THE COMMUTE: Sheepshead Bay and Manhattan Beach are prominently featured in a new series of MTA public service announcements denouncing texting while walking, cycling, and riding the city’s buses. I doubt it if the MTA realizes how ironic some of the locations that were chosen are. The cyclist begins his ride just 100 feet from where my friend crashed into a cyclist about 20 years ago. He was uninjured, but just a few blocks away another cyclist was killed earlier this year. The location in the video where the girl is “hit by the bus” while texting is just 200 feet from a real bus fatality four few years ago. The messages are clear and all should take heed. Texting does not go well with walking, cycling, or even standing in a bus if you are not holding on.
THE COMMUTE: In answer to the question posed in the headline, it is because they don’t care enough, since they do not place themselves in the position of passengers who are making decisions. Customer service is just not a high priority. It is a theme we keep coming back to. The last time we discussed it was back in August. At the end of that article I linked to two posts from blogger David Gerber, in which he went into excruciating detail about how the MTA provides misinformation. He has since written three more posts detailing the MTA’s misinformation and / or lack of information. In part three of his series from this past August, he discusses passengers having to endure the cold because of inadequate public information regarding the MTA’s winter service plans. In September, he wrote about how track work on the M train resulted in conflicting announcements about the service change.
THE COMMUTE: Ever since I started riding buses more than 50 years ago, I noticed that service is erratic. I never knew the extent of the problem until I analyzed our origin and destination data as part of the study of southwest Brooklyn bus routes, which I directed for the Department of City Planning beginning in 1974. I included an open-ended question allowing bus riders to express comments. Service irregularity topped the list as the most pervasive problem with local bus routes.
THE COMMUTE: Now that Queens College has released its year-long study of the feasibility to rebuild and reactivate the long dormant Rockaway Beach Line between Rego Park and Howard Beach, momentum to reuse the line for transit purposes is gaining traction. The New York Daily News is now a supporter. Other alternatives include the building of a High Line-style park named “Queensway,” and doing nothing. According to the study, restoration would cost between $600 and $900 million and would generate as many as 500,000 daily riders.
THE COMMUTE: In Part 1, we asked if the real purpose for the new 25 MPH speed limit is increased safety or increased revenue. If the city is as concerned with increased safety as much as it claims, let us look at some traffic safety hazards the city has not been paying adequate attention to.
It took more than two years to repair the lighting on the Belt Parkway between Flatbush Avenue and Knapp Street after Superstorm Sandy. Dark dangerous stretches of highways with non-reflective exit signs were a problem long before Sandy, and will continue to be a problem.
Street markings are allowed to virtually disappear before being repainted. Lanes mysteriously merge into each other without any notice, and left and right turn lanes appear out of nowhere, forcing motorists to try to switch lanes in heavy traffic or make a turn they didn’t want to make in the first place, and risk getting lost. These are accidents just waiting to happen.
THE COMMUTE: The 25 mile per hour (MPH) default speed limit is now the law. What proponents of this legislation fail to realize is that with a 30 MPH speed limit, the average speed limit on city streets is only 20 MPH or less. A maximum speed limit of 25 MPH will bring the average speed limit down to 12 MPH in most cases. That means that your average automobile and truck trip (yes, we forget about trucks, don’t we?) will now take almost twice as long. That is if everyone complies, and of course few will.
THE COMMUTE: Last week, a one-and-a-quarter-mile afternoon trip took my friend one hour and 20 minutes using two buses. He waited 28 minutes for the B68 and another 30 minutes for the B82 in Coney Island. Three B68s came at once, and he just missed the B82. BusTime obviously is not being used to regulate the buses. What the MTA is doing, however, to help buses adhere to their schedule is putting pressure on bus drivers not to be late. What other explanation could there be for the following?
THE COMMUTE: The big news headlines this week were that subway ridership reached a new record level on September 23rd, with more than 6.1 million paying swipes, and the budget shortfall in the MTA’s new capital plan. (Notice I did not say paying customers as the MTA did, because I consider a customer as someone making a round trip. The correct term for someone making a one way trip is “passenger.” However, the MTA refuses to use that term as if it were a dirty word and now considers everyone a “customer.”) The headline only refers to subway riders; bus ridership reached its peak ten years ago.
THE COMMUTE: New Yorkers must wait until 2023 for the completion of East Side Access, a project that will improve LIRR access to Manhattan, free up trackage at Penn Station to improve rail service to the Northeast Bronx, but degrade LIRR service for Brooklynites. It is a project first conceived in the 1950s and will have taken 70 years to complete by the time it opens. Its budget, originally $4.3 billion, now exceeds $10.8 billion. The scaled back Fulton Transit Center, a project costing
$4.2 billion $1.4 billion is also way behind schedule and should finally be fully completed in December of this year.
THE COMMUTE: Sheepshead Bay has been the victim of over-development.
Development itself is not a bad thing. In fact, it is good for the economy. However, when development occurs, the infrastructure must also be improved.
Block after block, the neighborhood has seen one-family homes replaced by six-family condos. Several new mid-rise developments have also appeared on or near Sheepshead Bay Road and more are planned. This has placed a strain on traffic, especially along the narrow 18th Century Sheepshead Bay Road, formerly known as Shore Road.
In the 19th Century, our city forefathers planned a numbered street grid system that revolutionized our roads. Sheepshead Bay Road, however, predated that grid. The surface Manhattan Beach Railway, which operated passenger service until 1922, ran along East 17th Street south of Avenue X, (which is why that portion of the street is wider than the rest) and along the western fork near Jerome Avenue cutting through the super block soon to be developed with a luxury high-rise. The railway extended along the Brighton line and between what is now West End Avenue and Corbin Place to Manhattan Beach, serving the area’s two luxury (Manhattan Beach and Oriental) hotels.
That is the reason East 16th Street dead-ends at Sheepshead Bay Road and does not continue until the other side of Voorhies Avenue.
Normally, when superblocks are created, the adjacent streets are widened to accommodate the displaced traffic from eliminated streets. In this case, no street was eliminated, only some railroad tracks. In 1922, automobile traffic was still sparse and the word “superblock” did not even exist until large housing projects made them commonplace decades later. Sheepshead Bay Road, a street lined mostly with small hotels, was never widened, as traffic increased and those hotels were demolished or as residences were converted to storefronts.
Currently, there are a half dozen vacant storefronts on the northeast corner of Sheepshead Bay Road and Voorhies Avenue, suggesting more development in the near future, increasing traffic even more. Traffic on Voorhies Avenue is already a nightmare every Monday through Friday after 3pm, with a dozen cars lined up on East 18th Street waiting to make a right turn onto Voorhies Avenue. (A left turn is all but impossible.)
Changes are needed.
When I proposed the rerouting of the B49 in 1978 from Ocean Avenue to replace the B1 along Sheepshead Bay Road, I suggested it operate on the circuitous northbound route it currently uses, including Shore Parkway and East 14th Street, because it was three or four minutes quicker than Sheepshead Bay Road. It was tabled for 30 years, and by that point the time saved had been diminished. The roundabout route is just as dreadful as along Sheepshead Bay Road. Instead it was implemented recently due to cars constantly standing in the no standing zone on Sheepshead Bay Road, and, with the lack of traffic enforcement, it became more difficult for two buses to pass simultaneously.
My proposed routing no longer saves three or four minutes. The rerouting from Ocean Avenue, instead of merely adding five minutes to the B49 as it did in 1978, now can add as much as 15 minutes for through riders when compared to the pre-1978 route. Therefore, I now believe we need some special buses during school hours or an additional bus route bypassing the subway station as it did prior to 1978. However, that is a subject for another article.
The point is that with each new development, traffic gets worse. What if the city decides to sell both municipal parking lots and add still more commercial development as they have done on Kings Highway and are doing in Flushing? What if the El Greco site is developed with another high-rise as has been long rumored (with no substantiation)? We will find out about it when it is too late. What will happen to traffic after five new high-rises are constructed near Sheepshead Bay Road? We could have gridlock.
Let’s Not Lose an Opportunity
Right now, with the proposed luxury condos at 1501 Voorhies Avenue, near Sheepshead Bay Road, we have the opportunity to extend East 16th Street to Voorhies Avenue and the north Shore Parkway service road. (A traffic reversal on the service road between East 16th Street and Sheepshead Bay Road would also be required. A redesign of the highway exit would also help.)
We do not need a private pedestrian walkway as currently proposed. A new street could be accomplished even with a gated entrance (though it would be a little more difficult) and should be a requirement before any development takes place there. Our local elected officials must insist on it. (Are you listening, Councilman Chaim Deutsch, Assemblyman Steven Cymbrowitz and State Senator Marty Golden?)
A continuation of southbound East 16th Street would enable a conversion of Sheepshead Bay Road to northbound only between the Shore Parkway North service road and Jerome Avenue. It would also permit a simplified B49 bus routing with northbound service returning to Sheepshead Bay Road and southbound service able to use the new East 16th Street. The northbound B4 would be able to use Sheepshead Bay Road as well, with the southbound route also using East 16th Street.
The possibility also exists to widen Sheepshead Bay Road between the Shore Parkway north service road and Emmons Avenue since the Belt Parkway Bridge is slated for reconstruction. All that is required is a slight modification of existing design plans and a few more dollars. No demolition would be required. Note that Nostrand Avenue will be widened when that bridge is reconstructed. Why not widen Sheepshead Bay Road under the Belt Parkway? Extending East 16th Street would have occurred when the Manhattan Beach Railway tracks were ripped up if the city had any foresight. Let us not condemn future generations to saying we had no foresight back in 2014.
In Other News
Last month saw the passing of transit and community activist (and my friend) Dr. John Rozankowski at age 61. If that name is at all familiar, it is because John substituted for me on The Commute on three occasions when I was on vacation. He also wrote for the blog Welcome to the Bronx for the past eight months and for Suite 101 prior to that. He received his PHD in history and was also very active in the successful campaign of Letitia James for Public Advocate, who attended the wake, spoke and stayed until it was over. Obituaries for John appeared in Welcome to the Bronx and the NY Daily News.
His wake was a tribute to race and age relations, an old white Polish gentleman with so many young black and Latino friends. At least 25 people spoke about the man, many with tears in their eyes. At least 50 attended. It was a very moving experience. He was a selfless Republican Conservative who did not let politics get in the way of what he believed in. His only interest was in making the world a better place. That is something we could all learn from.
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.