Kensington

Kensington merchants say a new bus lane could threaten business

July 5, 2019 Lore Croghan
DOT proposes curbside bus lanes in both directions on part of Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

Small business owners in Kensington have a bad feeling about the city’s plan to create curbside bus-only lanes on both sides of Church Avenue.

The proposal from the Department of Transportation envisions these dedicated bus lanes on the Church Avenue span between Ocean Parkway and East 16th Street. It means 113 parking spaces in those lanes will be unavailable Monday through Saturday, from 7 a.m. through 7 p.m.

Materials the DOT prepared about its proposal say 61 of the spaces are metered and 52 are unmetered. To make up for knocking the parking spaces out of commission, DOT plans to create 59 new metered parking spaces on several side streets.

The dedicated bus lanes, which would be painted red, would enable buses to bypass traffic congestion and get to stops more quickly, the DOT materials say.

This proposal is part of a broader plan to improve city bus service on Church Avenue from Ocean Parkway to Flatbush Avenue. DOT says there’s high route ridership on this span — 45,000 rides daily. Bus speeds, on the other hand, are slow there: 4.25 miles per hour during peak times, versus Brooklyn’s average of 6.7 miles per hour.

DOT reps gave a presentation about the Church Avenue bus-improvement plans at a Community Board 14 Transportation Committee meeting in late May.

DOT’s presentation materials say agency reps visited every business on Church Avenue from Coney Island Avenue to Flatbush Avenue to talk about the plans. They asked about how long it takes the businesses to receive deliveries.

The presentation materials don’t say whether the reps asked the business owners and workers how the elimination of parking spaces in front of their shops six days a week would impact them.

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I visited merchants in a section of Church Avenue near Coney Island Avenue and asked the question. I got an earful.

‘Business isn’t going to come to us’

Luisa Zenteno, who owns a Mexican bakery and grocery called La Flor de Santa Ines, was upset when she was told about the bus lanes plan.

Meet Luisa Zenteno, who owns La Flor de Santa Ines, a Mexican bakery and grocery on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Meet Luisa Zenteno, who owns La Flor de Santa Ines, a Mexican bakery and grocery on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“This isn’t good for us,” Zenteno said in Spanish. “Everybody brings their car to shop. It’s easier for them that way.”

She added, “When there’s no parking, business isn’t going to come to us. This is bad.”

La Flor de Santa Ines is in Kensington on the Church Avenue block between East Seventh and East Eighth streets. So is I & M #2, a shop that sells and repairs bicycles.

Bike shop worker Charvel Villalba-Cerezo explained that though many cyclists advocate for alternative forms of transportation, they nevertheless drive to his store. They take their bikes home in their cars, he said.

“When they can’t park here, what will happen?” Villalba-Cerezo said in Spanish.

“They’ll be in despair about parking,” he said. “Maybe they won’t shop here.”

Villalba-Cerezo himself rides the Church Avenue bus. He said he thinks the creation of the dedicated bus lanes “won’t help too much” with the bus service.

What about the long line outside the car wash?

This block will have an additional problem if the two curbside bus-only lanes are established, Villalba-Cerezo said.

Charvel Villalba-Cerezo works at a Church Avenue bike shop called I & M #2. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Charvel Villalba-Cerezo works at a Church Avenue bike shop called I & M #2. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

He pointed out Hollywood Car Wash, which is on the opposite side of Church Avenue from I & M #2. Lots of cars were standing in the curbside lane outside the car wash, waiting to get cleaned up.

I asked a worker at the car wash’s customer desk if his business has talked to DOT about the curbside lane. He said I should speak to the owner, who wasn’t onsite. The owner didn’t answer my phone calls.

‘At least 50 percent of my customers drive’

Another business on this Kensington block, Der Pioneer, has built up a following that lives in Manhattan and Queens.

Greg Barbiero co-owns Der Pioneer, a Church Avenue pastry shop and cafe. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Greg Barbiero co-owns Der Pioneer, a Church Avenue pastry shop and cafe. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

They make the trip to Church Avenue for European pastries that German chef and co-owner Bjorn Bottcher handcrafts. And guess what? They drive to the pastry shop and cafe.

“On weekends, we have lines out the door from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m.,” Der Pioneer co-owner Greg Barbiero told me.

Far more than 50 percent of the weekend customers come in their cars, he said.

The Church Avenue no-parking plan would be in effect on Saturdays. Because neighborhood residents are more likely to be at home, it would be especially hard for cafe patrons to find side-street parking, Barbiero said.

The dedicated bus lanes would be a problem for Der Pioneer on weekdays, too, when at least 50 percent of the customers drive to the pastry shop.

“It would be horrible to lose the metered parking,” Barbiero said.

“It would be bad — very bad.”

‘It will be like Manhattan’

At Moon Deli and Grocery, which is also located on Church Avenue between East Seventh and East Eighth streets, a bus rider who lives in the neighborhood wanted to sound off about the plan to create dedicated bus lanes.

Here’s Kensington resident Abdul Miah at Moon Deli and Grocery on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Here’s Kensington resident Abdul Miah at Moon Deli and Grocery on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“This is going to be a big problem for the businesses and the customers,” Abdul Miah said. “Now nobody will be able to park the car and just run in for coffee.”

He said he doesn’t have any complaints about the bus service.

He’s worried about the neighborhood shop owners.

“This shouldn’t happen. It hurts businesses and citizens,” Miah said.

“Where will people park? It will be like Manhattan.”

What if my boss has to close the shop?

On the other side of the intersection of Coney Island Avenue, where the neighborhood becomes Prospect Park South, Church Avenue phone store Metro by T-Mobile depends on customers who come by car.

Antar Asad is the manager of Metro by T-Mobile on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan
Antar Asad is the manager of Metro by T-Mobile on Church Avenue. Eagle photo by Lore Croghan

“Three-hundred-fifty customers a month drive here,” said the manager, Antar Asad.

If nearby Church Avenue parking is eliminated six days a week, “it’s definitely going to affect the business,” Asad said.

“I hope it doesn’t happen — I really hope,” Asad said. “Maybe it will run my boss out of business.”

The store owner renovated the shop not long ago, and spent a lot of money.

Follow reporter Lore Croghan on Twitter.

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