By Eric Goldschein
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Two years after the MTA cut bus service to the Red Hook area and left the up-and-coming neighborhood without reliable public transportation, the community's leaders have had enough.
Yesterday, transit riders, elected officials and TWU Local 100 members submitted thousands of signatures to the MTA Board, requesting that the MTA and Gov. Andrew Cuomo work to restore the extensive transit service cuts that have left people throughout Southwest Brooklyn stranded at the curb. State Assembyman William Colton was one of several local politicians to pledge their support to the Red Hook bus restoration cause.
"The MTA’s budget woes of 2010 slashed public transit throughout the city so now we renew our fight," said Council Member Sara M. González of District 38 in a statement. "With Red Hook growing and becoming more vibrant by the day, we need more public transit options, not less."
Indeed, for a neighborhood that has risen from one of the worst neighborhoods in the country to a veritable hot bed of culinary delights and artistic endeavors, Red Hook was slighted in June of 2010 when the B37, B71, B75 and B77 were all eliminated, and the B61 route was extended to make up for the lost service. These losses, combined with the closure of the Smith-Ninth Streets train station due to construction, have caused much consternation among the area's approximately 11,000 residents.
"Once they extended [the route] to Park Slope, service became terrible, " said longtime resident and owner of the popular Lobster Pound restaurant Susan Povich. "The bus here gets crowded, it doesn't come on time, there's always problems.The MTA doesn't recognize the people that live in the area ... and it doesn't recognize the number of people who moved to Brooklyn and commute to Manhattan."
"It's abysmal. Criminal, really," said Florence Neal, resident and co-founder of the Kentler International Drawing Space on Van Brunt Street. "[Customers are] very angry, often, as they've had to wait for an hour to get here. It has hindered business for all of us. People have a bad experience and we want to make sure that people come back, and there's no other way in and out of here."
Neal also noted that the poorer residents of Red Hook, home to Brooklyn's largest public housing units at the Red Hook Houses, feel the brunt of this lack of service. "There's issues with kids in the projects, who are late for school. They can't go visit other museums and things because they can't get on the subway. It's an issue for the whole community."
Povich and Neal are backed up by the numbers. According to a report published by Brooklyn elected officials and community groups in Dec. 2011 called "Next Bus Please," only 43 percent of B61 buses arrive on time in peak hours —down almost 20 percent from before the cuts.
Overcrowding on pulbic transportation is another issue facing Red Hook residents. The Red Hook Houses are home to 5,000 New Yorkers who now must stuff themselves into late-arriving B61s if they want to ride the bus in their neighborhood. Eighty-one percent of the B61 riders surveyed at 4th Avenue and 9th Street use that bus to commute to and from Red Hook.
With the closest subway station closed for the foreseeable future, other transportation options for area residents are extremely limited. "Most people ride their bikes, including me," said Povich. "But you get killed riding a bike on Van Brunt Street there are tractor trailers, it's a narrow street, there's no bike lane. We also had other ideas, like the trolley, but that's gone nowhere. The MTA just doesn't think about us."
According to the petitioners, bringing back service along the old B77 route would cost the MTA $2.3 million annually. MTA spokesman Charles Seaton said that the massive service cuts were "forced on us by factors beyond our control," but added that they were "constantly looking for opportunities to restore service."
Between perturbed locals who watch multiple buses pass them by in the mornings and outsiders looking to patronize the area's restaurants and cultural outposts, it seems that Red Hook — emotionally and economically — is taking a big hit on behalf of the MTA's troubled budget.