Red Hook residents complained that the Ikea store’s buses pose dangers to pedestrians and are a source of pollution at Community Board 6’s monthly transportation meeting last Thursday.
The Swedish home furnishings store opened in June with an elaborate transportation system of buses, water taxis and rental cars in place to discourage car traffic in the area.
Representatives for Ikea and its transportation planning firm Sam Schwartz, Metropolitan Transportation Authority representatives, New York police officers and about 20 residents attended the meeting at Long Island College Hospital on Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street to discuss the impact of Ikea’s transportation for the public.
“When we were initially told that there was going to be shuttle buses operating, we imagined something like a 15 or 20 passenger van,” said Lars Schlichting, a resident of the Columbia Waterfront District just north of the Ikea, in an interview a few days after the meeting.
“We were a little taken aback when we saw highway motor coaches.”
There are two shuttle routes to Ikea: one travels from the Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street and the Smith and Ninth streets subway stations; the other travels from Borough Hall. Buses travel on some residential streets in Red Hook on their way to Ikea, especially on a significant stretch of Columbia Street, which has residents worried about potential traffic fatalities.
They want to know why the buses, which run every 20 to 25 minutes, cannot be smaller, since residents contend they are rarely full.
“Do you really need the big old buses to carry people?” resident Norman Cox asked.
There were about 19 people on a shuttle that could accommodate close to 55 on a Monday morning ride to Ikea from Borough Hall. On the ride back to Borough Hall, there were even fewer.
Ikea said their shuttles mostly follow the MTA buses with similar routes, the B61 and the B77, but to residents, the shuttles are less pedestrian-friendly than the MTA buses.
For example, the buses’ tinted windows and large frames distance drivers from street activity, said Meg Fellerath, another Columbia Waterfront District resident.
“You can’t even do the normal thing of making eye contact with someone to cross the street,” she said.
Columbia Waterfront District residents proposed a re-route when the Borough Hall-bound shuttle approaches the corner of Columbia and DeGraw streets.
“There’s a sign that says trucks have to turn right, and these buses are the size of trucks,” said Schlicting. “We simply do not understand why the Ikea buses cannot make that turn there.”
Ikea’s store manager, Mike Baker, said that Ikea is studying the size and routes of the buses, but he gave no date for a study completion. He added that it is difficult to conduct traffic studies in the summer and right after a store opens because it usually attracts more people in the first couple of months.
“We’re constantly re-evaluating the route,” said Jolene Yeats of Sam Schwartz, who added that Ikea monitors the number of passengers every day.
“So far there hasn’t been any need to cut back on the size,” she said this week.
“On weekends, they are almost always full.”
Residents also questioned the environmental impact of the diesel-fueled shuttles.
“The city spends millions of dollars on clean air buses, and the Ikea buses are spewing fumes,” said Cox.
Ikea looked into using clean-air buses, but they are only available to lease in New York City on terms that Ikea does not want to be bound to, said Yeats.
“It bodes well for Ikea to continue to be open to these kinds of suggestions,” said the Board’s District Manager Craig Hammerman. The store “has shown great interest in working with the community.”
Ikea’s bus and taxi network has prevented heavy traffic in surrounding neighborhoods and delighted many who ride the water taxis across the river, Ikea representatives and some community members said.
“There hasn’t been a single question on that subject, which I think speaks volumes about how successful you guys have been,” Bill Blum, a meeting attendee, said to the Ikea representatives.
Ikea’s Baker dispelled fears that the store would cut service hours for the popular water taxi. It is fine if New Yorkers want to enjoy a ride across the river, he said, “as long as Ikea customers can get on.”