Brooklyn bus redesign on hold amid COVID-19 constraints: MTA

utica avenue bus
A B46 bus along Utica Avenue.
File photo by Elissa Esher

They’re pulling the brakes!

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign is on hold due to COVID-19-related constraints, according to an agency letter to local elected officials and stakeholders obtained by Brooklyn Paper.

The project managers behind the overhaul of the borough’s bus system will not release their draft plan of the revamp by June 30 as originally scheduled due to the pandemic’s impact on staff and because of social distancing challenges for holding community meetings, according to the June 25 notice. 

“Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on staff resources and the challenges to safely conduct public outreach with community stakeholders under prevailing social distancing guidelines, the project is on hold,” the Thursday letter reads.

MTA reps will talk to politicians and other stakeholders to figure out what’s next and publish a revised timeline for the scheme in “the next few months,” according to the agency.

Transit gurus were supposed to unveil their draft plan for the borough-wide redesign by the end of the second quarter of the year, with a final plan scheduled for some time in the final quarter, according to an agency timeline.

But the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the agency’s budget, with MTA leaders projecting more than $10 billion in losses during the next two years and its chairman Pat Foye calling the situation a “four-alarm fire.”

Officials launched the project in October to redesign the borough’s 63 local and nine express bus lines over the coming year and gathered input from Kings County straphangers for months.

In February MTA released a report about the existing conditions in Kings County’s bus system, where many of the lines remain largely unchanged since they replaced old trolley lines in the 1920s.

The February report questioned the need for so many of buses from different lines running through the congested streets of Downtown Brooklyn.

The report also identified 50 corridors in the borough that could benefit from bus priority lanes, which are implemented by the city’s Department of Transportation to help buses move faster in dedicated red-painted lanes on congested streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on June 8 that a roughly half-mile stretch of Jay Street downtown would become a so-called busway, a stretch of street where through-traffic is banned for most of the day, like to the 14th Street busway in Manhattan.

The bus redesigns were championed by former New York City Transit President Andy Byford under his Fast Forward plan to modernize the city’s ailing public transportation and advocates worried in the past that the revamps could be compromised without the British transit guru at the wheel. 

The agency has only completed and implemented one out of the four bus redesigns in the city on Staten Island in 2018, and Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx are at different stages of the process.

MTA was soliciting community feedback for its final plan in the Bronx in February and published its draft for Queens in late 2019, but stopped holding public input sessions for the latter in March due to the viral outbreak.

The other borough bus network redesigns will also be on hold for the same reasons as in Brooklyn, according to MTA spokesman Andrei Berman.