CB3 Panel Rejects Greyhound at Essex Street Bus Stop

A large crowd gathered at University Settlement’s Speyer Hall last night for a contentious Community Board 3 meeting.

It was standing room only last night at University Settlement, where angry residents descended on Community Board 3′s transportation committee to fight Greyhound/Peter Pan’s proposal to establish a new bus stop on Essex Street in front of Seward Park.  When it was all over, the committee voted unanimously (5-0) to tell the city’s Transportation Department to find another spot for the stop, which would facilitate 16 arrivals and departures daily between New York and Philadelphia.  It remains to be seen how the DOT will respond.  No representative from the transportation agency was present last night.

In the past two weeks, outraged residents mobilized to oppose the plan to create the stop across from 3 Essex Street in front of the playground at Seward Park (at Canal Street).  They submitted letters, postcards and an online petition (with more than 1100 signatures).  More important, they came in large numbers to last night’s meeting to testify against a proposal they argued could destroy the fabric of the neighborhood.  It was one of the largest crowds assembled for a CB3 public hearing in many months.

The bus stop would be located at the southwest corner of Seward Park.

David Crane, transportation committee chair,  struggled to control the proceedings, as some attendees taunted the community board for allegedly “having no backbone” and for refusing to “stand up to the city.”  He explained that CB3 had been pushing the city and elected officials for several years to regulate the rapidly expanding Chinatown bus industry.  Legislation, signed by Governor Cuomo last month, establishes a permit system and requires buses to load and unload passengers in designated spaces, rather than stopping wherever they choose.

The system, he argued, would (when fully implemented several months from now) address community concerns about street and sidewalk congestion, pollution and loitering.  The Greyhound/Peter Pan application is an early test for the DOT; the new law requires consultations with local community boards.  Crane emphasized that the community could only push the city so far given its limited influence in the process. He also pointed out that federal law prohibits the city from banning private bus operators.  It’s not a question of whether there are bus stops on Manhattan’s streets, he said, but where they are located.

Swarming crowds on Pike Street — one problem new legislation is meant to address.

Linda Jones, a leader of Friends of Seward Park and a CB3 member, acknowledged that some people see the fight against the Essex Street bus stop as classic “NIMBY” (Not in My Backyard) behavior.  Saying she supports the new law, Jones added that the proposed location is a problem (not simply because she lives nearby) but because “my back yard is the beautiful, historic Seward Park… (which is) defined by the Parks Department as a playground.”

Rima Strauss, a resident of The Forward Building, said she cherishes her days in Seward Park taking part in Chinese dance and worries that the “gentle character of the neighborhood is threatened” by Greyhound’s proposal.   “I don’t trust them,” Strauss asserted, suggesting that the company’s concessions to the community (cutting daily pickups/drop-offs in half) could simply be a temporary ploy to win approval and to gain access to the Chinatown marketplace.   She said supporting the application amounted to a vote against “families, kids, the elderly and the Chinese community.”

A resident of 48 Canal Street said his negative experiences with other bus operators give him no confidence that Greyhound will be able to manage its proposed street-side operation.   He said a 2-year old had been abandoned in the lobby of his building and a brick came sailing through the window.  Another speaker suggested the company had made a callous decision to establish the bus stop in an area filled with low income residents because it had “made a value judgment that kids (in this neighborhood) don’t count.”   In written testimony, Bob Zuckerman of the LES Business Improvement District wrote, “this particular location in our view is not well-suited for this type of activity… the proximity… to Seward Park and the adjoining playground presents serious concerns that must be addressed…”

Several officials were on hand last night representing Greyhound and Peter Pan.  Christian DiPalermo of TLM Associates (a consulting firm hired by the companies) did most of the talking.  The new service created to serve Chinatown will be called “YO! Bus.”   There will be a ticket office on East Broadway, a couple of blocks away from the bus stop.  During layover periods, the buses will park in the city-owned lot at Montgomery Street, on the East River (the future home of the Pier 42 park).

DiPalermo said the buses will all use “ultra-low sulfer diesel fuel.”  Uniformed staff will be available to deal with sidewalk congestion.  Only ticketed passengers will be allowed to wait on Essex Street. And “YO!” staff will make sure garbage is picked up, he said. DiPalerno said the company had demonstrated a willingness to work with the community, as evidenced by its decision to reduce daily trips from 28 to 16.  Average ticket prices will be $12-15. A colorful pamphlet passed out during the meeting explained:

Chinatown has had a recent influx of unsafe, unidentifiable, discount bus lines that operate without regulation or oversight. In May 2012, the Federal Motor Coach safety Administration shut down 26 Chinatown discount bus carriers for safety violations… Greyhound and Peter Pan two of the safest, most recognized motor coach operators in the nation, have designed YO! Bus, a specialty targeted intercity bus service to directly serve the residents, students and workers of Chinatown by offering safe, reliable and affordable non-stop service between New York and Philadelphia.

In spite of the coordinated PR offensive, many residents were unconvinced Greyhound is sincere in its efforts to collaborate with the community.  DiPalermo was heckled by some members of the audience when he declined to disclose two alternate bus stop locations the company had proposed to the Transportation Department.  After CB3 member MyPhuong Chung criticized the applicants for failing to answer the committee’s questions, Greyhound finally came forward with details about the other locations. One stop, the officials said, would have been located at 62 Allen Street, but the city rejected the suggestion because it’s already a Select Bus Service stop. The other location was 3 Pike Street, where the city apparently plans to install a BikeShare terminal.

A private bus in front of 7 Essex Street yesterday morning.

At one point, Committee Chair David Crane wanted to know whether the company would be willing to ask the DOT to delay the application. DiPalermo responded, “Not at this time… we will let the process unfold.”  In a separate exchange, CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer asked whether Greyhound would agree to pay for an air quality study on Essex Street.  DiPalermo deferred to the DOT, saying it was their call.

Throughout the evening, members of the audience pushed the community board to send an unequivocal message to the DOT expressing strong opposition to the bus stop proposal.   Crane voiced concern that an uncompromising statement could have unintended consequences. The community board typically embeds “stipulations” in its resolutions, detailing certain restrictions it would like to see the DOT impose on operators.  In a separate resolution last night for an already existing bus stop at 55 Chrystie Street, for example, the committee asked the operator to continue using an indoor waiting area for passengers and to create a regimented boarding system.   If CB3 rejected the Essex Street location, Crane suggested, the city might very well establish the bus stop without any restrictions protecting the surrounding community.

One speaker did make a forceful case in support of the Chinatown intercity bus industry.  Wellington Chen, head of the Chinatown Partnership, said businesses have been hit hard by the federal crackdown on independent operators.  “Do not cut our lifeline,” he urged.  On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, he noted that Chinatown has never fully recovered from the terror attacks and even went so far as to say, “don’t let bin Laden win.”

But in the end, the committee decided (with considerable goading from the crowd) to send an unambiguous message to the DOT. The resolution it approved stated that the community board objects to the Essex Street bus stop proposal and asked the Transportation Department to suggest alternate locations.  The draft resolution will be sent to the city before the full board vote  later this month since the DOT is coming up on the end of a 45-day comment period.

DOT community liaisons very often attend transportation committee meetings but they took a pass last night. CB3 District Manager Susan Stetzer said she invited them on two separate occasions but they declined, saying it was up to Greyhound to make its pitch to the community before the agency weighs in.

Following the meeting, DiPalermo told The Lo-Down that the companies feel Chinatown is plagued by illegal operators and that the “YO!” proposal would offer a safe, clean alternative in the neighborhood.  He said the company plans to be in Chinatown for a long time and is committed to serving the community.  The initial permit would be for six months, beginning in April.

 

 

  • Doron

    The talking points that have been repeatedly spouted by bus representatives include that they are working within the process, there has to be a permit system for buses, there’s a need to end the chaotic current Chinatown bus system, etc.

    But nobody disputes those points. Everyone agrees there should be a regulated process. The bus operators are trying their hardest to distract from the essential, straightforward problem: that a bus stop at THIS SPECIFIC LOCATION adjacent to the Seward Park playground is a terrible idea and should be denied.

  • BelowGrand

    I would agree with Doron. Most community members do not oppose having inexpensive buses available in the neighborhood. They oppose a bus stop next to historic, beautiful Seward Park, which is primarily a huge children’s playground.

  • anon

    Well, if “Most community members do not oppose having inexpensive buses available in the neighborhood”, then Seward Park is as good a place as any.

    That way, those who are the “Most…” can have a convenient spot to view the results of their stupidity, for as long as they can stand living with the results.

    Because it’s such a hardship to trek to the actual bus terminal that already exists in Manhattan.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jillfehrenbacher Jill Fehrenbacher

    I think it is important to realize and accept that there is going to be no stopping the cheap bus business in Chinatown / Lower East Side. The demand for their services is just too high to put an end to this business entirely. There are already tons of unregulated bus companies doing exactly that. The city wants to regulate the buses and wants to start with a test case of Greyhound. Fine. But it is really the location that is the problem. Bus terminals should not be located next to playgrounds or schools, parks or in primarily residential areas (zoned Residential). There are plenty of spaces in the lower east side – such as Pike street or South Street – that are not residential, don’t have schools and playgrounds, and have quick and easy access to the FDR and bridges. Surely that is a better location.

  • Blossom

    I both oppose having so many bus companies in this area, and oppose the Greyhound Bus stop – it’s not a terminal – at Seward Park. Why should we accept that our community should be overrun, as it is, with so many bus companies? It is not a pretty sight to see hoards of passengers crowding the sidewalks with loads of luggage, and trash left in their wake.

  • HamTech87

    Instead of buildng the “Delancey Underground,” why not make it a bus station for these interstate buses? It used to be a transportation station anyway.

  • cb

    I think we should agree on these two points:
    1. Public transportation is a benefit to New York and should be supported.
    2. The public has a vested interest in where public transportation is located.

    That said, there is much demand for this bus line in our community, perhaps not you, but most assuredly your neighbors. The buses will be used by many in our community that are of modest means and without cars.

    Many suggest that the buses should be kept out of our neighborhood and that travelers should go to the midtown to get a bus. But shouldn’t we strive for more efficient public transportation. Traveling to midtown takes more time and costs more money.

    There is concern about added pollution from the buses. This is rather provincial in that public transport reduces the overall pollution in NYC by taking cars off the road. And if this was really the goal, should we not also be arguing for a reduction in the M14, M9 and M22 service in our neighborhood?

    I suggest that rather than outright NIMBYism and fighting this inexpensive bus line, we should determine where best we can locate a pickup/dropoff location in our neighborhood. It is in our interest.

  • Blossom

    Wrong! There is no demand for this bus line in our community! Where is your evidence? How many people here are desperate to go to Philadelphia?? Clearly, you do not live here but instead are either a spokesman for Greyhound/Yo Bus of a staffer at an elected official’s office. So transparent!

  • Micah

    New Century offers 30
    (count ‘em, 30!) departures to Philly a day from 120 East Broadway,
    right around the corner from Seward Park. I’m sure there are other bus companies running to Philly from Chinatown as well. So there clearly is demand, although I believe the city needs to regulate curbside companies better. If Boston can force them all into their bus terminal, why can’t NYC?

  • cb

    So you say both that there is “no demand for this bus line” and that there will be ” hoards of passengers crowding the sidewalks.” Sorry, you can’t have both.

    The chinatown buses on Allen are proof enough of the demand for these bus lines.

    As for me being “clearly” not a resident of the lower east side because I have a different opinion then you, well by that logic to me you clearly do not live in the neighborhood and instead are a spokesperson of the automobile industry.

    Well maybe not, let’s just agree to disagree.

  • Micah

    Boston managed to force all the Chinatown bus lines off the streets and into their South Station Bus Terminal back in 2004. But there is apparently no more room for new buses at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

    The city produced a pretty detailed report on Chinatown buses in 2009 that calls for a new bus terminal down here, and for regulation of curbside buses until a new terminal can be built (if ever). And that’s what they’re now trying to do. One of the issues is apparently that any regulations regarding curbside issues requires state legislative approval, so it’s not just a city issue.

  • Blossom

    Wow! You really need to read what you orginally wrote “there is much demand for the bus line in our community”. Don’t you realize that most of the passengers come from outside this area- from Brooklyn and other places to take these buses? That’s why the F Train location is so important to Greyhound!! They don’t live here.! These crowds are of people who are not residents in our area. If you lived here, you would already know this about passengers for the Chinatown buses on Canal and East B’way. Therefore, the deman is from outside our neighborhood.

  • blossom

    The first poster said the demand came from OUR COMMUNITY. That is what is incorrect. The passengers are largely from elsewhere, so it negates his argument.

  • good2go

    Blossom, dearie, you keep ranting on about facts, but you present none yourself. I think you have a good point, but overstated and ultimately meaningless because the bus situation down here is a mess, regardless of where the passengers come from. It needs to be addressed

  • bc

    1. There is much demand in our community? The Community Board meeting this week demonstrated otherwise. An absolutely overwhelming majority of those in attendance strongly opposes this location. The demand comes largely from outside the neighborhood.

    2. Traveling to midtown to get a bus takes more time and costs more money? That is a very weak argument for locating a bus line next to a children’s playground.
    3. Yes, there is concern about added pollution from the buses, because the proposed bus line is next to a children’s playground. is not feasible or desirable to eliminate all bus service from our neighborhood. However, it is feasible and desirable to argue against a new bus line that is stationed next to a children’s playground.

    4. This is not outright NIMBYism – this is about blocking a bus line from locating directly alongside a children’s playground. We should determine where we best can locate a pickup/dropoff location? One thing is for certain – the answer is NOT NEXT TO A CHILDREN’S PLAYGROUND! Many have proposed other locations, such as the idling station on Montgomery and South Streets. Your company refused, at the recent CB meeting, to consider asking DOT for another location.

  • Steven Harst

    Don’t let Bin Laden win by not restricting rogue bus companies? Absolutely shameless. Wellington Chen could give Dick Cheney lessons.

    Since this seems to be a Chinatown thing, why not locate it in Chinatown? There’s a large Chinese presence on Essex Street, but it’s not Chinatown. Move it out somewhere up Canal Street and it can compete with the 4000 fish trucks and lumber trucks.

  • A Robinson

    Seward Playground is the oldest in the United States. It is in use from dawn til dusk by the old, the young and those in between. The Playground is under staffed and thought they work valiantly, Park employees struggle every day to keep up with the current trash and to to keep the small restrooms open and working. The park is also having a problem with its water system that has not yet been repaired. The sidewalk outside of the playground on Essex is missing many octagonal stones and the fragile historical fountain is crumbling. This is the worst possible place for a bus stop. The DOT should spend time in this neighborhood not pick a spot from a map. Thank you