Citizen planners

MTA seeks help from the community to improve bus routes and service

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Like college students pulling an all-nighter on a group project, straphangers huddled around roundtables at Christ Church Riverdale with the hopes of reshaping the future of Bronx bussing.

Facilitators from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority collected pitches and ideas about how bus service in the borough should be reworked. Groups started with a map empty of bus routes so each could add their thoughts from a fresh perspective.

As the workshop progressed, elements of bus service planning were discussed like bus stop amenities, technology features, real-time information, and bus priority like bus lanes, comfort and service frequency. During one of the exercises, participants were asked to pick their top three concerns, which was sometimes met with a bit of pushback from the participants.

“A No. 1 question that people would ask is, ‘Why can I only pick three,’ but we want them to understand that we have a limited number of recourses,” said Jessica Cignarella, a principal transportation manager for MTA. “And they share their (bus) trip more as they discuss what is a priority to them and with each other.”

There also were discussions of trade-offs. Would-be passengers discussed systems they’d prefer, like frequent bus service compared to bus service that covers more area with stops more spread out on the streets. Buses that run frequently would pull up every five or so minutes and may require some travelers to walk further to catch it. That’s compared to buses that come less often because they cover more ground, but may warrant a shorter walk to the bus stop.

Simple and direct routes measured against complex and indirect routes also were raised, as well as bus routes with more stops compared to routes with fewer stops. Some options resulted in shorter trips paired with the disadvantage of longer walks to the bus stop, or the advantage of a shorter walk to the bus route paired with longer commutes.

Iffat Mahmud-Khan, who uses a motorized wheelchair, is in favor of the more frequent bus service. She came to the workshop because she feels people with disabilities need to be better represented.

A good start for Mahmud-Khan? Holding last week’s workshop at the 5030 Henry Hudson Parkway church because it also was wheelchair accessible.

“It’s good to know that they considered that disabled people would be able to attend this meeting,” she said. “I’m happy to see they considered Riverdale a place to have this open discussion.”

Mahmud-Khan lives near the Bx9 line and runs into problems when it comes to taking other buses and getting down to Montefiore Medical Center on Eastchester Road.

“I have a longer commute than most people,” she said. “I have to be around that area from time to time, and that is a long trek from one end of the Bronx to the other, and I still need another bus.”

Although the workshop centered on bus redevelopment, Mahmud-Khan’s issues with the MTA expand much further — she has concerns about trains, too.

“When they are working on making changes to train stations, they need to think about the distance between the elevator and the platform,” Mahmud-Khan said. “Take a book from the Metro-North. The Metro-North trains, you flip up the seat, but you’re not taking up space. There are designated cars for disabled passengers to enter. Why isn’t that” on the subways?

“Maybe it is,” she added. “For the older trains, I’m blocked in the middle, and when people want to come in and it’s rush hour, people can’t come in because the wheelchair’s sitting right here. There’s no place for wheelchairs.”

Mahmud-Khan also wants more limited buses for the Bronx, like the Bx1 has and bus shelters for the disabled — especially for when it rains or snows.

This workshop at Christ Church is one of six discussing and working toward solutions and improvements for the bus system. The MTA already has held meetings with Bronx Community Board 12 and Monroe College.

The Bronx will become the first borough to experience a complete bus system redesign, Cignarella said. For those who can’t make it out, the MTA is surveying passengers at bus stops.

The MTA is not always high on many people’s praise lists, but it’s hard not to at least acknowledge the effort, Mahmud-Khan said.

“It is what it is,” she said. “But it can be better.”

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