Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who is "the community"?

Earlier this month I used the 34th Street Transitway project to illustrate the limitations of the "David and Goliath" script in reporting news. Greg Mocker had a nice report with a regular QM21 rider who had collected 375 signatures in favor of restoring cuts to her bus line.

I observed that most of the news reports up to now about the 34th Street Transitway had been focused on NIMBYs fighting to preserve the right to pick up and drop off at the curb on their street, while ignoring the benefit to bus riders. Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer made a very wishy-washy statement on Channel 5 about the transitway. The DOT has been holding regular "Community Advisory Council" kvetchfests meetings in an attempt to calm these concerns.

The problem is that the "stakeholders" that the DOT has invited to this "Community Advisory Council" seem to only be from the immediate area of 34th Street. It is widely acknowledged that many people from outside the area transfer to the 34th Street buses from subways, ferries and other buses, but as far as I know there has been no effort to reach out to any of them. I don't think there are any NYU Medical Center employees represented. The M16 is the only transit service for Waterside Plaza, but no Waterside residents were at the meetings.

As I've also mentioned, express buses from Queens and Staten Island bring thousands of passengers through 34th Street, but the DOT has not invited any of them to these meetings either. Mocker helped put me in touch with the QM21 rider, and I asked her about the "Community Advisory Council" meetings.

No one advised us of any Town Hall Meetings. The passengers should always be included in decisions that’s being made for them. Town Hall Meetings and Forums should always have Passengers attend their meetings. Who speaks on behalf of them? Never one day there is a notice posted on the Bus inviting anyone to a hearing.

Angus Grieve-Smith, a regular reader who is also an occasional rider of the QM1/5/6, says that there are no signs about any hearings or "Community Advisory Council" meetings posted on those lines either.

So what's going on? Is the DOT trying to make a hard time for itself by packing meetings with people who want to kill this project? Do they believe that curb access is the only relevant issue?

I also have a question for all you "BRT" proponents out there. Do you factor these situations into your choice of which mode to support? Competition for streetspace and curbspace is clearly not an intrinsic feature of buses, but it is an intrinsic feature of any dedicated surface transitway that uses space previously reserved for cars. When you talk about "BRT" being so much easier to build, do you take into account roomfuls of wealthy entitled NIMBYs screaming about curbside dropoffs and property values?


George K said...

Two things:

1) I think that woman was somehow convinced that the MTA was going to eliminate the QM21, and that is why she started the petition, not because she wanted former cuts restored (I don't think there were any deep cuts to the QM21)

2) Wouldn't LRT have the same problems with NIMBYs in the surrounding areas? Even the Second Avenue Subway, which is underground had some problems with NIMBYs.

Alon Levy said...

The point of the BRT rant at the end is not that LRT is better. It's that certain people - mostly highway advocates, but also some honest bus mode warriors - claim BRT is much less NIMBY-prone and therefore easier to build. It's not.

George K said...

You're right.

Part of the reason why people might think that BRT is less NIMBY-prone is because it isn't very different from the present streetscape. The vehicles being used are the same, whereas LRT involves introducing a new vehicle into the street.

A realistic reason why NIMBYs may be more opposed to LRT is because the vehicles can be noisy. Even a modern light rail like the HBLR in Jersey City can still screech around tight curves.

Cap'n Transit said...

You make a good point, George, but the Second Avenue Subway construction is temporary, while the 34th Street Transitway and the Bedford Avenue and Merrick Boulevard SBS line are all proposals to permanently reallocate street space away from cars. NIMBYs make a much bigger stink about permanent reallocations.

George K said...

You have to love some of the comments these NIMBYs come up with:

"The Above Ground Subway's two lanes of buses mean increased noise and pollution for adjacent buildings, and that's bad for people who live along the route. Studies show that constant noise raises blood pressure while pollution affects lung health. Studies also show that constant noise impairs children's learning ability."

Has it ever occurred to them that removing the cars from the streets actually reduces pollution and noise?

And another excuse: The bus lanes will prevent emergency vehicles from accessing the street. Obviously, if there is an emergency, the vehicles will be able to use the street.

See more of these stories at:

Cap'n Transit said...

Yes, George, clearly these people have never been to Oxford.

Brandon said...

The emergency vehicle thing is really hilarious, because the bus lanes will be nice and reserved for them too.

Time to coin a new term: ART = Ambulance Rapid Transit