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Bus Advocates Renew Push For Flatbush Avenue Bus Lane Despite Mayor’s Lack of Support

A broad coalition of transit advocates and labor unions gathered Tuesday to demand Mayor Adams get over his reluctance to improve buses on the borough-spanning avenue.

Photo: Dave Colon|

Fed-up bus riders dealt with the July heat and humidity to tell Mayor Eric Adams to fix the bus.

A broad coalition of transit advocates and labor unions gathered Tuesday to demand Mayor Adams follow through on the city's years-long promise to speed up buses on Brooklyn's Flatbush Avenue — even as Hizzoner indicated he's not interested in the idea.

The coalition for better bus service on Flatbush Avenue includes Riders Alliance, other transit advocates and three unions — TWU Local 100 representing bus and subway workers, SEIU 1199 representing healthcare workers, and LIUNA Local 1010 representing pavers and road builders.

Gathered together on Tuesday, the groups on declared better bus service a priority for working class New Yorkers, who make up the bulk of city bus riders.

"Bus riders are sick of being ignored," said Jolyse Race, a senior organizer at Riders Alliance. "We're here today because buses are the lifeblood of our city, and it's working class New Yorkers that are taking the bus are done being put last on our city streets."

Bus speeds on much of Flatbush Avenue from Downtown Brooklyn to Marine Park struggle to break 5 miles per hour, according to data the Department of Transportation shared in 2023 — highlighting the need to get cars and trucks out of the way of transit riders.

Race pointed out in her remarks that the average car owner in New York City is makes twice as much money as the average bus rider, which makes bus priority projects an economic justice issue. While Adams has touted himself as a "working class mayor," he hasn't shown much concern for working class New Yorkers who depend on the bus. He canceled a plan to expand bus priority of Fordham Road in the Bronx, has added just one new busway in three years as mayor and spectacularly failed to meet the bus lane benchmarks set in the city's "Streets Master Plan" or by his own mayoral campaign commitments.

Plans for bus lanes on Flatbush, meanwhile, have languished since Adams took office in 2022 — even after Riders Alliance gave him a spiffy "Bus Mayor" jacket that year at the very same location where advocates gathered on Tuesday.

Asked about the new push at a press conference Tuesday, Adams did not sound like a mayor who plans to don that jacket anytime soon — falling back on his promise to make his legacy as a leader who drowns more rats listens to more people telling him "No" than any other mayor in the city's history.

"I’m committed to what the residents want there," Adams said on Tuesday. “I’m committed to what the community wants and we will weigh that out. Community engagement is crucial for me. We get it wrong sometimes and then we have to go back and try to fix what we created."

The mayor didn't mention any specific projects he "fixed." Famously, Adams stopped the installation of a bike boulevard on Underhill Avenue last year and ordered the DOT to do door-to-door outreach in an attempt to show the idea was unpopular, before his administration finished the project five months after it was supposed to be done with absolutely zero changes.

The mayor also suggested, possibly for the first time in city history, that bus lanes are a form of gentrification — blissfully ignoring the overwhelmingly working class demographic that relies on them.

"I don’t know if you’ve been at some of these hearings [about street projects], they can be very contentious. There are residents who have lived in these communities for a long time, they have a belief, there are residents who are moving into these communities, they have a belief," he said.

But while Adams sat in an air conditioned room and suggested gentrifiers have a nefarious ideological commitment to better bus service, healthcare workers were explaining how they can't rely on the bus to get to work.

"Patients are counting on me to be at the bedside and be on time, but I often take the B41 to get to the hospital and I cannot count on that bus to be on time," said Alison Harewood, an SEIU 1199 worker at a Park Slope hospital.

"The B41 runs slow and seems to be getting slower. Healthcare workers need reliable bus service so we can be on time for our patients," Harewood said.

"Just like I advocate for my patients, today I'm advocating for myself and all the other Brooklyn caregivers who depend on buses, who rely to provide quality care to our seniors, the sick and the most vulnerable in our borough."

Max Barton of LIUNA Local 1010 hoists a child who wants a bus lane on his shoulder.Photo: Dave Colon

"As a union it is our duty not only to help our members but to support the communities where our members work and live," said Max Barton, a researcher at LUINA Local 1010. "New York City residents rely heavily on public transportation as a lifeline for daily commuting, essential errands and recreational activities. the reliability, the consistency and the safety of these transportation options directly impact the quality of life of millions of individuals who navigate the greatest city in the world each day."

Also piercing Adams's suggestion that elected officials and constituents in central Brooklyn don't want faster buses, City Council Members Crystal Hudson and Rita Joseph, who each represent pieces of Flatbush Avenue, showed up to support the push for a bus lane, as did head of the Community Board 9 Transportation Committee.

"We're here because this is a no-brainer solution that should have been done a long time ago," said Ethan Norville, the chair CB 9's Transportation Committee.

"Four miles per hour travel is not good enough for anywhere in the world. It's not good enough for nurses. It's not good enough for essential workers and there should be no roadblocks left when it comes to getting a fast bus corridor on this avenue. I'm gonna be with you every step of the way to make sure that our buses travel a lot faster than this."

The city's attempt to put a bus lane on Flatbush Avenue has been one of the more notable misadventures in Adams's tenure as mayor. The Department of Transportation held four meetings on the concept between June 2022 and January 2023, where officials went over the basics of what was going on on Flatbush Avenue — which is that the buses on the avenue are incredibly slow.

But after a meeting last January with Brooklyn Community Board 14, progress completely stalled on Flatbush Avenue as City Hall derailed multiple transportation projects at the behest of mayoral advisor Ingrid Lewis-Martin and Richard Bearak, a longtime Adams apparatchik empowered by the mayor's office to slow down DOT initiatives via endless behind-the-scenes review.

The Flatbush Avenue bus lane finally resurfaced in mid-June this year when the city announced it was looking at three possible bus lane designs between Livingston Street and the entrance to Grand Army Plaza. But that work won't be done until at least next summer, and any further work south of Grand Army Plaza, where buses also travel move slowly, isn't supposed to come until after the first phase is done.

To keep the issue alive until then, Riders Alliance announced plans to partner with the Pratt Center on a survey for bus riders on Flatbush Avenue.

The survey will ask riders to describe their experiences riding the B41 and other buses on Flatbush.

Coalition leaders hope the resulting study will show bus lane doubters like the mayor that a bus lane on Flatbush Avenue will benefit and be welcomed by members of the community.

"People know their neighborhoods and the systems that they use best, so we look forward to collaborating with the groups here today and community members to understand the path to better buses," said Sylvia Morse, senior program manager of research and policy at the Pratt Center.

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