BY MADELEINE THOMPSON
Jesse Laymon, vice chairman of Community Board 5’s transportation committee, joked last week that though it was his first time chairing a meeting, “this has already been the most public comments that I have seen in my almost three years, so thanks.”
The topic was an application by the travel provider BoltBus to establish a new pick-up location on the southeast corner of Eighth Avenue and 28th Street and a new drop-off site on the southwest corner of Seventh Avenue between 26th and 27th Streets, on the campus of the Fashion Institute of Technology. About 30 community members came to oppose the idea, and ultimately the committee voted in agreement with them, rejecting the application by a 10 to two vote.
BoltBus, a subsidiary of Greyhound, has a bus stop at 11th Avenue and 33rd Street, but is requesting to move because construction at Hudson Yards will soon close that section of the street. “We knew it was going to be a temporary site,” BoltBus’ director of operations, Bill Revere, said at the meeting. “Also there’s going to be luxury apartments across the street from our site right now ... so we don’t want to be right directly in front of residents.”
Revere proposed four drop-off and nine pick-up locations to the Department of Transportation, which then determined that the area around FIT was most feasible.
According to Revere, the buses at these sites would be coming from and going to Philadelphia and Baltimore with an average load of 35 passengers — 15 short of a full bus — and would take up about 10 percent of the sidewalk. BoltBus offers trips from 7 a.m. to midnight every day. BoltBus would share the Seventh Avenue drop-off location with Megabus, which already has a stop there, but Revere said he had begun collaborating with Megabus about how best to avoid congestion.
Community members were not convinced. The majority of those who spoke in opposition are residents living directly across the street from each proposed stop, and many are neighbors at Penn South, a naturally occurring retirement community of about 5,000 people. Noise, traffic, lack of public toilets, pollution and sidewalk congestion were the main reasons they cited as to why the midtown/Penn Station area was unsuitable for additional activity. “I’m caregiver for my 90-year-old mother and we live on the first floor facing Eighth and 28th, and we’re already overburdened,” Sylvia Syracuse, a resident of Penn South, said. “Particulate covers our apartment ... and the sirens idling in traffic are going to send me ‘round the bend soon. To think that you’re going to add constantly running motors and people talking nonstop across the street is almost more than we can bear.”
Representatives from the offices of Borough President Gale Brewer, State Senator Brad Hoylman, Councilman Corey Johnson and Assemblyman Richard Gottfried’s also testified against the project.
Lisa Wager, director of government and community relations at FIT, showed the committee photos of a large air intake vent on the same corner of the proposed pick-up site that she said would be “full of idling bus fumes” if BoltBus were to pick up customers right in front of it. “And then there’s our main dock, which takes all the loading for our cafeteria,” she said. “The space between the end of the 15-foot yellow line for the hydrant and the edge of our curb cut is 43 feet and 7 inches. A BoltBus ... is 45 feet. Even if they were the best parker in the free world they could not slot that bus in this space.”
Laymon, the committee vice chairman, explained to attendees that because the Port Authority Bus Terminal is already overcrowded, New York City lets bus lines operate on city streets. The committee therefore did not have the option of recommending that BoltBus not be allowed to do so. The best option, then, is to find a suitable location, he said. The stops proposed by BoltBus and the DOT did not pass muster.
Still more concerns arose from residents of the area about the ability of emergency vehicles to get through traffic, and about the fact that BoltBus didn’t want to operate in front of luxury apartments at their current location but seemed nonplussed about disrupting neighbors at the new site. “[That] sort of turns around and says to me that we don’t really matter because we don’t pay as much for our apartments,” Marilyn Callister said.
Ron Parker, a Penn South resident, implored the committee not to let BoltBus “send us into an early grave” by disturbing seniors in fragile conditions with added noise and stress. The committee, which did not seem to get a satisfactory answer on why BoltBus needs to move in the first place, sided with the majority of residents.
CB 5 will make an official recommendation at the full board meeting on Sept. 8 at 6 p.m. at Xavier High School.
Reporter Madeleine Thompson can be reached at email@example.com