The MTA’s decision to reroute two bus lines through a residential block in Bushwick has given rise to a neighborhood protest movement, determined to preserve the calm on their streets.
The B26 and Q58 buses usually enter the three-way intersection at the Myrtle/Wyckoff subway station going north-west on Wyckoff Avenue, making a right onto Palmetto Street.
According to a new MTA plan, from now on the two lines will turn right onto Palmetto Street a block further south, running through Ridgewood Place, a quiet, residential street and the center of a lively community.
“The kids living on the block are not going to be able to do the things they usually do on a regular summer’s day” with MTA buses operating on Ridgewood Place, said Rene Cruz, who has lived there all his life. “They are going to have to be careful with the buses and actually go to a park to play. They can’t enjoy their own stoop the way I did when I was growing up.”
Cruz stood outside his father’s church on Woodbine Street, where last Wednesday about a hundred neighbors and members of the community gathered to voice their opposition to the plan to representatives from the MTA. The room erupted in applause when Flor Ramos Jr., the unofficial spokesperson for the newly formed group United We Stand Neighborhood Association, took the floor.
“The MTA has proposed a plan that will put our residential area in danger. We, the residents of this community are here to express our opposition to this irresponsible and dangerous plan,” Ramos said in an opening statement.
The MTA proposed the route change following two recent fatal accidents at the intersection. In January 2013, 23-year-old Ella Kottick Bandes was struck and killed by a B52 bus as she crossed Myrtle Avenue walking north.
Almost two years later, in November 2014, 60-year-old Edwin Torres died after getting hit by a Q58 bus as the vehicle made the now-banned right turn from Wyckoff Avenue onto Palmetto Street.
Poor visibility and long crossing distances, combined with heavy truck traffic and large volumes of pedestrians, led the DOT to designate the three-way intersection at Myrtle/Wyckoff a “High Pedestrian Crash Location.” Between 2008 and 2012, four people were severely injured and one died in crashes at the location, according to the DOT.
Since the fatal accident in 2013, the DOT has improved the location by extending the curbs, installing new crosswalks, and modifying the signal timing to give pedestrians more time to cross. The DOT also removed parking spots at three street corners along the new bus route to increase visibility.
The rerouting is part of MTA’s response to the two recent fatal accidents. But those living along the new route do not think the changes will improve safety.
“If the MTA believes that by rerouting 20-ton buses through our narrow, residential streets they will avoid these accidents, they are mistaken,” Ramos said.
The new route will not only go down narrower streets, but it will increase the number of turns the buses will have to make, including a dangerous left turn for the B26 from Wyckoff Avenue to Putnam Avenue, Ramos said.
For the members of the Neighborhood Association who spoke at the meeting, safety was the number one concern. But the rerouting causes other worries as well: noise, pollution, and the fear of decreasing property value for the homeowners along the new route.
Councilmember Rafael Espinal came to the meeting to support the protest. Initially, he was in support of MTA’s plans, “but only if the community doesn’t bite back against it,” Espinal said. “You have spoken out against it, and that is why I am here with you today.”
Andrew Inglesby, Assistant Director of Government and Community Relations at MTA, told the audience that although the new route is not ideal, it is the best possible alternative.
“We understand that the streets we will be operating on are narrower than what we are operating on currently, but they are certainly operationally feasible,” Inglesby said. “The number one reason we are doing this is safety, safety, safety.” His statement was met with loud yells of protest from the audience.
DOT declined to send a representative to the meeting. “Currently, Ridgewood Place is staying two-way, though as for any safety improvement projects, we will monitor the changes and see if any further changes are warranted,” the DOT wrote in a comment to the Greenpoint Gazette.
On Sunday morning, when the B26 and Q58 began operating along their new route, the Neighborhood Association and supporters gathered to demonstrate. Elected officials supporting the cause included State Senator Martin Dilan, Assembly Member Erik Dilan, Espinal, and representatives from Community Board 4 in Bushwick.
Ramos was happy with the turnout, despite the steady drizzling rain. “The MTA tried to bring the buses through here this morning, but they couldn’t go through. They couldn’t make the turn” at Putnam Avenue and Ridgewood Place. “It is too narrow. They suspended the route for the day,” Ramos said.
Senator Dilan said the MTA had not done sufficient studies of the traffic problems in the area and that they are working “from an ivory tower.”
“The residents of the Bushwick community are very upset that the MTA has taken a careless approach. They actually did not correct the problem. They put a lot of residents’ lives in danger,” Dilan said.
“This was a lesson for the community on how to organize in a respectful and legal manner,” said Julie Dent, Chairperson of Community Board 4. “I think they are doing great. There are a lot of people listening now. What is important to the community is that someone listens.”
In the early afternoon, when the protest had mostly died down, DOT employees arrived in a truck to install no parking-signs at the corner of Putnam Avenue and Ridgewood Place, where residents say the buses had a hard time turning earlier in the day.