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Animal Farm: Activists Dress Up to Shame Bronx Zoo, Botanical Garden

Riders Alliance protests two major institutions that are blocking transit improvements.

12:19 AM EDT on June 22, 2023

Danny Pearlstein discussing the protest live in a giraffe costume. Photo: Auden Oakes

Don’t be fooled — that's the Riders Alliance, not escaped zoo animals.

On Wednesday, the activist organization donned flora and fauna costumes in an ostentatious display of their frustration with the slow bus service on Fordham Road — and two local institutions' failure to support efforts to improve it.

In early 2022, the DOT laid out three proposals: the first, to extend the bus lane; the second, to add a busway headed in the eastbound direction; and the third — the most exciting — to add busways in both directions in addition to the aforementioned extension.

On a road where bus speeds reach averages lower than 4 mph, this separation would give them a much-needed speed boost. The plan was on the brink of success.

The Bronx Zoo and New York Botanical Garden, as well as many other businesses in the corridor, have opposed the proposal out of fear of losing their car-dependent customers. 

The Zoo and the Gardens argue that a busway on Fordham Road is a crucial street for those who want to drive to and from the locations that are a mile apart. 

For the Bronx community, this is a betrayal.

“The zoo and the botanical gardens claim equity and sustainability — [and] better bus improvements would be more equitable for the community and better for the environment, so the hypocrisy there is pretty intense," said Jolyse Race, a senior organizer at the advocacy group.

“A lot of our members who have signed our petition have already said that they have revoked their memberships" to the zoo and gardens, she added.

Race and others, including the group's spokesman Danny Pearlstein in a giraffe outfit, canvassed the area near both institutions, handing out informational pamphlets and a petition demanding action from Mayor Adams to make the most significant changes to the corridor to benefit 85,000 riders daily. 

Pearlstein is a frequent bus rider of the many bus lines on Fordham Road, albeit usually not in costume.

“I ride the bus on the road with my kids. I take them to the Bronx Zoo, we go to the New York Botanical Garden, and it's really frustrating that they've come out against better bus service for me and my family as well as all my neighbors,” he said. 

“If those institutions want to do right by their neighbors, they should be making every effort to attract their neighbors, including their bus-dependent neighbors who are the majority,” he added.

Members of the public joined the group in voicing frustration. When asked about the quality of the bus service on Fordham Road, a native of the Bronx and frequent bus rider who gave the name Belkis said only, “It’s horrible.”

The Zoo and the Gardens responded by critiquing the plan for its “unintended possible harmful consequences,” such as car-traffic congestion on side-streets, an increase of air pollution, and the negative economic impacts for local businesses. 

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