Brooklyn’s new B44 Select Bus Service that is expected to cut travel times for commuters by up to 20 percent was unveiled this week — but it has not quite arrived yet.
The new, dedicated-lane buses started plying the 10-mile route between Williamsburg and Sheepshead Bay on Sunday, but several key parts of the service are not expected to come online until sometime next year.
Some of the new bus stops projecting out into the street remain unfinished, a few miles of dedicated northbound lanes along Rogers and Bedford avenues have yet to be painted, and the technology that will change red lights green as a select bus approaches has not been switched on yet, but Mayor Bloomberg nonetheless pledged at a kick-off event on Monday that the new service will speed up commutes.
“Everybody has a view of whether traffic is better or worse and a lot of it depends on whether they are stuck behind a ConEd truck,” said Bloomberg. “But the average time is the real answer,” he added, citing data compiled from the city’s five existing select bus service routes showing that the express buses decreased commute times by close to a quarter on average.
The roadside kiosks where commuters pre-pay for the ride are one element of the bus set-up that is supposed to speed service. With curb-side ticketing, commuters trade the long wait for individual card swipes at each stop that waylays traditional buses for a train-like set-up where riders face periodic on-board ticket inspections. And early next year the ticket stations will be upgraded with pedestrian way-finding signs, which provide maps of the area and real-time bus-arrival information.
The new service, funded by a $28-million federal grant, replaces the B44 limited, an express service along the B44 local route, and eliminates some of the limited’s stops. Riders used to riding the B44 limited should also be aware that the new select service route deviates from the limited path heading north-bound at Flatbush Avenue. The new line hangs a left before heading up Rogers Avenue, while the local continues further north up Nostrand Avenue until Farragut Road, where it takes a right and then a left at New York Avenue.
The B44 local will continue to run, and is expected to move considerably faster by sharing the select bus’s dedicated lane.
But not everyone shared the mayor’s enthusiasm.
Early on Tuesday morning, Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Flatbush) rallied outside a former B44 limited stop at Avenue L and Nostrand Avenue, complaining that commuters and students at IS 240 were left out of the service expansion. The rejiggering caused locals to lose the medium-express line that stopped at Avenue L. The select bus does not, but they still have the local.
The Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association had feared that businesses would lose customers — and parking spaces — to the new bus route, and staged a protest against the select bus project when it was announced in 2009. Among the business association’s concerns was the worry that deliveries would be impeded by the new, bus-only lanes flanking the parking spots where vans typically double park to unload goods. But the group has since adopted the age-old adage, “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
“There’s nothing we can do about it at this point,” said Lindiwe Kamau, president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, who stood with the mayor at the opening ceremony.
Kamau worked with the city and 300 member businesses to find alternate spots to accept deliveries and to retool many other details that had merchants concerned for their bottom lines. Coming out the other side of the process, the group says that it began as more of a battle, but that the city was playing nice by the end.
“It started out rocky,” said Elena Conte, an organizer for the Pratt Center for Community Development, which consulted with the merchants group on the project. “But the city agencies learned and it got better.”
To hype the new bus line and make up for any customers who may have been driven away by a lack of parking, the merchants group is running a holiday shopping promotion that rewards commuters with discounts at participating businesses when they show a receipt for the new line. The deals run through Dec. 31.