Tish James: We Need to Improve NYC’s Most Unreliable Bus, But…

tish.jpg
Yesterday the Straphangers Campaign awarded Brooklyn's B44 the Schleppie Award in recognition of its status as the most unreliable bus route in the city. Over 20 percent of B44 buses, which run on the Nostrand Avenue corridor, arrive either bunched together or very far apart. About 42,000 people endure the route's maddening inconsistency every weekday.

The Schleppie came five days after several prominent New York City Democrats lent their support to the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association at a small press event protesting plans to upgrade B44 service. Brooklyn's first Select Bus Service corridor is slated for Nostrand and Rogers Avenue, with implementation projected for 2011. The package of improvements would alleviate exactly the problems that B44 riders put up with.

In light of the B44's new Schleppie, I called Council Member Tish James, whose office sent out the alert for Saturday's presser, to get her views on enhancing bus service. While James said she favors bus improvements, she made her support for Select Bus Service conditional. "Given the poor service and the lack of reliability I believe we need to improve service," she said. "At the same time, we have to balance the interests of businesses and improving mass transit."

waiting_to_board.jpgHow much longer will B44 riders have to wait for more reliable service?
"The question is the parking, and will this generate more foot traffic or less," she added. More than two thirds of households in James's district do not own a car, and neighboring districts are equally dependent on transit. So I asked if she thought faster, more reliable buses might attract more foot traffic to shops along Nostrand. James said an uptick was plausible, but that merchants "need to hear that from DOT."

While James said DOT has informed her the Nostrand Avenue configuration would differ from Select Bus Service on Fordham Road in the Bronx -- which converted a curbside parking lane to an exclusive bus lane -- she wants the agency to show merchants a specific plan.

A sit-down is in the works: Her office has arranged a meeting between business owners and DOT, which she says the agency put off until after Tuesday's election. And James seemed to agree that apprehension about a new street configuration shouldn't stand in the way of better service for bus riders. "I understand that people are afraid to embrace change," she said. "That's why we need to assuage their concerns."

James spoke most forcefully when I suggested that, judging from the comments of merchants association head Lindiwe Kamau, business owners might let their attachment to convenient personal parking spots guide their opinion of bus improvements. "I'm not concerned about people having to walk two blocks from where they parked," she said. "We don't need guaranteed parking in New York."

Out of three Brooklyn City Council members Streetsblog contacted about Nostrand Avenue bus improvements, James was the only one to return phone calls. Council members Mathieu Eugene and Al Vann, whose districts are also served by the B44, have not answered requests for comment.