BROOKLYN - Tackling Boro Park’s biggest traffic problem, Mayor Bill de Blasio is announcing a shift of sanitation collections from the morning rush hour to the wee hours of the night, which will remove 79 percent of the garbage trucks servicing the neighborhood, Hamodia learned exclusively.
The arrangement, which will go into effect on April 4, will go a long way in solving a jam decades in the making but which has increasingly taken on a crisis magnitude. The number of school buses roaring down the fewer than three square miles which makes up Boro Park has more than doubled since a 2011 law allowed most yeshivos to purchase their own fleet.
The mayor is scheduled to announce the changes Sunday night at a dinner for the Bobover mosdos.
“Our administration is committed to working for our neighborhoods — in Borough Park and across the city,” de Blasio said in a statement to Hamodia, using an alternative spelling to the Orthodox-heavy neighborhood. “That means responding to community needs while providing vital services in an effective and timely way.”
“Borough Park families know too well the congestion on our streets every morning when hundreds of school buses encounter sanitation trucks,” added the mayor, who represented parts of the neighborhood in the city council from 2002 until 2010. “After hearing from families, we were able to find a win-win solution that will get kids to school on time and ensure trash and recycling is picked up effectively, all while avoiding the frustration of overcrowded streets.”
The area covered by the agreement, Sanitation Commission Kathryn Garcia told Hamodia in a telephone conversation on Sunday, extends from 8th Ave. to 18th Ave. and from 46th St. until 61st St. It involves rescheduling the times for recycling pickups from the 6 a.m. until 2 p.m. morning shift to the overnight shift, which begins at midnight and ends at 8 a.m. Residents may still take out their garbage the night before.
“We were focused on the area that’s been identified in the community as problematic from a traffic point of view,” said Garcia, who visited Boro Park last year to see the issue from up close. “The elected [officials] identified an area where they felt was significantly impacted by the garbage truck and buses situation. In order to try and mitigate it, we’ve come up with a plan that will move some of our trucks to overnight rather than during the day and switching the collection days.”
Garcia said that some trucks must remain during the day but motorists will notice a drastic change when it goes into effect next month.
“We can’t move all the trucks because of constrains on our fleet and on our personnel,” she said. “But we believe that in this particular area it will go down from about 82 trucks per week to 17 — during the day.”
Garcia recalled her visit, along with elected officials such as Assemblyman Dov Hikind and Councilman David Greenfield. She saw how a single sanitation vehicle, on 15th Ave. and 50th St. was causing a traffic backup all the way to 13th Avenue.
She marveled at how many school buses Boro Park has, ferrying approximately 50,000 children to school every day.
“There were buses everywhere,” Garcia wondered. “I’ve never seen that many buses. I was pretty astounded. The number of buses is significantly higher than in the rest of the city.”
While some concern was noted of having noise–emitting trucks in middle of the night, elected officials and community groups praised the mayor’s initiative.
Beri Wolner, who founded the Bus Transit Association last year to advocate on behalf of yeshivah bus drivers in Boro Park, said that “for the traffic problem this is the best thing that can happen.”
“It’s definitely going to be a big help for the community,” said Wolner, who has since moved on to work at property management but still remains involved in bus driver advocacy.
The horn-banging frustrations of Boro Park drivers at 8:30 in the morning have been there for decades. A partial solution was introduced in 2006 by then-Councilman Simcha Felder, currently a state senator, to block off to garbage trucks several blocks throughout Boro Park for an hour in the morning.
But it rapidly grew out of control in the past three years, when a new law helped mosdos buy their own fleets of buses. The number of buses went from about 150 to 350 today.
The law, whose main thrust allowed for the first time for late homecoming yeshivah students to have access to free busing, also permitted parents to allot their busing funds given by the state directly to their children’s yeshivah. Previously, unionized bus companies were hired by the state to drive eligible students, with the school having no say over them.
Felder, who authored that law, told Hamodia that the traffic problem was “a good problem to have” relative to the law’s benefits but he thanked de Blasio for the new program.
“Getting government to do anything is almost like winning the lottery,” Felder said. “But, sometimes you win. Which is what happened here. This is something that actually affects people on the street.”
“This is a community which doesn’t ask for much, just to be able to drive to school without being driven crazy,” Felder added. “This was an issue of safety also. Hatzolah cars couldn’t get through. I’m very happy with the city’s renewed commitment to alleviating the traffic congestion.”
Shortly after his election in 2013, de Blasio promised to work toward a resolution of the problem, telling Hikind, a Brooklyn assemblyman, on the latter’s weekly radio program, “I’m going to work with sanitation to help find a solution.”
“To me,” Hikind told Hamodia on Sunday, “this is going to be one of the most important things happening in our community. The community is growing and there are more schoolchildren than ever before. This is going to be a huge, huge thing.”
Noting that he has worked on this issue since his election six years ago, Greenfield said that de Blasio’s “personal involvement” ensured that it got done.
“We’re very excited that the mayor took a personal interest in this issue,” Greenfield said. “Without the mayor’s involvement — the mayor’s personal involvement — this would never have happened. This is no magic solution but this will improve things tremendously.”
An additional significant change is altering Boro Park’s mostly Monday and Thursday garbage pickup days — which upsets two days of school bus traffic — to Wednesday and Saturday.
Taken together, the two changes will allow the impacted areas to go from 82 trucks per weekday to just seventeen.
The accord also calls for switching four more recycling trucks per day from the day shift to the night shift and adding two additional recycling trucks per week. It will also add three more regular garbage trucks on evening and night shifts.
The plan is budgeted at about $280,000 a year but will save an estimated millions of dollars in lost income from residents waiting in traffic. Schools have also complained that a single delayed bus causes a breakdown in the entire school.
“I can tell exactly when there’s a trash collection day just by the time the buses show up,” said Rabbi Heshy Dembitzer, administrator of Bobover yeshivah.
The contours of the plan are as follows: For residents of 46th St. until 52nd St. and from 8th Ave. to Ft. Hamilton Parkway — and until 11th Ave., also from 52nd St. to 61st St. — there presently are Monday and Thursday garbage pickup days. That will change to Wednesday and Saturday and pickups will revert to the early hours of the morning.
From 13th Ave. to 18th Ave. from 46th St. until 61st St., pickups will remain on Wednesday and Saturday but will change to nighttime hours.
The city will mail out maps to inform residents of the changes.
Recycling trucks will be moved to nighttime hours while regular collections will remain during the daytime. The only changes in regular trash collections will be the days of the week.
“We’re trying to be creative,” Garcia said. “We think that this will really help with that challenge in this area near the schools, but we want to hear feedback from people whether or not this works.”