THE COMMUTE: Each week I am challenged to write about something different. Today I will discuss a subject that I have only mentioned peripherally before – intercity and local bus terminals. When streets get clogged with too many buses terminating in a confined area, we build or should build an off-street bus terminal to reduce congestion. We rarely do this in New York City, allowing our streets to remain congested.
There are two types of bus terminals: one for local travel, and one for intercity travel. Here we’ll talk about where they are, and why we need more.
In Manhattan, there are the Port Authority (PA) and George Washington Bridge bus terminals for intercity travel. Staten Island has the St. George terminal at the ferry for local buses. Queens has two terminals for local buses: one at 165th Street in Jamaica, and another small one in Jackson Heights. The Bronx has none that I can think of. In Brooklyn we have a terminal near the Williamsburg Bridge and two mini-terminals, one at Kings Plaza and another in Coney Island, both of which are inadequate to hold all the routes that terminate there.
Additional off-street terminals for local buses are needed near 179th Street in Jamaica, and, more importantly, near Main Street in Flushing, which used to have one many years ago. In Brooklyn, we could use one near Atlantic Terminal, but instead we choose to clog our Downtown Brooklyn streets with buses we don’t need. There is enough demand in Downtown Brooklyn to operate a light rail from Atlantic Terminal to Brooklyn Bridge Park along Fulton Street, through Borough Hall Park and down to Old Fulton Street, with some going to Red Hook if buses were eliminated from Livingston Street and the Fulton Mall. A convenient transfer could be provided at Atlantic Terminal between the buses and light rail if a terminal were built there.
However, a few years ago when the Department of Transportation studied light rail, it was proposed along Atlantic Avenue. That was foolhardy because it only would have aggravated the traffic congestion.
So why are there so few off-street local bus terminals? Besides the funding issue, the other is that no one is advocating for them. Merchants, especially in Flushing, have fought attempts to construct an off-street bus terminal for fear of losing business if subway passengers were able to directly board buses underground at Main Street without having to first exit the subway and wade their way through congested streets and sidewalks.
I am all for supporting our local merchants, but their occasional selfishness deprives commuters from a faster and more comfortable trip, especially in cold and inclement weather, and worsens the street environment with traffic congestion that could be avoided.
Politicians are always complaining about traffic congestion, blaming automobile drivers as the culprits when they are really causing congestion through outsized zoning and providing insufficient long- and short-range parking. Instead of constructing a bus terminal, DOT proposed to make Main and Union Streets one-way pairs that only would increase congestion, because it would encourage double parking.
Rather than expanding municipal parking lots to increase park-and-ride spaces to encourage mass transit and reduce congestion, the city is selling off its municipal lots and replacing it with development, including garages operated by the private sector charging exorbitant rates. They did this on Kings Highway and are looking to do the same in Flushing, while doing nothing to improve bus transit.
Replacing or Renovating the Port Authority Bus Terminal?
You know you are getting old when you read that subway cars are being retired and you remember when they were purchased. Similarly, it seems like yesterday when it was announced that the Port Authority Bus Terminal will undergo a major expansion to serve future generations and now you read that the terminal is now decrepit and obsolete and will once again need a major renovation or reconstruction.
You think “future generations” means forever, but it only means 40 years. Yes, the terminal should be renovated. After all it is as old as I am, 63, and was expanded in the late 1970s, about the time I also started to expand, mainly in the stomach area. (I could alsoundergo some renovation.)
But this is what I object to: they first commission an unnecessary study to determine if the terminal should be replaced or renovated. The expanded portion is a little over 30 years old. Why would you even consider demolishing a sound structure, wasting taxpayer money, if not just to give work to construction firms? They can easily determine what renovations are needed just by reading the dozens of comments to the New York Times article discussing the terminal – problems with the bathrooms and inadequate signage, just to name two.
Likely for our readers, the worst thing about the Port Authority Bus Terminal is the time it takes to get there from Southern Brooklyn – an hour to an hour-and-a-half by subway. Once you get to the terminal, your bus trip will probably take you only two or three hours; four at the most.
Why should one third of your trip be spent getting to the terminal? We are a city of five boroughs so why should there only be two inter-city bus terminals, both located in Manhattan?
An Inter-City Bus Terminal for Brooklyn?
How many people from Brooklyn would go to Atlantic City by bus if they first had to travel to the Port Authority (PA) Terminal? Very few. That’s why those buses make local stops in Brooklyn, because it is so much more convenient. Also, intercity bus travel has made a resurgence due to low cost bus lines that do not use the PA terminal, but clog our streets instead.
Years ago when travel to the Catskills was popular, there was a small off-street bus terminal in Brownsville. That was because travel to the PA terminal took too long; at the time it took a half hour just to access the Lincoln Tunnel from the bus terminal since a direct ramp had not yet been constructed. If the PA Terminal, the busiest bus hub in the world, has outgrown its site, and now there are buses idling in the street, perhaps now is the time to build a secondary terminal in Brooklyn, reducing the demand at the PA, and shortening travel times for Brooklynites and Staten Islanders.
That is what we need a study for.
But where do we build one? The seemingly logical choice, in the center of Brooklyn near the Flatbush-Nostrand Junction, unfortunately does not make sense because there are no nearby highways. We do not need more buses clogging local streets (Of course, had the Cross Brooklyn Expressway been built, that would be another story).
Given the existing highway network, the most logical choice would be somewhere near the Brooklyn Army Terminal, between Bay Ridge and Sunset Park, because it is adjacent to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Also, land is available to construct a parking lot to make it easily accessible. A new limited stop bus route could also be initiated along 65th Street improving bus access to it (That route also could serve ferries to Manhattan operating from the Army Terminal.).
A terminal there would be ideal for trips to Philadelphia, Washington D.C. and points south, eliminating the need to first travel north to the PA Terminal in order to travel south. Taking a bus from the Army Terminal vicinity may be even more convenient and cheaper than making the entire trip by automobile.
Bus congestion in Flushing and in Downtown Brooklyn needs to be reduced with the construction of off-street bus terminals. Inter-city bus travel also needs to be quickened by reducing the need to get to the PA bus terminal in Midtown.
I wouldn’t hold my breath that anyone will be advocating either. As I previously wrote, the name of the game is not to improve transportation or reduce congestion. They are only byproducts of putting money in the pockets of large construction, engineering and architectural firms who perform many unneeded studies when what needs to be done is plainly obvious.
We need a study of where to build satellite terminals to shorten intercity travel for the bus rider if the PA facility is now inadequate. We don’t need a study to come up with new designs for an expanded terminal at the same site when a renovation will do just as well. We don’t need a repeat of the new overly expensive PATH terminal, afterall.
The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA / NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).
Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work, and their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.