Carroll Gardens

Residents of booming ‘South Brooklyn’ want their B71 bus back

Also want a Red Hook-Manhattan bus link

February 21, 2024 Mary Frost
Local residents gathered outside the Park Slope Library in 2019 to demand the MTA bring back the B71 bus route. Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon has been fighting for its return since 2010. Eagle photo by Paul Frangipane
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Residents of Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, the Columbia Street Waterfront District and Red Hook are calling on the MTA to reconnect their neighborhoods by bringing back the B71 bus — a route that once ran along Union Street, looped around Grand Army Plaza, and continued to Eastern Parkway.

They are also pushing for a proposed B81 bus to connect Red Hook to Manhattan — so near, yet so far — through the Gov. Hugh Carey Tunnel.

The MTA eliminated the B71 in 2010, leaving residents of the area traditionally known as South Brooklyn (as opposed to Southern Brooklyn, around Bay Ridge and Coney Island) with no easy way to get by bus to schools, shops or the Central Library, or to connections in Crown Heights.

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Local officials say now is the time, as MTA has restarted its Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign project, which was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A draft plan released by MTA in December 2022 addresses many longstanding issues, but not the loss of the B71, they said in a letter to top MTA officials on Feb. 8. 

“For well over a decade, a coalition of elected officials, community residents, schools, civic groups, advocates, and cultural institutions have called on the MTA and City DOT to bring back our bus. The MTA’s current Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign is the perfect opportunity to ensure that these neighborhoods, which have experienced significant population growth, are connected once again,” nine local elected officials wrote in a letter to MTA brass. 

These include Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon, state Sen. Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymember Robert C. Carroll, Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes, Councilmember Shahana Hanif, Rep. Daniel S. Goldman, state Sen. Zellnor Myrie, Assemblymember Brian A. Cunningham and Councilmember Alexa Avilés.

These officials called the B71 a “lifeline” for seniors, students, and families, and noted that buses are “vehicles of equity” in the city, disproportionately serving seniors, the disabled, and residents of low-income neighborhoods. The B71 made stops at nine schools, three senior centers, small businesses, religious institutions, and multiple public housing developments, and was a crucial crosstown connection, they pointed out.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s office provided sample maps showing possible B71 routes. This one shows a potential eastbound route. Maps: Office of Assemblymember Simon

Fix it, don’t dump it

The B71 route may need to be tweaked, officials acknowledge. The reason MTA originally eliminated it was because of a decline in usage. But according to groups including the Park Slope Civic Council, the reason behind that decline was frequent delays due to traffic jams on Union Street and Eastern Parkway, making the route unreliable. In addition, bus service ended at 9 p.m., ruling out the bus for dining, entertainment or night shifts.

Several ideas have been proposed over the years to speed up the B71. One suggests a turn on 7th Avenue, which would mitigate the bottleneck that has occurred in the past at the Grand Army Plaza loop. Other proposals would expand the route from the Brooklyn Children’s Museum in Crown Heights to Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, and lengthen the hours so riders would have a way to get home after 9 p.m.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s office provided sample maps to the Brooklyn Eagle showing possible B71 eastbound and westbound routes. But Simon said officials will defer to the experts at MTA to figure out the actual route changes necessary to make it work.

“The MTA’s Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign is the perfect opportunity to ensure a revised route that would serve the increased transit needs of the area’s growing population,” Simon told the Eagle. “I am optimistic that the MTA’s bus redesign experts will take into account congestion, which has been a concern in the past. Our letter’s goal was to get a bus that connects communities, and we don’t expect the B71 to be the exact route as before.”

One longtime Brooklynite and Eagle staffer remembers taking the B71 bus back in the day. 

“The B71 bus would drop me off right across the street from Cammareri Bakery” —  the bakery made famous in the film “Moonstruck,” she said. As a teen, the staffer also happened to live directly across the street from the house on Willow Street with the gables, where Raymond and Rita Capomaggi supposedly lived. “So I’m very attached to Moonstruck!” she said.

“I would love to see the B71 back in action as I now take only above-ground public transit,” the staffer added.

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon’s office provided sample maps showing possible B71 routes. This one shows a potential westbound route. Maps: Office of Assemblymember Simon

Connect Red Hook to Manhattan

The officials also wrote to MTA bosses urging that a proposed new B81 transit bus route, running from Midwood to Red Hook, be extended to connect Red Hook to Manhattan via the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel.

“We are thrilled to hear about the connection from Midwood to Red Hook … [but] for Red Hook residents to travel to Manhattan using public transportation, they must access the nearest subway station on Smith-9th streets, a non-accessible station 87.5 feet above ground, or take a NYC transit bus to another subway station further away. Providing bus service directly to Manhattan would simplify interborough travel for thousands of residents,” the electeds wrote.

Express buses run from Manhattan to “the farthest corners of Brooklyn” and back by crossing the tunnel — driving right by Red Hook but not stopping there, they noted. The terminus for the new B81 route (along Pioneer and Conover streets) is less than half a mile from the entrance to the tunnel.

Only two bus routes serve Red Hook —  the B61 and the B57 — both of which run into considerable congestion, including from trucks delivering to Red Hook’s last-mile warehouses and traffic from the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal

According to Streetsblog, an MTA official said that there’s already “too much congestion” in the area to add a bus through the tunnel.

The former route of the now-defunct B71 bus is shown on this 2004-era map, circled in yellow. Residents want it back, or something like it. Map: MTA

MTA will ‘maintain existing bus connections between Brooklyn and Manhattan’

At this point, MTA does not appear to be eager to connect Red Hook to Manhattan via bus.

MTA spokesperson Joana Flores told the Eagle that the Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign “proposes to maintain existing bus connections between Brooklyn and Manhattan. There are 10 bus routes that connect Brooklyn with Manhattan: B39, BM1, BM2, BM3, BM4, BM5, X27, X28, X37, and X38.” (The B39 connects Williamsburg and Manhattan; the others are all express buses.)

“And as you may already be aware, 16 subway lines connect the two boroughs: 2/3, 4/5, A/C, B/D/F/M, N/Q/R, J/Z, and L subway lines, as well as the NYC Ferry,” Flores said.

She added, “The main changes to note are related to the relabeling of express bus service to provide better network legibility for customers, specifically whether the Manhattan-bound destination is Downtown only, Downtown and Midtown, or Midtown only. In addition, the Draft Plan proposals for the BM1, BM2, BM3, BM4, BM5, BM7, and BM8 feature some minor changes from the existing network.”

The MTA’s Proposed Final Plan is expected to be released later this year and will be followed by another round of public outreach, Flores said. “The comment portal is always open but the primary collection of feedback on the Draft Plan ended when outreach concluded last year.”

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