By Paula Katinas
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
"I am 77 year old activist who uses a walker. I have always used mass transit to live my life and that is what MTA has taken away," said VioletaMaya, who has lived in Sunset Park since 1949 and who charged that the Metropolitan Transportation Authority negatively impacted her life when it eliminated the B37 bus line three years ago.
Maya is one of thousands of people in southwest Brooklyn who are calling on the MTA to restore the bus line, which ran along Third Avenue from Bay Ridge to downtown Brooklyn until the MTA eliminated the line as a cost cutting measure in 2010.
Residents fighting to bring back the bus organized the Restore the B37 Bus Coalition and held a protest rally in Sunset Park on June 15. The rally, which took place in Martin Luther Playground on Second Avenue and 55th Street in Sunset Park, attracted a cross section of elected officials, transportation union leaders, and residents all of whom called for the bus line to be restored.
"The MTA must restore this bus line for me and the people in our community that use it to get to work, health services, school and places of worship," said Maya, a founding member of the Restore the B37 Bus Coalition.
The playground in which the rally took place is located across the street from Lutheran Medical Center. Hospital officials said the lack of a bus line on Third Avenue in Sunset Park hurts patients and families.
"As a founding member of the coalition, we see this as a community health issue, the B37 bus provided patients access to their physicians," said Larry K. McReynolds, executive director of Lutheran Family Health Centers, a group of clinics the hospital sponsors.
"Many of the most severely impacted are senior citizens, people with disabilities, and those that can't afford car service for medical appointments. We'd like to see this critical transportation route restored as soon as possible," McReynolds said.
The mass rally represented a milestone in the coalition’s three-year efforts to unite the communities of Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn Heights, Boerum Hill, Gowanus, Red Hook, Sunset Park, and Bay Ridge in support of restoring the bus line, according to organizers.
The B37 was one of five local bus lines that were reduced or eliminated in Southwest Brooklyn in 2010, resulting in $2.8 million total savings for the MTA.
"The B37 Bus Coalition was founded by people using the B37 line. It is a transportation justice priority," said ElizabethYeampierre, executive director of United Puerto Rican Organizations of Sunset Park (UPROSE).
“Indeed, Brooklynites from Bay Ridge to the Civic Center have suffered long enough without this vital transportation artery. Seniors, people with disabilities, folks seeking the excellent health care offered by Lutheran Medical Center, students, workers, shoppers and businesses along the corridor have all felt adverse effects of this ill-planned cut in service,” Councilwoman Sara Gonzalez (D-Sunset Park-Red Hook) said.
Councilman Vincent Gentle (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst) said the MTA recently reported a $40 million budget surplus to the state. The least the agency could do is to restore some of the services it cut in 2010, including bringing back the B37 bus, he said.
“Albany gave the MTA $40 million more than it asked this year. It only makes sense to use some of this money to restore services that were cut back in 2010 – starting with the B37,” Gentile said.
“The B37 was absolutely vital to the people of Bay Ridge and beyond. It was our neighborhood’s connection to Sunset Park, Park Slope, Lutheran Hospital and downtown Brooklyn. And now with the news that the Montague tunnel will be closed for the next 14 months, our communities deserve every other option and alternative possible,” Gentile said. He was referring to the news that the MTA will have to close the Montague Street subway tunnel for 14 months starting in August to repair Sandy-related damage. The tunnel closure will mean that R train riders will have to find alternatives to get to Manhattan, the Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported.
State Sen. Marty Golden (R-C-Bay Ridge-southern Brooklyn) said the closure of the subway tunnel necessitates restoring the B37 bus line. “With the need of residents to reach Lutheran Medical Center, coupled with the upcoming delays on the R train due to the Montague Street Tunnel closure, now more than ever, we need this service restored,” he said.
The elimination of the B37 bus disenfranchised large chunks of the population of southwest Brooklyn, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz (D-Sunset Park) charged. "Our seniors, youth, children and disabled population should not be disfranchised or denied the services that they deserve; especially while still recovering from the devastating effects of Hurricane Sandy," Ortiz said.
CouncilmanBrad Lander (D-Park Slope) called the B37 bus “a key transportation link for our community” and said its loss translated into “longer commutes and less access to vital services.”
The June 15 rally marked the second major protest involving the B37 bus. Last month, Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R-C-Bay Ridge-Staten Island) organized a rally on Third Avenue in Bay Ridge.