Archive for the 'Opinion' Category

John Trumbull's famous painting showing the Declaration of Independence's drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress. Source: Wikipedia

John Trumbull’s famous painting showing the Declaration of Independence’s drafting committee presenting its work to the Congress. Source: Wikipedia

The staff of Sheepshead Bites and Bensonhurst Bean wishes all its readers a happy and safe Independence Day, a.k.a., the holiday Ned likes to refer to as “the day the colonies outgrew their British britches and threw on some American denim.”

Whatever you may end up doing today — and from the look of the weather outside, going to the beach does not appear to be any of those things — please take a moment’s pause to consider the freedoms we Americans enjoy, particularly in contrast with other not-so-free nations, and let us be grateful to those who have sacrificed so much in order to ensure that we remain free.

Just a few reminders: On July 4, all subways, buses and the Staten Island railway operate on a Saturday schedule. There will be no alternate side of the street parking today, and no meters.

Stay safe and Happy Fourth everyone! We’ll be back on Monday.

MTA representative Andrew Inglesby responding to a request to add Avenue R as an SBS Bus Stop. Photo by Allan Rosen

MTA representative Andrew Inglesby responding to a request to add Avenue R as an SBS Bus Stop. Photo by Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: Since the elimination of B44 Limited service and initiation of the B44 Select Bus Service (SBS) on November 17, 2013, bus riders using the Avenue R stop as well as some who previously walked along Nostrand Avenue from Quentin Road or Avenue S to take advantage of the faster Limited service, have been forced to rely on slower local bus service. It is not only the slower service that they find annoying, but the excessive waits for local buses they have been experiencing, up to 45 minutes.

A few riders had the opportunity to express their thoughts on the matter directly to the MTA this past Tuesday, as they met with Andrew Inglesby, assistant director of Government Affairs for MTA New York City Transit. Operations Planning and Road Operations also represented the MTA. Organized by Councilman Chaim Deutsch, the event was held from 9:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. at the northbound Avenue R B44 local bus stop. In addition to Deutsch, Colin Mixson of his staff, and a half dozen invited bus riders, Councilman Alan Maisel and Assemblymember Helene Weinstein were also in attendance and quizzed those representing the MTA.

The attendees wanted to know why there is no SBS bus stop at that location when the closest SBS stops are a half-mile away at Avenue U and at Kings Highway, distances that are too great for many to walk. They claimed more people would use an Avenue R SBS bus stop than use the recently created SBS stop at Avenue L, which was requested by Deutsch and Councilman Jumaane Williams as well as Assemblymember Rhoda Jacobs.

Inglesby, who claimed the number of transfers at Avenue L greatly exceeded those transferring from the two bus routes on Avenue R, disputed that. This reporter stated that not only riders near Avenue R would use an SBS bus stop, but passengers currently boarding at Avenue S and Quentin Road would also walk over to an SBS stop at Avenue R if one were created there. Also, that transferring passengers from the B100 should be counted along with B2 and B31 passengers.

Inglesby responded that even if transferring passengers from all three bus routes were counted, it still would not exceed the numbers of passengers transferring from the B9 at Avenue L. He also stated that of all the bus stops checked that were not SBS bus stops, passengers transferring at Gates Avenue and at Avenue L were the highest, and those stops already have been added. Other reasons precluding turning the current northbound local stop into an SBS stop is a residential driveway situated directly in front of the bus stop, which would have to be lengthened if converted to an SBS bus stop.

Responding to a question of why the nearside of the intersection could not be used instead, Inglesby cited trees as an obstacle to buses opening their doors. Weinstein stated that she is aware of other bus stops where there are trees. When asked about SBS buses arriving three at a time, Inglesby stated that the MTA was quite aware of service irregularities on the route and that they are working to address them. He also stated that additional local buses have been added to the route twice, once several weeks after inception, and again last April. When asked why the MTA website still shows a local bus schedule dated November 17th, 2013, he responded that he would look into that.

Not ready to give up, Deutsch requested a six-month trial for a new SBS stop to see how it works out and how many use it as well as another public hearing, whereupon bus riders could sound off about how they feel about the SBS and local bus service. Inglesby responded that the MTA does not do trials and is concerned about how to best serve the majority of its riders, which is the entire purpose behind the SBS service, which 97 percent of its riders approve. Inglesby was referring to initial passenger surveys of the M15 SBS in Manhattan. Official statistics regarding the B44 SBS have yet to be published.

Another public hearing was not ruled out and Inglesby stated it was not within his jurisdiction to recommend any additional bus stops. If Deutsch would like to take the matter further, he should write to the president.

I arrived at the bus stop one hour early and recorded arriving locals and SBS buses passing by. I will share my observations a week from today in the next Commute.

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.

Ralph Kramden, the granddaddy of Brooklyn bus drivers. Source: Wikipedia

Ralph Kramden, the granddaddy of Brooklyn bus drivers. Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: My thoughts about bus drivers are mixed. On the one hand, I appreciate the difficult job they have, driving in traffic, which is never easy, and being responsible for the safety of so many passengers and pedestrians. Bus accidents are rare, which is attributable to the MTA’s high standards for recruiting and retaining bus drivers. They also have to continually deal with the public, which can be difficult at times. A few have even been killed just for doing their job. They must keep cool even when provoked. As is the case with any occupation, there are always a few bad apples, and the MTA does its best to weed them out.

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It's all your fault, California Chrome. Bad horsey! Source: Wikipedia

It’s all your fault, California Chrome. Bad horsey! Source: Wikipedia

THE COMMUTE: Last winter, thousands of people waited three hours for New Jersey Transit trains at the Meadowlands to go home from the Super Bowl. That was mentioned last February in our discussion about how transit riders continually get screwed. Now, history has repeated itself at the Belmont Stakes: a three- to four-hour wait just to get out of the Belmont Racetrack parking lot or onto a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) train. The New York Times reported on the transit aspect.

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All images courtesy of Allan Rosen

All images courtesy of Allan Rosen

THE COMMUTE: It was with much fanfare, just over a year ago, that the city unveiled its new parking regulatory signs. However, at least in this area, they have barely made an impact thus far because the older signs are only being replaced as they wear out or fall off. The new signs, in their utilization of more white space, are supposed to give the impression of less clutter. In order to accomplish this, the font size has been reduced, making the signs less visible from a distance.

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An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that's not what the meeting was for.

An attendee requested support programs for special needs families. But that’s not what the meeting was for.

Councilman Chaim Deutsch has touted his “participatory governing” approach as an alternative to participatory budgeting, but his first attempt – a governing workshop held last week - provided the best argument yet for why we need an open, community-drive budgeting process.

The Thursday, May 27 meeting, held at Cunningham Junior High School, was billed as an opportunity for residents to propose legislation. The ideas were proposed before a diverse panel of locals from across the district.

It was a well-intended endeavor, but the approximately 35 people in attendance seemed to miss the point. They approached it as they would any town hall, using the opportunity to gripe about quality of life issues and suggest improvements they would like to see in the district. No one, including this reporter, seemed to have any idea what the panel was there for; they never spoke following their introductions.

When the first few attendees took the microphone and began discussing their concerns, the councilman attempted to steer the meeting back to its intended purpose, cutting them off by asking if they had legislation to propose. They did not.

Instead, almost every single attendee who spoke proposed ideas for programming or district improvements. Here’s a sampling of the ideas that were proposed:

  • Rehabilitation of Ocean Parkway’s west mall
  • Uprooting tree stumps and replanting trees
  • A local government liaison or social worker for families of special needs persons
  • Traffic reconfiguration on Avenue P
  • Increased funding to increase the hours of lifeguard duties on the beaches
  • Various beautification projects.

Many of these are the kind of proposals you might see emerge from a participatory budgeting workshop.

So what is participatory budgeting?

The process gives residents as young as 14 years old the chance to propose ideas including upgrading parks, schools and libraries, or programming and services that will benefit the community. Neighbors attend local workshops to brainstorm and suggest their ideas, and volunteers work with the councilmember and city agencies to determine feasibility of the proposals. Once a final list has been created, residents 16 years old and up have several days to stop by the elected officials’ offices or other designated locations to fill out a ballot and cast their vote for funding.

In short: everyone who shows up gets to decide what happens to $1 million of discretionary funding within the district. Aside from democratizing the process, advocates say it gives politicians one less piggybank from which to buy political support.

Earlier this week, Councilman Mark Treyger announced he is becoming the eleventh councilman of the 51-member Council to implement participatory budgeting. That means that every single district abutting Deutsch’s is now involved in participatory budgeting (Alan Maisel of the 46th District is the exception).

This was my takeaway from the meeting: the residents have ideas on how to spend money, and it appears there is demand to give them voice in determining how it’s spent.

I spoke to Deutsch by phone after the meeting to see if he saw what I saw. He didn’t. He maintained that he knows best how to spend the money by speaking to his constituents.

He insists his participatory governing  concept is an effective alternative, but conceded that it will take time for residents to adjust to the concept.

“They were a little confused about participatory governing, they’re not used to the idea that an elected official is asking them for input,” he said. But he believes that there’s already sufficient participation in budget allocations. “My way of participatory budgeting is what I have done by having town hall meetings and asking my constituents what they want, and how they want their parks, for example, to be improved. So the way they’re doing it is to have these things be improved. It’s more than a million dollars, really.”

Sure, but what about the vote? What about giving people a direct, inarguable say in how money is spent?

“I’m accomplishing it by walking out into the community, going out there, visiting the sites and seeing how the needs are. So at the end of the day, I am putting in capital money to what the needs are to the people. So I want to do more of a hands on approach, and doing the tours, and I’m considering that to be part of my capital budget.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

“I feel like I’m part of participatory budgeting by doing what I’m doing.”

Sure, but what about the vote?

The vote is the defining element of participatory budgeting, and it’s what empowers the community to determine how this money is spent. You can (and must) still fight to allocate money in the capital budget while engaging in participatory budgeting, and to suggest otherwise is entirely misleading.

It is also in stark contrast to his own statements made while campaigning for the seat. At an August 2013 candidate’s forum sponsored by the Jewish Press, Deutsch promised more transparency in the discretionary funding process:

“I would get more input from the communities. I would have these organizations come out and present how they will spend the money and what kind of services they will be doing for the community,” he said.

That doesn’t seem to be happening this year. And if he’s truly committed to transparency in discretionary funds, there’s no better solution than leaving it entirely to the community in an open and democratic process.

None of this is to say that Deutsch’s participatory governing concept is bad or ineffective. In fact, I look forward to more of these meetings, and more town halls, and more of any opportunity in which residents can interact with their elected officials and share concerns.

And I have to give kudos to Deutsch: there were a lot of faces at that meeting that I’ve never seen at other meetings, and anything that can spur more involvement from the previously apathetic is commendable. I encourage everyone to attend in the future.

But if Deutsch’s goal was to hear legislative ideas from residents last Thursday, then he failed. Instead, he showed exactly why we need participatory budgeting, and it’s about time his constituents demand it.

You can learn more about participatory budgeting here. You can tell Councilman Deutsch you want participatory budgeting in the district by e-mailing cdeutsch@council.nyc.gov, calling (718) 368-9176, or visiting his district office at 2401 Avenue U.

Source: bustime.mta.info/

Source: bustime.mta.info/

THE COMMUTE: Bus Time was first rolled out in the Bronx and Staten Island. Later it was expanded to Manhattan and finally Brooklyn and Queens. It is a system that predicts bus arrival times using a computer, mobile device or by sending a text message via a cell phone. It is also available at a few selected bus stop locations with plans for expansion to additional bus stops. The ability to predict arrival times at bus stops was first promised by the MTA 35 years ago, so you can understand my skepticism why, after three failed attempts and tens of millions of dollars wasted, I thought it would never happen.

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A familiar sight: Next bus please! Source: afagen / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: They do not keep their promises, tell different communities different stories, and they mislead.

In my March 31 article, I promised to keep you informed regarding any MTA response I receive regarding my continual complaints about B1 and B49 buses not stopping to pick up passengers in the afternoon in Manhattan Beach, Brighton Beach and Sheepshead Bay. My lengthy complaint received a response (15 business days later, the maximum time allotted by the MTA), which basically stated that they sincerely apologize for the buses not stopping and that they will try to do a better job in the future.

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Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

Source: DHFixAtlantic / Twitter

THE COMMUTE: On Page 11 of the Vision Zero plan, the city has proposed lowering the speed limit on 25 city arterial roads to 25 MPH. This has already begun. Now the New York State Senate and Assembly are considering legislation that would lower the default speed limit on all New York City streets from 30 to 25 MPH, and further allow the city to lower the speed on “designated highways” to 20 MPH if the city has determined that the implementation of “traffic calming” measures is not feasible. (Currently 20 MPH is only allowed in conjunction with traffic calming and within a quarter mile of a school.) The city now wants the right to lower the speed limit to 20 MPH on any street. Tell your state legislators they should vote against this proposed law. Don’t complain if it is passed.

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The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

The B44 SBS. Source: Patrick Cashin / MTA / Flickr

THE COMMUTE: Last week, in Part 1, I presented some findings from two hours of observing the B44 and B36 at Nostrand Avenue and Avenue Z. Here are the remainder of my findings and some conclusions and recommendations. You can see the original B44 data here, the B36 data here, and more here.

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