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Fordham Road

Bus Advocates Target Anti-Busway ‘Hypocrites’ at Bronx Zoo and Botanical Garden

A petition drive by Bronx bus riders calls out the institutions for boosting transit on their websites, but then trying to undermine it in the real world.

The DOT is hoping that moving Fordham Road’s bus lane off the curb will mean fewer scenes like this BX9 caught in traffic. Photo: Dave Colon

They've got some nerve.

Advocates for bus riders are demanding via a petition that the Bronx Zoo and the New York Botanical Garden reconsider their opposition to a busway or offset bus lane on Fordham Road, arguing that the venerable flora and fauna institutions boost public transit on their websites, but then don't support it in the real world.

The Garden and the Zoo are part of a coalition of Bronx cultural and economic institutions that have asked the city not to make any changes to the street layout on Fordham Road that would speed up buses and help 85,000 daily bus riders on the strip, on the theory that the road is too important for people who would want to drive to either place.

"Tell the Zoo and the Garden that their concerns for their patrons who drive in from the Bronx River Parkway — more than a mile from the proposed busway — are misplaced," Riders Alliance wrote in a petition blasting the opposition from the zoo and the garden. "Tell these two august cultural institutions that sit on city land ... that the policies they advocate must reflect their values."

The Department of Transportation said last week that it was going to install offset bus lanes on Fordham Road between the University Heights Bridge to the west and White Plans Road to the east, a move that will shift part of the existing bus lane off the curb. But before it decided on that direction, the DOT had also pitched a pair of busway proposals.

But powerful institutions on or near Fordham Road, including the Botanical Garden and the Zoo, recently sent a private letter to Mayor Adams inviting him to a meal so opponents of all of three ideas Fordham Road could lobby the city's chief executive. In addition to the Zoo and Garden, the Fordham and Belmont business improvement districts, St. Barnabas Hospital and Fordham University oppose any kind of bus improvement on traffic-choked Fordham Road, where bus riders are sentenced to buses that move under 4 miles per hour on some stretches.

A slide from the Department of Transportation showing bus speeds along Fordham Road. Graphic: DOT

The charge of hypocrisy from Riders Alliance stems from the fact that both the Botanical Garden and the Zoo count themselves as environmental stewards on a burning planet, and both institutions urge visitors to take public transit to see the flowers or the animals, yet they've joined a coalition that is advocating for slower bus speeds.

The petition from Riders Alliance also specifically says that before the big Bronx behemoths bullied in, the Department of Transportation was ready to move ahead on a plan for bus improvements, which the agency said are still now being studied before implementation.

"DOT had planned urgently needed service improvements for bus riders… until they heard from these powerful institutions," the organization wrote.

The city chalked up its choice of an offset bus lane instead of a busway due to what it called "community concerns," which were mostly led by business and cultural institutions in the area. Those institutions have insisted that their customers drive to Fordham Road despite the fact that surveys by both the DOT and the Fordham BID found shoppers on the strip overwhelmingly walked or took mass transit to shop there.

In addition to that shopper data, Council Member Pierina Sanchez (D-Kingsbridge) pointed out that 70 percent of residents in her district don't even own a car, which is higher even than the almost 60 percent of Bronx residents who live in a home without a vehicle.

It's not just Riders Alliance who are criticizing these cultural heavyweights for staking out an anti-bus position. One frequent visitor to the Botanical Garden blasted both the garden and Bronx Zoo for trying to have it both ways preserving "their image as civic-minded community partners while catering to wealthy board members and patrons who can afford a car."

"The neighborhoods near both institutions suffer from high rates of air pollution and traffic violence," said Carolyn Kelly, who lives in Harlem. "I take the subway with my kids to visit the New York Botanical Garden often, and there are some truly harrowing intersections on our walk from the D train. A busway on Fordham Road wouldn't fix my walk from the D train, but it would make the Fordham Road area safer for pedestrians, while also helping everyone on the bus get to their destinations more reliably. The NYBG should be in favor of making their neighborhoods safer, greener, and cleaner, and that starts with supporting this busway."

Spokespeople for the New York Botanical Garden and Bronx Zoo did not return requests for comment. However, one Bronx resident who reached out to the Garden received a lengthy response from an "Associate Director of Ticketing and Customer Care"in which the garden demanded the city do an environmental impact statement before moving the project forward.

We, along with other Bronx anchor institutions, including the Wildlife Conservation Society and Fordham University, are concerned that the city’s current proposals for changes to the existing express bus lane on Fordham Road do not account for their unintended possible harmful consequences to the immediate neighborhoods, including the likely significant rise in car traffic congestion on side streets, the resulting increase in air pollution from congestion, and the harmful economic impact to Bronx-based businesses and employers, which are still recovering from the enormous shock of the Covid-19 pandemic.

We are also concerned that crucial public analyses of the environmental and other neighborhood impacts that typically accompany a project of this magnitude have not taken place. We have urged the city to complete an Environmental Impact Statement for their proposals, which would examine the likely environmental outcomes of diverting automobiles from Fordham Road.

Letter from the Botanical Garden

Correction: A tweet by Troy Tassier was removed from the story because of a mistaken interpretation of his point. Streetsblog regrets the error.

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