Crumbling sidewalks, car thefts and the loss of vital bus lines are just a few of the complaints that Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries heard from Prospect Heights residents Tuesday evening. As commuters exited the Eastern Parkway stop at the Brooklyn Museum along the 2 and 3 train lines, they were greeted by Mr. Jeffries and two of his staffers, eager to listen to the concerns of constituents.
"I spend a lot of the first six months in Albany. So I decided from the first year I was elected to spend Tuesday and Wednesday evenings in the summer out and about in the district on different street corners so I can be as accessible as possible," said Jeffries, whose 57th District includes parts of Prospect Heights, Crown Heights and Bedford-Stuyvesant, as well as Fort Greene and Clinton Hill. This is the fourth year the assemblyman has held "Summer at the Subway" evening office hours, and many residents look forward to the opportunity.
"Oh, I'm so glad I saw you! I was about to walk away," said Debbie Officer, kids in tow. "I must ask you a question. How did you guys allow [the B71] bus to stop? Do you know how important this bus is?" The B71 ran along Union Street from Van Brunt Street, through Cobble Hill and Park Slope, then into Prospect Heights along Eastern Parkway. "We took that bus for so much. My daughter goes to the Cobble Hill Ballet school on Union Street. Do you know how physically impossible it is to get there from here?"
David Forbes, an associate professor at Brooklyn College who lives along Eastern Parkway, echoed Officer's irritation. "We moved here from Park Slope three years ago, partly because we knew the bus would be there for us to stay connected to friends and things in our old neighborhood," says Mr. Forbes. "It's a slap in the face."
Jeffries explained that there are plans to revisit the cuts that were made. He also said that public officials in the area are planning to hold a formal town hall-style meeting with the MTA in the fall so residents can voice their concerns directly to transit officials. "It's certainly an issue that the entire legislature is going to have to focus on while we're in recess, because the magnitude of the complaints we've received about the cuts to bus service is significant."
Forbes thinks the MTA cuts resonate with other issues. "We live in this great city, and we always hear 'Use mass transit, help cut our dependency on oil,' and then they cut the buses!" He adds, "It just lowers the quality of life."
The bus eliminations caused more than just transportation issues. One resident said that even though the B71 bus stops are no longer active, cars are still being ticketed if they park in those areas–a problem that Jeffries believes is the fault of the Bloomberg administration's aggressive ticketing policies. "They anticipate the fact that many people won’t have the time or energy to fight a ticket. So even if tickets are wrongfully issued, I’m convinced that a significant number of those tickets actually wind up getting paid," he said. "Whether it’s deliberate or not, I don’t know, but it just seems to me to be highly coincidental that you could continue to ticket at bus stops that you know are inoperable."
Jeffries planned to call the borough commissioner at the Department of Transportation on Wednesday to ask for a list of tickets that have been issued at bus stops in his district since the cuts went into effect. "Based on that information, we'll know how to shut down the practice," he said.
While transit cuts topped the list of complaints, a few elderly residents asked Jeffries to fix the crumbling sidewalks. One woman said there has been a recent string of car break-ins in the last month, and another claimed that someone is deliberately ripping off branches from trees along the sidewalks. But many others just stopped to say hello.
"When we first started this, we would have a line of people waiting to talk to him," said Lupe Todd, Jeffries' communications director. "Now they're so used to seeing him around that they just want to chat."
For Jeffries, that's the whole point of holding evening office hours in a visible public place. "When I first ran for office, one of the consistent themes I heard was 'If we place our confidence in you, don’t disappear after we elect you,'" he said. "So you have to find ways to approximate the same type of intensity that you brought to bear when you were first asking people to put you in office when you’re governing. This is one of those ways in which we just try and create that opportunity. "
Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries' Summer at the Subway evening office hours will continue on Tuesday and Wednesday evenings until August 18, 2010, at various subway stops throughout the district. Click here for the schedule.