Grand St. residents in drive to boost bus trips

Joseph Hanania standing at the end of the line: the M14A bus stop at the east end of Grand St.   Photo by HANA RASKIN
Joseph Hanania standing at the end of the line: the M14A bus stop at the east end of Grand St. Photo by HANA RASKIN

BY HANA RASKIN  |  Joseph Hanania moved back to New York from Los Angeles to escape isolation and dependency on cars, only to find himself in a corner of the city underserved by the mass transit.

Hanania lives in the Grand St. co-ops at the corner of Grand St. and the F.D.R. Drive. It is a close-knit community with many longtime residents and a large elderly population. Hanania loves his neighborhood. He wakes up to the sun rising over the East River and is lucky to have some of Manhattan’s rare tennis courts located right across the street. But the abysmal bus service makes it difficult to get to other parts of the city.

“I feel like I’m living in a suburb,” he said.

Indeed, the Grand St. co-ops community has few transportation options. None of theses options are ideal, particularly for the area’s older, less-mobile residents. They can either walk the 12 or so minutes to the F, M or J trains on Essex/Delancey St. or take the M21 crosstown bus, which runs, according to Hanania, “at best every 20 minutes, and often every half hour or every hour.” Less economical, taxis are also nearly impossible to get right off the F.D.R.

Hypothetically, the most convenient option for the residents of the co-ops is the M14A bus, which starts its route right outside their door. But the bus runs so infrequently and is so unreliable that residents are increasingly frustrated.

The most perplexing part for those who depend on the 14A bus is why, on average, three M14D busses operate for every one M14A bus. According to Hanania, “The difference is especially noticeable when there are service delays on freezing days, and it takes half an hour — or more — for a jammed 14A bus to arrive.”

A few months ago, Hanania started an online petition to improve bus service on Grand St. The petition asks the Metropolitan Transportation Authority for a more equitable allocation of the M14 crosstown busses, and proposes extending the 14D route two blocks south from its “eastern terminus at Delancey St.” to Grand St. Hanania explains that the bus could then “cut back to Delancey St. via Columbia St. to resume its current route.” This alternative course would cover five additional blocks and serve many more residents.

So far, the petition has more than 200 signatures and significant community support. Petitioners emphasize how much they rely on the bus service but how it currently fails to meet the community’s needs.

Hanania has seen results from another petition on a different issue that he started last year. That initiative — to improve the East River Park tennis courts — garnered support from Councilmember Rosie Mendez, who secured the necessary funding to resurface and fix the courts. He also spearheaded an ongoing effort to bring the East River ferry service to the Lower East Side.

Hanania got his first taste of community organizing when he was a reporter for the Los Angeles Times, covering a story on an activist called Little Bits in South Central L.A. Little Bits mobilized an indifferent neighborhood to have the conditions of its streets improved until the Department of Transportation listened and made the desired changes.

“It impressed the heck out of me,” Hanania said, explaining the inspiration for his activism.

Hanania’s bus stop sits at the edge of the F.D.R. On a rainy, cold day, a tease of the coming winter, a local resident waited in the bus shelter.  Now in her late 60s, she has lived in the area since she was 17.

“It’s like we are at the end of the world here,” she said. “Service has not gotten better. If anything, it’s gotten worse.”

Hanania is still collecting signatures. To sign the petition and join the effort, visit:  https://www.change.org/p/carmen-bianco-bring-better-bus-service-to-the-grand-st-coops-by-rebalancing-service-between-the-14-a-and-14-d-lines .