Bus service a bust for Downtown community

BY TERRI CUDE |  Need to get Uptown and live or work between Bowery and Sixth Ave.? You’ll have to find a way other than the M.T.A. bus. Heading Downtown from there but not near Broadway or Seventh Ave.?  Same problem.

Residents in the South and Central Greenwich Village, Soho, Little Italy, Noho and Washington Square areas are hopping mad about this aboveground transit desert.

On July 30, a well-attended town hall about local transit was sponsored by state Senator Daniel Squadron, with state Assemblymember Deborah Glick and other local elected officials, along with Community Board 2 and the Riders Alliance. This town hall was in response to repeated pleas for restoration of former bus routes that were lifelines for many — especially seniors, the disabled and students.

After Squadron and Glick spoke, they were followed by Shirley Secunda, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Traffic and Transportation Committee, who gave a quick overview of the main points of two recent C.B. 2 resolutions — both unanimously passed — asking for service restoration on important bus lines in the area.

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer attended the event, showing her support for more accessible and available transit options, especially local public buses.

Representatives for City Councilmember Margaret Chin and state Senator Brad Hoylman were also present.

A representative each from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Department of Transportation listened to concerns and responded to questions. Many residents spoke — as they did at the C.B. 2 meeting on this issue in June — of long waits for the few buses that still serve the area, or of the problem of no service at all.

The M5 bus was repeatedly mentioned, as it currently struggles to stay near on time on its overlong path from 178th St. down to the tip of Lower Manhattan a scheduled six times an hour. Bunching (no bus for a long time, then multiple buses at once), overcrowding and frequent long delays often cause people to give up on the M5 and take taxis.

The M5 down Broadway is the only central bus going to Lower Manhattan and FiDi jobs — including the influx of media and marketing companies that are finding that space in Downtown Manhattan is more economical than Midtown. It’s the only aboveground transit option, other than taxis or Access-A-Ride, to get to jury duty or to the vast complex of government offices, including Social Security, City Hall and the City Council, or to Lower Manhattan’s rich array of historic and educational sites.

There is a restricted weekday bus lane that limits car and taxi traffic to only one lane (often blocked by trucks, either turning or double-parked to load and unload). But the bus lane is used by tour and hop-on/hop-off buses more than the M5, making it largely a tourist amenity rather than a much-needed artery for residents and workers to get Downtown in a timely manner.

Heading back from Lower Manhattan going north, only Bowery or Sixth Ave. carry riders on city buses in the center of the borough. The area previously also had the M1 taking riders Uptown via Centre St., including Chinatown and Little Italy, then Lafayette St. through Soho, Noho and the Village. That bus, however, currently doesn’t start its Uptown route until Ninth St.

No local M.T.A. bus currently stops near Union Square and heads Downtown past Eighth St., so going to Whole Foods Market or Trader Joe’s for inexpensive groceries means hauling them back on foot or ponying up for a taxi. And if you just had testing done at Beth Israel’s Phillips Center on Union Square East, you aren’t getting home by bus to this part of town.

Echoing Board 2’s strong resolution for restoring the former well-working routes, many at the town hall called for restoration of the M1 and M6, so that the M5 could resume its more reasonable route by heading west on Houston St. to turn Uptown at Sixth Ave. and thus providing Uptown service east of Broadway.

Lack of accessibility was the major concern — such as the desperate appeal to restore the former Uptown route of the M3 on University Place from Ninth St. to 14th St. — voiced by all those who have difficulty trudging the excessive distances to reach the M3’s current location on Fourth Ave.

In addition, people pleaded to have the M21 return to going east/west on Houston St. and heading up the East Side — especially since that’s where the nearest full-service hospitals are, more needed than ever since the closing of St. Vincent’s.

While the M.T.A. speaks often of financial woes, it’s clear that Downtown residents and employees are being deprived of sorely needed public transit options. M.T.A. ridership data does not take into account the many people that cannot utilize the existing bus routes and must use other methods, including taxis they cannot afford or spending hours waiting for Access-A-Ride. Another important factor is Lower Manhattan’s recent population growth, which increased more than 77 percent from 2000 to 2010, according to census data, as well as the neighborhood’s boom in new office, retail and residential space coming online every day.

It is time for the M.T.A. to provide the bus service our community deserves — service that does not require long hikes or waits for residents, students and workers, including children, the elderly and those with mobility challenges, who cannot walk or cycle around town or manage the subways. We are asked to take mass transit to alleviate roadway congestion. That’s just what we’d like to do, if only we are given convenient, usable options!

 Cude is second vice chairperson, Community Board 2

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