Followup: Backlash Grows Against Essex Street Bus Stop; CB3 Meeting Tonight
Tonight’s meeting of Community Board 3’s transportation committee is going to be a doozy. As of a few minutes ago, more than 1100 people have signed an online petition opposing an application from Greyhound/Peter Pan to establish a bus stop in front of Seward Park, across from 3 Essex Street. As previously reported, residents are outraged about the proposal for many reasons, including concerns about street and sidewalk congestion, pollution and loitering in front of an historic playground. The application has touched off a furious response from many different neighborhood constituencies. Here are the latest developments.
The original application called for 28 daily arrivals and departures from the proposed bus stop, which is currently used by the MTA. Community Board 3 confirms that Greyhound has now reduced its request to 16 stops. Greyhound is making the case that there’s a need for additional discount bus service in Chinatown and on the Lower East Side in the aftermath of the federal government’s decision to shut down 26 interstate operators in the past couple of months. Greyhound did not specifically request the Essex Street stop; the location was suggested by the NYC Department of Transportation.
We spoke with Kelly Magee, City Council member Maragaret Chin’s communications director, yesterday. Chin supports state legislation that gives communities input in selecting bus stop locations. She also supports Greyhound’s entry into the Chinatown marketplace as an additional low-cost transportation option. Magee noted that the proposed location is not directly in front of a residential building and Essex is a wide street. The fact that Greyhound has been willing to work with the community, is a point in their favor, she added.
Chin, along with the community board, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and State Senator Daniel Squadron advocated for state legislation setting up a new permit system in New York City. Governor Cuomo signed the legislation last month but it doesn’t officially take effect for another couple of months. A spokesperson for the DOT declined to discuss how the system would work, saying various procedures are still being worked out. But the Essex Street application (and a second application at 55 Chrystie Street) are seen as an early test of how the permitting process could play out. Magee noted that the law does not give the City Council a role in establishing permit procedures. The original bill, sponsored by Silver and Squadron, did give the Council some authority to develop procedures. But working with Republicans in the Senate, the DOT blocked the provision, while agreeing to consult with local community boards.
There will, no doubt, be testimony tonight reflecting many points of view. Wellington Chen of the Chinatown Partnership will tell CB3 members that the fed shutdown of the Chinatown bus market has hurt local businesses. He’ll argue that discount carriers are the lifeblood of Chinatown. In a conversation earlier today, Chen praised the new permit system, saying it’s obviously preferable to the “cat and mouse” game the NYPD has played with bus operators in the past several years. Federal law allows interstate buses to stop on city streets for loading and unloading. The new permit system is meant to enforce some order to the chaotic situation by designating specific drop-off/pick-up locations.
Meanwhile, many more residents are expected to testify against the Essex Street stop. Rima Strauss, a resident helping to lead the campaign, told us earlier today she supports the state legislation but is mystified that no elected official has been able to give her a good reason why the Greyhound stop must be located in front of a playground in a quiet residential area. Asking if politics could have been at play, she added, “why should our neighborhood be the sacrificial lamb?”
The management of the Seward Park Cooperative, located just to the east of the proposed Essex stop, has sent out emails and written notices to its residents alerting them to the proposal and to the online petition. Linda Jones, a Seward Park resident and CB3 member plans to testify against the application tonight. People who live in The Forward Building and 7 Essex have also been advocating against the plan. Jill Fehrenbacher, founder of the Inhabitat web site, has been urging people to sign the petition, as well.
Some residents have argued that there’s a need for a central bus terminal downtown, alleviating the congestion on city streets caused by over-sized interstate buses. In the past, the DOT has said its efforts to find a suitable location anywhere below 23rd Street have failed. They support the idea in principle, but say it’s simply not practical.
Tonight’s meeting takes place at University Settlement, 184 Eldridge Street, at 630 p.m.