In Red Hook at least, crowded buses might actually be a good thing, an IKEA official reasoned this week.
Standing shoulder-to-shoulder with eager consumers could ultimately lead to better bus service in a neighborhood notorious for its inaccessibility.
“Everyone is excited about the increased ridership,” IKEA spokesperson Joseph Roth said.
“The city is prepared to add buses to the B61 and B77 lines if ridership warrants it,” he said.
With great fanfare, the Swedish home furnishings retailer opened its 346,000-square-foot superstore along Red Hook’s waterfront on June 18.
The store has already succeeded in convincing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority-New York City Transit (NYCT) to extend the routes of two city buses, the B61 and the B77, so that they drop potential customers off directly in front of the store.
Service on the lines, local residents have told this paper, has traditionally been sporadic and frustrating.
Charles Seaton, a spokesperson for NYCT said the agency is monitoring the situation on the routes to get an accurate reading on the routes long term ridership.
“In our experience, the first days/weeks traffic will be higher, and with that in mind we did add some extra service to accommodate,” he said.
“If we need to add service, we will,” Seaton vowed.
Jay McKnight, co-chair of the Red Hook Civic Association said the area’s “inadequate” bus service has already deteriorated.
“The buses are packed and stuck in gridlock,” he said.
“It takes so long to get a bus…and they didn’t add any buses, but they made the route longer,” he continued. “It’s terrible.”
Seaton said NYCT is looking at ways to increase reliability on the B61, including potentially splitting the line, which connects Red Hook to Long Island City, Queens.
But a plan to run buses from Red Hook to Manhattan, will not go forward, Seaton said. The $4.1 million proposal called for the extension of the B71 from Carroll Gardens to South Ferry, and the B77 from Red Hook to South Ferry, saving commuters roughly 15 minutes, transit officials predict.
“At this time, there are no plans for express bus service,” Seaton stated.
Without being specific, Roth said the store enjoyed a successful opening and a busy first weekend.
“Customers were taking advantage of the various forms of transportation available, [including] water taxis, two city buses and shuttle buses. “It all contributed to the smooth flow of customers,” he said.
“There was still room in the parking lot,” he said.
Roth said the store will continue its conversation with various city agencies, including the Department of Transportation and New York City Transit, devising ways to mitigate traffic, as the need arises.
Cops from the 76th Precinct said that there were no major car accidents over the weekend – except one.
On Saturday, a shuttle bus taking shoppers from a nearby train station to IKEA stopped short at the corner of Beard and Otsego streets to avoid an oncoming car.
The driver reportedly hit the brakes so hard that six of the thirteen shoppers on the bus were thrown about and sustained neck and back injuries. They were all taken to Long Island College Hospital for treatment.
Cops admitted that traffic going to and from IKEA was heavy, but not disastrously so.
“There was no doubt that it was crowded, we had a lot of cars on the streets,” said one cop from the 76th Precinct. “But we’re not sure if it’s going to stay that way or if it was just the hype regarding the opening weekend.”
Inspector Michael Kemper, the commanding officer of the 76th Precinct said that besides keeping order inside the box store, IKEA’s security force, as well as the NYPD paid off-duty detail they employ is also responsible for traffic control.
Maintaining traffic around Red Hook’s newest and largest tenant will be a “learning experience,” the top cop said.
“It’s fluid,” he said “We’re going to shift our traffic patterns when needed.”
No crimes have stemmed from the IKEA since two weeks ago, when two employees were mugged at gunpoint as they walked out of Red Hook.
—Reporter Tom Tracy contributed to this story.