Bronx Business Owners Voice Concerns About Bus Service Plans

Not everyone is thrilled that Select Bus Service is coming to Webster Avenue in the Bronx. (Photo by Elena Popina)

One of the busiest bus lines in the city is the subject of a plan to improve bus service and pedestrian safety, but not everyone is onboard.

Under the plan, which takes effect next fall, one lane will be dedicated to the exclusive use of express buses on the busy Bx41 line on Webster Avenue. That would make it harder for customers and delivery trucks to park nearby, business owners said.

“I have a truck that comes over and unloads details for the cars I fix every other day,” said Daniel Penaherrera, a mechanic at Webster Car Services. “Where are we supposed to receive deliveries?”

The Select Bus Service (SBS) plan will add skip-stop bus service to the current fleet that makes local stops from Gun Hill Road to the Hub. It would also add a pedestrian median in the middle of the six-lane street.

Transit officials say the designated bus-only lane will shorten commuting time for more than seven million Bx41 riders each year. They say the plan has a track record of success on Fordham Road and on several routes in Manhattan and on Staten Island.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) originally wanted to use the center lane in each direction for the SBS buses, leaving the parking lane and the adjacent lane for drivers and deliveries.

But in September, transit officials changed the plan so the new service will take up the lane next to the parking lane. Eric Beaton, DOT’s director of transit development, said center-running lanes would require a bus to constantly cross the driving lane to pick up passengers, thus slowing traffic.

The agency also wants to create pedestrian safety islands in the middle of Webster Avenue, which is approximately 70 feet wide and has no median, Beaton said.

Two intersections along the route – Webster Avenue at East Fordham Road and at East 168th Street – have been rated among the most dangerous in the city, according to the Straphangers Campaign. The bus-only lane, the median and the traffic signals that give SBS buses priority increase commuters’ safety, Beaton said.

Bill Amadeus, an employee at Webster Car Services, said he was concerned about pedestrian safety, but also worried that implementing the SBS on Webster Avenue will leave one of the busiest corridors in the area with only one travel lane for drivers.

“Any accident and the traffic is frozen for hours,” he said. He also said that medians on Webster Avenue would encourage jaywalking and make traffic more severe.

Scott Gastel, a spokesman for the DOT, said Select Bus Service has a proven record of success at other locations. He said bus speed increased by 20 percent with SBS service along the Bx12 line on nearby Fordham Road since it was implemented in 2008.

The average speed on the line went from seven miles per hour for regular service to 11 miles per hour for SBS, according to the research by the Straphangers Campaign.

“At this point, I have nothing to complain about, the DOT did a good job,” said Linda Brown, as she was waiting for the SBS Bx12 bus near Fordham Plaza. “I don’t remember Bx12 Limited service that well now, but I do remember that it took forever to get from point A to point B,” she added.

“And you know what I like most? These new buses are more spacious, so I pretty much always have a place to sit.”

The DOT is now conducting meetings with local businesses to promote the benefits of SBS. According to New York City Transit, Select Bus Service on Fordham Road led to a 71 percent increase in retail sales among local businesses, compared to a 23 percent increase in the entire neighborhood.

Merchants on Webster Avenue, however, argue that their businesses need more space than those on Fordham Road because most of them provide auto inspection and repair services.

Gastel said business owners on Fordham Road also complained about lack of space for deliveries, and the DOT met them halfway by implementing midday delivery windows and adding spur meters along Fordham Road.

Cate Contino from the Straphangers Campaign said that before SBS takes effect on Webster Avenue, the DOT would make sure every business owner in the area is heard.

“Webster Avenue is a very busy commercial area, so the DOT is trying to make the service better,” she said. “Better for riders as well as businesses.”

 

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