City Fails Brooklyn Bus Riders With Giveaway to Car-Driving Minority

Parked cars block B45 buses along a key portion of the route, thanks to the city's failure to clear the public right of way.

The standoff: Buses cannot safely pass each other on St. Johns Place between New York and Rogers avenues. Photo: Isaac Blasenheim
The standoff: Buses cannot safely pass each other on St. Johns Place between New York and Rogers avenues. Photo: Isaac Blasenheim

Call it the St. Johns Standoff: A portion of the B45 bus route in Crown Heights is so narrow — and so choked with on-street car storage and double-parking — that buses cannot smoothly pass each other, resulting in frequent service delays that the city has no plans to fix.

The Bus Turnaround Coalition gave the route a “D” grade in 2017 and, according to the MTA, ridership has plummeted 21 percent since 2013, nearly twice as fast as the city average.

“Extensive delays,” said passenger Diane Shaw about her experience with the route. “A lot of times … the bus never comes. Sometimes, you’re waiting 25 minutes for a bus.”

Two buses back-up behind a delivery vehicle parked in the bus stop along narrow St. Johns Place. Photo: Isaac Blasenstein
Two buses back-up behind a delivery vehicle parked in the bus stop along narrow St. Johns Place. Photo: Isaac Blasenstein

The problem with the B45 are largely caused by a narrow, frequently blocked two-block stretch of St. Johns Place between New York and Rogers avenues — a roadway where the city puts both directions of bus traffic and parked vehicles. The roadway widens east of New York Avenue; and west of Rogers Avenue, the bus route splits on a pair of one-way streets, minimizing the problems.

“The major issue is constriction: those two blocks are significantly narrower, yet they are asked to handle the same capacity,” said Robert Witherwax, chairman of Community Board 8’s Environment, Sanitation, and Transportation Committee.

“(It’s) dual travel lanes in opposite directions, two lanes of parking,” he added. “And being a bus lane, there are large vehicles regularly scheduled to run this gauntlet.”

Victim: Diane Shaw sits on the B45 bus longer than she should because the city won't clear the route for her bus. Photo: Isaac Blasenheim
Victim: Diane Shaw sits on the B45 bus longer than she should because the city won’t clear the route for her bus. Photo: Isaac Blasenheim

The city’s design for this section of St. Johns Place creates impassable standoffs between buses, as well as between buses and trucks. The travel lanes are so tight that two large vehicles cannot simultaneously travel down the same block safely.

To avoid getting stuck in a midblock standoff or to avoid collisions, bus drivers idle at the ends of the block until oncoming bus or truck traffic passes, adding minutes to each trip.

“Those two blocks are the worst,” said Kim, a bus driver, who asked to be identified only by her first name. “You literally have to wait at one end if you see a vehicle of a certain size coming.”

The constriction is one problem. The other is free parking. As a result of city parking policies, private vehicles fill the curbside all along on St. Johns Place — and delivery people and other drivers often double-park in the travel lanes, narrowing the roadway even further. Double-parked vehicles force buses to wait behind them until all oncoming traffic clears and the bus driver is able to take the available lane.

“We have to inch, inch, inch,” said the B45 driver Kim.

The city’s failure to remove parking on St. Johns Place contributed to the B45’s poor service record. According to the Bus Turnaround Coalition, in 2017 the bus averaged only 5.4 mph, with one in eight buses bunched together, and 52 percent of buses on-time — all below the city average. The B65, which follows a parallel route on Bergen Street and Dean Street, had slightly better performance, traveling at 5.7 mph, with only one in 17 buses bunched together, and on-time arrival at 58 percent.

The B45’s poor service contributed to a 21 percent fall in ridership from a high in 2013 to a new low in 2017. Compare this to an 11 percent decrease for all routes citywide in the same period and a 16 percent decrease for the nearby B65 bus. This all happens as Crown Heights is experiencing population and economic growth bringing additional cabs, private vehicles, and trucks into the B45’s path. Many trucks park in bus stops themselves.

“Something needs to be done,” said Paul Mack, a bus driver on the route. “Enforcement would make our job easier.”

Prompted by such concerns, the community board has been discussing the need for changes to St. Johns Place since at least 2015. Locals are also well aware that 71 percent of commuters in the wider Assembly district take public transit, according to the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. Only 14 percent of area residents drive to work.

“There are multiple possible solutions: better enforcement, better design, etc. I would like the city to consider any solution, or combination of solutions, that reduce the frequency and severity of any impasse,” Witherwax said.

The city, however, is in no rush to make room for the B45. Transportation Department spokeswoman Alana Morales told Streetsblog, “The DOT … is willing to evaluate the location for potential upgrades. However, at this time there are no immediate plans for this site.”

Bus riders — and bus drivers — will just have to keep on waiting.

Disclosure: Isaac Blasenstein is a public member of the Brooklyn Community Board 8 Environment, Sanitation, and Transportation Committee.

  • com63

    I still don’t understand why DeBlasio can’t see that making the buses run faster would be good politics and easy to get done.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Looking at the map, I’d say the obvious solution is to kill the bus and blame the parkers and their panderers. There is a bus route a few blocks to the north at Bergen & Dean, and a subway route a block or two to the south on Eastern Parkway.

    The route is historic, as it was one of only a couple of experimental “trackless trolley” routes in the borough before that option was abandoned. But if it didn’t already exist, no one would dare to suggest it.

    The question, of course, would then become what could be done to improve the B65, besides adding some of the buses no longer needed on St. John’s Place?

  • MJ

    There is a simple solution here. Those two narrow blocks should be made one-way just like the other narrow portions of St Johns Place. The eastbound B45 bus can remain on St Johns and the westbound B45 can be routed onto Sterling Place at New York Ave instead of Rogers. Only two bus stops would need to be moved one block each.

    This will also eliminate the issue with the large number of large trucks that also struggle with these two narrow block.

  • Danny G

    That is a very sensible idea.

    I anticipate there may be pushback from some residents of Sterling Place between Nostrand and New York Avenues who prefer to maintain the status quo (e.g. where residents of St Johns Place have to listen to bus traffic, but Sterling Place residents don’t). Ultimately, many residents of both streets are also bus riders, and people across the neighborhood would welcome having a more reliable bus that they can depend on.

    For bus riders who transfer to/from the B45 to the B44/B49 there would also be a longer transfer, but sidewalk extensions on Nostrand & Rogers Avenues could help mitigate that to make crossing the street more pleasant.

  • BL

    Continuing St. Johns as a one way for the 2 short blocks from Roger to New York is the obvious solution. This change has been on the table since the 1980s. The DOT needs to take the lead here before someone gets hurt. Just look at the map.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0459c17e3690dcedbaa39a5ef60e4d6a8b5132fff2dc2bfd491fbdb71b335d40.jpg

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/e1f9b0917be192a83456fc1ef07e237364ccdf09c1ff1cfe2863bcb4fce4c94a.jpg

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