Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn pols talk transit woes at roundtable

April 5, 2019 Paula Katinas
From left: Assemblymember Joanne Simon, State Sens. Zellnor Myrie and Tim Kennedy and Assemblymember Felix Ortiz share a light-hearted moment at an otherwise serious round able discussion of transportation issues. Eagle photo by Paula Katinas

State Sen. Zellnor Myrie organized a roundtable discussion in Sunset Park to discuss issues with New York transportation — so perhaps it was fitting that he was stuck on the subway and arrived late.

“Sorry,” he said as he walked into a meeting room at the Sunset Park Courthouse on Thursday morning, aware that his tardiness was a perfect illustration of the problems residents face when they take public transportation.

Subway snags were just one topic of conversation as Myrie and State Senate Transportation Committee Chairperson Tim Kennedy met with Assemblymembers Felix Ortiz and Joanne Simon, Councilmember Brad Lander, community board officials and representatives from transportation advocacy groups.

The discussion also touched on poor bus service, nightmarish Gowanus Expressway traffic and the question of what to do about the BQE.

The state legislature recently passed congestion pricing, which is expected to generate revenue to repair the subways and buses, something that several of the speakers predicted will he helpful in the effort to improve transportation service.

The purpose of the roundtable was to give Kennedy the opportunity to hear directly from Brooklyn residents about the problems they face getting around the city every day.

Representatives from Community Boards 6, 7, 8, 9, 16 and 17 took part in the session, along with members of the Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Transit Center and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

Kennedy, a Democrat from Buffalo, promised the participants that he would “drive [their] agenda forward.”

Myrie, a Democrat, represents a district that touches upon several neighborhoods, including Brownsville, Crown Heights, East Flatbush, Park Slope and Sunset Park.

“To me, transportation is a justice issue,” Myrie said, adding that he will fight to ensure that low-income communities are not left out when it comes to transportation upgrades like subway station elevators and new, non-diesel powered buses. “This is something very personal to me,” Myrie said. He added that he does not have a driver’s license and gets around via public transportation.

CB7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer, whose community board represents Sunset Park, Windsor Terrace, Greenwood Heights and South Park Slope, said the transportation problems in his area are so numerous, “I could do two hours on this.”

Chief among his concerns was the Gowanus Expressway, which is “always under repairs,” he said.

The traffic tie-ups on the elevated highway have ramifications on local streets, according to Laufer, who said drivers exit the expressway and drive on Third and Fourth Avenues.

Laufer also spoke about the need for an elevator at the 59th Street station on the R subway line.

Eric McClure, co-chairperson of CB6’s Transportation Committee, pointed out that although the F-train station at Smith and Ninth streets is the highest elevated station in the borough, it has no elevator. The station is approximately the same height as a six-story building, Assemblymember Simon told Kennedy, with just as many stairs.

McClure said residents who rely on the F train are concerned about a plan to introduce express service on the F line and the “looming problem of the F express,” because it brings up the prospect of trains skipping stations. Councilmember Lander, who represents several neighborhoods along the F line, said passengers are often caught unaware.

“You’re on the F train, and suddenly it turns express,” said Lander. “I believe they’re already running express without having the decency of telling us,” he added.

Viola Greene-Walker, the district manager for CB16, said the No. 3 subway line has several stations that are not wheelchair accessible. “We have been asking for years for the MTA to install elevators,” she said. Greene-Walker’s board covers Brownsville and Ocean Hill.

Simon, a Democrat whose assembly district includes Brooklyn Heights, parts of Downtown Brooklyn and DUMBO, said her constituents aren’t starved for transportation, but that they are in need of reliable transportation. Seventeen bus lines run through her district. She also told Kennedy the Hoyt-Schermerhorn station on the A, C and G lines is badly in need of renovations, as is the Court Street station on the R, 4 and 5 lines.

The York Street station on the F line has only one entrance, she said. “We need a new entrance. God forbid something happens; there’s no other way out,” she said.

The question of what to do about the crumbling BQE and the impact repairs will have on the Brooklyn Heights Promenade is unsettled, she said. “It is a nightmare of epic proportions,” she told Kennedy.

Assemblymember Ortiz, a Democrat who represents Sunset Park and parts of Bay Ridge, said the roundtable with Kennedy was crucial, especially now that Democrats control both chambers of the state legislature. “I think we have an opportunity to make sure our voices will be heard,” he said.

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