Volume 77 / Number 38 - Feb. 20 - 26, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Villager photo by Shoshanna Bettencourt

Barbara Backer, left, and other BOB members at C.B. 2’s Transportation Committee meeting last week.

What about BOB? Group’s fed up with Bleecker bus invasion

By Albert Amateau

BOB has lost all patience. BAMRA has had enough. The Carmine St., Central Village, Bedford-Downing and West Houston St. block associations have put up with it for nine years and want an end to it.

BAMRA is the acronym for the Bleecker Area Merchants’ and Residents’ Association. Bob is short for Buses Off Bleecker, and the name says it all.

Village neighborhood groups sent their representatives to the Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting on Feb. 12, and even though their suggestions conflicted at points, they were unanimously in favor of one thing.

“We all have a major goal,” said Barbara Backer, speaking for Buses Off Bleecker, “getting tour buses off Bleecker St. It’s not going to happen soon and we’ll need to work together.”

There is the noise of tour guides speaking on loud microphones, especially between Seventh Ave. S. and Broadway, she said.

“There is the huge problem of safety on very narrow streets with parking on both sides and a bike lane,” Backer added. Noise from squealing brakes and whining engines, damaged trees and bottlenecks at tight turns, especially at Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Pl., are also major issues, not to mention air pollution from bus exhaust.

“The streets are not built to accommodate those heavy vehicles,” Backer said. “We are seeing cracks in buildings, and although we can’t attribute it to any one thing, traffic is a probable cause,” she said.

One problem has been solved at least temporarily, Backer said. Both Gray Line and City Sights NY have told bus tour guides not to use their microphones between Seventh Ave. S. and Broadway, she said.

Rudy Bhagwandas, Gray Line operations manager, who was at the Feb. 12 meeting, confirmed the “quiet zone” order for the Bleecker St. segment. He also said he would work with neighbors and the city’s Department of Transportation to explore possible alternative routes.

“We want to make traffic fluid,” he said, promising to explore ways to prevent bottlenecks at Bleecker St. and Sixth Ave. at Father Demo Square and at Bleecker St. and LaGuardia Pl. at the Senor Swanky’s corner.

“But we’re not considering taking our buses off Bleecker St.,” Bhagwandas cautioned.

Nevertheless, the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce and the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation have been working with Gray Line and City Sights NY on alternate routes.

And more help may be on the way.

Rita Lee, an aide to City Councilmember Alan Gerson, said Gerson is drafting city legislation for tour buses.

“It should be ready in a few weeks,” she said.

There are no existing rules for tour bus operations. The Department of Consumer Affairs licenses the business, but the department does not set routes. Colleen Chattergoon, community coordinator for the Department of Transportation’s Manhattan office, said the department can establish tour bus stops, but does not set routes. D.O.T. will work with bus operators on routes but cannot make sure they follow the routes or even use the stops, she said.

“We have no way to enforce tour bus traffic violations,” said Judith Walsh, a BOB activist. “I’ve called the Sixth Precinct but I haven’t been able to get them to issue tickets.”

Lois Rakoff, former BAMRA resident chairperson, and Judith Callet, new resident chairperson of the association, said the group was trying to improve the quality of life on Bleecker St.

David Gruber, a Community Board 2 member who spoke for the Carmine St., Bedford-Downing, Central Village and West Houston St. block associations, said the Demo Square intersection was a real trouble site.

“It was a problem during the square’s reconstruction and it’s a problem now,” Gruber said. “The new Demo Square extends 10 feet [further] into Bleecker. There’s parking and there’s a bike lane.

“We’ve accepted the situation for nine years and it’s time for a change,” he added. Gruber suggested a tour bus hop-off/hop-on stop at Bleecker St. and Seventh Ave. S. to encourage passengers to walk down Bleecker and perhaps to patronize the shops. In any case, he added, “We need to cut the number of tour buses in half.”

He also suggested that the buses take a route that goes down Seventh Ave. S. and Varick St., turning east on Spring St. to Sixth Ave., then north to Houston St. and proceeding east on Houston. Neighbors at the meeting cheered that suggestion and noted the Spring St. turn would be where the controversial Trump Soho condo hotel is under construction.

“It’s not a residential zone,” exclaimed one person, recalling the Department of Buildings ruling that classified the project as a hotel, rather than a residential building.

Shirley Secunda, chairperson of the C.B. 2 Transportation Committee, who conducted the Feb. 12 meeting, said later that the committee was writing a resolution that would include the Spring St. route.

When the resolution is complete it will go before the C.B. 2 full board meeting on Feb. 21.

“Tour buses shouldn’t be allowed on one-way streets like Bleecker,” said Florent Morellet, a public member of the committee who lives on Lafayette St. and owns a restaurant in the Gansevoort Market District. “We’ve got to encourage tourism, but the buses should be on the avenues with well-managed stops,” he said.

George Haikalis, a transportation activist and committee public member, said tourist buses should use the same streets as city transit buses.

“The city should encourage tourists to use regular buses. Tourists and residents ought to ride together in the same bus,” Haikalis said, suggesting that the M6 bus that runs from Central Park to the Battery could be equipped with headphones that tell about the attractions along the route.

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