The MTA denied a request yesterday to restore ’round-the-clock B4 bus service to Plumb Beach just one month ahead of schedule, even though scores of residents remain stranded by Superstorm Sandy.
Bay Improvement Group (BIG) made the request through Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein earlier this week, claiming the lack of cars and mass transit options have not only made it difficult to get to work, but also to rebuild. Residents can’t shop for food and supplies or visit doctors – or even access the numerous recovery workshops that have so far only occurred outside of the neighborhood.
“A lot of people lost their cars and are stranded,” said Laura McKenna, BIG’s acting executive director. “They don’t have their own vehicles and it makes it more difficult for them to get to the subway, and we have an older population that can’t get to doctors or get groceries.”
McKenna said she first considered requesting a special shuttle to bring residents from Emmons Avenue’s eastern end to the subway station, reconnecting them with local businesses and the city’s transportation infrastructure. But after looking at bus maps, she realized the route she envisioned was already being served by the B4. However, the B4 only runs during “peak hours” on weekdays since service was slashed in 2010, but recovery remains a 24/7 reality, and ramped-up service would be a huge boon to their efforts.
“Whatever the B4 had before, we want that,” McKenna said.
During off-peak hours, the B4’s eastern terminus is near Coney Island Hospital. Extending the line would give Plumb Beach residents access to Sheepshead Bay Road and its businesses and subway stations, the hospital, and neighborhoods as far west as Bay Ridge.
Currently, the nearest operating supermarket for Plumb Beach residents is Waldbaum’s at 3100 Ocean Avenue, more than a mile away for some residents. The nearest hardware store is even farther.
“These individuals have faced the worst and are just trying to pick up the pieces and return to normalcy,” Weinstein said. “I believe that the MTA is obligated to provide them with a means of getting them to stores, temporary shelters and jobs.”
Yesterday, though, Weinstein informed the group that their request had been denied, with the agency citing a lack of resources, bus drivers and buses.
But, regardless of resources, in exactly one month from today, on January 6, the B4 will again be 24/7 following a campaign by the community, its leaders and a Sheepshead Bites-hosted town hall event advocating for full service restoration earlier this year.
That’s not soon enough for those stranded in Plumb Beach, though. There is only one emergency supply distribution point serving the neighborhood, operated by a handful of Occupy Sandy volunteers. It’s outdoors, and its future is uncertain as temperatures drop.
“The cold weather is really a disincentive to be outside,” McKenna said. “There are other areas that have warming centers, that have disaster recovery centers, that have indoor facilities for volunteers – and even a bus turns into a warming center for a volunteer.”
Meanwhile, no relief workshops or town halls have taken place in the neighborhood, forcing residents to travel to Gerritsen Beach, Brighton Beach or Avenue V – the closest locations such events have been held. They received brief relief when State Senator Marty Golden and Councilman Michael Nelson provided shuttles to two nearby events recently – but those were only confirmed in the eleventh hour and could not be widely publicized.
The group is going to continue its fight for an early B4 restoration, with plans to press the mayor’s office for assistance. They’re also attempting to get an indoor space to serve as a relief hub for stranded neighbors and storm-ravaged seniors, and prodding local pols to do a recovery town hall or workshop in the neighborhood.
A victory with any of those, McKenna said, would help build community morale.
“Psychologically, people need to know there are people paying attention, and they’re not right now,” said McKenna. “I think it will go a long way to fighting the feeling of abandonment.”
The MTA has not yet returned a request for comment.
UPDATE (3:10 p.m.): MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz sent the following statement:
We are currently working with DOT to get the new stops installed by January 6 and will implement the new service with the start of a new bus pick. That being said, residents currently have access to other bus routes in the area and the B4 continues to run down to Knapp Street during peak periods so your assertion that residents are “stranded” is overstated.
We reiterated concern that the B44 or B36 did not provide a sufficient route or required long walking distances, and noted that the existing stops with temporary signage could be sufficient. We also asked for an estimate of the price of the approximately 2.5-mile route increase. Ortiz responded:
The B4 will run along a slightly different route –hence the new stops. As previously conveyed, there is an issue of available resources.