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PARKING MADNESS: Bronx Electeds Oppose Dedicated Bus Lane that Would Help Tens of Thousands of Straphangers

12:14 AM EDT on July 30, 2021

Bx. 5 bus traveling on Story Avenue. Photo: Fiifi Frimpong

A group of Bronx elected officials is opposing a much-needed dedicated bus lane in Soundview because it would remove some parking spaces.

Two State Senators, two Assembly Members and two Council members — all of whom have said in the past that they support transit — signed onto Community Board 9's letter opposing a Department of Transportation plan to remove some daytime spaces along the curb between Bronx River Avenue and White Plains Road to create a dedicated bus lane to improve performance along a route where buses typically travel at 5 miles per hour during peak periods, almost 40 percent lower than the city rush-hour average.

"There is a severe shortage of parking on Story Avenue," the board and pols claimed in their letter, which expressed that the group was "adamantly opposed" to the plan, which includes dedicated one-block lanes on the northbound side of Bronx River Avenue from Story Avenue to Bruckner Boulevard and on White Plains Road from Lafayette Avenue to Bruckner Boulevard.

In all, 302 parking spaces would be converted to bus travel lanes during daytime hours, but return to parking at night.

The letter was signed by Senators Luis Sepulveda and Alessandra Biaggi, Assembly Members Karines Reyes and Kenneth Burgos and Council Members Ruben Diaz Sr. and Rafael Salamanca.

"There has not been sufficient evidence demonstrated that bus lanes" are necessary, The board and local pols claimed in the letter. But DOT officials made the need for improvements quite clear in four presentations earlier this year.

For instance, more than 14,000 people rely on the Bx5 bus between Hunts Point and Pelham Bay Park every day — placing it among the busiest Bronx lines. And the beneficiaries of the changes are among the poorest residents of the city. In Soundview, the average household income is $58,824 per year, roughly 40 percent lower than the citywide average.

And residents of the area overwhelmingly take transit rather than their own cars. According to Census figures, roughly 61 percent of residents get to work using public transit, but only 25.1 percent of residents of the community board drive themselves to work. Most of the shoppers visiting the commercial strip arrive by foot or on transit, not in cars, though many business owners drive to the area.

And the 1.2-mile stretch of Story Avenue that the DOT hopes to improve is crucial for passengers to connect to the 2 and 5 trains at Simpson Street and and 6 train at Hunts Point Avenue.

And finally, the MTA's proposed Bronx bus network redesign — which is on hold due to COVID — calls for an additional line, the Bx6 SBS, to be re-routed onto Story Avenue, adding potentially thousands more riders a day relying on that stretch to be clear of the double-parked cars and trucks that currently make bus service so slow in that area.

Proposed bus lanes. Photo: DOT
Proposed bus lanes. Photo: DOT

The DOT says it interviewed close to 200 Soundview bus riders — and, in a rarity, many were quoted in the agency's presentation to the board, with customers saying they wanted faster bus speeds. The mayor has promised to improve bus speeds citywide by 25 percent before leaving office — and the Soundview proposal offers an approach that the city has done elsewhere to reduce the negative impact of private car use, advocates say.

“[Story Avenue] is typical of what you see in a neighborhood commercial district,” said Danny Pearlstein of the Riders Alliance. “The people that drive into the area cause an outsized amount of traffic because they take up so much space on the street. Meanwhile you have thousands of people depending on a bus route ... whose trips are delayed and time is wasted because of people taking up space with their private cars.” 

Pearlstein urged the DOT to go forward with the bus lane fix, which is the city's portion of the MTA's larger “Bronx Bus Network: Redesigned” plan, which the transit agency claims will create "a successful high-frequency network that serves the largest number of riders at the times when they need service the most." 

Bronxites waiting for the Bx. 5 bus at the Story Avenue and Bolton Avenue stop.
Bronxites waiting for the Bx. 5 bus at the Story Avenue and Bolton Avenue stop.

The board and the politicians, however, don't think the benefits outweigh the supposed need for parking during the daytime hours when the bus lanes would be in operation. Ironically, the project would add 16 spaces for overnight parking through the consolidation of several bus stops.

Only two of the elected officials on the letter responded to requests for comment from Streetsblog. Salamanca's office claimed "the council member has not taken a position" (despite his signature on the letter "adamantly" opposing the bus lane). And Sepulveda claimed that he has “always been in support of improving mass transportation," though he added, "it is also my responsibility to hear the concerns of the local community."

Biaggi declined to comment [UPDATE: See below]. Only two years ago, she wrote to the MTA that she was "eager ... to help the MTA deliver fast, frequent and reliable bus service." That letter called for more dedicated bus lanes — and did not mention parking. And last month, she tweeted in support of the Story Avenue project:

Despite the board opposition, the lane will be implemented in August, according to the Department of Transportation.

"Bus speeds of 4-5 mph are equivalent to a pedestrian walking pace, which is far too slow to provide adequate service to the thousands of Soundview residents and workers who rely on the Bx5 bus to operate quickly and on time," DOT's Bronx Borough Commissioner Nivardo Lopez wrote in a response letter to the community board. "DOT has continually received complaints from bus riders along this corridor regarding infrequent service, bus bunching, and overcrowded buses. Dedicated bus lanes, in coordination with MTA Operations, will bring more consistent service to alleviate all of these concerns."

Update: After initial publication of this story, Sen. Biaggi's spokesperson got back to Streetsblog, but did not make the senator available. Instead, we received a statement suggesting Biaggi had backed away from her position in the letter.

Public transportation is our future, and it is vital that we do everything we can to improve New York’s public transit and build green infrastructure.

Since signing on to the CB9 letter in early June, I have continued to engage with the community on this issue. After hearing more from the community and on the issues on Story Avenue, my thinking evolved and I expressed my public support for this bus lane earlier in July.

I am in full support of the Story Avenue bus lane in the Bronx, and believe that in order to improve our public transportation system, we must ensure that our bus system is a modern, integrated system, starting with creating dedicated bus lanes.

CB9's letter to the DOT:

CB9 Story Ave Proposal Response by Gersh Kuntzman on Scribd

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