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Neighbors for Better Bus Lines

March 14, 2012

Photo: Brownstoner.com

Take a look at the photo above, which accompanied this post on Brownstoner.com about a small group of residents who are outraged by the “dangerous” B25, and ask yourself which seems to be the bigger problem: a nine-times-per-hour bus which can carry forty or more people or a constant flow of taxis and private vehicles streaming through DUMBO’s Main Street.

The arguments against keeping this bus route on Main Street are almost comically bad:

  • One resident says that “Main Street is simply not big enough to service this sort of constant, never-ending daily bus traffic,” yet seems utterly unconcerned about the high volume of automobiles wedged into the same space.
  • Another writes, “The busses are huge, the drivers are frustrated and always in a hurry, honking their horns as they try to weave around the many cars or trucks already on our block.”  Perhaps they wouldn’t have to honk their horns if there were fewer cars blocking their route.  I can also imagine that the drivers aren’t the only ones who are frustrated; passengers probably don’t appreciate bus delays caused by double-parked cars and trucks either.
  • Here’s another resident: “The bus drivers regularly lay on the horn for minutes at a time if their route is blocked by delivery trucks, cars, or even people simply unloading or loading in front of their own residential building.” This attitude may be the downfall of New York City and is currently the reason we’re choking on traffic.  What right do people have to park or unload their cars directly in front of their buildings?  As Lewis Mumford wrote in The Highway and the City, “The right to have access to every building in the city by private motorcar in an age when everyone possesses such a vehicle is actually the right to destroy the city.”
  • This may be my favorite quote, a true example of ignoring the bull: “…on Saturday and Sunday there is a steady stream of limos coming down Main Street dropping off their parties on the street to take photos in the park and to go to various restaurants in the neighborhood.” The letter writer’s solution, like all of the others, is not to reroute limos carrying privileged passengers on discretionary trips, but the bus.
  • Many residents complain of bus bunching where two or three buses group together on one street.  It’s a frustrating problem, I’m sure, but did anyone stop to think that one reason this happens is because of the effects clogged streets have on bus schedules?  If one bus is stuck behind a limousine, it won’t be long before another bus or two catch up.  Clear the traffic and the drivers will be able to stick to their schedules.

I won’t quibble with those who say that the bus drivers speed without regard for the safety of pedestrians when the street is largely traffic-free.  That is, of course, a valid concern, a problem everywhere, and one that ought to be addressed immediately.  (Interestingly, the problem of speeding drivers in general barely warrants a mention in any of these letters, even though the scourge of barreling buses potentially mowing down families lingers large in every last one.)

But the idea that buses cause traffic is a leap of logic so big that a jump from Main Street to Wall Street seems simple in comparison.  The residents’ solution to reroute the bus somewhere else is textbook NIMBYism, akin to NBBL’s “compromise” solution of a bike lane on 8th Avenue out of view of Prospect Park West.  The specter of dead children and seniors, businesses rendered bankrupt by delivery delays, the perceived hardship of not being able to park directly in front of one’s residence, and the amount of pollution caused by a transportation option that takes people out of their cars are scare tactics these DUMBO neighbors for better bus lines share with Weinshall, Steisel, and company.  Same shit, different neighborhood, if I may be so blunt.

DUMBO, with its compact size and defined boundaries, would be a ripe neighborhood for experiments with loading zones, permit parking, and other creative solutions that could allow people to get goods and supplies directly to their doors without the need to drive.  One resident wrote, “On any given day, trucks such as UPS, USPS, FED EX and Fresh Direct can completely clogged [sic] the street.”  So imagine if UPS or Fresh Direct set up a fleet of cargo bikes on York Street or Front Street, ending the need for big delivery trucks to barrel down to the water.  Or imagine if the city instituted residential parking permits, limiting the number of people who choose to drive to work because they can park on the street for free. You have to imagine it, because you won’t find any creative solutions proposed by the people who just want the bus rerouted.

New York is in a strange place right now.  We have visionary leadership transforming our streets every day.  We are home to some of the most innovative thinkers, business people, artists, and techies.  But when it comes to thinking our way out of the traffic hell that engulfs so many neighborhoods–and the climate change that will come to swallow low-lying neighborhoods like DUMBO–it’s all too easy for the narrow-minded and loud to win out over the nuanced and creative.

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2 Comments
  1. Prospect Park Recreator permalink
    March 19, 2012 12:28 am

    Great piece.

    But don’t forget: The narrow-minded and loud are actually not winning out. They are losing. Let’s keep it that way.

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