The MTA wants to remove 17 local bus stops along 14th Street and the Lower East Side in order to run more Select Bus Service. But a vocal opposition group comprised largely of elderly residents is rallying hard to preserve four stops near Grand Street they say are essential to their lives.
“The only way I have of getting out of my house and going someplace is the M14 bus,” Helen Baker, 91, who lives by the FDR Drive and the East River said Wednesday. “I can’t walk a good distance because of my walker and because I’ve had so many surgeries. I’m devastated by this and I’m hoping the MTA will rethink their position.”
The local stop closest to Baker’s home would be preserved under the MTA’s plan, but because she uses a walker and has had several surgeries she's afraid of losing access to other local stops.
She joined dozens of other local residents, using walkers and canes to make a (slow) march down Grand Street Wednesday morning. The handmade protest signs included declarations such as "Select Bus Is Elder Abuse!" and "Save Our Bus Stops!"
New York City Transit President Andy Byford has made speeding up buses one of his top priorities and has released a plan to overhaul routes, buses and how people pay.
But at a speech last month, Byford warned that this type of opposition to his plans would only kill the project.
“Fast Forward is dead in the water if we have just absolute NIMBYism across the city,” he said at a transit forum last month. “If for every single thing we want to do, like speed up buses by taking out just a few stops, ‘No, you’re not doing it.’... if we all want better transit as a system then we have to think [about] the big picture.”
Others that live near Grand Street like Bonnie Bienstock, 68, who walks with a cane, said she was expecting the MTA would be adding more buses to the area.
"We were promised when the population increased in this area we'd get more service...it’s a real betrayal because now we're talking about losing our local service," she said. “It really is for many people going to be the difference between being able to live a quality life and people who are going to be losing it.”
The MTA has held several public town halls on this issue, and while its website notes that it plans to install SBS by June, it’s not clear if those plans will be altered by pleas from the community or the thousands of signatures to an online petition.
The agency notes that 27,000 people ride the M14A (which runs on Avenue A) and M14D (which is routed on Avenue D) buses every day, and that 60 percent of the time, these buses are stopped in traffic. SBS routes are 27 percent faster than regular buses, according to the MTA.
“The best way to reinvigorate this route that has seen precipitous ridership declines, and provide our customers with the service they deserve, is to upgrade the route to SBS. We currently have stops every 675 feet on the Lower East Side, far closer than our systemwide average of 805 feet—which itself is far closer than in most cities of the world,” MTA spokesman Shams Tarek wrote in a statement to Gothamist. “While we are still in active and detailed conversations with elected officials, advocates and community members, our proposals would require just a short walk for some people, while providing improvements in bus speeds for the entire route.”
The M14, one of the slowest routes in the city, may also get a boost when the city restricts private cars from 14th Street in June as part of the L train slowdown mitigation effort, roughly around the time the MTA expects the new SBS service to go into effect.
Several protesters said that for every five M14D buses that arrive, there’s usually only one M14A bus, and that some of them regularly wait 40 minutes for an M14A bus.
Councilmember Margaret Chin, the only elected official that joined the protest Wednesday, suggested perhaps the MTA could turn every stop along Grand Street into an SBS stop. “When you have SBS and local together the local bus never comes,” she said. “We want to make sure that we have a little bit more buses and if they could do all the SBS stops here that would solve a big problem, instead of taking away local stops, make it better.”
The MTA requests and recommends where bus stops are located and how far apart they are, the DOT does the final approvals, according to the MTA. The DOT did not respond to requests for comment or details on the SBS plans for 14th Street.
The MTA said it is still planning to remove the stops and have SBS installed along the M14 route this June.
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