Transit advocates ID likely candidates for Brooklyn ‘busway’

Transit advocates ID likely candidates for Brooklyn ‘busway’
John Napoli

As transit buffs hail a new dedicated “busway” installed on Manhattan’s 14th Street as both a resounding success and — perhaps too enthusiastically — as “sexy,” advocates are now looking to clear private vehicles off of Kings County streets to pave the way for a bus-only thoroughfare in Brooklyn.

“The busway is exciting, it’s sexy, and it’s improving bus performance, but there’s a lot of ways to do that and we should do everything in our toolbox to clear cars out of the way of buses,” said Ben Fried, a spokesman for Transit Center.

The Department of Transportation launched the 14th Street busway as an 18-month pilot project, which saw six blocks of the bustling crosstown boulevard closed to all traffic except buses, deliveries, drop-offs, and emergency vehicles.

The city’s radical transit scheme didn’t make everyone happy — the move spawned protests and legal challenges by angry residents — but DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg claimed the busway increased bus speeds by up to 30 percent, and transit advocates and progressive pols have lauded it as the “Miracle on 14th Street.”

And that miracle comes amid the Oct. 2nd launch of a borough-wide revamp of Brooklyn’s bus network — where buses crawl at a sluggish average speed of 7.7 mph — and Trottenberg has already hinted that city transit officials are scheming to slap down some of the busway’s distinctive burgundy paint on an outer-borough roadway.

“Where might we go next? Stay tuned,” Trottenberg told Streetsblog. “We’re thinking about that next. People’s worst fears did not come to pass and I hope it’ll be a template for other parts of the city.”

So the question becomes, where will Brooklyn’s first busway go? Here are a few likely test subjects for the city’s latest progressive transit scheme.

Utica and Nostrand avenues

Utica and Nostrand avenues host some of the busiest bus routes in Brooklyn, the B46 and B44 respectively, which provide a crucial connection from Williamsburg to transit-starved neighborhoods in southern Brooklyn via local and Select Bus Service shuttles.

And with both Kings County and Brookdale hospitals located there, retrofitting Utica Avenue in particular for use as a dedicated bus route would improve commutes for both patients and staff, according to one transit buff.

“Areas close to [Utica Avenue] have the highest concentration of healthcare workers who live there and if there’s any group of commuters we want to have reliable commutes it’s that group,” said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Marco Conner.

Fulton Street

Already host to a dedicated bus route between Flatbush Avenue Extension and Boerum Place, extending the Fulton Mall’s bus-only regulations further east to Green Avenue in Fort Greene would improve transit times for four buses — the B25, B26, B38, and B52.

The city proposed extending a bus lane all the way to Grand Avenue in Clinton Hill in 2017, but walked back the scheme to only take effect during a limited time on weekdays after residents, business owners, and councilwoman Laurie Cumbo (D–Clinton Hill) threw a fit.

“They had to water down the hours because a small but vocal opposition,” said Connor.

Church Avenue

This crosstown artery services the B35, where the city recently tried to expand a dedicated bus lane at the expense of parking along a narrow stretch of the route between Ocean Parkway and E. 16th Street.

But transit honchos caved to protests by congregants a local synagogue by scrapping the no-parking zone along the block of their house of worship, because members worried they wouldn’t be able to park there on the Sabbath, according to a Brooklyn Eagle report.

Myrtle and Dekalb avenues

Getting from Bushwick to Downtown Brooklyn is a real hassle best exemplified by subway commutes along the J, Z, and M trains, which take commuters from the borough’s northern frontier to America’s Downtown by way of Manhattan!

The route was formerly serviced by the Myrtle Avenue elevated train, but that line carried its last passenger more than 50 years ago, and — while the G train offers some cross town service — the only contemporary substitute to the alfresco train line are a slate of slow buses including Myrtle Avenue’s B54, Dekalb Avenue’s B38, Gates Avenue’s B52, and Halsey Street’s B25.

Although the design of the city’s streets would have to be changed on a city level, local state Sen. Julia Salazar (D–Bushwick) recently came out in favor of a local busway along this stretch on Twitter.

Reach reporter Kevin Duggan at (718) 260–2511 or by e-mail at kduggan@cnglocal.com. Follow him on Twitter @kduggan16.