.

    There’s “good” and “bad” noise. I actually don’t mind the sounds of lots of people on foot getting around, talking to each other, etc. That’s part of the appeal of a city which is something lacking in suburban sprawl. An occasional bus or train doesn’t bother me either since it’s intermittent. Same thing with twice a week garbage pickup. These are all facts of life living in a big city. Granted, the city should transition buses and other heavy vehicles to electric for a whole host of reasons, including noise reduction, but these things aren’t that big of a deal.

    “Bad” noise is anything which is a constant din, or frequent loud bursts. Typically that’s either a constant level of car traffic, cars honking, or airliners flying overhead. Where I live you also have gas-powered gardening tools used by landscaping companies. None of these things belong in or are compatible with a big city. Indeed, the point of this entire blog is to reduce car use in urban areas. Airliners aren’t much better. They mostly serve the elite (either the wealthy who travel a lot or frequent business travelers). Much like automobiles in a city, few benefit from them but everyone shoulders the negative externalities. So yeah, Jonathan R.’s complaints aren’t totally off-base here. Why shouldn’t at least residential areas of the city be a relatively quiet sanctuary? Sure, the occasional bus is fine, but for health reasons we need to reduce noise levels. More use of bikes would be a great thing. Even with heavy bike traffic, all you hear is a gentle whoosh of air if you’re near the bike lane but virtually nothing from further away.

  • ohhleary

    Not newfound at all. They’ve expressed the same point about changing routes to reduce dangerous turns at every opportunity during the Right-of-Way Law fight. In fact, in saying they support Vision Zero in principle, they pointed out that this was one of the easiest ways to reduce bus-pedestrian crashes.

    Of course, if the TWU hadn’t wasted all their political capital acting like petulant children instead of mature adults, maybe more people would’ve known this.

  • chekpeds

    Hard to believe DOT would propose a statistically more dangerous and longer route, instead of installing a split phase signal, which protects both bus drivers and pedestrians at that specific intersection.
    We need to educate the council members, MTA ando, yes, the TWU and demand that split phase signals be install at all turning points on all bus routes. There is a high probability that the same intersections are amongst the most dangerous in the city…

  • neroden

    TWU Local 100 has been openly in favor of running over pedestrians lately, so pretty much anything they say about “safety” rings hollow.

  • neroden

    So, OK, if these guys are complaining about the “noise” and “fumes”, of the bus, the MTA should buy battery-electric buses for the route. Silent. No fumes. See if they shut up.

  • Chris

    I just got a ton of shit at this rally. It is about Buses
    being rerouted from a main thoroughfare to residential side streets. So
    when Dilan showed up, I was surprised. Last week he sponsored a bill
    that makes it illegal for police to detain professional drivers of any
    sorts, e.g. Bus drivers, taxi drivers, truckers, if they hit/kill a
    biker or pedestrian as long as they don’t show any signs of
    intoxication.

  • Ken

    Are the gas powered gardening tools (leaf blowers especially) legal within city limits?

    There is strict regulation of automobile emissions. Is there no regulation of small gasoline powered engines?

    (When I called “311” to ask about this they didn’t know. I emailed EPA and got no reply. So I’m asking here.)

  • Joe R.

    As far as I know, there is no regulation because it wouldn’t be cost effective, or even possible, to control noise/emissions on a small, handheld engine. Of course nobody has periodically reexamined this exemption to see if electric motors and batteries had reached the point where they could replace small engines in power tools. In my opinion they can. These small gas engines are major sources of noise and pollution. I vaguely recall that one small leaf blower can put as much junk in the air as a few dozen modern cars. It’s high time tools using these engines were regulated out of existence.

  • com63

    NYC pedestrians have a hard time obeying split phase signals from what I have seen, but I agree with you that trying to fix one problem turn by introducing three new turns (net increase of two) will probably make the problem worse.

  • chekpeds

    Yes . IN Chelsea and Hell’ kitchen we have number of split phases and the seniors love them…
    As far as the pedestrians who do not respect them, they are putting their own lives at risk when crossing illegally. No right of way for them.

  • Ken

    Thanks, that’s an interesting publication; one more than I was able to find. But without regular emissions testing (like the annual inspection required for motor vehicles) those regulations are pretty useless after the equipment is sold; after all, who actually verifies that the repair shops follow the rules or that the users don’t modify the emissions controls?

    My initial thinking was that leaf blowers and similar gasoline powered apparatus would have been prohibited within NYC but I haven’t found anything to back that up. And the worst part is that these things seem to be getting more and more prevalent, probably because they are so cheap relative to hiring someone to manually sweep up fallen leaves.

  • Joe R.

    The irony here is you still need to eventually bag the leaves. That and blowing the leaves into a pile takes as much time as just raking and bagging them. Of course, the gardeners save labor by not bagging the leaves. They just blow them onto someone else’s property so it’s no longer their problem.

  • ahwr

    Have a source on what share of pollution they’re responsible for?

    Don’t necessarily need high end batteries, plenty of corded electric leaf blowers on the market today.

  • Joe R.

    In the document I linked to:

    According to EPA estimates, in many large urban areas, pre-1997 lawn and garden equipment accounts for as much as 5 percent of the total man-made hydrocarbons that contribute to ozone formation.

    They also mention new pollution controls will decrease emissions by one-third. That still means these engines may account for over 3% of pollution. That’s pretty unbelievable when you think about the very small total number of hours these engines are used compared to engines in motor vehicles.

  • ahwr

    I was hoping for something NYC specific. And no, that cut doesn’t mean they will be responsible for 3% of emissions because cars, trucks, furnaces, power plants etc…are facing more stringent emissions restrictions too. Is 3-5% a lot though? I have no idea how often they run. And this is just man made hydrocarbon emissions, which are responsible for what share of total ozone?

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