David Bowie sang a paean to it. Staten Islanders don’t react well to it. I know this. I have been listening carefully to both these past 17 years.
Although it’s far from perfect we love our borough, and changes that affect the essence of who and what we are not only merit strong resistance, but demand it. There are sometimes changes that I as Borough President - and you as Staten Islanders – must fight hard to deflect, particularly if the change alters the character of our neighborhoods or the nature of our institutions.
But there is an approaching moment in time when we as a community must open our minds and be willing to, even if grudgingly, force ourselves to accept change. In fact, I firmly believe that in this case the benefits to our island and its commuters will be so positive that we should not merely accept, but whole-heartedly embrace these changes – and the more radical the better.
I am referring to the Comprehensive Bus Study being undertaken by the MTA at our request, and which emanates from the two Bus Summits we held at Borough Hall last year. For the past several months they have been surveying Staten Islanders, crunching data and crafting a plan. It is, in fact, so challenging a problem that I cannot see how nibbling at the edges will lead to a solution. Fine-tuning this, modifying that - how does that get to the heart of the matter and meaningfully improve our commutes? And here’s the rub: even though Staten Islanders agree the commute into Manhattan is hellish – they will still have a tendency to resist radical alterations.
I believe it’s time to “turn and face the change” as the late, great Mr. Bowie so compellingly put it.
Consider, please, that these routes were established fifty years ago, and over the years have been given only minor tweaks. Now think about how the population of the Island has exploded in that time; think about how many neighborhoods have experienced dramatic changes in median age and other demographics; think about how many more vehicles are congesting our roads, and it’s quite apparent that public transportation needs to be re-evaluated from the ground up.
Here is not-so-surprising fact: commuting times are bad. Really bad. And in this case I’m pretty sure you don’t get to “good” by thinking small. So if you’re the kind of person that considers the relocation of a bus stop ten yards further away is cause to claim “the sky is falling,” this is a call for a cold, hard look in the mirror.
And sorry, here’s a “politician” telling you this is not about “you,” it is about “us” as Staten Islanders. The goal here is to help as many people as possible improve their lives by improving their commutes. That won’t happen by putting lipstick on a pig; we’re talking about a full makeover. So get the mirror out and talk to yourself if need be - and then join me in hoping the MTA thinks out of the box and goes a bit rad.
We are beyond the point where we can reject much-needed improvements because it causes a small measure of inconvenience for a small number of people. The status quo is unacceptable.
I don’t know exactly what the MTA will release in a few months, but I for one want to see some very serious changes. I don’t think they are planning on scrapping the whole system of existing routes and starting from scratch, but you know what? If they proposed that I’d sure listen first before reflexively having a fit.
By the way, before you take fingers to keyboard, you will definitely have your say on these ideas after the initial draft is released. This process will continue to be inclusive in every possible way, and if you want to voice your opinion to me I’m good with that. If you want to voice your opinion to those who are doing the study – all the better.
By early summer the MTA will release its initial report. They will articulate some new concepts and then allow the community to react. In the fall there will be public hearings, and there, the public will have its say.
My only ask is that you think about it, and join me in welcoming what hopefully will be some very real ch-ch-ch-changes.