One Way on St Johns

A bus swinging out into the opposite lane to pass a garbage truck

A bus swinging out into the opposite lane to pass a garbage truck

Cars following the bus to pass the truck then tying up the lane the truck is in

Cars following the bus to pass the truck then tying up the lane the truck is in


It has long been clear to everyone who lives on St. Johns Place between New York Avenue and Rogers Avenue that something is seriously wrong. As St. Johns goes west it has the width of a spacious avenue until it gets to New York Avenue. There the street dramatically narrows and becomes like all the one-way streets in Crown Heights but remains two way. As someone who regularly walks up and down this section of St. Johns, I have seen the problems. Sometimes mail trucks double park blocking off one lane. As they are tall it is hard to see around them. I once witnessed a car blocked by a UPS truck pulling out of the eastbound lane and coming face to face with a car coming the other way. Luckily the two drivers were civilized and the one that pulled out backed up and let the other pass. A second's difference in making the move could have led to a crash. I have seen buses pause at the corner of New York and St. Johns and wait for a bus to pull out of the narrow street. I have seen a Sanitation truck moving slowly to collect trash effectively blocking off a lane during morning rush hour traffic and bringing the whole street to a standstill. I once talked to a Sanitation worker who told me the street is the worst one he deals with. His truck is constantly being passed in a way that is not safe and he finds the street nerve-racking. If motorists feel this way so do residents. One must look both ways to avoid drivers who do stupid things feeling they are trapped.

In fact a group of residents have done that rare thing – instead of complaining they have organized to do something about the situation. When the B45 goes west on St. John it makes a turn at Rogers and goes one block over to Sterling Place and continues west there. Simple solution; send the B45 over to Sterling at New York and have it continue on Sterling from there. Not simple at all. There is massive opposition on Sterling Place to doing this, particularly in the residential block from between New York and Nostrand. At a November 27th meeting of the Transportation and Environmental Committee of Community Board 8 to deal with this situation maybe as many as ten people turned up from Sterling and they were not in any mood to listen to reason or compromise. The Chairman of the committee Witherwax was clearly looking for a compromise, understanding the mood in the room full well. He argued that the committee should describe the problem on St. Johns as well as some of the solutions proposed and send this in a packet on to the Department of Transportation and call on them to find a solution. One leader in the effort to find a solution was satisfied as were other people from St. Johns and elsewhere who wanted to resolve the issue without a fight. This person had prepared lots of materials giving factual information about accidents, problem spots, and other related matters which formed much of the slide show that Witherwax put on for the committee and guests to see.

The reaction of the Sterling Place residents was disheartening. It was the mindset of someone who has made up his or her mind and will neither compromise nor retreat. Here is some of what was said: One woman said she had been over to St. Johns and everything seemed fine to her. Another said that because there are problems between Nostrand and Rogers, a dialysis center and a school where people double park there could be no buses going down Sterling. Schools and medical centers are active at certain times, but in this case their presence a block away precluded any bus service on the street. Another person said buses shake the foundations of houses. Really? How could there be a house standing in Brooklyn given the extensive bus service? Also given St. Johns has two-way service those houses must be especially at risk, and yet renovations and sales there proceed apace. Real estate values would go down opined another. Brownstones in Crown Heights sell for over a million dollars; in all my time of looking at real estate ads I have never once seen the words, “no bus service on this street” as a selling point. Another person pointed out that many children live on Sterling, more than on other streets, and the buses would presumably run them down. Buses go two ways on St. John which would thus be even more dangerous, and I do not believe anyone has counted up the children on either block but I do know of quite a few on St. Johns. Also I wonder how many children have been run down by buses. I didn't hear anyone say we should find out. Yet another person pointed out that taking away some parking space for a bus stop would reduce the amount of parking space available. Hm, quite so.

What it seemed to me I was hearing were rationalizations and underlying them was the idea that St. Johns has a problem and the rationalizers didn't want to do anything to help them out. Who cares about them? It was an awful kind of tribalism at work and there was a dose of hysteria in it. When Witherwax presented his sensible compromise plan to kick the problem forward to the Department of Transportation several of the Sterling Place militants said they did not want the packet to contain the option of using Sterling Place. What most objective people would say is one possible solution, they were saying was totally out of the question. Jesus said to love your neighbor, but maybe that doesn't apply if your neighbor lives a block away.

There are other solutions that would not include Sterling Place that would be politically more palatable. One would be to ban parking on one side of St. John and thus add seven and a half feet to the traffic lanes. However, that means that sixty cars would have to find somewhere else to park in a Crown Heights that everyone agrees is getting more and more congested. Another would be to send the B45 over to Eastern Parkway and then have it cut back to Sterling on Rogers Avenue. This seems a bit awkward to me, but as a resident of Brooklyn Avenue opposite a stop for the B43, I would not object. However, I do know that during rush hour morning and evening Brooklyn Avenue traffic moves at a snail's pace already. Such is life in the big city. I have to say I do not worry about dead children on my block, I know the houses sell despite the bus traffic, one just went for about 1.6 million, and not a single house has fallen down from the bus traffic disturbing the foundations of the houses, and we would not lose a single parking space if the existing bus stops were used.

What I wish is that Crown Heights thought of itself as a community in which we are all equal members. Compromise is the glue that makes for community – toleration, give and take. I wish we all understood that shouting at your neighbor is not the way to a solution but a sign of failure. Community is a marvelous creation of culture. Without community, as a famous philosopher pointed out, life is “nasty, brutish and short.” How far is it from screaming at someone to threatening them and then on to grabbing them by the throat and shaking that person back and forth?

- John DeWind

UpdatesJonathan Judge