The NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) is out of control. Since Mayor de Blasio gave Commissioner Trottenberg permission last year to ignore communities when Vision Zero is involved, DOT has been steamrolling their proposals without community participation. Examples are traffic changes necessitating the rerouting of the Q54 in Woodhaven and the B36 in Sheepshead Bay. Rockaway may be next. The Sheepshead Bay community overwhelmingly rejected DOT’s proposals last June, and today, they are reality.
DOT is once again asking us just to trust them that their proposals will make streets safer when many believe the opposite is true. Not only will the streets become more dangerous, but bus commuters will also be inconvenienced. I won’t bore you with the details. If you want to read more about what is happening in Sheepshead Bay just go to Change.org and search for B36 to add your voice.
The MTA is an innocent victim here because the street traffic changes forced by DOT is requiring the bus reroute changes. However, unlike in the past when the MTA was able to express its disagreements with DOT, for example when the Times Square pedestrian plaza was built, the MTA is no longer able to disagree because the DOT Commissioner is now on the MTA Board.
The MTA had complained that the Times Square pedestrian plaza added 20 minutes to bus running times costing them more money, but is not objecting to the Sheepshead Bay proposal which forces passengers to walk an additional block to access the subway and places taxicabs directly in front of the subway entrance where the buses used to stop. We need to make travel easier for bus passengers, not more difficult. Having the DOT Commissioner on the MTA Board is a conflict of interests. This needs to change.
Something else that needs to change is that we need more transparency from the MTA. Its Operations Planning Divisions (NYCT and MTA Bus) decide how much service bus routes receive. Their decisions are made in secret. Last Labor Day passengers waited up to one hour and three quarters for the Q35 when returning home to Brooklyn. Green Lines, the former operator of the bus route, had added extra buses on the Brooklyn - Riis Park portion of the route on summer weekends which has the overwhelming majority of bus passenger traffic. The MTA, since they took over operations in 2004, eliminated that. They also added stops increasing demand. Yet the Planning Units believe service is adequate on summer and holiday weekends. How can that be?
Could they be averaging passenger loads on rainy days when the buses are nearly empty with overflowing loads on hot summer beach days to conclude the service is adequate? I can’t think of another explanation. If the MTA shared their methodology with us forthrightly, we might obtain the answer. However, like DOT, their motif operandi is - Trust us because we are the professionals and we know what is best for you because you do not have the ability to think for yourselves.
Yet they make mistakes in their analyses all the time because of just plain sloppiness and being lazy. DOT did not even bother to run a spell check in one of their SBS documents misspelling the word “Glossary” as “Glossery” not only in the text of a report, but in a big bold heading. They also inaccurately measured the width of Woodhaven Boulevard, exaggerating its width to add justification to their erroneous conclusions.
The MTA, when justifying their 2010 bus service cutbacks, measured walking distances as the crow flies as if bus passengers were able to walk through buildings and cross highways to seek alternatives so a walk of ¾ mile was shown as a ¼ mile walk. They also ignored topography in their analyses. Another time they confused customers making a round trip with passengers making a one-way trip leading to erroneous conclusions.
However, there is a bright spot. Unlike the planners at DOT and the MTA who are not willing to listen, the MTA’s bus road operations unit is and really wants to do a good job. I have had discussions with them about the Q35 and I was assured that 30 additional bus trips will be added to the Q35 this summer as needed. I am not exactly sure what that means since the summer budget the MTA recently made public does not show planned changes to Q35 service. We will have and wait and see what happens.
Allan Rosen is a former Director of Bus Planning for MTA NYCT and a member of the Queens Public Transit Committee