With extremely low turnout expected for tomorrow's mayoral election, Bill Thompson and Mike Bloomberg canvassed the city over the weekend  trying to drum up some enthusiasm for their candidacies. For Thompson, the itinerary included a stop in Bedford Stuyvesant this Saturday to protest plans for improving bus service along Nostrand Avenue.
Hopping off the campaign truck at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand, Thompson and the entire citywide Democratic ticket joined local council rep Tish James for a quick show of solidarity with Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association president Lindiwe Kamau. Kamau takes issue with bus improvements planned for Nostrand because, she claims, dedicated bus lanes will eliminate curbside parking along the corridor. Here's the thing: The most recent renderings of Select Bus Service on Nostrand [PDF ] depict buses operating in an existing travel lane. The curbside parking lane would still be there.
That didn't stop Thompson, James, John Liu, and Bill de Blasio from lending their support for a few minutes, standing beside Kamau and repeating stock phrases about "protecting small businesses." The biggest constituency they addressed appeared to be the press. About four reporters were on hand, outnumbering Nostrand Avenue merchants by approximately four-to-one. After a light cycle or two, the pols hopped back on the truck and were driven away.
If the Democratic ticket had walked over to the B44 stop around the corner, they would have found a much larger and more captive audience to address. Their message might not have gone over very well though.
On a typical weekday, more than 40,000 people ride the B44 on the Nostrand corridor. On Saturdays, average ridership is about 29,000. B44 riders can definitely use some relief: They currently depend on the second-most unreliable bus route in the city, according to the Straphangers Campaign . The improvements promised by Select Bus Service -- pre-paid boarding, dedicated travel lanes, signal priority -- would speed trips and enable buses to stick to their schedules.
Around the corner from Saturday's presser, dozens of people were waiting for the next B44, many carrying shopping bags on a warm fall afternoon. Henrietta David, one of the older women waiting at the stop, told me that she doesn't bother glancing at the posted schedule to find out when the next bus will arrive; the bus comes when it comes. There was nowhere for her to sit as she waited. After a bus pulled up, it took a good two minutes for everyone to board.
When I had asked Kamau why she opposed plans for BRT on Nostrand, the indignities and inconveniences of riding the bus weren't foremost in her thoughts, nor were her own customers' transportation needs. She said merchants already get ticketed for parking their cars on this stretch of Nostrand during the p.m. rush, when the west side of the street is a no-standing zone. "We already have problems with parking," she said. "Our merchants get tickets constantly."